A weakness for Helen
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A weakness for Helen

National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah wept bitterly at the Kaaba in Mecca: ?Take away my position but spare me the humiliation,? he had prayed.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2006 01:04 IST

National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah wept bitterly at the Kaaba in Mecca: “Take away my position but spare me the humiliation,” he had prayed. The then J&K Chief Minister Abdullah had fallen out with the then PM, Rajiv Gandhi. An audience with him meant waiting for at least eight days. It also meant being searched and luggage being off-loaded from flights.

Yet there are plenty of pleasant memories too: like when Rajiv wanted to see saffron fields in the state, or when sipping tea with Rajiv at a makeshift dwelling in Pampore. Those were the days when the human, rather than the politician, in Rajiv Gandhi ruled the man.

That’s the sentimental Farooq Abdullah. Ask his daughters and they will tell you how embarrassing it is to watch a movie with Farooq: “He sobs like a child,” recalls Sara who also rewinds to her sister Safia’s marriage when “Pops” (Farooq) cried more than the bride. “It was easier to control her than him,” she laughs.

Tears apart, there are several other things that Farooq cannot handle: snakes, for instance — the main reason for him avoiding TV channels like Animal Planet or Discovery. He also stays away from horror movies. “Chillers and thrillers are not for him. However, mention Helen and he will go to lengths to watch her movies,” recall his children. Safia narrates stories about her father’s college days she has heard, like the one about the gatekeeper in the neighbouring cinema being lavishly tipped for informing them when Helen’s cabaret scene was in progress. They would then slip out of class, ‘watch her swing’ and return after the scene. Whenever movies were possible, which was more than twice a week, the boys would book an entire box and ‘invite the girls’. Till the lights were on, the girls and boys sat in separate rows. But once the film started, they paired up. “And if one managed to hold hands, it was the ultimate” concedes Farooq.

Gaps in the boundary walls between girls and boys colleges served as conduits for the passage of love notes — dialogues directly lifted from Dilip Kumar or Dev Anand movies. The girls in turn used lines by Madhubala or Suraiya: “It was a simple formula. When in tragic mode use Dilip Kumar; when writing fun letters quote Raj Kapoor,” explains Farooq.

Childhood meant being whip-lashed by the local gardener for plucking cherries, being caned in school or feeling ticklish at the trail of mustard oil which his mother poured to cure ear-aches. It also meant running up to the terrace to try and avoid the doctor when he would come home to administer cholera shots. Despite being a practising doctor till he plunged headfirst into politics, Farooq loathes injections. It was absolutely miserable when he had to administer one to a patient.

Terrible with names and dates, Farooq mixes up Safia and Sara — and forgets if Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister in 1968 or 1986.

First Published: Feb 04, 2006 01:04 IST