Several senior scribes I have interacted closely with have admitted to being a little shy of their first few by-lines, often bracketing them as somewhat trifle. Ditto with me.
I distinctly remember that sub-editor gently admonishing me that day for being "tangent", "wayward" and "unfocused", as he went into the fine art of hammering the copy into a more readable piece.
I am referring to that interview I did of veteran Bollywood actor Farooque Sheikh way back in late 1995. It was the first interview I did of a famous person, and as far as I can remember, it was among my first few stories, and that too as a trainee journalist!
Forget about the finesse or the way with words. All that mattered to me at the time was how well Farooque saheb had treated me; how he had wanted a copy of the newspaper carrying his interview; and how, when I went to hand him the newspaper at the Patna airport, he — despite being mobbed by a motley crowd — made that extra effort to collect the copy from me while saying a courteous 'thank you'.
There was a different aura about that man. You could feel that air of honesty and straightforwardness when he was around.
Yesterday morning, as I heard the news of the demise of the actor who lent his skills to such meaningful and classic films as Bazaar, Saath Saath, Umrao Jaan, Shatranj Ke Khiladi, and the unforgettable comedy Chashme Buddoor among others, I was transported to that social event in Patna where Farooque was a guest speaker, and I had asked him for a few news bytes. I was completely taken aback by his modesty when he offered me a lift in his car to the hotel he was staying in, offering a detailed interview there.
"By sheer accident," was his reply when I asked him how he had got his first break in Bollywood, as he came from a typically traditional, trading family. He narrated to me in detail how it was sheer fate that kicked off his rendezvous with a career in acting.
I could notice that there was not an iota of pretence with this man, attired in his trademark white kurta-pyjama, as he insisted on making tea for me.
He told me he had decided to sponsor the education of a few girl children and would continue doing so in the years to come.
If every capable person can sponsor the education of even one girl child, it will be a completely different world, I remember him telling me.
Having started his Bollywood career in the year 1973 with the classic Garm Hawa, he tasted big success with Noorie, a 1979 love story produced by Yash Chopra. He told me he was flooded with similar roles but chose not to join the rat race. And while he excelled in both parallel as well as mainstream cinema, Farooque was not one to be awed by the grammar of the showbiz.
Just a few weeks back I had watched Bazaar on my laptop. What a performance! He looked every inch of the tragic character he essayed. And when I watched the movie, I thought of that very same interview I had done of him as not-so-mature-a-scribe. I always had this feeling that Farooque saheb could have given me a few tips on how that story could have been given a better shape. And I had always wanted to interview him a second time. Alas, that desire remains unfulfilled! Alwida Farooque saheb. RIP.
The writer is the News Editor at Times of Oman