When I was growing up, I looked forward to visiting my grandmother because every night she had a new story to tell me. Rolling out chapattis by the kaat-koylar unun (wood and coal stove), she would recount the adventures of two little birdies, Tona and Tuni, and their pethe (sweet) binge. She would hurry me through dinner with the terror tale of Krishna mashi (aunt) and the Royal Bengal Tiger, then lull me to sleep with a narrative of a slumbering princess with a sonar kathi (golden stick) and rupor kathi (silver stick) by her bedside.
Some of the stories came from ‘Thakurmar Jhuli’, the Bengali equivalent of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. But most of them grew out of my grandmother’s own imagination, and some were drawn from real life as well.
Star Stories is born...
The years went by. Then, one day, she was gone, and I had to find my own stories that would make for entertaining dinner table conversations, nudge juniors into action and come in handy during my daughter’s bedtime. I found them in Bollywood’s wonderland. After over two decades of interactions in the film industry, I had my own Cinemar Jhuli (bagful of cinema tales).
While at work, my colleagues and I often traded stories when brainstorming about the next edition. And that’s where the idea of my column, Star Stories, was born. “You can share your anecdotes with more people through a weekly Sunday column,” Khalid Mohamed, then editor of HT Café, suggested. The prospect was terrifying!
“I’ll run out of stories in four weeks,” I protested, and over the next four months concocted every excuse to dodge the calamity. Then one Friday evening in September 2008, after pondering over the stories for the Sunday edition of the paper, Khalid suddenly ordered me to file my column by the next morning."
SRK to the rescue
I spent a sleepless night wondering what I was going to write on, and it turned out to be Shah Rukh Khan. An interview with the Baazigar had stretched to almost midnight. I lived in Vashi then, and knew I’d missed the last bus, maybe even the last local train from CST. The idea of spending the night in Film City, Goregaon, while my husband replayed every worst possible scenario in his head since there was no mobile phone to buzz him about my whereabouts, made me break out into a cold sweat. Returning from a shot, Shah Rukh sensed something amiss and when I told him that I was stranded, he immediately offered me his car and chauffeur.
“Kabir will drive you home. Have him call one of the assistants from your residence telephone. If I am still working on Maya Memsaab, he can return to Film City or else go directly home to Bandra,” he instructed.
I was gratified but perplexed. “But how are you going to go back?” I asked. He said, “I’m sure I can get someone to give me a lift.” And so, I drove home in a red Pajero, startling my hubby who was patrolling the streets in search of his missing wife!
Sunday ke Sunday
That was just the beginning. After that, every Sunday I’ve written a Star Story. From Dadamoni’s (Ashok Kumar) Cobala password to Preity Zinta’s dimples, from Dilip Kumar’s biryani recipe to the death scene that had Rajesh Khanna guffawing silently, from almost having to cook lunch for ‘Loin’ Ajit to Bipasha Basu’s spine-chilling raaz (secret). I missed writing only once, when a page was dropped for an ad. And was suprised by the flood of the ‘Where’s your column?’ queries.
Honestly, I never really believed people were reading my stories until strangers walked up to me at the puja pandal to tell me that they did. Friends speculated over who would be the subject of my next column on Facebook. And once, during an interview, even my first muse, Shah Rukh, told me that he enjoyed my reminiscences since they took him back in time, to a space not too many of today’s journalists had walked before.
Hard to say goodbye...
Four years and two months have flown by and Star Stories has helped me make many new friends. It’s also helped me make my star friends more human. My encounters with these demigods have made them more real, flesh-and-blood people with their little eccentricities, small failings and warm hearts. My journey with these beautiful people will continue, but after five years my journey with HT Café has come to an end.
So long, farewell, it’s hard to say goodbye. I leave and heave a sigh and say, nah not adieu but arrivederci. Till we meet again. Not so hard then!