Malavika’s Mumbaistan: The Maverick Kapoor
Perhaps Aditya Raj Kapoor’s personal journey is even more remarkable than his round-the-world trip, undertaken alone on a motorcycle at 61. The son of two stars of the Indian film industry — late Geeta Bali and Shammi Kapoor, it could be said that on his birth, Aditya or Mickey’s future had been cut out for him, as well fitting as a suit from Mumbai’s famous Kachins Tailors: after his schooling he’d work as an AD at RK Studios, while simultaneously being groomed by his family’s ecosystem into a shining star who’d soon climb the ladder of fame, fortune and unbridled fandom.
Who is not familiar with the Kapoor story? A legendary patriarch with his brood of swashbuckling actor-sons, each an icon in his own right; a life of endless glamor and glitz; of parties, previews and premieres; and of course, those famous Holi bashes where Sitara Devi had danced, and Raj Kapoor had played his dholak…
Except, this Kapoor’s life hadn’t followed the conventional formulae or screenplay; in fact, there had been a sudden veering away from the script, quite early on. As he tells it, his mother’s sudden and tragic death when he was nine had resulted in a troubled childhood and a lost young man; the saving grace had been that through it all his stepmother Neela Devi’s steadfast love and support had resulted in Kapoor living a life completely unlike that of his clan.
“I was never a biker. Biking was never in my vision. I was about 56 when I bought my first bike and past 60 when I finished my round the world trip,” says Kapoor, about his journey which he embarked on in June 2017 in Mumbai and which had seen him ride through 15 countries including Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, England, America, Indonesia Thailand and Myanmar — a journey that had taken 315 days and covered a staggering 35,000 kms.
But remarkable as it is, a journey perhaps not as extraordinary as the one he’d embarked on as a young man.
Speaking to Aditya, one realises that his epic journey had begun much earlier, when he’d been introduced at 17 by his stepmother to her guru, an enigmatic spiritual master called Bholey Baba of Haidakhan, Uttarakhand.
This was when on the verge of a promising debut as a film star, on the single sentence of his guru, Kapoor had upset the apple cart and overnight turned his back on the film industry, to dedicate himself to a life of considerable hardship and devotion in his ashram.
“There I was, a star son, brought up in Malabar Hill. And life at the ashram was completely alien to anything I’d known,” he says. “We had to rise at 3.30am to bathe in the river then perform a havan followed by an arti by 8am. Then the day’s hard labour began — carrying rocks for construction of a bridge, sweeping the ashram, settling footwear or preparing meals and collecting buckets of water and carrying them up 108 steps…”
On the wishes of his guru who, he says, had revealed his entire future to him one day while sitting on a riverbank, Kapoor had married Priti, a fellow devotee and had become a businessman. Eschewing the glamorous life of his family and rarely being seen in public, he’d lived and worked away from the public eye in the Middle East with his devoted wife and their two kids. Upon retirement, he’d returned to India and that’s when he’d bought his first bike, on the prompting of his son, himself a biker.
So, had his guru predicted his trip?
“A guru doesn’t hand you a typed statement. Mostly he communicates in shrouded meanings, parables and poems,” says Kapoor, adding, “Once, a devotee had given Babaji a watch as a gift, which he’d promptly fastened around my wrist saying, “This watch will go around the world!” When I planned my world trip, I knew I would complete it, because of that.”
It is difficult to even imagine the profound courage it must have taken Kapoor to embark on a world trip, all alone, riding in unfamiliar terrain and unpredictable situations. According to him, he’d inherited this courage from his late mother.
“She was extraordinarily courageous,” he says. “Her father had been a revered philosopher and at a very young age she’d travelled extensively by ship with him on his preaching pilgrimages, and very early on, she had decided to become the breadwinner for her family, defying all convention and patriarchal norms, even running away from Amritsar to Lahore for a radio singing assignment. Once, after their marriage, when my parents were out on shikar, my father said that she had been so fascinated by a tiger that she’d got out of the car and sat on the bonnet to admire it fearlessly.” Kapoor says, “She must have put all that into me.”
To understand what it was like to be alone on his Triumph Bonneville circumnavigating the globe, one must read Kapoor’s recently published Quest — a meticulous diary, replete with colourful insights, anecdotes and photographs of the innumerable exhilarating experiences he’d encountered along the way, including traversing the challenging Trans-Siberian Highway, bedding down in various idiosyncratic AirBnBs and roadside dhaaba meals that had sustained him. Above all, it is a chronicle of the warm, vibrant people he’d met on the journey, many of them devotees of his Guru, at ashrams across the four corners of the world.
“I had made up my mind to visit people and not monuments,” he says. “And I met all of them. Strangers who helped me with directions, some who gave me free food or shelter. One who even danced with me!” he says, adding, “No one discussed politics or the state of the world or their country, or mine. There is goodness in all people. You must reach out, or you will miss out on the best creation of God.”
So now that he has a solo world trip under his belt, what’s next for this free spirited, maverick Kapoor? Having recently moved with his wife to Goa and enrolled in a course in philosophy, Kapoor has developed two new interests: a website he has launched to assist others in their spiritual development and composing music — a passion he shared with his father. “My wife presented me with a keyboard and my daughter Tulsi, who is a musician, helps. When I told her I could not read music, she said: “Neither could Michael Jackson.” So, I put my fingers on the keys and played!” he laughs.
See what I meant about this Kapoor not following the conventional formulae and veering away from the script?