It is Earth Day and I am in Bombay. I have just stepped out of the UTV boss Siddhartha Roy Kapoor’s office after a candid chat with the guy, better known as actress Vidya Balan’s husband. Outside everyone is honking with mad abandon, perhaps in a quaint Mumbaya way to demonstrate a total, tone-deaf support for environmental protection.
Bombay is quirky. Has always been. A small wayward girl, in soiled clothes, is hanging dangerously onto a scooter. The rider, of course, has no knowledge that a naughty child is making a temporary swing of his Bajaj scooter in the traffic jam. A migrant woman, sooty and stout, with a frown on her is stringing a clothesline on the sidewalk, as if it were her personal space. Autowallas ride barefeet. Bombay is fascinatingly free for all.
Karan Johar is sipping his Starbucks Refresher. From the way he is quaffing from the transparent tumbler one feels he is 14 and not 40. There is a mischievous grin in between his slurps. He is silver-tongued and his answers are savvy. His secretary tells me that they have ordered Biryani from some posh place and he would like me to have some. I refuse politely. Biryani, sort of, dulls your nondiscriminatory flair.
I flew in to Bombay from Bhopal. It was my fourth flight in two days. The city has a distinct Islamic heritage, notwithstanding the current BJP government. There are old-world minarets and domes everywhere you look. It used to be a state before it was taken by the Union of India in 1949. Till 1929 the Bhopal state was ruled by a series of Begums, the last of whom Jahan Begum Sultan reigned for 25 long years.
The last queen abdicated in favour of her son, Hamidullah Khan, who made a lovely little palace for his daughter atop a hill overlooking the tranquil Lake Bhopal. His girl Begum Abida Sultan called it Noor-us-Saba. It is now a heritage hotel. Amitabh Bachchan was staying in one of its suites. I had a room of my own, overlooking a lush well-manicured garden. Lake Bhopal sparkled if you looked a little ahead. The central cascade courtyard took you back in time to a charming Nawabi evening. I must confess I felt a tad vain.
I was a little panicky when I boarded the little ATR 72, a twin-engine turboprop Jet Konnect flight. Never before had I taken one of those mini-flying things, that six-bladed propeller flight which makes a constant buzzing sound. Thirty odd passengers, including some foreigners, took the early morning plane with me. It was an expectedly bumpy, knobby, choppy journey but the excitement to finally interview Amitabh Bachchan, one-on-one, in his vanity van cancelled out my fear.
After he completed his scenes and changed into a Reebok Track Suit in his van, I was ushered in with two caveats. No political questions and please finish it in 15 minutes flat. Only if he likes a journalist or his questions, does Mr Bachchan extend the allotted time given. I was a tad nervous but pretended not to. I clambered onto the luxury van. There he was: Tall, regal and elegant. The Amitabh Bachchan of our childhood. The man himself. Graceful as the willow-bough over the streamlet weeping.
Big B stood up to greet me. He has been in the industry for 45 long years. He is considered an icon. People jostle to get photographed with his wax statute at Madame Tussauds in London. The BBC calls him the greatest star of stage or screen in the millennium. I slumped into a sofa next to him. Shall we start Sir? I said to break the ice. By all means, my boy, he chorused in his legendary baritone voice.
The interview went on for an hour and fifteen minutes. The megastar must have liked me.
When I landed in Delhi the previous evening I knew it was going to be a sleepless few nights in India. Consequently my seven-hour stay in the city of djinns was spent awake. Delhi has become a chaotic city of weirdos and perverts where gang rapes are commonplace and loutish behaviour is not uncommon. How did Ghalib’s Dilli become so lowbred, I wondered? Aabid, my alter ego in Delhi, was tied up somewhere. Even in the familiar there can be wonder sometimes, I thought.
Three days later, after a grueling schedule, the sight of Dubai’s dazzling city lights from the plane’s windowpane had a tranquilizing effect. It is home, away from home. I’ve perhaps gotten used to its tidiness, the sparkle, the Joie de vivre. The only thing that bothers me is my editor breathing down my neck, demanding the Bollywood stories, one after the other.