An item in the local newspaper caught my attention and I read with amusement the news of 35 kilograms of sweets being distributed among the poor and needy by a certain Pappu Sardar to celebrate the 35th birthday of Madhuri Dikshit. He was an ardent fan of the actress and it was his way of announcing his affection for her. In a way I was glad that he opted to feed the poor instead of hosting a party for his affluent friends. Being drawn to actors and actresses and carrying one’s fancy to abnormal levels is nothing new. I had a friend in college who almost committed suicide when a famous actor, for whom she nursed a secret crush, announced his decision to marry his childhood sweetheart. My paternal grandmother who was otherwise a very religious woman found information about screen personalities very interesting. She knew details of their umpteen marriages and affairs, their shooting schedules as well as their personal likes and dislikes. She had no favorites but was generally in awe of their lifestyle. Upon her death she had bequeathed to her grand children the contents of a steel trunk that contained along with gold jewelry and silverware 2 signed photographs of the Hindi film actress Suraiyya, which made us recall the events that led to their acquisition.
Way back in the early sixties we happened to stay in Suraiyya Mansion, which as the name implies belonged to Suraiyya the then famous actress and the undisputed queen of Hindi films. A part of the building happened to be leased out to the army and my father being a doctor in the Army Medical Corps was allotted a flat in the Mansion. My mother who was then in her early thirties had her hands full with three school going children and it hardly mattered to her whether the apartment belonged to Suraiyya or anyone else. But not so my grand mother who had all the time in the world. She was so excited to be sharing the roof with a renowned actress that she started offering special prayers to the gods to enable my father’s posting in Bombay to last long enough for all our relatives to be able to pay us a visit and be blessed with at least a passing glimpse of the lady. She wrote to as many of them as possible and urged them plan a trip to Bombay without delay. “ Vishu may get transfer orders anytime.” She’d conclude “ so don’t blame me if you don’t get to meet her. I’m doing my best. The rest is up to you.” Luckily those were days when telephones were considered a luxury and we did not have one. If my grand mother had access to this modern communicating tool she would have given an hourly account of Surayya’s activities to any one who was willing to listen.
My grand mother was an orthodox south Indian Brahmin lady who followed all the rules applicable to a widow’s existence in keeping with our community’s tradition. She had shaved off her long luxuriant hair after my grandfather’s death and ate only one meal a day. Not that she’d starve the rest of the day. She would have for her evening meal items manufactured in God’s own factory viz. at least four varieties of the season’s fruits, a whole lot of dry fruits and a liter of cow’s milk simmered till it attained a pinkish hue and flavored with cardamoms and kesar along with some sweet dish. How much we’d long to be able to exchange our supper consisting of dal, sabzi and roti for her evening meal but my mother would hear none of it.
Coming back to my grand mother’s growing interest in Suraiyya there was a small problem. My grand mother would have loved to talk to her but she knew no Hindi and Suraiyya hardly knew Tamil or Telgu the two languages that my grandmother was proficient in. Therefore chances of getting acquainted with the actress were limited. My grandmother was not the one to be put down so easily. She first coaxed my mother to act as her interpreter but my mother politely refused claiming to be busy with her housework. She tried calling us but we being in our pre - teens and too busy playing were never available. Finally she decided to try on her own.