Dev Anand, The Die-Hard Romantic
Life, in all its glory, was a celebration for Dev Anand, who lived it at a pace that would have rendered most other mortals breathless.
His love life was nothing short of an epic story. He may have married his Taxi Driver costar Kalpana Karthik but his first love was Suraiya, the iconic singer/actress of the 1940s.
On his 89th birthday today, we look back at excerpts from his autobiography Romancing With Life:Standing in a corner I read the note scribbled back by Suraiya. I read, 'I cried as I read your letter. It is mutual. I love you. I, too, am dying to meet you. Call me tomorrow at 7 pm. I shall be near the phone.
Next day, I called her exactly at the time she had given. She picked up the phone. As I heard her "Hello," joy coursed through my veins.
"Nosey," I poured all my love into the word. But I heard granny's voice reply instead, saying, "Who's that?" And a weeping shriek from Suraiya in the background, while the phone got disconnected. I did not let my determination die down though and called again; the phone was picked up; I repeated, "Suraiya!"
Excerpted from Romancing With Life by Dev Anand, Penguin Viking, with the publisher's permission, Rs 695.
Share your Dev Anand tributes on ZaraBol
Image: Dev Anand with Suraiya
Photographs: From Dev Anand's autobiography Romancing With Life, published by Penguin Viking
'Joy coursed through my veins when she picked up the phone'
Suraiya is not at home!" The granny shouted and banged the phone down. I persisted and rang again. Granny who picked up the phone now said threateningly, "Next time I hear your voice, you will have the police talking to you." Then came a loud banging down of the phone, this time more violent.
Frustrated, I closed my eyes, sat down, holding my head in my hands; but I did not give up. I let a little time go by, about an hour, during the course of which I again thought of the futility of existence without my lady-love. Then I rang her number again.
Somebody picked up the phone. I listened quietly to the voice. It said "Hello" very softly. It wasn't Suraiya's voice, and it certainly wasn't the granny's either. I guessed it could be Suraiya's mother.
"Is that Mummy?" I whispered.
"Yes Dev." I heaved a sigh of relief.
"Can I speak to Suraiya?"
"She's been crying," her mother said.
I was emboldened. "Can I speak to her?" I repeated.
"No, she cannot, her granny is close by," she said in a soft whisper.
"But I must meet her!" I was desperate.
"She, too, wants to meet you."
"Then?" I asked eagerly.
"Call me exactly after one hour, I shall arrange a meeting."
Image: The three pillars of the industry: Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand
'Is it a ruse to trap me? I wondered'
I called exactly after one hour, and her mother said, "Don't call Suraiya. But you can meet her tomorrow."
I was in heaven. She continued, "But very late at night. A little after eleven-thirty."
"Eleven-thirty tomorrow night?" I reaffirmed.
"She'll be up on the terrace of the building. You can take the staircase, as you enter from the main building, and climb straight up," she said, and put the phone down.
"Is this a ruse -- to trap me?" I wondered.
"I don't think so. I should take the risk!" the determined part of me said.
Image: Dev Anand with Gregory Peck, who influenced his style
'I could end up in a lock-up'
"What if I am caught? I'll be proclaimed a sneaky scoundrel in all the newspapers." The cautious side of me warned. "I could even land in a lock-up."
There was a hell of a debate raging inside me. But the lover in me had the final say, "How can I not trust Suraiya's mother? She is the only one in the family who is fond of me. I have to believe her."
I opted for my historic and fairy-tale rendezvous with the love of my heart and took my friend, Tara, now an inspector in the police department in Bombay, along with me.
Image: Dev Anand with Kishore Kumar, Sahir Ludhianvi and R D Burman. Yash Chopra looks on
'I felt safer and protected by the strategy planned by the policeman'
Much before the appointed time given by Suraiya's mother, we both stood on the parapet by the sea, at a spot that provided a view of the top of the terrace. Tara pushed a small torch into my pocket.
"In case of any mishap, just flash this torch towards me from above. I shall flash mine getting your signal, and then rush upstairs to your rescue. I am carrying a revolver," he said.
I felt safer and protected by the strategy planned by the policeman, which was straight out of a movie thriller.
Image: Dev Anand with wife Kalpana Karthik and children Devina and Suneil
'The kiss lingered till eternity'
After a seemingly long, impatient and nerve-racking wait, the hands of my gold-bordered Rolex watch, newly bought from the Army and Navy stores, in keeping with my current star status, showed eleven-thirty. I climbed up the stairs to the open terrace, five or six stories above the ground, as fast as a cat.
Panting for breath as I stood at the doorway while my eyes roved for her, I discerned her turning towards me. She was sitting by the water-tank.
I rushed forward to meet her. She stood up, holding out her arms towards me. We held each other in a long, hot embrace. She did not utter a word, nor did I.
After a long silence that said everything, we looked at each other. As I stroked her hair, she held her lips up to me, ready for a kiss. The kiss lingered till eternity, as the angels serenaded us from above.
And then she wept. I consoled her, and she smiled a smile that fairies would envy. I wanted to protect her from all the evil that ever befell her. "Will you marry me?" I asked.
Image: Dev Anand driving off in his green convertible
'I bought one of the costliest rings that would adorn her finger'
She hugged me again and nodded, mumbling, "I love you! I love you! I love you!"
Down in the street waiting by the sea, with the tide rising, was Tara, my friend, looking up at the terrace. But the light from the torch never flashed.
I went to Zaveri Bazaar and bought one of the costliest rings that would adorn her finger. I called Suraiya's number, but the granny picked up the phone. I recognized her gruff voice and put the phone down, and called her again after another hour. Again, I recognized the granny's voice. I repeated the call in the evening, and got the same inimical "Hello." Now I knew she was guarding the telephone and screening the calls.
I called Divecha, my cinematographer friend, in distress. He answered the phone and on hearing my voice immediately asked, "A love-note again?"
"No, an engagement ring this time," I said.
"Where is my bottle of Black Label?" He joked.
"You shall have as many as you want," I joked back.
He took my ring to her house.
Image: Dev Anand on the sets of Baazi (1951) with close friend and director Guru Dutt (right)
'There was no way we could meet'
When he got back from Suraiya's house, he was very happy for me, and said, "She was charmed by the ring, took it quietly inside her room to treasure it in a box, and came out to tell me how much she loved you."
I was in seventh heaven, we were now engaged! I longed for her, more and more; but I did not hear from her. Our filming episodes with each other were over, and there was no way we could meet.
Days turned into weeks and there was no news from her. No written note, no call, no message. I checked with Divecha, and he promised to find out. But this time he was not allowed into their house.
The granny shut the door on his face, saying, "We are not welcoming even the best of our friends for reasons we need not divulge." But he too became inquisitive, and being a reliable information gatherer, very close to the gossiping tongues of the film industry, he soon found out that there was a severe rift in Suraiya's family, nobody taking her side on the issue of her personal emotional involvement except her mother.
If she chose to go against the wishes of the family, either she would be eliminated, or the granny would kill herself. Apparently, Suraiya had wept and wept and finally yielded to the pressure mounting on her.
Image: Dev Anand with Aamir Khan on the sets of Awwal Number
'She took a solemn oath to throw me completely out of her mind'
They prevailed upon her. She took a solemn oath to throw me completely out of her mind.
Later, as an act of desperate frustration, she took the ring I sent her to the seaside, and looking at it for the last time, with all the love she had in her heart for me, threw it far into the sea, to sing songs about our romance to the rising and falling tides.
Divecha was sad and sympathetic as he narrated all this. Then he philosophized, "Shakespeare will be reborn to give your tragic love story immorality in another play that will bear his own Romeo and Juliet."
Image: Dev Anand with close friends Sunil Dutt and Nargis, and wife Kalpana Karthik
'This episode will only make you stronger, more mature'
My heart sank, and my whole world shattered. There was no meaning to existence without her.
But then not living meant killing myself, which would be a negation of all that my inner strength stood for. Finally, I ended up crying on the shoulder of my brother Chetan, who knew the extent of my involvement with Suraiya.
He consoled me and said, "This episode will only make you stronger, more mature, to fight bigger battles later."
I looked across to the distant horizon. The evening sun that was still aglow threw the special ray it reserved for me in my direction. It brightened my face anew. I kept looking at it, as my brother continued, "Life teaches its own lessons at every step, chapter by chapter. This chapter is closed for your forever, and you must start a new one."
Image: One of the gatherings at Dev Anand's residence 41, Pali Hill, in 1950, full of luminaries