By Kalpana Pande
I distinctly remember the day in March 2007. We were on the weekend evening walk in the University Grounds at Jabalpur. The usual complaints in my life were being reiterated to an unresponsive husband. Our son, Swami, was due to appear for his Xth standard Board Exams. We were under posting orders to Kapurthala, the second transfer in the last six months, earlier orders to Chittaranjan having been cancelled.
Both places did not offer much in terms of higher education facilities. Not only had we never been posted to our hometown, Delhi, we had no house of our own after 25 years of service. Life had become a question of “if they have it- why can’t we?” comparisons. I questioned God, when would we have enough to buy a roof of our own?
Next night, all of us were watching the famous quiz show, Kaun Banega Crorepati. Quizzing being the favourite hobby of my husband, KBC was a must watch. As the break came, the familiar message flashed that telephone lines for participation in KBC were open. My son picked up the telephone and went to another room.
He came back and told us about the recorded message that the call has been accepted and we should wait for a call in the next 5 days. If there was no call, then it should be understood that one has not been shortlisted. The matter was conveniently forgotten as we continued watching the show. But strange are the ways of the Almighty.
It was the weekend, and our friends had decided to join us for a walk. Just as they rang the bell and the dog started barking, the telephone rang. In the midst of this commotion, my husband picked up the phone. In a minute, he turned serious and went to a quiet corner. He emerged after five minutes, with a zapped look on his normal deadpan expressionless face.
“I got a call from the KBC people. They asked me some questions, which I answered correctly. They will again give a call in a few days, if I am shortlisted further.”
This raised a huge shout from the kids and me. Our friends, Yasha and Anand Prakash, too, were excited. Meanwhile, the deadpan expression of Manoj was back.
Next Saturday morning, the workaholic husband had left for office. I was at home when the KBC people called again. On my telling them that Manoj Pande was not at home, the voice on the other side said that they would ring up in an hour. A panic call was made to the husband, summoning him back home immediately or else…
He was back. Threats do work, sometimes! But his mind was on his office table which had been left in a mess. He was made to sit next to the telephone, cribbing about being evicted from his office den. The room was bolted from outside by Gayatri, my daughter, to prevent her father escaping to office. Two hours, still no ring. To pass time, he began reading the newspaper. Almost at lunchtime, the bell rang.
Again, a set of some questions with options. The last question was different; there was no option this time. “How many seats were there in the recently concluded elections in Punjab?”
If the Almighty decides so, hurdles are crossed easily. In front of my husband was the newspaper with the headline “Elections conclude peacefully for all the 117 assembly seats in Punjab”. With this correct answer, my husband was selected for KBC. The voice at the other end congratulated him and said that the recording would be on March 25th at Mumbai.
Formal communication and air tickets followed. While the children and I were on top of the world, Manoj was not. There could be many a slip between the cup and the lip. And horror of horrors, he was to wear dark shirts for the show and not the various shades of white and grey that formed his wardrobe. I had, of course selected two bright sarees and two suits.
Our flight was from Bhopal on Saturday. The General Manager’s Annual Inspection of Bhopal was on Friday, so my husband left one day earlier. The inspection was to conclude at Bina, with the dinner at Bhopal on Friday night. I was supposed to take the morning train from Jabalpur to Bhopal on Saturday and both of us then had to fly together to Mumbai. Destiny had, however, more in store. But once God decides to help, the toughest of obstacles simply vanish.
Early morning on Saturday, my son left for his final Board examination with all my blessings. I waited for the driver to drop me at the station. Calamity! The car was stuck with a flat tyre. I immediately asked the domestic help to take out our scooter and away I sped on the pillion. To hell with protocol!
The train was giving its second whistle and the wheels were slowly moving as I managed to jump in, much to the amusement of passengers on the platform. I heaved a sigh of relief and thanked the Almighty.
I got down at Bhopal, with no sign of my husband. He was fast asleep in the rest house with another story to tell when he woke up. As the GM’s inspection concluded, came the news that there had been a derailment and all lines to Bhopal were blocked. Everybody was stranded. The GM called my husband and told him to get to Bhopal, howsoever he could, before it was too late.
Ganj Basoda. This was the place where they were stuck. It was late in the night. A jeep hire was attempted. Except the morning milk sachet and newspaper distributing jeep, no other form of transport was available. The driver refused to go all the way to Bhopal, more than a hundred kms away. Somehow, he was coaxed to at least go to the nearest proper road to Bhopal. Thus it was a night ride on mud tracks followed by a truck ride to Bhopal. A journey which takes hardly an hour by train, took over six hours through the night, rattling the body all over. No wonder the husband was fast asleep! God had once again come to our rescue.
We reached Mumbai airport and were taken to a hotel where all the contestants were put up. Instructions were to leave for the studios after breakfast. The companions had to dress up without any change of clothes permitted, while the contestants had to take at least two sets of dresses. Mobiles were not permitted. I wore one of my two sarees for the occasion. Rest had to be left in the hotel.
There were ten contestants chosen for that episode. Each viewed the other with apprehension, envy and excitement. Contestants of the previous episode were sharing their experience with others. After breakfast the participants were sent in separate vehicles and the companions in another. All of us companions chatted and had a nice time during the journey to the studios at Film City. I was told later that the contestants did not chat amongst themselves. They had something to lose, we nothing!
The contestants were taken to the make up rooms in the studio, while we the companions had the canteen to sit and chat. The participants emerged, with loads of bright make up – my husband looking distinctly uncomfortable. They then went for rehearsals while the companions generally hung around the canteen.
After the rehearsals, my husband came out looking confident and actually smiling. Amongst the contestants there was a young girl about eighteen years old, who was very intelligent. My husband went to her and said, “Beta, you are the only competition, but I pray that you win the hot seat. You deserve it more than me.”
The shooting for the first round saw my husband winning the hot seat. This was when Shahrukh Khan met us and learnt about us. It was like a dream. Manoj became the roll over contestant, which meant a three hour break in which the entire audience changed and we had to change to a different dress. After all, it was supposed to be another day!
As I said earlier, the contestants had to bring the dress for change, but what about the companion? I was in a fix. My dear clothes were lying packed in a suitcase in the hotel. We were not allowed to go back. So then what was I supposed to wear? The make up person was approached. He had a set of spare salwar kameez, probably used by extras. But I had no choice. So the ill fitting brown salwar kameez with prints became my dress for the next episode. I remember another subsequent episode in which the lady companion of another roll over contestant was wearing the same dress. I can well imagine her feelings…
The rest as they say is history. My husband reached up to the Rs 1 Crore question and eventually became the winner of Rs 50 lakhs, the highest in Shahrukh’s KBC in 2007. We came out overjoyed, desperate to ring up and tell the kids. But even cell phones had not been permitted. So we took permission and went to a STD booth outside and made the call. The kids spread the news.
Let me conclude what my father said when I rang him up in Dehradun. “Manoj was destined to win this much amount, even if he knew the last question. That is what God had decided for him.” So we returned, elated, overjoyed, yet humble, having experienced for ourselves the grace of the Almighty.
(Kalpana Pande is an Ex-Josephite and someone who has donned many hats and lived in various parts of the country. She is now actively engaged with Kumaoni handicrafts and Berinag Tea.)