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Beautiful Life Lessons from Buddy Hirani

By Ronjita Kulkarni
July 04, 2018 10:59 IST
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'Buddy knows more about Raju's films because he sits in the editing room.'
'He has seen Sanju a number of times already!'

IMAGE: Manjeet, her son Vir and husband Rajkumar Hirani with Buddy.

Rajkumar Hirani is one of India's most successful directors.

His latest film, Sanju, has taken the biggest opening of the year so far, and has injected fresh life in Ranbir Kapoor's floundering career.

But he is not the only star in his house.

His wife Manjeet has written How To Be Human: Life Lessons from Buddy Hirani, which has 20 beautiful lessons on life. And it's all Manjeet learnt by simply watching the Hiranis' dog, Buddy.

When Ronjita Kulkarni rings the doorbell of the Hiranis's beautiful villa in suburban Mumbai, two things greet you.

Manjeet's infectious smile, and Buddy.

They welcome you in warmly -- Buddy even tries to squeeze in a hug! -- and lead you right up to a large dining table.

A mouth-watering spread of vegetable pulao, chicken sukka, a French beans bhaji and kadi awaits you, with fruits like guava and mango on the side.

As Manjeet asks you to dig in, she insists that you add a spoonful of ghee in the rice.

The meal ends with Patisa, or Soan papdi, an Indian sweet.

Manjeet's 19-year-old son Vir and his grandmother join us at lunch, and the conversation automatically veers towards movies.

When the food is polished off, Manjeet speaks passionately about her book, and herself.


IMAGE: Buddy Hirani with Vir, Manjeet and Raju.

"I was very scared of dogs since childhood, and never wanted one. But Vir did," Manjeet says, as we sip green tea in her TV room.

"We would always make excuses saying the house is too small. Then we shifted to this big house, and he would ask why can't we get a dog now?"

The family shifted to their current home soon after 3 Idiots became one of Indian cinema's biggest blockbusters, in 2009.

Like Vir writes in the book's introduction, 'We shifted to a bigger house large enough to accommodate a dog, or even an elephant for that matter.'

The two-storey villa the Hiranis live in has large rooms, a private garden with a little fishpond.

IMAGE: "Anushka would have adopted Buddy if Raju hadn't taken him because she was in love with him!" A scene from PK, with Anushka and Buddy.

"Then my husband made PK, in which Anushka (Sharma) has a puppy," Manjeet recalls.

"The dog was supposed to go back to the breeder (after the shoot), but Raju fell in love with him. So he thought of gifting it to Vir. He took a basket, decorated it and put the dog inside. It was a surprise gift."

"The joy on Vir's face!" Manjeet remembers with a smile. "He was euphoric, so I melted. And since it was a baby (at six weeks), it did not scare me."

Vir promised to take care of it, but eventually, Buddy became Manjeet's charge.

Her fear soon gave way to love.

"Buddy came during the monsoons, in July," she says. "Once, there was a frog in the house, and after a point, we did not see it any more. We thought Buddy ate it, so we called the vet. She told us to put a hand inside his mouth and pull the frog out. We, of course, refused to do that! Itni himmat nahin thi (I wasn't so brave)," she says with a laugh.

"But now, I can do it very easily. If I feel he has put something in his mouth, I just open it and put my hand in!"

What made her write a book on the lessons she learnt through Buddy?

"Philosophy attracts me a lot, and I blog on various life experiences," she says. "I blogged about the dog when he came to our home. I wrote 10 chapters, and kept them on my Ipad, thinking that I would post one every week. One day, I went to a bookshop at Delhi airport, and I asked the salesman there for numbers of publishers. He gave me three, and I contacted one."

"It was Penguin. They instantly liked the idea, and asked for 20 chapters."

Since Manjeet had already written 10 chapters, she wrote the remaining 10, and sent it to Penguin.

"Raju did not know about it because I used to write blogs, and he wasn't interested in reading them. I told him I'd written a book after I submitted it to Penguin. And he was like, what? He had all these questions -- 'How can you submit it?' 'Don't you have to work and rework on it?' I did send him the final draft, but I don't think he has read it," Manjeet says with a laugh.

Raju confirmed his ignorance at the book launch, with his signature humour: 'Manjeet is a pilot and I had no idea that she was writing a book. One day, she told me, Penguin is publishing my book. So I said, when did you write a book? I never saw you writing it. So she said, I used to write on the flight. That's the first time I realised the meaning of auto pilot!'

The couple share a fine sense of humour, but as Manjeet recounts her life, not all of it was funny.

IMAGE: Manjeet will soon launch Buddy Hirani Ke Kisse, a book for children in Hindi, as well as an animation series.

"I got engaged when I was born," Manjeet says.

The family never stayed long in one place, as her father was in the army and would get transferred frequently.

While her two older brothers went to boarding school, Manjeet was put in "bizarre schools."

"My father felt one child should always stay with the family. So I was put in a Hindi-medium school in Banbasa, Uttar Pradesh, a school in Bareilly, Jabalpur... My education was not in continuity," she says.

Four days before he succumbed to cancer in 1978, Manjeet's father got her engaged at his hospital bed. She was 13.

The family lived in Dehu Road, Maharashtra.

After her father's death, they relocated to Mumbai in 1981, as they owned a house in the city.

Manjeet joined college and was expected to marry at the age of 16.

"I broke the engagement because I felt it was not the right time to marry. I wanted to study further," she says.

She completed her graduation, and got a job in a shoe company for a year.

"I became an air hostess because there was an ad in the newspaper," she says with a laugh.

After six months, she wanted to move on to something more challenging.

"I used to watch this serial Udaan and was fascinated by it," she says.

The serial, starring Kavita Chaudhary, showed a woman's struggle to become an IPS officer in a man's world.

Inspired, Manjeet decided to become a pilot.

Studying and training to become a pilot was expensive, and tough for Manjeet's family. After loans and donations, she raised enough to sign up in 1989.

The training ended in 1993, and Manjeet flew as a co-pilot for 12 years. She became a commander in 2005.

"It is thrilling to be a pilot!" she says.

She narrates an incident from one of her first flying stints as a commander.

"I was taking off in Kolkata during a hailstorm. The weather was so bad that both the windshields (in the plane) cracked. I was terrified! That day, I decided to resign," Manjeet says with a laugh.

Of course, she flew again the next day.

IMAGE: Manjeet with Aamir Khan and her husband at the launch of her book.

Manjeet married Rajkumar Hirani in 1994. It was an arranged marriage.

"Raju's brother Sanju was engaged, and his wedding was fixed for December 30. Their people in Nagpur (where the Hirani family then lived) decided that chote ki ho rahi hai, badi ki nahin (the younger son is getting married, not the older). So they asked Raju if he had anyone in mind."

Interestingly, Manjeet's brothers were having the same conversation with her at the time.

Since both of them were not seeing anyone at the time, one of Manjeet's brothers connected with Raju's father ("I don't know how!") to set up an alliance.

Manjeet and Raju met for the first time on November 13, were engaged the next week, and wed on December 30.

"Both brothers got married in the same mandap!" she exclaims.

Their son Vir was born four years later.

IMAGE: Ranbir Kapoor with Manjeet.

Ask Manjeet about Sanju, and she only smiles.

She doesn't say much about the film's leading man, Ranbir Kapoor, either.

But they do share a bond, and it is evident from his lavish praise of Manjeet's book.

In the book, Ranbir writes about his first pet Dudley who brought his family together during a rough phase.

Others like Dia Mirza, John Abraham, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Maneka Gandhi have also praised her work in the book.

"Dia is a close friend of mine," Manjeet says. "She had a dog named Sultan. I was so scared of him that he had to be put in another room or taken for a walk. Once I was at her house, and was very tired. I was sleeping on the sofa. When I opened my eyes, Sultan's face was right there, and I screamed. They still make fun of me about that!"

While Dia is a part of some Raju Hirani movies, one wonders why she asked John to write.

"There is a connection," Manjeet says, and then narrates a story.

"Raju had just made Munnabhai MBBS. There's a scene where the patient (played by Jimmy Shergil) is dying and a song is arranged for him. A close doctor friend came to us, and told us about her patient, a 25-year-old old man, who had cancer and would not survive. She asked if we could do something for him. So Raju asked what he liked."

"She said he is a big fan of John Abraham. In those days, Dhoom had just released."

"John was flying to South Africa that night, but he met that guy in the hospital. They spoke about bikes and all. After that, he went for his shoot. It seems that when he returned from his shoot, John met that patient again. The next day, the patient died."

"Then, John went and cleared all his hospital bills, and even attended his funeral. So we have a lot of respect for him; all this does not come out in the media."

Why didn't she ask Raju to write?

"I didn't think of asking him to write," she laughs.

"When I say something, he nods. He's good at nodding! He's too busy with his projects."

Manjeet is writing her next book, This Is Your Captain from the Flight Deck.

This time, it will be life lessons learnt from her experience as a pilot.

"I have taken analogies about things like take off, cruising, landing etc with life," she says.

"Every stage of flight is a lesson. We are given a flight plan. but sometimes, it doesn't go according to plan. If I am going from Mumbai to Goa, I may not land in Goa if there's too much rain. I may have to divert. So when I leave home, I don't know what my destination will be."

There is a stronger connect with nature as well, she says.

"I gaze at the stars, the sunrise, the different shades of colour in the sky..." she says.

"I've always had a strong connect with nature. In my childhood, one of the places we lived was Banbasa (on the border of Nepal in Uttarakhand). We lived in the midst of a jungle, in tents, with the Sharda river flowing by."


Manjeet shares a couple of Lessons from Buddy Hirani

IMAGE: Manjeet signs her book at a bookshop. Photograph: Kind courtesy Manjeet Hirani/Instagram


One day, Manjeet took Buddy out for his evening walk.

"I thought it was very stylish, taking your dog for a walk," she says with a laugh.

But what happened next startled her.

Stray dogs started approaching them, barking and looking to charge.

Manjeet, scared stiff, had to ask some passersby for help.

The next time, she went in another direction and crossed the road. She faced the same problem again.

So she crossed the road again, but this time, the dogs did not follow her.

"I realised dogs are very territorial. And so are human beings. Saas-bahu ke panga, caste issues... There is no person, who is not territorial," she says.


As Manjeet chats, a reluctant Buddy is taken to another room by an attendant.

"Did you see how Buddy was dragged away?" Manjeet asks me. "He should have been angry with us. If a guest who is uncomfortable with dogs visits us, it becomes a task to take Buddy away. Pathar ho jata hai (he becomes stone). We have to drag him to another room. But when the guest leaves, Buddy comes back happily. He never holds any grudges."

"Can you imagine if your husband drags you away like that? Will you come back smiling? Koi chance hi nahin hai! (no chance at all!) If humans don't hold grudges, there would be no problems," says Manjeet.

"Our fights are of 1947, but we don't even know what had happened then. We were not born. But we're still holding grudges."

IMAGE: Manjeet is working hard to spread awareness to #ScoopThePoop. "Pet owners don't scoop the poop, so I want to spread the awareness, especially during the monsoon."

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Ronjita Kulkarni /