There’s a mood of celebration in the Pali Hill bungalow of Saira Banu and Dilip Kumar, following the Pakistani government’s declaration of his ancestral Peshawar home as a national heritage site.
The "wonderful news" was conveyed to the nonagenarian by his wife Saira Banu. "It is the highest tribute, and a reward for his work. He was very happy, and his broad smile manifested his gratitude. I could see tears of joy in his eyes," says an emotional Saira.
According to reports, this is an effort by Pakistan to strengthen cultural relations with India, and the government is planning to invite ‘Bollywood’s first couple’ to Pakistan.
Naturally, the duo is eager to undertake the trip. "We shall go if the occasion arises. Inshallah, it’s a huge honour for Sahab, and he should be there personally. There are so many memories attached with that house," Saira adds.
Reportedly, an event is also being planned in Peshawar, wherein Dilip Kumar’s journey from there to Bollywood will be showcased. "No one has approached us yet, but we would extend our help if needed," Saira says.
The veteran actor has visited Pakistan only twice since leaving the country as a child. "The first time was when former President Zia-Ul-Haque had invited Sahab as a state guest, and the next time, when he got Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Nishaan-e-Pakistan, in 1998. That was also when we visited his ancestral home," Saira shares, adding that, every year, people there celebrate his birthday: "Every year, his birthday is celebrated in that house by thousands of his well-wishers, and Sahab talks to them on con-call. They also visit us in India with stories from his birthplace. Those are his only connects with his childhood."
Yet, Saira says there have been skirmishes between caretakers claiming rights to the house: “This is the right direction for the house. Now everything will be cleared out,” she adds.
On a parting note, she also adds, “It’d be wonderful if our government, too, would acknowledge his contributions.” Perhaps a hint there that the actor hasn’t been conferred India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna.