No matter how tumultuous one’s life may be, happy memories are probably what one treasures the most. And I am no exception. In fact, when I trawl though my personal trove of such sparkling recollections, I realise that quite a few of them have to do with my grandfather. Considering that I was a mere child when he passed away, this may sound a bit far-fetched, but it is not actually so.
My memories of my maternal grandfather are not constrained by the boundaries of time and space. They are free-floating bits of my past deeply intertwined with my very existence. In fact they are quite like the tiny pieces of coloured glass in a kaleidoscope which ultimately come together to form a pretty picture, every single time, no matter how vigorously they are shaken about. These remembrances are also like a montage of incidents forming a vivid stream of images flowing past my mind’s eyes and drenching me with myriad emotions.
Let me now take you with me on a cruise down this stream of memories, to a quay in time where I shall find myself once again washed over by the love of my grandfather – the man the rest of the world knew as Pankaj Mullick.
He was my Dadu and I his Dadubhai. No other name, no other identity tainted the very simple relationship that we shared. In the few years I had him around, I was never aware of his fame or his public life, but I was very aware of his music. That was always there – a reassuring support that buttressed our relationship.
He sang ditties in my ears when he picked me up in his arms, he sang hymns while ruffling my hair and he always sang my favourite ‘elephant song’ whenever I requested him to. It was much later in life that I learnt my ‘elephant song’ was actually the Rabindrasangeet Ami kaan petey roi…, a song he sang onscreen in the movie Mukti. The ‘elephant’ bit came from the appearance of a massive tusker at the end of the song-sequence in film. This particular scene had caught my imagination when I had seen it at a special screening done in Dadu’s honour. I can never forget how he indulged me every time I mimicked an elephant, by hooking up my arm in front of my nose quite like the salutation of a trained elephant where it curls its trunk upwards, and emitted a squeaky trumpet after every rendition of the song.
From incidents like this, it was quite evident that he loved me. And although I could not comprehend it at that young an age, I could most definitely feel it. Fact is, love and generosity came to him quite naturally, like second nature. My first lessons in being selfless in love probably came from watching him up-close. His love for me was however not the usual grandfather-grandson kind of affection-tinted emotion. It was deeper. It was a bond. It was the kind of love that instills virtues in a person, a love that plants the seeds of goodness, righteousness, integrity, honesty, morality and uprightness in the soul of a person. His love was incentive enough for me to try and excel in whatever I did.
There were rewards too. Let me explain –
By a quirk of fate, I started living with my maternal grand-parents right from the time of my birth. There in that neighbourhood, I started attending my kindergarten classes in a cosy school called Little Flower. There they had a wonderful gradation system for the students. A single red star in the margin-space of the exercise book indicated that the project was well done, while two meant a good performance and three an excellent one.
I clearly remember the day I received my first red stars in class. On my return home, my mother told me to go and show them to Dadu and following her bidding, I gingerly walked into his study. He was working as he always did, at his glass-topped table and looked at me over the rim of his spectacles when I entered. My mother, who was close behind me, then told him of my performance in class. When he heard what she said, he smiled broadly and ushered me to come close to him. I was three years old and quite tiny and I could not reach him even while standing up, sitting as he was in his big tall chair. So I did, what my natural instincts told me to. I clambered up the drawer-handles jutting out of the side of his table while holding onto the arm of his massive chair for support. When I reached his level, I could see an odd mix of emotions in his eyes. There was affection, there was pride, there was a hint of amusement and of course, there was love. Steadying me, he bent down and kissed me on my forehead. And, from that day on, I got one kiss for a single red star, two for a double and three for triple red stars. I got a bonus one too if the teacher wrote down a commendation along with the stars. Hardly a day went by since then that I failed to collect a kiss from him.
I told you before – his love had its rewards!
Life with Dadu around was however not a complete bed of roses. He was just as strict as he was loving. A stringent disciplinarian, he did not suffer indiscipline gladly. Every morning he woke me up with a pleasant, “Good morning Dadubhai”, never letting me sleep late unnecessarily…hard work, he had explained in passing, was the key to success.
Another example of him trying to instill in me a sense of discipline early on in life had to do with my play-things. I could potter around with my toys as long as I did not leave them scattered about afterwards. The toys had to be put back in a big card-board box where they were usually stored or else a few of my beloved ones would go missing for a few days. Looking back now, it seems as if he was teaching me the rudiments of being organised as well.
It was not as if I let him be if he got a tad too strict with me, especially when I had reason to believe that I was innocent. There were times when I did get back at him. Let me tell you of one such occasion.
One Sunday, if I remember correctly, when he was having his lunch, I climbed up onto the dining table trying to strike up a chat with him. He was not amused by my actions at all. At such times he did not shout at me nor raise his hand. All he did was stare at me fixedly. That would be enough to send shivers down my spine and make me realise that it was something that I should not be doing. On this occasion however, I believed I was not at fault. After all I had just wanted to talk to him. I did get down from the table, but instead of leaving the scene I ran to my adorable grandmother in the kitchen and hid behind her. I knew that if there was one person who could save me from Dadu’s ‘wrath’, it was Dida, my grandmother. My faith in her was not misplaced. One look at me and she stormed out of the kitchen with me in tow and quite sternly advised Dadu on the proper way of teaching me manners. A moment of silence ensued when Dida ended her tirade. Then suddenly we all smiled at each other each knowing what the other had done.
In those juxtaposed moments of silence and glee the bond between the grandchild and the grandparents became a little stronger.
That bond was quite evident when Dadu took me out on drives in his big black Wolsley. For me then, it was a car of cavernous proportions and I used to enjoy romping around in it. I used to sit right next to him and stare wondrously at him while he deftly manoeuvred the giant of a wheel that passed off as the steering of his favourite car. Sitting next to him in the car, we hardly spoke to each other, yet there was some kind of resonating warmth in that silence which acted as a bridge between us. That I suppose epitomised the relationship we shared – a tie sans pomp and splendour but rich in strength, trust and understanding. During those drives, I could not help but notice a lot of people staring and pointing at us whenever we stopped at a traffic signal or otherwise. I used to wonder why. Little did I realise then that they were actually excited at seeing Pankaj Mullick in person.
It is only now that I realise how fortunate I was that the seeds of my persona were sown by a man of such character as Pankaj Mullick.
I have never really consciously followed in his footsteps nor emulated his characteristics. What I have always tried to do though was to remember the virtues and philosophies which defined him and made him the much admired and respected man that he was.
Even though he could quite easily have pampered me to bits, he desisted. Another of his characteristic traits was to never indulge in excesses. He could have showered me with gifts but instead chose to limit them to a few significant ones.
Right from my early childhood, I was extremely fond of animals, a fact that did not seem to escape Dadu. One fine day, he took me out with him and bought me a T-shirt with a leaping tiger emblazoned right across the chest. That gift meant a lot and to me it was worth more than the hundred T-shirts he could have given me otherwise. That gift showed that he cared and more importantly was tuned in to my likes and dislikes.
This sensitivity of his was also evident in the way he communicated with most people. Usually when a high profile celebrity interacts with members of the general public, the celebrity’s smile tends to be a bit condescending or courteous at best. The public in turn seem to have a vacuous smile pasted on their faces, a result of being overwhelmed by the presence of the celebrity in their vicinity. However in Dadu’s case, the smiles on both sides almost always seemed genuine and straight from the heart. That was the magic of his simplicity.
I could probably go on talking about the small but significant things that Dadu did to shape my life, simply because there were quite a few of them. But then it would be an exercise in simply piling up words, something which is not quite warranted here.
Let me thus bring my remembrances to a conclusion by reminiscing about a few stand-out sensations I feel whenever I think of Dadu.
The very thought of him conjures up in my mind images of his politeness, his gentlemanliness, his courtesy, his broad-mindedness, his elegance and above all his all pervasive love – a love that I was very fortunate to experience.
Before I sign off though, I would like to recall, albeit reluctantly, the last couple of days I got to spend with Dadu before he ended his mortal existence in this world.
Almost a year had passed since the time he began suffering the repercussions of a heart attack brought on by severe emotional stress, when on the evening of 18th February, 1978 he asked my mother to bring me to his bed-side. I was doing my home-work at that time and when my mother told me to go to Dadu’s room, I was a bit apprehensive. I was aware that things were not quite the same with him anymore, what with all sorts of doctors coming in at odd hours and nurses going around in the house that had till recently been a haven of peace and tranquility for me. I did not however get to comprehend the seriousness of his malady till it was all over.
When I went to him that evening and saw him lying on his bed, a shadow of himself, with scary-looking tubes running in and out of his body I had a sense of foreboding. Seeing me, he reached out and placed his hand on my head. At that time, I did not have the slightest inkling that it was the last time he was blessing me. Moreover, I could not figure out what he was saying as his words were indistinct. And the fact that he uttered a few shlokas in Sanskrit, a language incomprehensible to me at that time, made it worse for me to understand. But when he looked at me and told me to be a good person and work hard in life – I understood him perfectly.
One thing that eluded me then was the reason why he was telling me all this then.
It would however be all clear to me by the next day.
When I try to recall the last day of Dadu’s life, a deluge of images splash across the canvas of my memory. Something akin to watching a movie in fast-forward.
I remember going in for my bath…Dida wailing…my mother yanking me out of the bath and pushing me into the arms of a neighbour…being carried by the neighbour past Dadu’s room…Dadu gasping for breath…a whole day of uneasiness at the neighbour’s house…being told umpteen number of times that Dadu was alright…going back home in the evening…hundreds of people swarming into our house…grief and gloom etched on every face, known and unknown…Dadu’s room…Dadu lying motionless on a block of ice!
A gamut of emotions had swept across my mind. I was angry for having been kept in the dark. I felt hollow inside trying to think of a life without Dadu. I felt miserable at not being able to provide solace to Dida or my mother. I tried in vain to be mature and figure out a solution to a problem that had none. I felt like crying but the tears would not come. I felt confused. I felt drained.
What happened next, I do not recollect clearly. Maybe the sudden loss of Dadu fogged my memory or maybe too many things were happening all at once. Relatives and neighbours were arriving. People were coming in as strangers but leaving feeling like family bonded by the sudden loss of a man they all loved. Important people with important looking aides came by and laid down garlands next to Dadu. Droves of celebrities trudged in and out. The press arrived, so did the TV crew. A constant stream of people ebbed and flowed of our house for what seemed like eternity.
Finally night fell and the crowd dispersed and we the family members were alone at last fending the finality of the situation. Although we had lost Dadu’s uncle, who incidentally stayed with us, a few months back I had not seen death up-close and personal, till then. It was a trauma that would haunt me for days to come.
The night gave way to morning and I saw my family members making arrangements for Dadu’s funeral procession. Soon he was carried downstairs to a waiting lorry. There he was bedecked with flowers and garlands. The smell of rajnigandha flowers and incense hung heavy in the late February air. People thronged the lanes leading up to our house in thousands, singing songs they had heard Dadu sing. Their eyes were moist and their hands folded – a final farewell to a legendary man of music.
After a while the truck roared to life and parting the sea of humanity began its arduous journey of carrying Dadu’s mortal remains to the Keoratala crematorium.
All the while I stood transfixed in our veranda, ending my vigil only when the lorry turned the corner at the head of our street and disappeared with Dadu in it.
It would be wrong for me to say that it was the last time I saw Dadu. Fact is I see him every day. Every day since February 19, 1972. He lives on in the depths of my mind and in the deep recesses of my soul. He is there in every breath I take and in every thought I have. He is as he was…a part of me…forever.
And this is what I remember.
– Rajib Gupta