'I was completely shattered, it was my first encounter with death.'
An excerpt from Roshmila Bhattacharya's new book, Spooked! Bollywood's Encounters With The Paranormal.
She was in the seventh standard in school when she landed an assignment which required her to write what she wanted to be when she grew up.
While her classmates went with tried-and-tested choices like doctor, teacher and artist, Juhi Chawla surprised everyone, including herself, by stating that she wanted to be 'rich and famous'.
'I wasn't the prettiest girl in class or even the smartest. I was just a regular kid from a decent background in an all-girls' convent school who happened to see a film, Rich and Famous, revolving around two successful but very different writers, whose friendship spans a quarter of a century. Perhaps that's how the words had crept into my essay and they made my friends laugh,' reminisces Juhi, who despite the sniggering giggles, continued to cling on to the 'dream'.
'Only as I grew older, I added two more words -- happy and healthy -- to the rich and famous,' she shares, pointing out that she figured it would be no fun being rich and famous if one was miserable or unwell.
In 1984, Juhi took part in the Femina Miss India beauty contest because some of her friends had filled the form too.
'And if they could do it, so could I,' she reasons, admitting that never even in her wildest dreams had she imagined that she would walk away with the crown.
A few months later, she landed a break in the Bollywood biggie, Sultanat(1986), followed by the blockbuster Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988).
Over the next three decades, with several hits, and some misses, Juhi Chawla went on to become not just happy and healthy, but a rich and famous actress too.
'Be careful what you wish for; the universe may conspire to make it happen,' she laughs.
However, along with a dream come true came the nightmares.
They started around the same time, when Juhi was ten or eleven years old. 'I loved my mother a lot. Some nights I would have nightmares, and in the nightmares, I watched her die. It was never any other member of the family, only her. She would fall from a tall building or perish in a fire and I would wake up terrified, bathed in cold sweat, only reassured when I saw that my mother was safe and fine,' Juhi recounts.
In 1998, Mona Chawla accompanied her daughter to Prague, for the shooting of Duplicate (1998).
The day after they arrived, she went out for her usual early-morning walk and was fatally knocked down in a hit-and-run accident on the street of the Czech capital.
'I was completely shattered, it was my first encounter with death, and that too, losing the one person who meant the world to me. I felt the ground slipping from undermy feet. I could only hope that when I woke up, it would turn out to be another sad and painful dream,' Juhi reminisces.
However, this time, it was for real.
'When I was in hospital, looking down at the lifeless body of the person I had loved the most, I was shocked and speechless. But as I stood there, transfixed, I watched myself repeatedly tell her, "Maa, go in peace, I love you, Maa, go in peace..."
'It was an out-of-the-body experience and I could almost "see" the words coming, not from my mind or even my heart, but from somewhere far deeper, from my spirit to her soul. It was surreal!' Juhi recounts.
In retrospect, she believes the words came from the universe, to liberate the soul of her mother from the bondage of love that had kept her rooted to this world even after she was gone.
This edited excerpt from Spooked! Bollywood's Encounters With The Paranormal by Roshmila Bhattacharya has been used with the kind permission of the publishers, Om Books International.