In the hot summer of 1975, Dilip Kumar along with his wife Saira Banu was in Kashmir for a special reason. Their chaperone and former joint tourism director shares the details of the uncanny visit on the demise of the “tragedy king”.
A rotary-dial telephone rang the Rather residence of Dalgate amid the political rumblings of 1975. Srinagar was full of speculations and fearing political tensions, many high-end tourists had cancelled their bookings. But that call would confirm one quiet arrival in Gulmarg.
The caller sounded akin to a quintessential Kashmiri: “Please come back to Gulmarg. You’re required to host Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu.”
Once the Dalgate man reached Gulmarg, he got introduced to a brutal reality that had forced the first Indian superstar and his wife to bow under the shade of the transcendental journey of Kashmir.
Decades later, inside his Sanat Nagar residence—where the moth-eaten monochromes are shushing down the surrounding dampness, Abdul Ahad Rather, a former joint tourism director, turns nostalgic about Mohammed Yousuf Khan aka Dilip Kumar.
Abdul Ahad Rather has acted as a chaperone to the celebrated couple.
Abdul Ahad recalls the virtuous actor as a “worthy ambassador of honour”, who would’ve given everything for the peace and tranquility that he once experienced in Kashmir.
“This photo-frame is from the time when I came to know about the obscure but ethical man lying behind the garb of a superstar,” Abdul Ahad recalls while pointing towards a specific photo from 1975.
That year, after reaching Gulmarg, Abdul Ahad received another call, this time from the thespian himself: “Salam Ahad Sahib. It’s me, Mohammed Yousuf. Can you please accompany us [Saira Bano and Dilip Kumar] to Baba Reshi?”
“I had no hunch that the duo wasn’t going there to pay respect but for something more valuable and important, that maybe, except me no other individual knew about,” Ahad made a disclosure of the secret shrine visit years later, on the demise of Dilip Kumar, at 98.
Before the 1975 Indira-Abdullah accord would renew political tensions in the region, Dilip Kumar would usually spend his vacations with Saira Banu in Kashmir, frequently staying at Srinagar’s Oberoi Palace, Pahalgam’s Hotel Natarajan and Gulmarg’s Highland Park.
“Those vacations were usually planned in secret as Dilip Kumar wished for tranquility in Kashmir rather than the same buzzer of Mumbai that followed him everywhere,” Ahad says while remembering the noble soul. “But somehow locals would get to know and barge his temporary shelter.”
The retreat was equally boosting the hotel industry as many locals who wished for Dilip Kumar’s single glimpse would book hotels for days, sometimes returning back with a Rs 10 note with the superstar’s signature and selling them in Srinagar for more than Rs 150.
The couple was in the valley in 1975 for a special visit.
Sitting inside the Plymouth car, Abdul Ahad, Dilip Kumar and Saira Bano journeyed towards Baba Reshi. “I could see something on the face of the celebrated, childless couple,” Ahad recalls the wistful memories. “It was hope.”
On reaching Baba Reshi, Saira Bano stepped out in absolute reverence and haste. She was wearing a pure silk Saree worth Rs 20,000, Abdul Ahad recalls, and yet she walked like a mystic in search of something her fate had long deprived her of.
“Dilip Kumar was informed by someone that any couple that was longing for a child should pay visit to Baba Reshi in Kashmir,” he recalls. “It wasn’t a misplaced notion. Hundreds of couple after years of longing for a child had enjoyed the essence of parenthood, soon after paying a visit to Baba Reshi.”
Following the same steps, the couple had drifted towards Baba Reshi to end their wait.
“I could see their longing for a child,” says the octogenarian Ahad. “The lawn of Baba Reshi was full of dirt as it had rained for a few hours before our arrival. Saira Ji passed directly through that pile of dirt, soiling her expensive Saree and crying her heart out over her denied motherhood.”
She went on towards the ‘Dab’—a mini balcony, more like a window opened up with a ledge to the outside—of the shrine.
The legend has it, the woman who paints that ‘Dab’ with mud would soon be blessed with a child. “Saira Banu did the same,” the chaperone of the celebrated couple recounts. “It was as if her sense of learned helplessness was fully developed. She was ready to go to any length to break the jinx of her motherhood.”
Almost immediately, on the other side of the lawn, Dilip Kumar was standing near the donation box of the shrine. “He was stuffing around ten to fifteen thousand rupees, all in cash, from the small gap of the donation box, trying to turn the screw of his destiny,” Abdul Ahad recounts.
“But alas, being parents was never in their fate,” Ahad rues.
However, years before his demise, Dilip Kumar said that he and his wife—now his widow—Saira Banu had no regrets about being the childless couple.
“It would have been great if we had our own kids,” Dilip Kumar had said. “But we have no regrets. We are both submissive to the will of God. As for incompleteness, I must tell you that neither Saira nor I can complain of a lack of contentment. It is enough for us that we have our families to share our happiness and our small dismays with. Mine is a large family, with so many nieces and nephews and their families of growing kids speaking the language of today, which is as bewildering as it is befitting the times they are living in. Saira’s is a small family comprising her brother Sultan and his kids and grandchildren. We feel we are lucky to be there for them when they need us.”
However, Abdul Ahad is privy to the couple’s secret shrine visit to end the curse of childlessness. “They were the king and queen of the Indian cinema then,” Ahad says. “But then, as they say, Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahan nahi milta.”
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