Smoking – Dev Anand to Aamir Khan

Smoking – from Dev Anand to Aamir Khan / Mohan Deep*

When I see the girls, many in their teens, lighting cigarettes; not to talk of Meow Meow and other drugs, I remember the days I started smoking.
It was in Mumbai’s western suburbs Kandivali of early sixties. Being a sort of a rebel, I began early. I think the decision had already been made for me when I saw the first film of my life ‘Taxi Driver’ at six. The film started with a taxi driver sharing a match with Dev Anand. It was much later that I learned that sharing the same match stick between three was considered a jinx, could lead to a fight.
The film had Sheila Ramani who was my father’s cousin and played a bar dancer singing, “Ae meri zindagi, aaj raat jhoom le, aasmaan ko choom le / Kis ko pata hai kal aaye ke na aaye, ae meri zindagi”.
In fact, Dev Anand created an entire generation of smokers with his song in ‘Hum Dono’ – “Mai zindagi ka sath nibhata chala gaya / Har fikr ko dhune me udata chala gaya.
This was a period of stress for Indian youth. Jawaharlal Nehru’s policies had failed. His call for more engineers had been heeded by the people but his government failed to provide the promised opportunities for jobs that resulted in massive unemployment.
There would be long queues in the employment exchanges. One would bribe the clerks to get a call for interview, travel and stand in long queues only to be rejected at the end of the day.
Satyajit Ray showed this situation in one of his films where the unemployed Bengalis stand in the queues, the stark sun burning on their heads and making the struggle much more difficult. Like happened recently with the people in bank queues, young candidates would faint in the queues with occasional deaths. Hindi films of this period often reflected this reality with the boards of ‘No Vacancy’ outside the offices.
Smoking may have helped the worry to momentarily go away in smoke but this was never a solution.
We knew it and Dev Anand knew it. In fact, years later, I asked him about glamourising smoking only to be told that he used cigarette as a prop! Dev Anand wasn’t addicted to smoking.
But Ashok Kumar certainly was.
He saw the cigarette burning in my hand when I went to his Union Park bungalow to interview him and immediately asked eyes twinkling mischievously, “Cigarette hai na? Chalo, pichhware chalte hain.”
He had suffered from some heart issue and had been advised not to smoke. His wife Shobha Devi wouldn’t have liked it. Behind the bungalow, over the clouds of smoke, he gave me one of his most candid interviews.
Smoking certainly is an equaliser. If a desperate for nicotine Ashok Kumar grabbed my cigarette pack, Haji Mastan did it with a police constable. He had been arrested in a midnight swoop on his Juhu apartment, where he lived with his second wife, a look alike of Madhubala, Sona. Locked up, he finished the half complete cigarette packet of State Express. Unused to a life sans nicotine, even for an hour, he tapped the shoulder of the constable guarding his cell and asked him for cigarettes. The cop had only beedis. Mastaan, the don known for smuggling on the biggest scale, lit a beedi after decades.
“Mujhe mera bachpan yaad aa gaya!” Mastan told me. Yusuf Patel, sitting across us told me, “This is why I tell you not to smoke. Ye aisi aadat hai ke Haji Mastan ko bhi haath phailana pada.” Yusuf Patel never smoked and was a teetotaller.
I nodded. I knew enough.
Jawaharlal Nehru was a chain smoker. He tried quitting but always failed. He settled for cutting his cigarettes in two parts with a pair of scissors. He would smoke one half but within minutes reach for the other. Even yoga didn’t help. Nehru was an intense person who couldn’t do without his half hourly dose of nicotine. He found himself short-tempered without cigarette between his fingers. And he was at his charming best with Edwina Mountbatten sharing the flame with her.
Not only Nehru, even General Charles De Gaulle, the head of the State of France found it so difficult to quit cigars that he announced his resolution – not to smoke – in front of the entire army. He thought that such public announcement would strengthen his resolve. It didn’t. The army saw him lighting his cigar again, on the very next day.
It was as difficult for Shammi Kapoor who used to smoke 40-60 cigarettes a day. He could quit only when internet came to India! “Mouse replaced the cigarette,” he told me. Kapoor started spending long hours in front of the monitor. However, his nephew Rishi Kapoor didn’t need the mouse. When he decided to quit smoking – I too quit at the same time but about that latter – he made his whiskey pegs longer! He would sleep for long hours. A few days without nicotine, but with alcohol, were enough for him to get rid of the deadly habit.
When I asked him about his worsening dependence on alcohol he said irritatedly, “Cigarette chhod deeya na! Ab kya drink bhi chhod doon?” Rishi Kapoor is like a stubborn brat even at his age.
It was during the same period that I decided to quit. A little episode from the life of Gautam Buddha came to my mind. Buddha wrote about his ‘weakness’ for apples and how he overcame it. He removed all the apples from his room but retained one. He placed the apple on a high pedestal, visible from everywhere. He would do his daily chores and meditation everyday, occasionally watching his favourite fruit.
Slowly, the apple started rotting and decaying. He saw it happening everyday. In a few days the apple turned totally rotten and inedible. He realised that the apple didn’t mean as much to him now. Soon, he could do without it.
I did a similar thing with a little twist. I kept the half used cigarette packet on my bookshelf, visible from all corners.
I knew that 48 hours of abstinence was necessary for the nicotine to exit from the blood. The withdrawal symptoms reduce after this period. So, in reality, one has to cope with the withdrawal system for just 48 hours.
I spent time sleeping or sucking toffees and occasionally looking at the packet. Forty eight hours later I realised that I had parted from lady nicotine. It was cold turkey.
This was in 1990.
I never took a drag after that. Not a puff.
And must say that some friends were very encouraging. Shatrughan Sinha, for instance. He was shooting when I dropped in. He had already heard that I had quit. As soon as he saw me approaching him, he extinguished his cigarette and told everyone to do the same. He didn’t want to tempt me!
The latter generation of film stars too has loved smoking as much. Shah Rukh Khan is a chain smoker. Aamir Khan too is a heavy smoker. But while SRK hasn’t made any resolve to quit, Aamir quits after his films release, and returns to nicotine during the tense days of marketing the film.
Saif Khan got a health scare a few years back and was admitted in Leelavati Hospital. The doctors – I think it was cardio-surgeon Hemant Kumar – advised him to quit. His mother Sharmila Tagore further urged him to live a nicotine free life. He has almost quit. His first wife Amrita Singh too was an addict. She lit a cigarette when I interviewed her and continued with more cigarettes. She requested me not to mention it in the interview as her mother Rukhsana Sultana would ‘kill her’. I ignored her request and, just for some fun, mentioned it in the article. Amrita continues to be angry with me.
The list of those who smoke is rather long. Anil Kapoor takes a puff, doesn’t inhale and extinguishes the fag in a minute. Amitabh Bachchan used to be a heavy smoker but after his brush with death on the sets of ‘Coolie’ followed by other ailments, he stopped smoking.
I am not easily shocked but got a shock when, seeing that my cigarettes were over, I picked up the packet of an actress.
“Mohan, smoke at your risk!” said the girl. The cigarettes were laced with hash. I won’t name her.
*****
* Mohan Deep, a former journalist, pioneered the genre of star biographies in India with his trilogy of Madhubala, Meena Kumari and Rekha, still considered benchmarks. He started with fiction and continues to write it. His latest novel is ‘Color Me Rich’ and an anthology of his short stories, written over the last five decades, is in the pipeline.

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Udta Sindhi Anthem

Anthem for Udta Sindhi

Sindhis refused to sink, soared high and became UDTA SINDHI.

Anyone else would have surrendered,
Accepted defeat
And
Drowned in the depressing sea of anonymity…
But the Sindhis refused,
Fought quietly
And rebuilt themselves,
Ready to fly.

Anyone else would have lost the individuality,
Would have blended with the local culture,
But the Sindhis said no,
Continued with ‘charyo’,
‘Muo’,
‘Bhensaan’,
‘Buja’
And Lakh ji laanat atheyee,
Remained a Sindhi
And created a new world,
Got himself wings.

He refused to sink,
And Soared in the sky,
Like an eagle,
To become an UDTA SINDHI.

Mohan Deep
20th April 1989.

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Chandru Punjabee – the man behind the township for Sindhis

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Chandru Punjabee – the man behind a township for Sindhis

Sindhis do need a township – to enjoy the bond of kinship, to nurture the individuality and to be together.
Just imagine a million Sindhis in a township!
I met our dear friend, architect, builder and philanthropist Shri Chandru Punjabee, the man behind this movement, after a long time. We had a chat about his dream project for Sindhis. Housing. While I am not free to reveal the details at this stage, all I can say is that this would be an ultra-modern township which would have luxury towers at affordable prices, schools, colleges, hospitals and all other amenities one can think of. It would be a mega project.
While the tentative name to the project is “Sndhunagar”, it may end up as ‘Char Dhaam’. Char Dhaam because the township is going to have the replicas of the four holy places – to the scale and exact reproductions.
The replicas will have the same Feng Shui, the same Vastu that the dhaams have.
A deeply spiritual person, Chandru is talking about giving back to the society which has given him so much. The man is such a giver that he says, “The medical services would be free for the needy without humiliating the needy. It would be enough if you say that you’re needy. The hospital wouldn’t ask for proofs, salary slips and letters to establish that you’re needy.
“And while the flats would be exclusively for Sindhis, they will be free to resale to anyone, anytime.” Says the dashing and dynamic Punjabee.
At some stage, Udta Sindhi will disclose all the details about the entire project.
But at the moment a little more about this man of great enterprise.

*****

I try to find a link between his roots and his dreams. The Punjabee family that owned acres of land and buildings in Pakistan, came penniless to Mumbai. Chandru’s father had the showrooms of luxury cars like Plymouth and Dodge in Quetta. He married just a month before the partition and came to Bombay carrying small amount, insignificant if seen in the context of the huge assets they had.

He wanted to start construction business and received an order for construction material from Century Rayon. Punjabees purchased a piece of land to quarry stones and other material. Unfortunately, the land yielded only mud. Suffering losses in the very first project, he got a job at a salary of Rs 150 a month.

Chandru was born in one of the military barracks given to his father
in Ulhasnagar. He and his siblings are the products of this period of struggle and need. He grew up to be an architect and a builder.

But for Punjabee, who has moved from Ulhasnagar to Colaba and then to Juhu, Ulhasnagar has always remained Sindhunagar, a name given to it informally by the Sindhis who lived there.

*****

Decades back, my maternal aunt Sita B Advani, who lived in Khar, told us that the building she lived in had been acquired by a Sindhi builder. He wanted to redevelop it and also to have his offices in the same building.

By the time I could meet her, in a fast development, she had sold her flat and shifted to another building.

She told me that, “I thought they might harass me, as often happens in Khar and Bandra, specially because of his Shiv Sena connections, but the builder is a real gentleman. He was so polite and kind enough to offer me more than the market rate. His office also helped me find another flat a little away in an equally good area.”

“Who is the builder?” Curious, I asked her.

“Chandru Punjabee.” she said promptly. Shiv Sena had started its Sindhi wing during the same period and, close to Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray, Punjabee headed this wing.

Chandru was already a well known name with his social activities and philanthropy. Starting in early ’80s, with an association with Andheri Sindhi Panchayat, to help the needy Sindhis in assisting them with the marriage expenses, he found himself being approached by several organisations.

Chandru never says ‘no’ when asked to help a good community cause.

He went on growing in stature. There was a time when he used to be invited as a Chief Guest by almost every Sindhi organisation and panchayat to celebrate Cheti Chand, the Sindhi New Year, festival. This is when began his association with Sindh Panchayat Federation. Nari Gursahani, a prominent lawyer and the President of The Federation welcomed him to become the Vice President of the biggest organisation of Sindhis.

Today, he is the President of this umbrella body of all the Sindhi panchayats in India and abroad.

*****

Besides in Mumbai, Chandru Punjabee has offices in Dubai and London. His son Harsh Chandru Punjabee is in entertainment business and has acquired two channels.

*****

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Do Bollywood Actresses Read Books?

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Mohan’s Musings

Bollywood actresses and the books they read or don’t

The world press (including ‘The Guardian’) tittered when Shilpa Shetty (known to them because of the ‘racist attack’ on her during her stay in ‘Big Brother’ where Jade Goody called her ‘Shilpa Fuckawallah’, ‘Shilpa Daroopa’ and ‘Shilpa Poppadom’, model Danielle Lloyd said that Shilpa “couldn’t even speak English properly anyway” and “Shetty should “fuck off home”.) recommended George Orwell’s allegory ‘Animal Farm’ for the children so that they can ‘love and care for animals’. It was obvious that Ms Shetty hadn’t read the book. She hadn’t even read the summery of the book available on the ‘net.
Shilpa became a laughing stock of the high society, Bollywood and Page 3 circuit.
Shilpa found an scapegoat in her publicist and the latest version, which no one seems to believe, is that it wasn’t she but her publicist who had blundered.
Whether her publicist or the starlet, the focus has returned to the books read by the actresses and their GK.
I remember finding Tinkle in the luxury van of a top South Indian heroine. Her secretary told me that the actress read only comics. It didn’t surprise me as she had started her career as a child actress. She hadn’t had any opportunity to read. In fact, she didn’t need to read much. That she was a superb actress and had a great career is a different story. Except for a few films, Bollywood films have never required nuanced performances.
Later this actress, who had a double role in a comic like film, was to tell me me that she looked at every film as a comic.
She said matter of factly that her only reading was comics and the scripts.
It was true of another South Indian actress too , known for her obsession with a married super star, too. She wouldn’t even read the newspaper as, to quote her, “Who wants to see the ugly faces of politicians every morning?”
Her only reading was the glossies and mainly her own interviews and the interviews given by her star lover. And books on health, beauty and make up.
But not all the heroines of this period hated books.
Besides being one of the best actresses Bollywood has seen, Meena Kumari was also a poetess and read books. She is on record as saying that reading broadens the outlook and gives your thoughts a depth that goes a long way in understanding and interpreting the characters. Not for nothing did she give some really nuanced performances.
Even Raakhee is known to be a voracious reader but that again could be the influence of the very same man – Gulzar – who brought books in the life of Meena Kumari. Raakhee, now a recluse in her farmhouse, continues her reading. Books regularly reach her by courier.
While these five belong to the older generation, here is an interesting episode about the reading habits of one of the top heroines of today. Married to a Muslim actor from a royal family, she was gifted a book by her husband who reads a lot. She happily kept the book next to her pillow for several days, talked about it to the media but confessed that she couldn’t go beyond the first few pages.
Funnily, when she launches a book – she has launched several – the media focus is never on the author. One would find her solo pictures with captions like “Xxxxx launched a book at a five star hotel in Western Suburbs”. At least this actress has no pretensions of being an ‘intellectual’ but her mother-in-law, a star in seventies and eighties, was always perceived as an intellectual because she would always have a ‘heavy’ book on her!
But she didn’t notice that she was given a book written by Alistair MacLean for a shot that showed her
reading in a golden jubilee hit; a book she would have hated to be seen with.
Interestingly, her daughter has inherited a love for reading from her. I once found her buying several books from Crosswords. But I don’t know whether she bought them for her reading pleasure or while getting done the interior of her new apartment.
A more interesting character is an actress who is always found with a pair of spectacles on her nose, and her nose in a fat book and is perceived as an ‘intellectual’. No one says anything about the kind of books she reads and her interviews don’t show any spark of this intelligence.
I got an opportunity to see the title of a book she was reading. It was a James Hadley Chase book!
But the lady who takes the cake is an actress known for being a ‘feminist’. She bought a couple of books on feminism, gave these books to her publicist and asked her to find some ‘interesting’ quotes from the books. The publicist, also not known for reading, googled for some quotes from these books and used them while answering an e-mail interview questionnaire. Unlike in the quotes of Shilpa Shetty, this interview didn’t have any gaffes.
But the books remained unread.

*****

Reading and GK don’t really seem to matter as far as the success and the career of glamorous girls are concerned.
Shatrughan Sinha once ridiculed a South Indian actress for not knowing the name of the President of India.
Ironically, she found her way to the Parliament.

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Paybacks for the Blood Sucking Call Centres

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Mohan’s Musings

Paybacks for the blood sucking Call Centres

Till the other day they appeared a little idiotic voices on the other side when you made a call to the call centre. They would read from a script. You knew that the American and the rest of the civilised world laughed at their accent and stupidity.
Unknown to us this voice had transformed into a criminally menacing voice with practiced American accent and has been extorting money, big money, from the American citizens. This new voice belonged to the unscrupulous and ruthless blackmailer, extortionist and scamster.
It used the voice-over-internet-technology, normally used by the terrorists and drug syndicates to hide their telephone numbers and locations.
The targets were the senior American citizens, men and women, the most vulnerable population.The annual financial loss to elderly victims of financial abuse in the US is estimated to be at least $2.9 billion!
Every employee was given a script upon joining the firms, the first line of it read: “Hello, I am an officer calling from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) of which you are a tax defaulter.”

The victims were harassed, hounded and threatened with arrest with these unnumbered call and blackmailed into paying amounts ranging from $500 to $50,000, depending on their capacities, under threat of arrest!

Their executives would force victims to pay non-existent tax dues through gift cards of a specific brand or through wire transfers, allegedly making Rs 1.5 crore a day in this manner.

There has even been a case of an older American woman who died during this two hour long ordeal. Her son abused the caller who quietly disconnected the line.

Thane police raided at least 9 call centres, booked 700 people and made 70 arrests on charges of cheating, extorting and impersonating under the Indian Penal Code and other relevant Act.
This has turned out to be a Pandora’s Box. According to police, though the mother of these call centres is in Ahmedabad, the call centres have been operating from Andheri, Vile Parle, Bandra and several other locations.

In fact, there are also instances where these call centres have been operating from the homes!

The state police have also alleged hawala transactions by owners of the call centres.
*****
The Call Centre Rackets and the paybacks
The word is that the Call Centre Racket is not limited to the few call centres that have been raided in Mira Road and Thane so far.
The Police have arrested 700 employees and the master mind, SagarThakkar alias Shaggy, is said to be holed up in Dubai. Shaggy is suspected of owning 17 call centres that were mostly managed by his friends. While nine call centres are claimed to be in Mumbai, the rest are in Gujarat. A total of 2,000 people work in these call centres.
But seeing the kind of money every call centre employee was making (Rs 15,000 – 20,000 plus a cut from the amount extorted which ran into a couple of lakh for every employer) and Rs 3-5 crore a month by the call centre ‘boss’, the racket seems widespread.
Sagar Thakkar alias Shaggy may not be the only big fish. The Police have even arrested his ‘mentor’! Borivili based Jagdish Kanani is said to have taught the ropes ‘some others’ too.
America’s prestigious Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is already in India and their blood hounds are on the trail of everyone who has played any role in this dirty business.
And I guess, the FBI will locate several ‘master minds’ and pick up a planeload of them to try them in the US, as it is a major crime against thousands of American.

*****

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