Monday, March 14, 2011

My Guardian Angels

It was 1978 and I was a starry-eyed young woman, barely out of my teens. The standard courses offered for post-graduation in Indore did not interest me. I was fascinated by the world of the print media, and wanted to pursue it. The closest city from Indore where you could take a course in Journalism was Mumbai, called Bombay in those days. I had my eyes set on it, and even though it must have been a difficult decision for them, Aai-Baba--my parents--agreed to send me. As luck would have it, I secured a seat at the renowned Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for a 1-year diploma course in Journalism. I was happy and thrilled. But there was a problem. We had to make arrangements for my stay. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan did not have any hostel facility.

Photo by Mayuresh
This is where my father's close friend Achyutkaka and his wife, Ashatai came to our rescue. They opened their doors for me and invited me to stay with them in their flat, on Senapati Bapat Road in Mahim. Now, this was a small, one-bedroom flat and they had three young children. I became their fourth child, and the eldest one at that. Aai-Baba found it hard to send me away, but at the same time they were relieved because I was going to be under the loving and watchful eye of their most trustworthy friends.

Achyutkaka was (still is) a stickler for discipline, order and neatness. I made sure that I hang my clothes to dry in perfect symmetry on the clothesline. When I took off my slippers, I set them straight against the wall, with the toe-side touching the wall. Achyutkaka was particular about everything and paid attention to the smallest detail around his house. Footwear left on the floor in a haphazard manner, beds covered with sheets that were wrinkled and slack instead of being taut, and anything in general that was not placed neatly, bothered him. He was very straightforward and vocal about it. His children often got quite an earful from him. I may not have lived up to his exacting standards in spite of trying very hard, but I must say that he never let me know that in any way. He would regularly advise me on how to go about in my chosen field of study. He used to tell me about how I should conduct myself in a big city like Bombay. 'If you have any problem, confide in Asha', he often told me. After all, they were responsible for a 19-year-old, who had come away from her parents for the first time.

Even though he was an executive with the Indian Oil Corporation, acting was Achyutkaka's passion. He was active in the theatre circuit and I remember going to see many plays with him at the Chhabildas High School in Dadar. Chhabildas was a great venue for playwrights and directors to showcase their creations. It provided a platform for quality theatre that was not purely commercial, but experimental and low-budget. I don't mean to name-drop, but I got to see Pandit Satyadev Dubey,  Rohini and Jayadev Hattangadi, Sulabha and Arvind Deshpande, Nafisa Ali, Nana Patekar, Amol Palekar, Sunila Pradhan and many others from close quarters, either on stage or as part of the audience or in an informal meeting, thanks to Achyutkaka. I can't recollect names of all the plays that I saw there, but the two that stand out in memory are Badal Sircar's 'Juloos' and Mohan Rakesh's 'Aadhe Adhoore'. And I certainly haven't forgotten the zesty batatavadas from a nearby stall, that we used to be treated to, after watching a play.

Photo by Govind
If I have to mention one more of Achyutkaka's 'likes', other than discipline, order, neatness and acting, it has to be his evening drink. He has been having his pre-dinner drink every single day for years. I can still picture him, sitting in a chair that was kept between a window and a steel cupboard in the small Mahim flat, nursing his drink. His tastes in food are simple. He is happy with his daal-roti, the daal has to be served in a big bowl though, not in the small vaati or katori in which it is traditionally served in Maharashtrian houses. And the pinch of sugar that Maharashtrians add to all the dishes is a strict no-no in his house. Ashatai's cooking has always been free of that dash of sugar. In fact, there is a delightful North Indian touch to her fare, as she hails from Jhansi. The family was mostly vegetarian. Occasionally, there used to be some fish and the children tried their best to cajole me into eating it, or at least trying a little portion. But I was, still am, a vegetarian by choice and therefore did not succumb to their pleas.

Life was simple. School for the kids, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for me and office for Achyutkaka. Ashatai was a homemaker then. She started teaching at a school later. Sunday evenings were reserved for sitting in front of the TV and watching whatever movie Doordarshan threw at us. There used to be an intermission--a break when news was telecast--that all of us enjoyed with some munchies. The favourite items were puff biscuits and hard and crispy boondi laddoos which Achyutkaka used to get from some shop in Dadar.

Time flew in these congenial environs and before I knew it, my course was over. I was fortunate to be selected as a trainee journalist at the Bennett, Coleman & Company, publishers of the Times of India and many reputed journals. Soon, I moved into a hostel for working women. It was not too far from Achyutkaka's place. I continued visiting and meeting him and his family till I got married and moved away in 1982. When we were about to set up our home in Delhi, Achyutkaka gave us an Indane gas connection from his discretionary quota. That was one of the most sought after things then, a precious gift indeed that is still keeping our kitchen fires burning.

Achyutkaka and Ashatai visited us in Delhi and in Bangalore. They came when Aai-Baba were with us so that the four of them could spend some nice time together. Achyutkaka and Baba have been friends for more than six decades now, but what is remarkable is that their wives are each other's best friends too! During his visits, I found that he is still his old self...inspecting cupboards, arranging newspapers in a neat pile, washing and arranging teacups in the kitchen...and so on. His actions told me that he felt completely 'at home' at our place. This is exactly what he would have done in his own house.

Well, that is Achyutkaka for me.

A bit of information for those who don't know: Achyutkaka is Achyut Potdar who played the role of the father of leading ladies Urmila Matondkar ( in the 1995 Hindi film 'Rangeela')  and Vidya Balan ( in the 2005 film 'Parineeta'), and a cameo of a professor in 'Three Idiots' (2009). You may have seen him in many other Hindi films,  TV serials and advertisements. Kudos to him for keeping his passion alive and being actively involved in it so many years after retirement.


  1. Lata jee,
    Aapne sahi tasaveer khinch dee Achyut kaka kee. ham to unhen TV / film / manch par dekhate the. kabhi kabhi aap unka jikra kartee thee.
    bahut achchhee tasveer.

  2. प्रकाशजी, धन्यवाद. आपने मेरा लिखा सराहा, मुझे बहुत ख़ुशी हुई. आभारी हूँ.

  3. such a beautiful insight into one of my favorite character artistes! I have been a big fan of Achyut Potdar since I can remember, his smile is very infectious and there is always a kindness you hear in his voice.

  4. Excellent peace of writing..In fact through this blog U are talking to readers rather than we reading it. & Yes a great person. I met him first time in our home at Burhanpur while in school, and it has been a lasting impression till date. Lata great writing again.