Just felt like sharing this one personal experience of mine. It has nothing to do with films. So those of you who are not interested can get off right now.
Sometime in 1994 I just returned from Chennai to Hyderabad in the morning and was supposed to catch a flight to Mumbai in the evening. I was taking a nap in the afternoon when my sister suddenly woke me up and told me my distant cousin Bujji from Bhimavaram was on the phone. (Those days there were no cell phones yet.). I wondered why she woke me up for that and she said Bujji says it’s very urgent. Curious as Bujji was not even that close to me, I went to the phone and Bujji said that Dad had a heart attack and died, and before I could say anything he asked me if I was alone. When I said ‘no’ as my mom and sister were there near me, he asked me to come outside and call him from another phone. I started walking towards a STD booth at the end of the road with my brother-in-law following me. I was wondering why Bujji is being so secretive about his dad having a heart attack and dying. As I was nearing the booth it slowly started dawning upon me that he was talking about my dad. I turned around and asked my brother-in-law where my dad was and he said he went to Bhimavaram the previous day.
My fear being confirmed I called up Bujji and he told me the same and asked me whether we would be coming there or should he bring the body. I told him to bring the body. I turned around and told my brother-in-law about what happened and he just sat down on the road in shock. I personally was not feeling anything as I was seriously thinking about how to break the news to my mother. I quickly made a few calls to some relatives and told them that they will get to hear it from somewhere sooner or later and asked them not to come to my house till I prepare my mother.
Then in the walk back I thought of a story to tell my mother. I told her that Dad suffered some pain in the chest and I asked them to bring him to Hyderabad as there are better medical facilities here. When she got panicky I told her cheerfully that he is perfectly fine. My whole intention was to reduce the time of her crying before the body reaches and also for me to have time to plan how to make her slowly absorb the final shock. I literally went about doing a screenplay of sorts, sent some guys to the end of the road to stop any over enthusiastic relatives coming to console her and I made a friend of mine do mock phone conversations in front of my mother as if he is talking to people who are bringing my father and to say that the pain is increasing. That was my way of attempting to bring my mother slowly closer to the ultimate truth.
Finally this whole exercise happened till 11in the night and I went off to sleep. So far I have not felt anything at all as I was too busy doing scenes around to cushion my mother. At around 2.am my cousin woke me up and said the body is here. I came out and saw the car on the road in which they brought the body, and that’s when the reality first hit me. I told my cousin to take the car to his house and only bring it in the morning so that we can quickly do the funeral arrangements in the morning and spare my mother from the trauma of sitting with the body till the morning. Morning around 5.am my grandfather broke the news to my mother and by that time seeing all the activity building around I am sure she suspected it.
My uncle came and told me that my father has written a will that he wants to donate his eyes and body. My relatives told me to ignore that will and just do the rites as per traditions. I said I want to do as per my father’s wishes, and I went in and told my mother if she will have any objection to me going as per dad’s wishes. She asked me to do whatever I thought was right even as she was crying. I called the eye institute guys and two young nurses landed up in rickshaw. I still remember them laughing, as they got out of the rickshaw, at some private joke between each other. Their cheerful laughter contrasted so macaberly against the crying sounds and the somber look of the entire atmosphere. They sent everyone out, did whatever technical procedure to take the eyes and after they left my people told me it’s time to take the body to the hospital, I went in to see my mother next to the body of my father and there was a redness around his eyes and a slit which was angled because of whatever the girls from the institute did to take out the eyes.
I felt a tremendous guilt and anger against myself that I subjected my mother to see a man who she lived with for 40 years that way for the last time especially since she always used to talk about how much she loved my father’s eyes. That decision I have taken just in the name of fulfilling my father’s wishes, but I failed to foresee what the practical application of that procedure will subject my mother too. This I think is the biggest flop I made in my life.
Next day I told my mother let’s not do any 7th day or 11th day kind of rituals as we should remember him from happy times and not make an exhibition seeking sympathy. I gave her a long lecture of how she should look at everything positively. The next day I heard my mother crying in her room and I got upset that my lecture didn’t work. In the afternoon I heard a strange sound and when I went upstairs, I saw that it is my brother crying and that’s the first time I ever heard him cry and was thinking to myself that this is how it sounds when he cries. Throughout this entire process I did not feel for one second any grief myself and that was nothing to do with me and my father’s relationship. I loved him and respected him immensely. It’s just that I was in a state of film, for want of a better term.
I went to Mumbai after a few days to meet Naseeruddin Shah as I was casting him in a certain film. As soon as he saw me he got up and said he was very sorry to hear about my mother. Somebody gave him wrong info that it is my mother, so as not to embarrass him I didn’t tell him. Then he went on to talk about his mother and asking questions on how my father was taking it. The fact that I didn’t stop him in the beginning itself it became even more difficult now to tell him that he got it wrong. So I went through the entire comedy.
Years later somewhere in 2003 or so, I was in Pune in Nana Patekar’s house. Me, Nana, Shimit Amin and Sandeep the writer of “Ab Tak Chappan” were doing a script session. In the context of a scene for a reference I started narrating my father’s episode and when I came to the part of the nurses from the eye institute and its aftermath, I suddenly got choked and broke down. Nana had to hold me in his arms to control me. It took me 9 years to cry and that too for more than my father, it was for that biggest flop I made.