Stupid as the human heart is, it never occurred to me that one day Jaspal Bhatti could die too. I have imagined my own death, even pictured my own funeral, feared for my loved ones too, and experienced enough bad news in my five years as a hard-hearted journalist. Yet, when I spotted the ticker on a news channel routinely flashing BREAKING NEWS and then suddenly announcing JASPAL BHATTI KILLED IN ROAD MISHAP, disbelief struck me.
For several moments, I just sat in front of the TV and hoped that the ticker would somehow go away if I stared hard enough, that what I had just read would be erased, that it would all indeed be a hallucination induced by sleep deprivation, that the world order would be restored and the Flop Show would go on as usual. But the font became bolder, they showed his picture, and it carried his year of birth and death under it, in that conventional style of announcing with finality that this man's time was indeed up. My heart sank, and I felt a silent tear escape my eye. On October 25, 2012, I lost a part of my childhood, a childhood I hide inside me even as the world around changes its perception of me.
In my child-universe, Jaspal Bhatti seemed immortal, as constant as his inimitable style of satire, which carried no malice but did not lack bite. As a child, I did not understand many of his jokes, but in that parallel universe, which I created when I was six or seven, we lovingly called him 'uncle'.
His innovative ideas stopped being innovative to my grown mind after a while, YouTube re-runs of Ulta Pulta and Flop Show failed to keep the 25-year-old me as interested as before, yet his self-deprecating humour never stopped being endearing and engaging. Not fearing any argument, I had blatantly termed him 'Punjab's satirist-in-chief' in a news report once.
Since we shared our birthday (March 3), his status was higher in my parallel child-universe, such that my innocent self believes, to this day, that he overshadowed Salman Khan in the one movie in which he played his sidekick. Called Jaanam Samjha Karo, it had a plot borrowed from a Hollywood movie, and even had the legendary Shammi Kapoor among the cast. But Jaspal Bhatti clearly stole the show!
I actually had to stop myself from calling him 'uncle' as I bumped into him at a restaurant one night last year. I had seen him around in Chandigarh many times earlier too; but that night I felt I could be more than a pesky fan. We had used his photograph leading a satirical protest against the petrol price hike on the front page of the edition due the next morning. With the airs of a man who knew tomorrow's news today, I shook his hand, flashed my credentials, and then told him with authority, "Kal da Hindustan Times vekhyo; tuhadi photo hi laa kea aaya haan front page te! (Do read the newspaper tomorrow; I just put your photograph on the front page!)"
"Meri photo kyon laa ti? Main taan haale zinda haan! (Why my photo? I am still alive)," he said, and then smiled naughtily. By the time I grasped his dark humour and embarrassingly let out a belated guffaw, he had shaken my hand and moved on.