Had he been still around, he would have been 97. I miss my Dadamoni. Even today, every time I pass by Chembur, I’m reminded of his bungalow, with its dusty antiques, doted-upon-dogs and a gate which would creak open when I whispered the magic word Cobala.
Cobala was Colaba in Ashok Kumar’s vocabulary. The first time I called him to fix an interview, he initiated the q-and-a session himself by asking me my name and whereabouts. When I told him I lived in Colaba, he retorted, “You mean Cobala?”
No, I meant Colaba. “It’s Cobala,” he insisted, and I submitted. Minutes later, when he referred to Flora Fountain as Fountain Pen, I didn’t correct him.
By the end of the conversation we had a date.
I arrived at his bungalow only to be told that he was not meeting anyone. Desolately I turned away. Then, inspiration struck. “Tell him Cobala is here for an interview,” I urged the darwan. Reluctantly, he went to convey my message, and, to my surprised delight, returned to usher me into a dark living room. I had my password.. Cobala.
Barely out of college, I tried to impress Dadamoni with my cool professionalism. I turned down his offer of tea or coffee only to be told, “Let’s get you a glass of milk then?”
I tried to conduct the interview in English only to be reprimanded, “You’re a Bengali. So why don’t you speak in Bangla?”
I later took for him a copy of the magazine in which the interview appeared, hoping he wouldn’t notice the article on semi-nude starlets. He flipped open to that very page, eyed the photographs with considerable interest and smiled at my discomfort, “These pictures are better than mine.”
After that I decided to join his brood of grandchildren and enjoy his naughty wit. We were compiling a special edition on the most unforgettable faces on the Indian screen. One of them was Meena Kumari who had worked with Ashok Kumar in 16-17 films including the Bimal Roy classic
. I hoped to get some interesting insights on her.
Dadamoni didn’t disappoint me. Meena Kumari, he told me with a naughty twinkle, wasn’t beautiful in the conventional sense. Her charm lay in her sexy voice and the seductive sway of her hips.
“I told Bimal (Roy) to zoom in on her back when she walked. Also, to play up her curves, we draped her in a sari
without a petticoat. Meena was a little surprised when I gave this suggestion, but she did not question me. In those days, I was her guru,” he grinned broadly.
In time, I learnt not to blush at his unabashed candour. I laughed out loud when, after accepting the Lifetime achievement Award, the octogenarian eyed the gilded statue appreciatively and said, “Tonight, I will have a naked woman in my arms.” It was so Dadamoni!
My most memorable moments in his company were spent during a stroll down memory lane on Kishore Kumar’s first.. or may be second.. death anniversary. Instead of maudlin reminiscences, I was treated to an evening of song-and-sentiment by Dadamoni and Anoop Kumar as the two brothers remembered every wacky detail of their life with Kishore.
A song from
Chalti ka Naam Gaadi
still plays in my head..
Baaju, baabu, samjho ishare, horan pukare, pam pam pam
yahaan chalti ko gaadi, kehte hain pyaare, pam pam pam
.. With Dadamoni around, life sure was a joyride!