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'I feel bad about getting old.'
Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi |
May 25, 2005 17:41 IST
No 9, Canning Lane in New Delhi was home to an old man who couldn't walk without the aid of a walking stick.
Yet youngsters, mostly students from Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi University, thronged this white Lutyens' bungalow.
The white bungalow was the government bungalow given to three-time parliamentarian from Mumbai and veteran actor Sunil Dutt. Whenever in Delhi, he stayed here.
The bungalow wore the striped-down look of a typical middle-class home. When "Duttsaab" was in town, the home was abuzz with activity.
Often, volunteers, mostly those from his Sadbhavna Ke Sipahi or Soldiers of Peace, visited Dutt. These volunteers, under his guidance, organised rallies and seminars to promote religious brotherhood and peace across the country.
On many an occasion, I saw him addressing his volunteers who sat around him-- some on sofas and some on chairs while many others lay stretched on the floor. And like a grandmother, Duttsaab narrated story after story to motivate the volunteers. He told them how he struggled throughout his life and finally made a mark in politics.
I recall one of his personal experiences, which he shared with us.
While he was busy doing films, Dutt said, he always wanted to be part of the people of India. And he thought politics was a good way of reaching out to the people and understanding their problems.
"I was once very frustrated with my life. I didn't know what to do. I had a feeling that my life was almost meaningless and directionless. I thought I was not doing any good work. So I went to meet Pandit Nehruji. I wanted to tell him about my feelings."
That time, Nehru was in Allahabad. Dutt went straight to his residence. "There was no security cover like politicians have now. Also, Nehru was quite accessible to people," he said.
"He called me inside where he was having breakfast. He asked me to sit next to him. I told him all my problems and expressed my eagerness to join politics. He had just one sentence to tell me."
"He asked me to work with the people first and then join politics. I got the message. I now understand politics alone cannot solve the problems of the people. We should live and work with the people first," he concluded.
One day, a leader of National Students Union of India– Congress party's students' wing – from Jawaharlal Nehru University came to meet him.
A Congress leader, while introducing the NSUI leader, said: "You know JNU is a stronghold of Marxists. But he is challenging them there. The Congress philosophy is attracting many Marxists in JNU."
Dutt started laughing and said: "Congress ki philosophy aisi hai ki sab chale ate hain (Congress' philosophy attracts everyone.)
He was in fact being sarcastic and was commenting on the Congressman who was once the president of JNU Students' Union on behalf of Student Federation of India of Communist Party of India-Marxist. He had left CPI-M to join the Congress party.
Dutt continued: "Isi liye aap bhi aa gaye (That's why you have also come over to Congress party)."
Dutt then started praising Marxism and said: "It is a wonderful philosophy. It is unfortunate that we have left it." Dutt was always young or at least he believed he was young. The smile was always consistent on his face.
During his last days, he was pained by the way Congress party was working. Just last month, he had confided to some close confidants that the party was not going in the right direction. He wanted to strengthen the secular institutions, which he thought the Congress party was not doing after coming to power.
He was especially troubled by the entry of former Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Nirupam in the Congress. He was personally telling many politicians and journalists that it was not good for the party and the country.
He was of the opinion that in the years to come Nirupam may influence the decision making of the Congress. And this, he felt, would harm secularism due to Nirupam's rightist background.
When nobody listened to him, he had to make it public. He criticised the party's decision in a public gathering in Mumbai.
Though not many senior Congressmen liked it, none had the guts to say anything to Dutt.
I still remember one evening, when he had invited some journalists for a dinner.
It was just before the last Lok Sabha elections. The chairs were arranged in the lawn. We were all sitting there. Dutt was wearing a white cotton shirt and blue denim trousers. A gentle breeze was blowing and in some time, we started feeling cold.
Dutt asked someone to bring him a jacket. Wearing it, the actor in him said: "Zara lage ki main bhi kabhi hero tha (Let me feel that I was once a hero)."
As we all burst into laughter, he said: "I feel bad about getting old."