Updated: Jul 28, 2020
I had the unique privilege to spend on 20th October 2001, several hours in the late evening with the great Bollywood thespian Dilip Kumar (born Mohammad Yusuf, 11 December 1922, Peshawar) at his residence in Mumbai. As an actor there is hardly anyone who has attained so much fame and won so many laurels as Dilip sahib. He was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1994 for lifelong contribution to cinema. He visited Pakistan in 1988 on the invitation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Mian Nawaz Sharif. It was his first visit after partition. . The famous actor of the 1970s, Raj Babbar (parents originally from Jalalpur Jattan, northern Punjab), had on my request arranged the interview. Originally it was meant to last not more than half an hour. However, once I was inside his sitting room and met him I could feel that Dilip wanted to talk to me more and more. To my very great surprise he wanted to conduct the conversation in his native Hindko, which to a Lahore-born like me was hundred percent Punjabi, but with a peculiar accent. We went over his long life, starting with Peshawar of course, where he was born to the family of a fruit trader, Lala Ghulam Sarwar and his wife Ayesha. That trade brought his father to Maharashtra where the family settled. Some years later Yusuf Khan became Dilip Kumar.
He convinced me to have an omelette, saying that this way he could also join me otherwise Saira Bano was against him eating fatty stuff. I enjoyed watching him as he shared his heartfelt views about some people that I wanted him to comment on. He dispelled the rumour that he and Raj Kapoor had at any time been estranged from each other or been against each other. On the contrary, he told me that Raj Kapoor was always a steadfast friend and their Peshawar roots cemented that relationship on the family level. About the great Rafi sahib he told me that a gentler human being than him was diff
icult to find. He and Sunil Dutt (originally from village Khurd, Jhelum district) were next-door neighbours. Their families also met regularly and were very close to one another. He spoke very highly of Sunil Dutt, calling him a man of great courage and a very pure conscience. Equally he showered praise on Pran, calling him a man of lofty principles and integrity.
At that time, the US had started bombing Afghanistan since Al-Qaeda had ordered terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 on several targets in the United States. Dilip Sahib was very concerned about the storm which was gathering over the region from which he hailed.
Politically he appeared to be very well informed. He was known to be a voracious reader and was famous for quoting verses from the great poets such as Ghalib, Iqbal and Faiz. Politically and intellectually he remained steadfast in his commitment to Nehruvian India - democratic, pluralist and progressive.
He was known for his outspoken stand on India - Pakistan peace and amity, always speaking about the deep cultural bonds which united the people of the subcontinent. When I met him, we discussed how intellectuals and artistes could play a leading role in healing wounds inflicted at the time of the gory partition of India, Bengal and Punjab in 1947. Those scars had continued to haunt India - Pakistan relations, which we agreed needed to be healed and relations between the two nations and their people transformed to friendship and cooperation.
In fact, while in Pakistan during one of his latter visits he had spoken with characteristic eloquence in the defence of peace and friendship. I share a short video clip from that occasion.