Of Celebrity Icons
By Maxwell Pereira

It was super-star Amitabh Bachchan who dominated my 'morning walk thoughts' today. I was taking my routine mandatory constitutional, even as the first rays of the rising sun on the horizon were casting long shadows of me in the park as they struck the first day of December 2005! May be because his sudden ill-health due to suspected food-poisoning and hospitalisation at Escorts Delhi and Leelawati Mumbai where he's undergone surgery for intestinal infection has been front page news these last two days.

I know of Amitabh obviously because everybody knows him - as an icon of India's film industry, having reached heights in Bollywood and on the telly-screen no one else ever has in recent memory. I cannot be presumptuous though as to claim he knows me - I am sure he does not - but I did have an encounter with him once years ago on the central vista lawns of Delhi's India gate when actor Manoj Kumar and he were together shooting for a film.

Police arrangements had been detailed to keep the crowds away. More than the ostensible and passing excuse of a supervisory look-see for my 'otherwise not required' presence there, sheer basic human weakness for celebrity encounter and curiosity had perhaps attracted my physical self to the place and lured me to the vicinity in the guise of taking a discreet round. And lo and behold our police legal advisor Khanna who I later came to know was a childhood class-fellow and friend of Manoj was there in full strength with family getting himself photographed with the celebrity stars.

On sighting me on the periphery he felt perhaps compelled to extend magnanimously the courtesy to me as well, but being in uniform I had declined with a polite negative nod and walked away. It was then that out of the corner of my eye I sensed a tall figure sprint towards me, and before I could react, literally encircled me with his long hand to drag me to where the others were, to get me photographed by the industry photographer clicking away on his professional camera.

Not too long thereafter, I was delivered a glossy picture of me in the company of these celebrities, which as anyone would want to, has carefully been preserved since. That was Amitabh for you!

My thoughts dwelling on Amitabh, strayed further today to the time when I had to periodically hold hands with his mother Teji Bachchan. 'Holding hands' metaphorically of senior citizens was part of my routine as DCP South District in the mid eighties - at times a great PR exercise, at times a pain in the butt suffered grudgingly. There was a time when not a day would pass without a call from the venerable old lady - and woe to me if I ever dared not to drop in at the senior Bachchans' Gulmohar Park residence.

The security concerns of their well fortified house was ever a bother to her, so the increasing traffic outside her gate that ultimately got me to prevail on my colleague in the Traffic Department to bring on speed breakers to check the erratic designs of the boisterous youngsters from the rustic neighbourhood. Sprightly and full of life even at her age, she was gracious to me when I dropped in, but always needed to remind and re-introduce me to a seemingly hard-of-hearing (…I suppose due to old age) poet husband whom she addressed with a drawling "Bachchchaaaaaan……." even as he sat relaxed in a rocking chair. I used to feel a bit ill at ease though, frankly because her warmth never could compensate or wipe out the snootiness I experienced on the part of the other house inmates.

Then my supposed closeness to her did have some embarrassing moments too - like when the powers that be through my immediate boss needed me to worm out from her information on the immediate whereabouts of both her sons, whom I gathered were being sought desperately for secret political parleys not privy to me! I had failed my bosses then - my supposed charm hadn't worked, and the lady had excelled then in diplomatically denying me the information. And if I remember correctly, with this ended finally the tête-à-tête between us!

I have very little knowledge of the Hindi cinema scene or of Bollywood; and I like to believe I am not one given to licking celebrity derrières. But at a time like this I do find myself quite comfortable in the role of a well-wisher joining the ranks of millions of his fans wishing Amitabh a speedy recovery.

750 words
01.12.2005: Copyright © Maxwell Pereira; tel: 0124-4111025; 3725 Sector 23, Gurgaon-122002.
Available at maxwellpereira44@gmail.com or maxpk@vsnl.com & http://www.planetindia.net.maxwell



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