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Irrfan! You left so early!



Irrfan, your ever smiling face, eyes that said a lot. All of them have now become the past! As I recall early days, then the first incident that comes in my memory is from the famous banks of Sangam in Prayagraj (Allahabad) when I first saw Irrfan during the shooting of Tigmanshu’s film Haasil. I spotted Tigmanshu with Irrfan standing near a cart-vender of peanuts and enjoying the roasted peanuts. I asked the driver to stop. “Maa! He is Irrfan”, said Tigmanshu introducing him. A tall but lean body, a happy face and eyes which were very expressive! I noticed that both Tigmanshu and Irrfan had their eyes focussed on the casserole in my hands which I had brought packed with some home cooked food!

Shooting of the film Haasil continued in Allahabad for many days following this incident. We often strolled on the banks of Sangam during those days and I had developed a kind of relationship with the entire film unit. The film unit was staying at Hotel Yatrik during the shoot!
One day I saw Irrfan with a piece of cloth and he looked worried! Along with me were Dr Harish Chandola and his wife, Sarveshwari Chandola, who had by then become Mama and Mami of the entire unit not just of Tigmanshu! Irrfan came near Sarveshwari and spoke in a low voice, “Mamiji, I just have this one shirt for shooting and it gets soaked in perspiration in this hot weather. However, I still have to wear it to maintain the continuity of the scene and the Director Sahib does not relent at all! He keeps on ordering re-take after re-take!” Sarveshwari took the shirt from Irrfan and asked, “Do you have shooting tomorrow?” “No,” Irrfan responded. She purchased similar cloth the next morning and gave it for stitching at the same time. By the evening the shirt was ready! She handed it over to Irrfan later in the evening! Irrfan looked overtly happy and his smiling face had an expression of gratitude! He was now ready to take on the heat of Allahabad! I still vividly remember that moment when he had smiled at us!
Shooting for Tigmanshu’s film Paan Singh Tomar was going on at the Forest Research of India (FRI) campus in Dehradun! Our house in Vasant Vihar was quite close by! Therefore, unit members of the film used to frequent our house very often during the shoot! The unit visited us almost every evening after the shooting was over while on its way to the Hotel where they stayed!
One such evening, the unit people were sitting around the dining table in our house and having tea! Suddenly, Irrfan also turned up and sat around with everyone! They started chatting! Tigmanshu also appeared and sat along with us! Irrfan suddenly complained to me, “Amma! Today he (Tigmanshu) made me run too much! Too much!” “Why did you make this poor boy run so much?” I asked Tigmanshu!. Tigmanshu emphasised, “When you are a Hero, you will have to run.” However, the tired face of Irrfan and a complaining expression on his face reminded me of Hindi Poet Surdas’ famous lines, “Gwal Baal Sab Bair Pade Hain, Barbas Mukh Liptayo” spoken by child Krishna when he refused to admit before his mom Yashoda that he had indeed stolen butter! It will be perhaps pertinent to point out here that the scene for which Irrfan was made to run too much according to his own account became the most famous scene from the film Paan Singh Tomar in which he is seen jumping from one to another entrenchment with a rifle on his shoulder!
Holi is celebrated with much fanfare at the Mumbai office of Tigmanshu! I also used to participate for sometime in the festivities! On one such occasion three years ago, Holi was being celebrated at his office. Sweets and other delicacies were being prepared on one side of the hall and, on the other side, some boys were dancing to some disco music! Some women and children were also dancing on another side of the office to film music!
Then I saw Irrfan with wife Sutapa and elder son Babal entering the hall! He was dressed for the occasion in very colourful Holi attire! He was wearing a very colourful dhoti and a matching pagdi for the occasion! Irrfan and his wife Sutapa came straight towards me and both touched my feet and applied a little colour on my feet only! I embraced them and wished them a very happy Holi! His son Babal who was till then watching us with keen interest came near and greeted me! “Oh! You have become so big,” I exclaimed! He felt shy and then joined the group of the boys! Irrfan’s entry into the hall had galvanised the mood of all present and he too danced and celebrated Holi with all with his ever charming smile dominating the scene!
Irrfan and Sutapa were visiting Nainital when they turned up one morning at the house of my son and called out from below, “Bhabi! Is breakfast ready! My daughter in law said, “Arre! Won’t you come up or will have breakfast below itself?” Sutapa had laughed aloud! They visited us every day during their stay in Nainital and each day was like a festive occasion for us! Two years ago, also, he had visited us in Nainital! When he turned up, I was busy teaching Hindi to youngest grandson Shashank and he straightway came inside the children’s room! We started chatting when Shashank suddenly came up to him with three blank foolscap papers and said, “Uncle! Autograph please!” “Arre, why so many and such big papers? “Irrfan asked! Then, he scribbled his autograph in big letters on one of the papers. Shashank again slipped another paper in front of Irrfan. “Why this now,” I asked him. “One of papers, I will keep on my study table and the other one I will show to my friends in the school,” Shashank responded, beaming with pride! Irrfan very humbly obliged making Shashank very happy!
I now remember having suffered from pneumonia while I was in Mumbai two years ago! I was admitted to the ICU at a local Mumbai Hospital! After my recovery, when I returned home, Irrfan and Sutapa came to see me! I was sitting on the bed! Both of them sat on the bed along with me! Sutapa held my hand warmly and asked how I was feeling! I was astonished at her affinity with me!
Irrfan saw a casserole on the table in front of the bed and asked, “Amma! What is in the casserole?” I said, “Besan Laddoos,” I told him that they had been sent to us by Jolly (my elder daughter in law). He picked up a laddoo from the casserole and asked Sutapa if she wanted one! “Why not?” she responded. Irrfan gave a laddoo to her and then said, “I will have two”. We continued to chat for some time. When they were about to leave, I softly told Irrfan that he was fortunate to have a very good wife. Irrfan came near me and whispered in my ears, “Amma! She runs the entire production.” I noticed a sense of gratitude and respect in his eyes for his spouse! I still vividly remember the moment!
That was my last meeting with Irrfan! He fell sick and had to undergo long treatment abroad! However, he could not survive!
“Irrfan, certainly your mom was a divine soul to have passed away four days before you! I wish eternal peace for you and your mother wherever you may now be! Om Shanti!”

(Sumitra Dhulia lives in Dehradun and by turn visits her three sons in Mumbai and Nainital. She is retired Assistant Professor, Central Pedagogical Institute, Allahabad.
This memoir was originally written in Hindi and has been translated by Arun Pratap Singh.)