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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Rape - and the Delhi wake-up call!

At least one good thing seems to have happened this week.

India, a country that is rarely united on anything that doesn’t involve cricket or film (or more recently, corruption), finally found itself rallying around an issue that, in terms of its seriousness, should’ve been top of the country’s agenda a long, long time ago.

But then this is India – and unless “push” comes to “shove” (and this, believe me, is a huge energy-sapping effort!) – things move at their own sweet pace. And that is, if they do at all.

People will argue that, on the economic front, there has been tremendous progress over the last couple of decades. Sure. But then weren’t we perilously close to the precipice in 1991, with our foreign exchange resources barely able to finance three weeks’ requirement? When we instituted reforms in 1991, I don’t think we really had much of a choice. "Push" had clearly come to "shove".

This week, “push” may have finally come to “shove” in another matter – the matter of rape. (And, to be honest, if it still hasn't, I really don't know if it ever will).

In a country where rape is an everyday incident - across the length and breadth of the country – it must be considered particularly unpardonable, and the biggest example of failed governance, that the government of the day (and I don’t care who it is) has done precious little to stem the incidence of this heinous crime in the several decades since independence. Or perhaps, it is partly BECAUSE of this, that rape has indeed become an everyday incident across the length and breadth of the country.

It has taken an incident, right under the government’s nose (so to speak) – a horrific, gruesome incident in its own backyard – to seemingly finally wake the government up from its stupor. And create an uproar in the media and, consequently, around the country. A 23-year old girl, travelling with her male friend in a Delhi bus on Sunday evening, was brutally gangraped in the bus, then further assaulted so brutally that her intestines were completely damaged. She was then thrown out of the bus, as was her male friend, who was himself assaulted with an iron rod. It is an incident for which any word indicating horror sounds woefully inadequate. As at the time of writing, the girl is still fighting for her life in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital. Her male friend seems to have been less critically injured.  

I must say that it is with deliberation, and quite deliberately, that I used the word “consequently” in the previous paragraph. For, however much we may want to deny it, the media plays a HUGE role in what we get to know. And even how we react to it. If something is mentioned in passing, it is far less likely to have us invested in it than something constantly drilled into us every few minutes.

So make no mistake.  This incident, gruesome and horrific though it is, would probably not have elicited half as much of an outrage had it happened in rural India. Or in one of India’s less glamorous states like Odisha. The media would have reported it as a news item for the day. And moved on.

But in the pecking order of media importance, Delhi and Mumbai occupy pride of place. So when this most repulsive of horrors was picked up by the media, it was picked up with all the attention it deserves. Every channel, quite rightly, had it as main news. And, expectedly, social media, increasingly a barometer of the news weather in the country, outraged in a manner that reflected the pain, shock and anger of all who came to know of the incident.

And this media and public reaction was exactly what was needed. MPs in Parliament have expressed their outrage about the incident, some in dramatic fashion. People have begun congregating in various towns and cities to highlight the issue of rape, to protest against government inaction on the subject, to voice their views on how the issue should be tackled.

People have been writing articles about rape and how they think it should be tackled – in print media, on their blogs. They have been  hyperactive in social media – whether on Twitter with their tweets, or sharing opinions on Facebook. In general, the issue has everybody’s attention – and very rightfully so.

Rape is one of the most heinous of crimes and, like I’ve said earlier, should have been very high on our priority list for tackling social ills. In fact I would expand the scope of this, and say that addressing Violence Against Women (VAW), in its various flavors, should have been right up there in our priority list. (For the purpose of this piece, I am excluding rape against men, though I don’t deny its existence).

So now it’s taken such a sad and shocking incident to make us react like this. And to seemingly shake our MPs out of their stupor.

I say “seemingly” because while the MPs have expressed their outrage, this isn’t the first time they’ve done so. And yet, on the ground, precious little has happened. Not that VAW is going to disappear with some legislation, but there are several areas where the legislation is either weak, or just missing. And it is MPs who can introduce and pass legislation for the country. So,  while the outrage is all very well, the MPs will need to now most certainly walk the talk as well. Otherwise this will be seen as just another hollow act on their part. Politicians have been known to take expedient action only when their own politican careers are at stake.

Many of the reactions to this incident focus on the “deterrent” side of rape. Discussions range from a life sentence, to the death penalty, to other forms of punishment for the perpetrator. There have been some knee-jerk reactions no doubt, but there have also been some well-thought out opinions expressed.

Some of the items are no-brainers.

For starters, though things have improved on this front in the last few years, even today many rapes are not reported at all. There is still this stigma attached to a rape victim. She runs the risk of being ostracized by society. And sometimes even by her own family.

Then the process! Even if a rape does get reported, it is often extremely difficult to get a conviction. Here again the rape victim is often made to appear as the person in the wrong.  As if SHE is to blame for the rape. You see, SHE shouldn't have been out that late. And surely, SHE shouldn't have worn those tight-fitting jeans? The rapist is often better connected, so it is often the victim who has to undergo additional mental torture to “prove” that she was raped. As if she has not undergone enough already! And mind you, given the time that cases usually take in India’s courts, justice, if it were to come at all, could end up being nothing more than farcical.

And then, even if the rapist DOES get convicted, the penalty? Does it match the enormity of the crime? Many would say no.
And after all this, when the victim, inspite of all the scars she's received - physically and mentally - wants to get on with her life, society does not allow her to. Just because she's been raped, it means her life's over? Why? 

Anyway, considering all this, there’s no wonder that rapes occur all over the country every single day with total impunity. There’s a lot – and I really mean a LOT – that needs to be fixed purely on the operational and legal side of this issue.

Many suggestions have come up in the last few days. To be honest, I got a déjà vu feeling seeing many of them. Fast-track courts for rape cases? Surely this isn’t the first time we’re talking about them?

But I’m still happy that these suggestions are being made now. And THIS TIME will hopefully be more than just idle talk. For if even NOW we don’t DO something, I really don’t know what else needs to happen in this country for us to act. For me – and hopefully I speak for most Indians – “push” has definitely come to “shove” now.

While there is universal outrage about rape, there are different opinions about what constitutes the most effective “deterrent” for rape. Some advocate the death penalty, others a life sentence. Some advocate bobbitization, some chemical castration.

To be honest, I’m not very sure where I stand on this. Clearly, there must be a stronger deterrent than we have today. A much stronger one. But I will leave it to more competent persons to determine what that should be.

The other important thing that I’m hearing a lot – and had that déjà vu feeling about – is police reforms. Surely this is a no-brainer? Where do I start?

In my opinion, by and large, the police in India operate under very stressful conditions. They are under-staffed, they are not well trained, they don’t have modern equipment, they work very long hours, they are under-paid compared to other more cushy professions, they are often rendered impotent in their jobs by political interference. And then we expect them to do a great policing job? To take care of the safety of the citizens of the country?

The answer is yes. We expect them to do this. While we may sympathise with their situation, we still have every right as citizens to expect our police to do their job. The police is an arm of our government. And one of the absolutely primary jobs of a government of a country is to protect its citizens from external and internal threats to their safety.

I cannot think of a bigger governance failure in our country than that of breakdown of law and order, at an individual level. Sure, maybe we don’t have the mass breakdown that we sometimes hear about in our neighbor country, Pakistan, but I wouldn’t pat ourselves too much on the back for this. At an individual level, a citizen rarely has the confidence that the police is there to help him or her. That is the policeman’s job, his raison d’etre. The common perception (and mind you, even if it’s unfair and untrue, it is still a perception) is that the police is there for the powerful, for the mafia, not for the common man or woman.

I’d like to think the police are the way they are (or are perceived to be), not because they WANT to be that way. But because of all the issues they face in their job. If so, for me, police reforms cannot happen sooner in this country. If catching perpetrators of crime is itself such a rare feat, one can forget about the judicial process that follows.

So judicial reforms (including fast-track courts), police reforms (including sensitizing the police force towards rape) – cannot happen sooner!

But for me, while all of this is required, what is really really REALLY required is social reconditioning.

We’ve been talking about the law and the police, but what will be the biggest help – most certainly over a period of time – will be changing the mindset in our society with regard to rape. And women in general.

Again, where do I start? There is SO MUCH wrong in our mindset that there’s a LOT of work to be done on this front.

For starters, we’ve been carrying around this sex-inequality mindset with us for centuries. Not just India but the whole world. Only, some developed countries have a more balanced mindset on this now (well, relatively speaking) whereas we’ve still got a LONG way to go.

In India, women are still seen very much as “the weak sex” and men as the “strong sex”. This fundamentally flawed thinking (derived from physiological differences between the two sexes), is to me at the root of many problems. Not just rape, but most forms of VAW stem from this. For example, domestic violence is often purely a manifestation of physical superiority. When a man is frustrated with life, or does not have an answer to a problem, he hits out at somebody who is physically less likely to hit back at him. And who is that usually? A woman.

Rape also fits in very comfortably into this narrative. Rape, as many have pointed out, is not so much about sex as about a statement of power, a statement of physical superiority. As noted film-maker Shekhar Kapur said on a talk show last week, armies in the past would march into conquered lands and not just pillage their wealth but also rape their women. That was their way of saying “we’ve won, we’re stronger than you”.

Even today this is one way that men choose to “teach women a lesson”.

As India is in the process of modernizing itself, as the country is on its way to economic development, more and more women in the country are beginning to do fairly well for themselves. They are getting more educated, they are getting jobs that were going to men in the past. Men used to be fairly secure about their position in society. Not anymore.

So what do the men do? Do they try to become more competitive? Some do. But some others just take an “easier” route. They take out their frustration on the "cause of their problem" using the one attribute they are still confident about – their physical superiority. They just attack – or rape - the woman. Or any woman, because their hatred is now not towards just that one woman, but towards women at large.

Then, we have the moral police. The men who think they are protecting their “culture”. They have an image of “how a woman should be” somewhere in their heads. How she should dress, what she should do, and not do. They then go about enforcing THEIR image in society at large. Welcome, the Rama Sena. Welcome, the khap panchayats in Haryana. Welcome, many more unorganized groups (even individuals) who think the woman is “wrong” so she should be “taught a lesson”.

Then there are the “macho” guys. Yes, they believe that proof of their being “macho” is how many women they have “scored with”. For them, rape is just fun. A points game. They would pick up any woman and rape her – just to brag to their friends about it.

Then there are the perverts. These are the ones who rape the very girls who trust them. A large number of rapes happen by men known – and trusted – by the victim. Many of the victims in these cases are minors.

Even as I’m writing this, my heart is breaking. I am sure there are more categories. I’ve only discussed four so far – the frustrated man who takes out his frustration with life on a woman, the moral policeman who thinks “errant women need to be taught a lesson”, the “macho” man who thinks women exist for his enjoyment alone, the pervert who abuses that most valuable of human traits – trust.

So where do we start fixing these?

To me, there’s one – and only one place – that we can start fixing this.

And that’s in childhood.

No male child starts life as a potential rapist. He is just a child who can become anything.

His environment and his upbringing determine his value system. They determine how he interacts with other people. Very importantly, they determine how he sees women.

If all around him, he sees women objectified, there’s a fair chance he will do the same. You can then safely expect him to pass lewd remarks at women at bus stops, grab them at every opportunity – and quite possibly rape them to show off to his friends.

If all around him, he sees men acting holier-than-thou, talking down women, and dictating to them how they should or should not behave, there’s a good chance he will become part of a moral police brigade later in life. After all, "men know best what’s good for society – and therefore what women’s role is and how they should fulfil it."

I think my point is clear. If we don’t want rapists in society, we need to start by working on a young boy’s formative years, on his impressionable years. This is the best time to instill in him a sense of respect for all. Especially women. 

Teach him that men and women are father-mother, brother-sister, friends, partners. Most importantly, that they are equal. And if he's been endowed with greater physical strength, it is for being put to good use. And for protecting and helping women. For his mother is a woman too - and is the reason for his existence.

I don't think it is very difficult to get this message across. At that age, it shouldn't be.

But EVERYBODY has to work on this. Family, schools, society, media, government, everybody. The ENTIRE environment needs to encourage this value system, otherwise there is a chance of him falling through.

I know this sounds idealistic. Maybe it is, too. But I strongly believe in preventive, rather than corrective, measures. 

Looking at myself, I feel I am a product of a good environment - and that has shaped much of my thinking. I guess I’m lucky. There are millions of other guys like me out there – I think we turned out alright. With an ok value system, at least with regard to women. 

So don’t tell me it cannot be done. 

But it needs ALL of us to be part of this process. We need to build our society together. We need to build tomorrow's world together. Otherwise the lament of Sahir Ludhianvi "aurat ne janam diya mardon ko, mardon ne usey bazaar diya", written all of 54 years ago and relevant even today, will be relevant a hundred years from today too.

No excuses, none of that "men are made like this only", "it's about testosterone, you know" nonsense. There is NOTHING to be proud about - and NOTHING that can justify - violating another's life.

So while we work on all the “deterrents”, while we work on judicial reforms, while we work on police reforms, can we please also put our efforts into changing the male mindset? It is a problem created by MEN, after all, so they need to be a big part of the solution.

Because, to me, THIS is the only long-term sustainable form of society that we should be working towards.

Where men and women live and work together. 

Without being threatened by the other’s presence. 

And actually learning that being together in society, as different sexes, is a lot of fun.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dard-e-dil, dard-e-jigar

Khoya khoya sa hoon
Ki apni hi talaash mein hoon
Sehma sehma sa hoon
Ki kuchh niraash sa hoon
Bunte the khwaab bhi kabhi
Jab kabhi asha ki thi kiran
Ab to aalam hai ye banaa
Ki haare baazigar ke taash sa hoon

Loose English translation:

I am somewhat lost
For I'm in search of my own self
I am somewhat subdued
For I'm disillusioned at the moment
I used to weave dreams once
When I thought I could see a ray of hope
But now I feel like a gambler
Dealt a hand that can only lose

P.S: My occasional forays in the world of poetry sometimes do border on the morose. This is purely because I like to indulge in all moods in my poetry, not just the gung-ho type. The poetry should therefore not be seen as necessarily reflective of my state of mind. :-)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Whose life is it anyway?

So they’ve ceased firing
For how long, I wonder
A year, maybe two
‘fore the bombs again thunder

Where life is cheap
And dignity even cheaper
The wrinkles tell their own story
As the wounds just get deeper

That child silenced for ever
Was she Jew or non-Jew
Collateral damage, they say
And continue to bomb anew

And we, from the sidelines, watch
This drama year after year
From the comfort of our cosiness
We shed the odd tear.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Samsung - when "marketing" goes horribly wrong!

Disclaimer: I have NOTHING to do with Samsung or any of its competitors. I have NOTHING to do with the tech or professional blogging industry.  Am just a random blogger who has opinions on all sorts of things in this world and does not usually keep his opinions to himself. You are most welcome to disagree with my views – and I respect your right to do so. So, with malice towards none...

One of the hot topics doing the rounds on social media in the last few days is about how two tech bloggers from India were sent by Samsung India to Berlin to cover the IFA event there. There’s a lot available about this whole sordid episode on the net – I will not therefore repeat the whole story. You can catch more about it here .

In short, the two bloggers (one of them preferred to not be named, the other who has raised a hue and cry is Clinton Jeff (CJ), apparently a well-known tech blogger) clearly agreed to be sent by Samsung only in the capacity of “reporters” and not “promoters” for Samsung. Once they’d reached Berlin however, they were required to undertake various promotional activities. When they refused, they were told that from that moment on, they were on their own - Samsung would not arrange for their return flight / hotel accommodation.

Maybe I’m over-simplifying the whole thing – and like I said, more details are available on the net – but I don’t want to add to the echo by just repeating what’s already out there. Besides, I know nothing about the mobile tech industry, nothing about tech blogging, not much about product marketing – so, while common wisdom would suggest I should just keep my mouth shut, I do think I know a bit about corporate behavior. And I do think, at a holistic level, this is more about that than about any specific incident.

So here’s my high-level take on this, after reading a number of blogposts on the subject (and hundreds of comments from people far more experienced in this field than I am).

First of all, it is absolutely inexcusable that a company makes a threat like this to anybody – to just leave the person high and dry, in a foreign land. Not only is it thoroughly unprofessional, it is JUST NOT ON! At the very least, if the company was unable to work it out with the bloggers in Berlin, they could have taken action against them on their return to India. IF they felt they had a case. That would have been the professional thing to do – I give you a contract, you breach the contract, I sue you. Instead, they went the “mafia” route. What is this? Godfather – Part 4?

Secondly, I do think Samsung does not even have a fig-leaf to cover itself in this matter. For me the absolute clincher is that the bloggers (well, CJ at least) made it very clear UPFRONT that they would go only as “reporters” for the event and not as “promoters”. The moment they made that clear, Samsung should have backed off.

But clearly Samsung, for some reason, WANTED them to go. So they, as is very common in such situations, trivialised the difference between “reporter” and “promoter”, effectively ignoring it (and, as anybody with any sense of integrity will tell you, there is a BIG difference between the two).

Samsung knew all along what it wanted from these bloggers. It was not the first time they were arranging this marketing programme – they knew exactly what it involved. And if they didn’t, they should have. And they should have communicated it in full detail upfront to the bloggers. If, after doing that, the bloggers chose to still go ahead – and then backed out onsite – Samsung may have had a case (even then the “mafia” treatment would not be on!). Without this disclosure, Samsung really did not have much of a case – which may be one reason why they went with the mafia approach. It could well have worked – when you are in a foreign land (apparently at somebody’s mercy), you are more easily malleable to demands from that party.

Unfortunately for Samsung, it did not work. CJ did not just “roll over” – and from that moment on, it began going wrong for Samsung.

In typical corporate damage-control mode, Samsung will now be desperate to save some face from this episode. It will become a PR case-study (maybe for students in college too) – but to me this is more than just a public relations issue.

This is an integrity issue. It is an issue of ethics.

Had this been a start-up, in its first product launch event, trying to garner a bunch of guys to help market its products I may have understood a goof-up like this. Start-ups often do not have systems  in place, they don’t have elaborate dos-and-don’ts or processes laid out, they make mistakes, they learn from them, they hone their processes.

Samsung is hardly a startup. They are at the bleeding edge of consumer products and consumer marketing. They must be having huge marketing budgets and teams, they’ve done lots of product launches, this particular launch in Berlin is not their first. In fact, they have this “Mobi!er” programme for a while – so they must be considered veterans at this game.

That is why I absolutely refuse to believe that this was just a one-off, unfortunate incident due to a “misunderstanding”. Ok, so this one came to light – I wonder how many have not come to light at all? Either because a deal was struck, or the concerned blogger caved in, or just didn’t bother to make an issue of it. I think I’ve read something about a France-related Samsung incident too.

I don’t want to make this about Samsung alone. True, I may be coming down strongly on them here – but this is not to say that other corporates do not indulge in such practices. Or even that they do. It is all about good and bad practice - and could happen to any company.

While on this, I find some arguments rather absurd. If you question one company’s dodgy practice, you find comments saying “yes, but X company also does it. Actually everybody is doing it”. As if that sort of legitimizes that behavior!

I also came across comments blaming the blogger, saying he should have “expected” to be promoting Samsung onsite seeing as they were sponsoring his trip. The “no such thing as a free lunch” argument. I don’t agree with this because he did make it clear upfront what he expected his role to be. If Samsung was ok with this, how can the blogger be blamed?

I just think in this very dog-eats-dog world, one can never be too careful about intentions of the other party one is dealing with. However “big” or “reputed” that party is.

We sometimes tend to equate company size, image, products and global presence with integrity. Big companies LOVE that we do this - but we should know that they are VERY different things! Surely we’ve seen enough examples in recent times to make us wary of corporations and their integrity?

Also, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Especially in business dealings. Get everything in black-and-white so that you have a case if somebody tries to use/abuse you. Sad, but that’s the world we live in – and we need to protect ourselves.
In this particular instance, I think what CJ could have done better (instead of just saying he wanted to go as "reporter" and not "promoter") is to ask Samsung to give him in writing what specific activities he'd need to do on their behalf. Like donning their uniform, attending their briefing session, representing them at their stall as their spokesperson. 

When you nail it down to this detail, you get a better sense of the whole picture, there is less room for assumptions and surprises, you can make a better call. (I think I read a comment on one of the blogs saying that Samsung does lay down, in detail, what they expect from “reporters” and “promoters”. Possibly, this was not shared with CJ. Maybe an oversight, maybe not.  It is not unusual that parties keep things vague, they obfuscate matters if it plays to their advantage.) 

A final note – SCREAM if you feel you’re being wronged. Corporates HATE negative publicity – their PR departments will go into overdrive to start damage-limitation and issue “appropriate messages” to social media. But deep down they know that the damage has been done already – and that is what we should make them realize. So that they pre-empt situations arising, they pre-empt bad practice, they weed out poor employees. Nothing like negative feedback to galvanise corporates, to keep them on their toes. And thankfully today we have social media to help us to reach the whole world with our voice. (One of course is better advised to use this medium only if there is a genuine case of injustice – otherwise this is a double-edged sword).

It is said that every cloud has a silver lining. That even from something bad, eventually something good does come out of it. If, from this sordid episode, there is a better awareness and understanding of how to deal with corporates (especially if you are just an individual), then I’d say some good HAS come out of this.

P.S: This piece may appear to be rather one-sided, or not “balanced” enough. It may look like I’m coming down rather heavily on Samsung and not enough on the blogger. That is deliberate. If somebody can put up a credible defence for Samsung in this matter, I’d be happy to reconsider my position. In the absence of such material, I’m sticking to my above take.

I’ve always believed that in most aspects of life, it is far more important to try to be FAIR than to be “balanced”. The job of a judge is to pass a FAIR judgment based on the evidence presented to him. If the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of one party, it would be a poor judgment if, in the interest of “balance”, he patronises the other party. It would be unfair on the aggrieved party - and a lesson wouldn't be learnt by the offending party. The only balance a judge needs to ensure, in my opinion, is that both parties are given an equal opportunity to state their cases.

So, though I'm not a judge (I'm not even in that profession!), this is the principle I adopt in my thinking and writing. Yes, fairness is a matter of opinion, but then so is balance. So let’s leave the "balance" to our diets, our lifestyle and to our cricket/sports teams. 

Let's first try to be fair in what is often an unfair world.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Rajesh Khanna vs Amitabh Bachchan debate

Having just written two posts about Rajesh Khanna in the last week, I had decided that that was enough – and my next post would be about another subject. After all, my interests in life thankfully span a wide canvas of subjects – and I’m never really at a loss to find something that I’d like to discuss.

But an e-mail I received yesterday from a friend has prompted me to write this post today – and once again it features Rajesh Khanna.  This time though it is not so much about him but more about that other superstar who is often brought up in discussions about Rajesh. Yes, I’m talking about Amitabh Bachchan – or Big B, as he is popularly known.

The e-mail points to a write-up, claiming that Big B is the bigger superstar, that he was the hero of the “lumpen class” whereas Rajesh was the hero of the “bourgeois class”. That Rajesh fans have always resented Big B taking over Rajesh Khanna’s place at the top, that his “bourgeois” fans have denied  “the revolution that was Amitabh Bachchan”.

Though the writer takes pains to say that he does not intend any disrespect to the memory of Rajesh Khanna  (and I’m happy to take this at face value), I was just saddened by  the tone of the write-up. In the sense that yet again, it was bashing of Rajesh Khanna and his fans in order to try to prove Big B as the bigger star.

I had to sigh – this is not new to me. I’ve been hearing  such talk since the late 1970s – and it is STILL going on.  This Rajesh Khanna vs Amitabh Bachchan comparison.

I thought I should put down some of my own thoughts on this subject, for whatever they are worth.

Let me start by saying that I think whoever came up with the observation “comparisons are odious” could not have coined a more sensible 3-word sentence in the English language.

And yet, it seems we just cannot get away from making comparisons ALL the time. This actor vs that actor, this music composer vs that music composer, this sportsperson vs that sportsperson. Mohammad Rafi vs Kishore Kumar is one of the most common comparisons out there.

I always wince at such comparisons.  Not because they  cannot be made but because they invariably result in one of the choices being belittled to prop up the other.

Whenever I’ve been dragged into this sort of discussion, I’ve always taken great pains to emphasise that it is my personal choice – and that it is not a general statement of one being better than the other, or that the other is necessarily bad because I didn’t pick him.

For example I may say I prefer watching a Rajesh Khanna romantic movie to an Amitabh Bachchan action movie. It does NOT mean Rajesh is better than Amitabh or that Amitabh Bachchan action movies are bad. It is just that I’d rather see a Rajesh romantic movie. Another person may prefer an Amitabh action film – and that’s absolutely fine by me.

But there are people – many people – who are just unable to accept that another person may have a different preference than their own. They are hell-bent on pushing their choice as THE right one – and every other choice as the wrong one.

You see that in discussions about religion too. This attitude has led to possibly every religious war that has ever taken place. The whole concept of “to each his own” and “live and let live” somehow seems to have completely passed these guys by.

Back to the Rajesh vs Amitabh discussion.

My own take on this is extremely simple.

Rajesh was THE superstar with the success of Aradhana. He had 15 hits in a row – there was absolutely no doubting his position at the top or the fan following he had.  ALL classes of society were crazy about him –  not just the “bourgeois”.  (If only the “bourgeois” were crazy about Rajesh, who was then the hero of the “lumpen classes”?)

And then around 1974 or maybe 1975, his magic began wearing off.  For a whole host of reasons that have been discussed so many times that they don’t warrant repetition here.

It was also the time that Amitabh Bachchan was finally beginning to taste success. His Zanjeer and Deewar were both not just runaway box-office successes, it was his performance in both these movies that most certainly caught people’s attention.

So, as it turned out, on one hand there was a Rajesh in descent. On the other hand, there was an Amitabh in ascent.  Rajesh continued to deliver flop after flop, Amitabh continued to deliver hit after hit. Where Rajesh had Maha Chor and Bundalbaaz, Amitabh had Deewar and Sholay.

To me the biggest evidence of the changing tide was that Rajesh’s Mehbooba, with then-No. 1 heroine Hema Malini, and with a wonderful soundtrack by RD Burman – and a film that was promoted heavily – crashed at the box-office. It confirmed to many what they had already begun to realize but were hesitant to openly admit – that the Rajesh days at the top were now clearly over.

At around the same time, Amitabh, already being talked about as the Rajesh successor following the success of Deewar and Sholay, further cemented it with the success of Kabhie Kabhie. I clearly remember Kabhie Kabhie being a HUGE musical hit – and Amitabh pretty much then being accepted as the new No.1.

I will be honest – I hated it. I hated Kabhie Kabhie – I hated the title song because it was being played EVERYWHERE – and it symbolized to me yet another hit for Amitabh, yet another reason why Rajesh would struggle to get back his No.1 position.

The truth is, as a Rajesh fan at that time, I was not ready to concede that Rajesh had lost it. I still thought (or rather, hoped) that he could come back. By the time Aashiq Hoon Baharon Ka came around – and I saw it – I was convinced that the writing on the wall was indelible.

It is not that I disliked Amitabh. In fact I liked him in many of his early movies, especially his movies with Jaya Bhaduri (even those which had flopped). And I really liked him in Zanjeer and Majboor. I hadn’t seen Deewar or Sholay then (my mind was not ready though I knew many of the dialogues by heart).

As Amitabh began getting more popular I began watching more of his films. Even those that didn’t do too well -like Do Anjaane, Adalat and Alaap.

 I remember liking Amar Akbar Anthony a lot – and he was really good in it. Today it is considered a blockbuster film, but I vaguely remember it not being a runaway success from day one. I think it picked up momentum after a while – and is now considered one of the classics of the 70s.

The Amitabh movie that really sealed it for me though was Trishul. I liked the movie a lot – and I thought Amitabh (once again in an “angry young man” role) was just outstanding.

After that I saw Don – and I liked that film too.

So I really did not have any problems  anymore with Amitabh as the No.1. Rajesh’s time had come and gone, these were Amitabh’s times.

So this thing about Rajesh Khanna fans resenting Big B taking over Rajesh Khanna’s place at the top was, if I use myself as an example, a passing phase. And I’ve certainly never denied  “the revolution that was Amitabh Bachchan”.  And I’d like to think I was pretty representative of the Rajesh fan of the time.

I think it is not an exaggeration to say that those late-70s/early 80s were very heady days for Amitabh.  I’m not looking at box-office numbers here, so don’t crucify me but, off the top of my head I remember some movies as being hits from the start – and some only doing moderately early on.

To me it was obvious that though some of Amitabh’s movies were not blockbusters – at least when they were released (Do Aur Do Paanch, Ram Balram, Suhaag,The Great Gambler, Barsaat Ki Ek Raat, Yaarana) - and Shaan was a superflop - he was still the undisputed No.1 and the go-to hero for a big film-maker. For every movie that did not do very well, he had a Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Mr. Natwarlal, Naseeb, Laawaris, Namak Halal and a Satte Pe Satta to show as successes.  He had no challenger – the next guy (whoever he was) did not even come close.

In fact, I cannot even think of a name who could have been considered an Amitabh challenger at that time. Dharam – who’d had successes throughout the 70s - was clearly on his way down by the end of the decade. The multi-starrer culture of the time meant that it was difficult for one actor to really put on a dominating or memorable performance. The storylines also were not the particularly emotional type to be memorable, or require any great acting skill from the actor.

Maybe it is for this particular reason (the storyline) that I found it difficult to warm to movies of the time. I was a big fan of a good storyline – the actors became secondary for me if I found the storyline kept me interested. Besides, I was getting busy with my studies then – so I didn’t have time to waste on seeing all sorts of movies.

By 1983, I had stopped seeing movies altogether. Partly due to my studies, partly because I was losing interest in them.  Mind you, I’m not saying they were bad movies. I’m just saying I didn’t find them interesting enough anymore.

Amitabh continued to act through the 80s – I think Sharaabi (which I saw many years after its release) was his last big hit in that period. Otherwise, I believe he acted in several films which even his ardent fans would consider forgettable.

His more recent history – the 1990s and beyond – is very well-known and I don’t want to talk about it here. In fact I don’t know too much about it because I am time-frozen on Amitabh in 1982 (say, Namak Halal).

What I do remember is the hysteria around his accident during the making of Coolie. It was HUGE. The accident came as a big shock to everybody, it got front-page coverage in the daily newspaper , people from all over the country (and probably overseas too) began praying for his welfare. It was a great show of solidarity and support for him as he struggled in hospital during that period. I remember that all too well – as if it were yesterday.

The reason I am documenting all this is to illustrate that Amitabh was just as popular – and at times, possibly more popular – than Rajesh.  And I say this without denying my fondness for Rajesh.  And I do like Amitabh too – it IS possible to like them both.

I want people to realize that it is NOT necessary to belong to one camp or the other. Yes, we used to have that sort of thing in school – Rajesh or Amitabh, Vishwanath or Gavaskar,  where we felt we had to align behind one of the options to show our loyalty to that option. When you grow up a bit, you realize that these are not binary choices – there’s room to accommodate and appreciate multiple choices.

And it is most certainly NOT necessary to run one of them down to prop up the other.

To me, they were two distinct periods of superstardom.

Rajesh Khanna from 1969 to 1974.

And Amitabh Bachchan from 1977 onwards.  I would consider the years 1975-76 as transition years, with Rajesh losing his No.1 position and Amitabh getting  to that position, but not yet reaching superstar status.

Why then the constant clashes between their two fans?

Why can’t they accept that both of them had their moments as the darling of the crowds?

Why is it necessary to run down one to prop up the other?

To me, this only shows disrespect to the persons involved. The media played on this “rivalry” for a long time – and must have sold lots of copies in the process. But that’s what the media often does.

The fans need not fall into this trap. They can give both these superstars their own rightful place in Hindi film history, without pushing one out to trumpet the other.

There is enough space in the annals of Hindi film history for both to co-exist peacefully, next to each other.

As they deserve to.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How will posterity judge Rajesh Khanna?

My earlier post on Rajesh Khanna, written soon after his death, was an outpouring of emotion more than anything else.  Much of it had to do with my memories of the man from my younger days, especially my school days.  

School life, especially primary/secondary school, is usually the time of your life when you look at things through the most innocent of lenses. Things are often black and white – you don’t know, or usually care, about the complex aspects of any topic.

That post was intended to remember Rajesh Khanna as I knew him – inasmuch as one can “know” an actor who he has never met or had contact with. But Rajesh made a connection with me in my childhood and the post was MY way of thanking him for all those good memories of that time. And though there is some reference to the “other” side of Rajesh (the side we did not see on film), it was not the main focus of that post.  My childhood memories are of Rajesh the ACTOR, not Rajesh the HUMAN BEING.

Today, as I am pushing 50 – and have, over the years, seen a bit of life – I think I can take a distance from just Rajesh the ACTOR and talk a bit about Rajesh the HUMAN BEING. He might hate me for this – for he himself often did not seem to see his life as anything other than one big acting performance (his last words about “pack up” would seem to confirm this) but I do want to discuss this anyway. Because I think this is THE CRUX of the complex character that was Rajesh Khanna.

Much of what I will say here is based on my take on life – and I tend to think it could apply to anybody, not just Rajesh Khanna. But then again it is MY take, so I have no illusions about others necessarily having to agree with me.

Very importantly, everything I say about Rajesh here is NOT being said as a Rajesh fan. My previous post, yes – this one, no. I am writing this as a near-50 adult – not a starry-eyed teenager. I was, am – and will always be – a Rajesh fan, but I think I have the ability to take a reasonable distance from that relationship and be able to construct an opinion divested from the baggage that such closeness carries with it.

Equally importantly, I have absolutely no pretensions about having access to, or being privy to, any aspect of Rajesh Khanna’s life that is not out there in the public doman. I’ve never met him – I’ve only seen him as an actor on screen. And read various items about him in the media over the last 40-odd years. That’s it. My assessment is based entirely on this limited exposure to the man. Those with more exposure to him could very well have a very different (and possibly more informed) take on him.  So I am NOT speaking from an “insider” position, just my humble “averagely informed” opinion.

I’d also like to say that I have no intentions of causing hurt to anybody through this piece. I’ve come across a lot of vicious attacks on Rajesh  in the last four decades. Even just a couple of days ago, barely a day after Rajesh was cremated, I received an e-mail from a friend, linking to an amazingly scurrilous piece about him, published AFTER his death. I will not comment about the content but I think it must take a certain type of mindset to be able to write a piece so scurrilous, so soon after a man’s death.  It really takes all types…

Maybe, in a sense, that article is part of the reason I am writing this. I don’t know what it was trying to achieve – but it does look like those who were baying for Rajesh’s blood during his lifetime, have no intention of leaving him alone in peace even now. After all, there’s this upsurge of sympathy and love for Rajesh Khanna  - and there’s every chance future generations may not remember all the bad things that Rajesh did, right? And how can we allow that to happen? We’ve spent a lifetime telling the world “the truth” – we’re not going to let a lifetime’s work be undone by a minor detail like the man dying. The man may be gone but we must soldier on.

 I cannot help but cast my mind to those lines from that famous “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech  by Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

The evil that men do lives after them
The good is oft interred with their bones

The “evil” that Rajesh did, does seem to have a much bigger chance of living on, than the good he must have done.

But did Rajesh Khanna do any good? I’m not talking about Rajesh Khanna, the ACTOR here – I am talking about Rajesh Khanna, the HUMAN BEING.

If he did, there’s hardly any mention of it anywhere. It is all either about his acting (his films, his songs) or about all the bad things he’s supposed to have done. At this rate the only thing future generations will remember of him will be these two sides of his life. One flattering, the other most decidedly not.

I’d like somebody to stand up and talk about anything, ANYTHING good that he did as a person. The only positive comment I can remember now is something I read about Zeenat Aman saying that when they (the crew) returned from an overseas shooting (presumably for Aashiq Hoon Baharon Ka), there was some sort of collection drive going on in Bombay for a good cause.  Apparently Rajesh Khanna donated a huge amount – Zeenat did not say how much but she said it was “very generous”.  

So are there any more stories like this out there? Because if there are, it would be nice to get them out there. So as get a more balanced picture about Rajesh Khanna, the person.  I’m feeling like Arnab Goswami here (“the nation needs to know”) but indeed, there is usually more than one side to a story or a person. And for the last almost four decades, there’s only side that has been put out there about Rajesh, the person.

When I  wrote my earlier piece, I tweeted it out to a few persons of a generation earlier than, or the same as, mine. If only hoping to get a perspective that would enrich my own.

Now they are all busy people and may not even have read it, let alone have had the time or interest to respond to it. However, I was very happy and gratified to receive a response from the ever-perspicacious Madhu Trehan, somebody I have always admired and respected from the early days of India Today magazine (I used to “devour” it in the 1970s and the early 80s). Madhu now has a website www.newslaundry.com which I visit regularly – she gives me a reason to have hope that the terms “values” and “current Indian media” can still be used in the same sentence.

In three tweets, Madhu  gave me her take on Rajesh Khanna – and, though they may sound harsh, they are loaded with wisdom – and probably a fair summation of Rajesh Khanna’s biggest failing.

I quote them here (I trust she won’t mind):
@Raja_Sw All I can say, judging a man by his films and what he was as a human being are different parameters

@Raja_Sw I saw a man who took his success too seriously & his failures too seriously-thereby his place on earth too seriously

@Raja_Sw A person who misses his Lightness of Being, has missed the point of existence


That was an angle that I’d NEVER thought of but it tied in very nicely with the angle that I HAD thought of.

And that was that Rajesh Khanna’s biggest failing was that he lived in a bubble.

I cannot help feeling that it is very ironic that one of Rajesh Khanna’s most famous dialogues is one that goes “ye duniya ek rang manch hai aur hum sab rang manch ki kathputhliyaan”.

I firmly believe Rajesh not just delivered this line of dialogue, he got caught up in it – and he lived the rest of his life, trapped by the illusion and delusion of the world that it creates.

The average Joe goes through life with a whole range of experiences shaping his thinking, his evolution and his interactions with society. The more exposed he is to real-life happenings, the hustle-bustle of daily life, the more he comes to terms with the world.

However, Rajesh’s life was anything but like the average Joe’s life.

For starters, he was just 26 when Aradhana released and he was catapulted to an overnight sensation status. The feeling must have been unbelievably heady – some thing that I am unable to even relate to, because I’ve never had (and am never likely to have) the experience of the frenzied adulation of millions and millions of people, falling all over you, wanting to touch you, wanting to marry you, wanting to get one glimpse of you.  It is one thing to aspire for fame and a celebrity status – it is totally another to be able to handle it if and when it does come to you.

Then the sycophants. Rajesh was made to feel like God. Not just by his fans but by those around him. They pampered him, they attended to his every whim and fancy, they ensured the thickening of the walls of the bubble that he got into – and they did such a good job of it that he stayed trapped within.  Apparently Rajesh did not take kindly to criticism – and these so-called well-wishers weren’t going to say or do anything that could get them in his bad books and ruin their own parasitic progress.

Then the habits. Leading from the above, it isn’t strange at all that Rajesh’s habits began getting “aiyaash” (wastrel-like).  “The world can wait, after all I am Rajesh Khanna. A star, not a clerk”. The drinking, the drama, the sense of being God…

Then the fall. I was looking for a term that describes it better than “precipitous” but I cannot find one, so I’ll settle for this. One after another, his films began failing – largely due to the above. With such sycophants around you who don’t dare tell you what you’re doing wrong, with such habits that are bound to reflect on your performances, it should have been seen coming from a mile. The external environment was one thing, but the self-destruction that Rajesh inflicted on himself was the far bigger reason for his fall, in my opinion.

But SO lost was he in that bubble that he got into denial – he  kept telling himself that his films were doing well, that he was still the number one.

And that to me was always his key problem. He was in that bubble, he was in denial for way too long. In order for a person to accept reality, he has to first come out of denial and face reality. Acceptance comes only thereafter. But if somebody does not even come out of denial, there’s no hope, there’s only delusion.

I know I’m saying  seemingly harsh things here – and it is indeed “chhota moonh, badi baat”.  In fact “bahut hi chhota moonh, badi baat”, given our relative statures and achievements in life. But I don’t think I am that far off from the truth.

And sometimes I wish I’d been there with Rajesh during those heady days of his. I’d have told him to his face – and borne the brunt of his response, abuse and all. And I’d have told him again. And again. 

Rajesh may have been getting delusional –but I don't think he was a stupid man. I'd have persisted - and I’d not have let those sycophants and leeches get within a mile of him. 

And, even if a fall had come eventually (the old order changeth, and all that), he would have been man enough to take it into his stride. After all, failure and success are part of life. I might even have tried some poetry and quotes with him, seeing his penchant for drama and the like. Kipling’s “Success and failure are the same imposter” maybe.

Anyway, this is all wishful thinking. And it was not to be. Maybe he was MEANT to be that poster-boy for posterity - for how NOT to let success get to your head, how NOT to burn your bridges, how NOT to trust yes-men around you. Maybe he was meant to be that lesson for future generations.

Anyway this was MY angle. If you combine this with Madhu’s angle – that he seemed to take everything too seriously – his successes, his failures – and therefore his place on earth, then you get a much stronger sense of the man. You get a sense of – and an explanation for – his insecurities, his drinking, his moods.

So this is the “Rajesh Khanna, the person” image that I have.

It is NOT a negative image, mind you. It is a VERY HUMAN image. It could happen to anybody.

Yes, if he hadn’t taken himself and his successes/failures SO seriously, he might have been able to have more equanimity in life and face reality more easily. And if he hadn’t let that success get to his head, he might have had a much happier and more social life, once his heyday would be behind him (as it eventually would be anyway).

But these are all ifs and buts. Life isn’t scripted this way.  The more I think about it, the more I feel Rajesh’s life was a drama in itself – worthy of an Oscar-winning script. I can’t help feeling he would love for that to happen – that somebody makes a film on him. Because for him, his reel-life and his real life were one and the same.

Well, maybe one day somebody WILL make a film on him.

I just hope that that person is kind towards him. Truthful – and kind. Tell the dirty picture if you like – but tell it from the point of view also of somebody who was only human. Who had a lot of charm and charisma – but, for all that, was still only human.

That is all I ask for him. Let posterity not know him only as a superstar. Let posterity also know about the mistakes he made. It is a lesson for one and all.

But, at the same time, let posterity also not sit and judge him on the narrow canvas of his reel life and his real-life actions. Let it also seek to understand the motivations and the tribulations of the very vulnerable mind trapped inside the body of a superstar.

That is all I ask for him.

That is all I ask for him.

Friday, July 20, 2012

My memories of Rajesh Khanna

When I logged into Facebook on the morning of Wednesday, the 18th of July, I saw a link to “vaada tera vaada” from one of my friends, saying "RIP, Rajesh Khanna".

I immediately logged onto Twitter – it is my source for latest news (and links to news) around the world. And yes, #RIP Rajesh Khanna was trending as the top item on Twitter for India.

Now I’ve seen hoax RIP hashtags on Twitter before – and there was just this very slight hope within me that this was a hoax – but I knew, deep within myself and with an increasingly sinking feeling, that this was it. This was the end.

I took a deep breath and slowly began reading the tweets and the attached links. They were pouring in  like a tsunami wave – Twitter is known as THE medium for “outrage”,  but that does it great injustice. Outrage is just a show of emotion – and Twitter does emotion brilliantly in 140 characters.

All this while, my heart was sinking. Like most people, I did know that Rajesh was in pretty bad shape. So in a sense, it was not entirely a surprise or a shock. But somewhere within me, there was still the hope that he would get better, that he would be around for some more years. After all, he was just 69 – and that’s young, by today’s standards.

But it was not to be. The man who loved to die in his films because his audience seemed to like his films to end that way, decided it was time for real life to imitate reel life just this one last time.

Memories of Rajesh movies, memories of Rajesh songs began flooding my mind.  I immediately went to youtube to watch some of his songs. Not his most famous songs, but some songs that I personally like watching again and again. 

Where Rajesh stands out, in my opinion.

I started with “rona kabhi nahin rona” from Apna Desh. No glamour here, no heroine, no silk kurta – just a chacha singing to his brother’s kids. I remember singing this song a lot to my niece way back in the early 80s when she was about three.

I then moved on to “yahan wahan saare, jahaan pe tera raaj hai” from Aan Milo Sajna. This song took me right back to my childhood. This is a Rajesh song close to my heart – again it is “pure” Rajesh, if you know what I mean. I even tweeted this, saying “tere hi to sar pe mohabbat ka taj hai”.

And so I went on. I began posting songs on Facebook – only to a select group. (A lot of my friends are non-Indian and presumably do not know who Rajesh Khanna is. I did not want to spam them).

 Rajesh-Mumtaz with “gore rang pe na itna gumaan kar” (Roti), one of my favorites.

 Then “ye jo chilman hai” (Mehboob Ki Mehndi), another of my favorites – Rajesh in kurta singing an ode to a beautiful Leena Chandavarkar.  Beautiful poetry here by Anand Bakshi.

Then one of my childhood favorites – I must have sung this song (badly) at least a million times. “Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye” (Anand).

And “ye shaam mastaani” from Kati Patang.

And “ye kya hua, kaise hua” from Amar Prem.

And the fun-filled “mujh se bhala ye kaajal tera” from The Train. - Rajesh with Nanda.

And another of my favorites, “o mere dil ke chain” from Mere Jeevan Saathi. Another one of those "million times, badly-sung" songs by me.

I did not want to drive my friends crazy – I stopped with just these songs, I think. I did listen to many more though – “gusssa itna haseen hai to pyar kaisa hoga” (Maryada), “nainon mein nindiya hai” (Joroo Ka Ghulam)…

In what was still an indescribably incredibly inconsolably despondent mood, I then updated my Facebook status to:

Kya samjhega aalam koi
Badaa bhaari hai aaj dil ye mera
Ki le gaye ho saath safar pe tumhaare
Tukda jo kabhi tha dil ye mera

(Who will understand my mood today
The weight that bears upon my heart
For you’ve taken with you on your journey
A piece that used to once be my heart)

Yes, I know it is rubbish poetry. But I was in no frame of mind to construct anything remotely comprehensible at that time.

The thing is, the news of Rajesh Khanna's death took me right back to my childhood. I am talking of the late 60s/early 70s. I was only a young boy then but I vividly remember watching his films then. I vividly remember many of the songs from his films even if I did not quite understand then the storyline.

For me, Rajesh Khanna was the first star I “knew”.  I’d heard of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand – and also Shammi Kapoor. I’d seen their movies as well. But their time at their peak  was “before” my time (in the case of Shammi, “just before” my time).

Rajesh, on the other hand, peaked just at the time that I began watching, and becoming aware, of movies. So I could “feel” his popularity in a way that I could not feel the popularity of the big names before him.

And what popularity! By now a lot of people have talked about how he was “the first superstar”, “THE phenomenon”.  You hear lines (sometimes sounding patronizing) saying “only people who lived during that period will quite understand what he was”. 

Even if one allows for a bit of misty-eyed exaggeration, I think it is fair to say that it is not much more than a bit. I will speak only from my own experience. Yes, I was very young then, so my judgment may be questionable, but there was enough evidence all around me to suggest that there was Rajesh Khanna – and there was everybody else.

The first time I remember hearing his name was when one of my sister’s friends was chatting with my sister. She had just seen Baharon Ke Sapne and told my sister “The movie is ok. I actually didn’t like it very much. But oh, Rajesh Khanna….”. 

I suspect there were many, many more who went “Oh, Rajesh Khanna…” in the years to come.

I distinctly remember Aradhana’s success. I got to see it much after it was 
released – but I remember the impact it had everywhere around me.  There was hardly a day you did not hear an Aradhana song. Either on the radio, or somebody singing or humming it. That is how it seemed to me at least. “Mere sapnon ki rani” and “roop tera mastana” practically competed with each other for which was the more popular song of the time – any other song would have come a VERY distant third. 

The measure of Aradhana’s popularity can best be gauged by the fact that my paternal grandmother, who did not know a word of Hindi, and certainly knew no other Hindi songs, had heard the songs of Aradhana. We didn't have a tape recorder then, so if at all we heard anything, it was on radio. Various songs would be playing - but the moment an Aradhana song played - her eyes would light up and she'd say “Aradhana!” (Well, considering it probably played every single day, it might not have been such a difficult task to recognise the songs, I suppose).  

In 1975, during our summer holidays, we had gone for a family event deep in rural South India - in Thanjavur district, often considered then the bastion of anti-Hindi sentiment. There I got to spend some time with my cousins. They spoke Tamil and English – but not a word of Hindi. Anyway, they started playing Antakshari – and as one would expect,Tamil songs were being tossed around with great gusto. With my count of known Tamil songs then being a grand nil,  I must confess I felt totally out of place.

One of my cousins, seeing my lost look, stopped and said “Hindi?” I said “Yes”. “OK” he said. And immediately started with “mere sapnon ki rani…”. The others joined in. Ok, it was just the first couple of lines, the words were quite messed up, the accent even more so - but it felt just SO good.  And then there was the inevitable follow-up with “roop tera”. 

To date, I consider these as two of the most popular songs of Hindi cinema that I’ve known in my life - not counting songs from before my time.

Aradhana was THAT popular. Rajesh Khanna became an overnight star. Sharmila – already a popular heroine – went right to the top. I remember Madhuri magazine, having a discussion about who the No.1 heroine was – they had photos of three heroines (the ones in contention) – Asha Parekh, Waheeda Rehman and Sharmila Tagore.

When, in the late 90s, Kaho Na Pyar Hai – with its very popular numbers - became a super-duper hit, catapulting Hrithik Roshan to overnight fame,  it reminded me of Aradhana – and Rajesh Khanna – all those years ago. Hrithik did not quite manage to do a Rajesh follow-up act though. He became ONE of the stars, whereas Rajesh left all others behind to emerge as the one and only superstar.

Like I’ve said, in those years, there was Rajesh – and there was everybody else. It is not that others were not delivering hits. Dharmendra and Shashi Kapoor, for example, also did well in that period. But the Rajesh tsunami was such that everybody seemed to have eyes for him - and him only.  

There is this general impression that it was the female constituency, particularly young girls, that was crazy about Rajesh Khanna. True, but that's not the entire story. People of ALL generations, all age groups, male-female, were pretty crazy about him at that time. 

There were a whole lot of newcomers in that period. I remember Vinod Mehra, Rakesh Roshan, Parikshat Sahni (then called Ajay Sahni), even Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna (both starting off in villain roles), Randhir Kapoor, Anil Dhawan, Navin Nischol, Vijay Arora, Kabir Bedi, Rakesh Pandey, Romesh Sharma, Vikram…I’m sure there were others too that I have not named here. Some of these definitely tried to copy Rajesh Khanna. Rakesh Roshan, for example. But they could not QUITE pull it off.

That was the time when people would blindly go to watch a movie just because it was a Rajesh movie. They were guaranteed that smile, that look, that nod of the head – and some glorious songs. Whether the heroine was Asha Parekh or Sharmila Tagore or Mumtaz or Tanuja or Hema Malini or anybody else, it did not matter.  Even if the film did not have a heroine opposite him, it did not matter. All that mattered was that it had Rajesh Khanna.

He did the odd cameo too. Not many talk about it – but I thought he did a lovely cameo as the flower vendor in the tear-jerker Anuraag.

I saw almost all his movies from that early period, in those early years of the 70s. I will not name the movies here, it is almost the entire list of that time. I knew most of the songs from his movies by heart. You just heard them so many times that you could not help it.

I cannot say with absolute certainty what my very first Rajesh movie was. I think it was Sacha Jhootha, though it could just as well have been Do Raaste. I remember seeing these movies very early on, as also Maryada. 

True, in terms of superstardom, his reign at the top was all-too-brief.

And true, towards the end of his golden period, his mannerisms took over and watching him became difficult. His hamming, together with a questionable selection of movies, resulted in his loyal fan-base getting disenchanted and beginning to feel let down. (I know, I was one of them).

And yes, that was exactly the time when Amitabh Bachchan’s star was rising with some excellent performances in movies like Zanjeer and Deewar. The times were changing - the mood in the country was becoming increasingly cynical and anti-establishment. Romance was taking a backseat, anger was in the front row. There were protests, bandhs, strikes all over the place - I remember that even as a young boy.

Movies are usually a reflection of the times and the society in which, and for which, they are made. More and more people began identifying more easily with the "angry young man" image of Amitabh than the soft, romantic image of Rajesh (which was anyway beginning to get seriously dented with his exaggerated mannerisms). But there is no doubt that, in addition to self-created reasons for his self-destruction, there was the external environment too that was beginning to become alien to Rajesh's style.

Oh, how I hated the fact that Amitabh was taking over Rajesh's place. I had nothing against Amitabh - in fact I grudgingly liked him, especially in his movies with Jaya Bhaduri. And I loved Majboor, one of his most under-rated performances, in my opinion and still one of my Amitabh favorites.

But nobody, NOBODY, took Rajesh's place. He was going through a bad phase, that was all. That's how I convinced myself - though I secretly knew that the magic was wearing off. And well, if everybody in the country was angry about something or the other at that time, I was angry at the movies Rajesh was doing, I was angry at his hamming. But I was still a Rajesh loyalist and I wasn't willing as yet to allow another person to sit on that throne. 

I think a lot of Rajesh fans must have switched loyalties and become Amitabh fans at that time. At
 that age, in school at least, you tended to be identified either with Rajesh or with Amitabh.  To be fair to those who switched, it was really becoming very difficult to continue to defend Rajesh. So I wouldn't call them fair-weather fans. 

I remember one such ex-Rajesh fan even challenging me "Tell me, can Rajesh act like Amitabh in Deewar?" I struggled with my defence - and could only manage "No, but I don't WANT Rajesh to act like Amitabh. I just want Rajesh to be Rajesh. Like he used to be". 

Oh, those mid- and late-70s were difficult times for a Rajesh fan.

And yes, Rajesh’s lack of professionalism, his poor public relations, his whims, his lack of maintenance – all of these, individually seriously problematic but collectively conclusively disastrous,  ensured that his career, once it tipped over, went into free fall. 

When you read about some of those stories today, they sound outrageous but one needs to bear in mind that those were different times. The film industry has changed a lot over the years. Today actors are far more professional, they are extremely conscious about not just their appearance but their image, they are often very boringly politically correct, they are very media-savvy. I think Rajesh was on such a cloud that he did not pay much attention to these non-acting attributes required for an actor's sustained success in the industry. 

At that age, I read about all this only in magazines - mainly Filmfare, Star and Style and Stardust. Film magazines were not subscribed to (or encouraged) in our household but we would always get hold of them from friends. So there was plenty of film information (and gossip) available to us.

Even at that age, I was very sceptical of what I read in these magazines. So to me, what I saw on screen was what I made of an actor or a situation. In any case, these backstage problems (of unprofessional behaviour) were something that did not matter to me. The hamming yes, the backstage problems, no. They were all none of my business anyway.

 I do remember reading a lot of anti-Rajesh Khanna writing in the late 70s. It was as if everybody had been waiting for him to fall. As if everybody was out to get him, waiting for that chance to get that dagger in, and to twist it.

That his personal life was also becoming a mess, did not help one bit. At that time, it felt like any news about Rajesh was only bad news – nobody seemed to have a good word to say about him.  And the witch-hunt seemed to go on, for ever and ever.

 So if we are to keep score, I am pretty much convinced that he paid the price for his failings in far greater measure than he deserved.  No wonder then that he chose to lead a somewhat secluded life in his later years.

I don’t think Rajesh ever totally got over the shock of his sudden fall from grace. When you are at THAT height – and the fall is SO precipitous, it is difficult to keep your senses around you. Your sycophants leave you, your so-called friends leave you – life suddenly becomes very lonely.

What Rajesh critics often fail to mention is that he did realize his mistakes later. I clearly remember seeing an interview where he admits his mistakes. He does not blame anybody else for them.  Surely that counts for something?

I stopped seeing Rajesh Khanna movies after a while. They became painful to watch – if only because I knew what he had once been. Maybe there was the odd good movie at that time – I just did not have the heart to watch it. I call that the “Janta Hawaldar” period – I remember this being one of the movies I expressly skipped at that time. 

I do remember watching Thodisi Bewafai and Avtaar though.  Both of them were telecast on Doordarshan (as the Sunday evening movie) - and I’d heard they were good. So, rather hesitatingly, I decided to watch them – and am glad I did. I quite liked them. 

In the last couple of years, I’ve caught up with some of the Rajesh movies I’d avoided in my Rajesh blackout phase. Movies like Rajput and Kudrat. I thought he was OK in both of them. 

But, on the whole, my memories of Rajesh will be of the Rajesh of my childhood. 

With his death, he has taken a part of my childhood with him. But I certainly bear him no grudge – for he gave me so much more in my childhood, so many wonderful moments to cherish and enjoy, that I will remain ever-grateful to him for this.

As I sign off (still emotional), I cannot help thinking that a tribute to Rajesh without some of his songs would be oh-so-incomplete.

So I will leave you with some of his songs that I feel he could be singing to his various constituencies. 

For his critics (whose numbers ran into millions), I have "mere naseeb mein aye dost, tera pyar nahin" (dear friend, it was not in my destiny to get your love). Anand Bakshi's lyrics in this song are just mind-blowing.

For his fans (whose numbers hopefully outnumbered his critics), I have "maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne chune, sapne sureele sapne". (I have picked dreams of seven different colors for only you, sweet dreams). Gulzar's lyrics here - quite typical, actually.

For children, I think his message to them (actually Anand Bakshi's message in Kishore Kumar's voice) is invaluable - "rona kabhi nahin rona". Simple words, deep message - "jo apna nahin, tum uske liye, jo apna hai, nahin khona" (In your pursuit of something that doesn't belong to you, don't lose what you do have).

For the youth (and with his message to take care of the elderly thrown in), I think he'd have liked to exhort them to enjoy their youth and make the most of it with "yahan wahaan saare jahaan mein tera raj hai". Anand Bakshi again.

For the female constituency (and one need have no fear about that number not running into many millions), I can imagine him singing one of my favorite romantic numbers - with that nod of the head of course. The song, with a gorgeous Leena Chandavarkar, with beautiful lyrics (Anand Bakshi again!) and Rafi saab's voice. Oh, how I love the fact that this is Rafi saab's voice.

Thank you SO MUCH for everything, Rajesh Khanna. I guess we were just fortunate to have you with us for as long as we did. You will always live on in our hearts. Rest In Peace.  And do enjoy your time up there with Kishore and RD. 

As for me, well, I can only say chhoti chhoti baaton ki hai yaadein badin.

And if I may call you my yaar, I'd like to also add nafrat ki duniya ko chhod ke pyar ki duniya mein, khush rehna mere yaar.