My father's pre-occupation with two jobs, one as teacher of English literature and the other as Chief Representative of the Oxford University Press, plus his love for books, left him little time to be with the family. My mother took it graciously and not only never complained about it, but did her best to compensate for father's non-availability by devoting all her time to running the house and raising her children, the way no other mother in the world would do better. Indeed, she was a perfect partner for my father by being opposite of him in many ways. As much my father liked to be left alone with his books, my mother loved to be in the midst of family members and her friends, both big in numbers. Her circle of friends spread from the elite of the society to its weakest sections, the later being her weakness. She not only liked their company better, but also felt happy caring for them. Her greatest happiness was hosting guests, friends and relatives, some coming from other cities and overstaying for weeks to enjoy her hospitality. It was God's grace, or my father's own way of expressing love for her and the family, that my mother was never ever short of money, whatever our extravagant needs be. She was spendthrift on herself too, but only to the extent that she would overspend on buying saris, so that she had plenty in surplus to give away to the needy friends from the neighborhood. Her only other expense on herself was going to movies, a must every Wednesday when it was 'Ladies Only' matinee in all theaters at half the normal rates. All her friends had open invitation to watch the latest movie, where she would not only buy them tickets but also treat them to sodas and snacks, which were sold by hawkers inside the hall during interval. Mother was a big movie buff and made me one too, as I was her constant companion till I was twelve years old: the age limit for allowing boys in the “Ladies Only” shows, if accompanied by a lady. She enjoyed all movies, musicals and mythological, comedies and tearjerker tragedies, with no exceptions. She had a few favorite stars whose movies she would never want to miss. She had even become a big fan of one particular star after seeing his super hit mythological, and must have seen that movie several times, taking a different friend on each repeat viewing. She could never have imagined then, even in her wildest imagination, that with a twist of fate, that very star would one day become her son-in-law.
No one who knew my sister, Satya, a very shy and traditional type, who hated going to movies, not even to the “Ladies Only” shows with my mother, would believe that she was getting married to a movie star. The news of their engagement took the film industry, more so the movie media, by surprise, not so much for the news that one of the most eligible bachelors of the Bombay film world was getting married, as for the fact that his bride to be was not from the glamor world but a college girl absolutely unconnected to the film world and living far away in Lahore. Not even the smartest of film correspondents could find the link between the college girl from Lahore and the big star from Bombay. The only film critic, who knew the full story, preferred not to publish in his magazine. It was none other but my own brother, Raghu, editor of a leading film magazine of Lahore.
Raghu, knowing well that mother was a big fan of the star, in order to please her, started giving great publicity to him in every issue of his monthly magazine. No issue was complete without covering all the news about the star, an article or a story on him that enhanced his image. Of course, it made our mother very happy, but more than that it made the star much pleased and impressed with Raghu's write-ups on him in every issue. The star showed his appreciation by writing a very sweet letter of thanks to Raghu and invited him to Bombay to give an exclusive interview for his magazine and to spend a week's holiday as his guest. Raghu immediately responded by accepting the invitation. The week that Raghu spent with the star turned out to be the turning point in my sister's life. In the course of his exclusive interview, the star confided to him that although he admired many of his co-stars, as far as marriage was concerned, he had made up his mind to marry a woman who must be from outside of the glamor world of films, and who as an outright traditional housewife, should be totally able to devote herself to their home and the children, when the time came. “But the problem is, where to look for such a woman, as most parents are skeptical of giving away their daughter to a movie star.” The star said it in a way as if he wanted to know if Raghu had someone in mind who matched his requirement. Raghu knew that all the qualities that the star wanted in his wife were very much there in Satya. She was highly accomplished, doing her master's in psychology, and yet very traditional. But he was hesitant to suggest about her without first talking in the family, especially to Satya. However, during the conversation he did mention about our family, including Satya and especially our mother, who he said was the star's biggest fan in the family. “Is that so, then I would like to meet your mother when I come to Lahore next month on the opening of my new movie.”
True to his word, the star did manage to spare time from his very tight schedule in Lahore to come to our home for lunch and meet his big fan, mother. There he also met Satya whom he liked so much that he later told Raghu that she was exactly the type of girl he wanted to marry and requested Raghu if he could arrange one to one meeting with her to enable him to know her mind on the prospect of marrying a movie star. Raghu had already talked about the star's search for a suitable match for marriage and what he was looking for in the bride to be, on his return from Bombay. It, therefore, did not come as a big surprise for the family to know that the star liked Satya and wanted to meet her again. The star's invitation to Satya for dinner with him at his hotel was heartily accepted. During their very first private meeting at dinner, the star proposed and Satya said “Yes”. Next evening they were engaged at a very exclusive ceremony, attended by his father, who flew from Bombay, our family and close family friends, and members of the film unit who had come with him for the premier and were staying in the same hotel where the ceremony took place. The media and the movie circle of Lahore were taken by surprise when the star arrived at the premier party with Satya, and introduced her as his fiancee. It was the star's first movie that Satya watched.
My sister's marriage in March, after she sat for her finals for master's degree, was a grand event remembered as the most glamorous and glittering wedding seen in Lahore. Never before so many celebrities from the film world landed on the streets of the city to be part of the wedding procession of their very successful co-star, whose latest movie was a super hit and still drawing crowds after celebrating silver jubilee. When the wedding procession, led by city's top band group playing hit tunes from the star's latest musical, passed through Anarkali, the grand bazar of Lahore, the shopkeepers showered flowers on the procession, and paid big tips to the band party so that they played longer in front of their shops. By the time the procession arrived at the venue of the wedding reception, a large public park in front of our home, which looked like a fairyland because of the decorations and illuminations, it was past midnight. In spite of the late hour, a very large number of movie fans were still waiting to have a closer look at their favorite stars. Since most of them were students from the nearby college where my sister was also a student till recently, they did not go overboard to show their enthusiasm and let the event pass peacefully. The grand finale to the wedding celebrations came the following evening with a reception by the famous journalist turned producer-director, B. R. Chopra at Lahore's most lavish hotel, the Flattis, where the elite of the city mingled with celebrities from the film world. Indeed, it was the happiest moment for my mother, her most favorite filmstar, Surendra, the singing idol of millions and super star of hit musicals of the 30s and 40s, had become her son-in-law.
Indu was my mother's best friend after our marriage, and a true follower of the traditions my mother believed in. Between the two of them, they had made the house look like a marriage home, where festivities and feeding never ended. There was hardly a day when God had not visited our house. Our open house always had a guest, invited or not. Some guests frankly admitted that they found peace in our house whenever they had a disturbed mind and came just to enjoy the festive atmosphere here when the going was far from good at their place. And mother reciprocated by giving such guests the special treatment that they remember all their life. On Sundays specially, it was always a full house. We had to come prepared at the breakfast table with information on our friends coming over to spend the weekend with us, as she must plan the menu for their lavish lunch. And if by any chance we did not expect any guests some Sunday, we must come to the table with planned program of full day outing on the day, a substitute for the Sunday guests. We really had a wonderful time with mother around, and we as well as our friends very much missed her absence when my brother persuaded our parents to move to his palatial house in Pathankote, where he had headquarters of his large lumber company. He thought he could afford a far more luxurious lifestyle with his large household establishment that would allow them complete rest, enjoying all the comforts of affluent life.
Eagerly wanting to spend great moments with mother, we were excited as never before, to take the train to Pathankote on the very first day of the summer vacations. Our happiness to see the parents in my brother's great mansion with so many servants on their beck and call, did not last long. They, especially mother, missed the hustle bustle of life in Delhi, where in her open house the guests were welcome anytime of the day, all days. The joy of hosting her friends, our friends, and relations from far and near, was now a far cry. The frequent knocks of the friendly neighbors, the sound as beautiful as of the bells at the temple entrance, was not to be heard here. It was too lonely for the liveliest person on the planet. She could hardly hold back tears that kept pouring from her eyes, when she pleaded for taking her back to Delhi. But that could not be. There was no way we could convince, even talk to, my elder brother on the subject. That would amount to undermining his true intentions to insure the most comfortable life he could provide to parents compared to what they were having at our place. Having spent splendid vacation with her, we were heartbroken to hear her parting words, “I'll see you soon in Delhi. I don't want to die here, so far away from you.” And she was so true to her words; she did not die there.
Within a few months, mother did come back to Delhi, though not destined to live in her open house. She was driven direct to hospital in serious condition. During her last days when doctors had given up on her cancer, mother continued to have her high spirits intact. She asked me to bring packets of the finest sweets, and gave them to doctors, nurses and the hospital staff, as a parting gift from a grateful patient, whom they had taken care of so well. They had tears in their eyes, but smiled all the same, as they had never seen anyone celebrating life so beautifully till the end. Before she breathed her last, she kept holding Indu's hand and spoke the last words, “I may not come back home with you, but promise you will continue to keep the house always open for everyone to enjoy its hospitality.”