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'Sit comfortably. I won't seduce you'
Dinesh Raheja | February 13, 2006 13:27 IST
A shot of whiskey with water for me, and a glass of drinking chocolate for this bachcha (child)," Nadira instructed her maid.
The icy chill of the actress' room (a noisy air conditioner was her constant companion; it kept at bay the din of the traffic on Mumbai's Peddar Road, four storeys below) was instantly offset by her warmth.
Sporting a nightgown, she was lying on her huge bed, smiling beatifically, even as she absentmindedly ran her hand over her forehead -- a trait that was so her.
She ribbed me good-humouredly in her 'propah', clipped English: "You don't look like you drink anything kadwa (bitter). And don't sit on the edge of the bed, you will fall off. Come closer and sit comfortably. I won't seduce you."
Even as I recovered my composure, she laughed her lungs out!
Twenty-three years later, not long before her death, she recalled our first meeting affectionately in one of our regular telephone conversations, and we shared a laugh.
Accompanied by my friends, I had gone to see Pyar Ka Rishta (a Mumtaz melodrama) while Nadiraji, accompanied by two ladies much older to her, had come to see herself in the film.
I nudged my friends and conspiratorially whispered, "Look, look, Nadiraji!" She turned around with a dramatic flourish, froze me with a look and challengingly shot back: "Yes, I am Nadiraji. So w-h-a-t?"
She was also, simply put, one of the most beautiful people I have known. When I read the headline 'Nadira is no more' in the morning papers, I found it so cold and reductive. And to add to my hurt, people were describing her as a lonely, fading star.
Don't think Sunset Boulevard. She was a gregarious, articulate, erudite woman. Most importantly, she may have been god-gifted with a razor-sharp wit, but she was also overflowing with love, and was much loved herself.
Was she lonely? Let's say her need for company was acute. And insomnia was her biggest nightmare. But there was no dearth of people who loved her -- from neighbours in her apartment block to her watchmen to the many friends she had cultivated both within and outside the industry (like Shyama, Shammi aunty, Nimmi, Deepti Naval, Ameen Sayyani, Tanuja, Anil Virwani and Rati Agnihotri). And the list of people she loved would probably fill up a telephone directory.
But for me, she was my self-appointed friend who eventually settled down to being my 'mother'. We both enjoyed the fact that the other had an eye for spotting the absurd among the mundane. In a way, she was my mentor, philosopher and guide (how she would have chided me for using this clichéd phrase if she had read it in print -- 'think of something more original, beta, you owe it to me'). But I can't think of anything more apt.
She wept like a child when I touched her feet on Diwali and gifted her a box of dry fruits. She would embarrass me no end thereafter by telling all and sundry, "Yeh mera beta hai. Yeh mere paon bhi chhoota hai aur kaaju bhi khilata hai (He is my son. Not only does he touch my feet, but he also gives me cashew nuts)."
She would often ask me to bring my daughter over. But Niki was intimidated by Nadiraji's screen image. All my efforts to persuade her that Nadiraji was unlike her screen image couldn't convince her otherwise -- I consider that as the biggest compliment to Nadira, the actress.
Though she rued the fact that Dilip Kumar never spoke to her during the making of Aan or thereafter, she grudgingly admired him as an actor. When she spoke about Meena Kumari (with whom she formed a deep bond during Dil Apna Preet Parayi and Pakeezah), she would invariably weep, copiously.
I have just one request to god. Please take care of her. She was a special woman.