“Where do you stay?”
“You mean Cobala?”
“Good girl, you can come over for the interview tomorrow, but you’ll have to come to Chembur, not Cobala.”
That’s an excerpt from my first conversation with Dadamoni or Ashok Kumar, as the world knows him. He had almost retired by then, did few movies and even fewer interviews. So, it was a coup of sorts getting him to agree to a one-on-one.
Barely out of college and a rookie reporter, I arrived at his Chembur bungalow at the appointed hour with great expectations, only to see the iron gate remained stubbornly shut.
“Sahab doesn’t do interviews anymore,” I was curtly told by the watchman.
Suddenly, inspiration struck, “Tell him Roshmila from Cobala is here to see him.”
Grumbling about pesky ‘patrakars’, the ‘darwan’ walked away, leaving me clinging to the iron spikes with a prayer on my lips.
Ten minutes later, he returned and grudgingly opened the gate, inviting me in. “Wait in the living room, sahab will be with you shortly,” I was told.
Choking back a victory whoop, I settled back in the settee, taking in my surroundings. The room I had been shown into was dark, strewn with antiques and smelled faintly of mildew. It was obvious that guests were few and far between.
Dadamoni admitted as much when he joined me there, at home in his ‘lungi’ and ‘kurta’. “What will you have?” he asked, with the innate courtesy of a Bengali babumoshai. “If my wife Shobha was still alive, she’d have rustled up something nice. I can only offer you tea.”
I waved off the offer saying, “I don’t drink tea.”
A naughty twinkle lit up his eyes, “Yeah, you’re still a child. We’ll get you some milk then.”
No amount of “na-nas” and “no-nos” could dissuade him from making me drink a glass of milk that evening.
The next time I was there, I accepted the offer of tea even before it was made, drawing a smile from him, “Bodo hoi gacho? (You’ve grown up then?)”
With Dadamoni interviews were always conducted in Bengali. The first time I’d tried to ask my questions in English, I’d been silenced with a dark frown, “Bangla jano na? (You don’t speak Bengali?)”
I admitted I did, and in those pre-dictaphone days, diligently translated his flood of ‘bangla’ words into almost illegible scribbles in English in my notepad. The next day, I was on the phone with my mother, my mother-in-law and every other relative from back home whom I could trace, trying to figure out how certain colloquial Bengali terms were translated into English.
Dadamoni insisted on me getting him a copy of the magazine in which the interview had appeared. I was too embarrassed to comply. That particular edition was a ‘Sex Special’ with pages of voluptuous, half-nude Southern belles in it. Tucked away between their luscious curves was his piece.
I took him a Xerox copy, he wasn’t pleased. “Is the magazine sold out?”
Eyes fixed to the floor, I shook my head miserably.
“So, why didn’t you get me a copy?” he asked sharply.
“It’s a Sex Special,” I murmured inaudibly.
“Sex special?” he repeated.
My blush deepened, “Yes.”
Suddenly, his laugh rang through the room, “You’re keeping a Sex Special from me! Tear out my article if you want, but let me look at those lovely ladies.”
That was my Dadamoni who was born a day before me, October 13. By the time I got to know him, he had stopped celebrating his birthday because his beloved younger brother, Kishore Kumar, had succumbed to a fatal heart attack on that day while planning a party for him at his Juhu home, Gauri Kunj.
Still, I can never bring in my B-day without remembering his. Dadmoni would have stepped into his 100th year had he been around. I wish he were. I’d move from Lokhandwala to Cobala or even bring out a ‘Sex Special’ just to hear that laugh ring out again.