indian cinema heritage foundation

Nutan : A Flashback - The Mother

12 Jan, 2021 | Archival Reproductions by Mohnish Bahl

 It was so sudden. When I said `goodbye' to her on February 16, while leaving for Ooty, it was one of the normal 'bye- byes' that we exchanged, whenever she or I left for a few days of outdoor work. Yes, we had admitted her to the Breach Candy Hospital on the 13th. That was because she was having a low temparature for days and the doctors wanted her to go through a series of tests. Mother was the kind who could not just sit idle and rest peacefully if she wasn't too well. She would do all the regular chores that she did for us. So, we thought it was best to take her to the hospital. There at least, she would be compelled to rest. On the day I was leaving, her temparature was normal and most tests showed negative. From Ooty, I talked to her daily. On the 19th, she was well enough to speak to my secretary regarding my career. Then, suddenly her liver collapsed and she went into a coma. Strangely, while this was happening in Bombay, Madhuri met me in the hotel dining room in Ooty and and said she loved my work in Baaghi (1990). I told her how much her compliments meant to me as I was her fan since I saw her Hifazat (1987). I even told her that my mother thought very highly of her too. At that point she enquired how my mother was. "Not too well, she is in the hospital," I had answered. After a while, I got my father's call. He said I should leave for home immidiately. Ma was critical. When I asked him if there was hope, he said, "it doesn't seem like it."

I reached Bombay and was at the Worli junction at ten minutes past twelve. I remember, as I was constantly glancing at my watch. I got out of the taxi and walked down the corridor of the hospital. I had absolutely no idea that she was gone. I saw a whole lot of photographers clicking pictures Yet it didn't strike me. Then I heard two passersby whispering and one said, "bechara". Then I saw my father. He merely said, "Timmy, you've got to be strong." Still it wouldn't register. I opened the door of her room and I couldn't believe what I saw. The first thing I remember noticing, as soon as the truth dawned on me, was the watch on her left wrist. It was still ticking. And my thought was, "how could it go on!" Unreasonable, yet I felt everything had stopped, gone with her.

I was in a daze several days after that. The funeral, the chautha, the visitors who came to condole, everything is a blur in my mind. I don't remember what I said to whom or what they said to me. But I do recall that at the hospital when everybody was crying, I went to them and said, "don't cry, she wouldn't have wanted this." Even at the funeral, a number of people came to embrace me and broke down. Now I wonder if it shouldn't have been the other way round.

Everybody has been so kind and written or spoken so well about my mom. But I feel, nothing is enough. No one knew her as well or as closely, as a person, as I did. People called me mama's boy. So what? Is it freaky to love your mother? I was obsessed with her and I am not ashamed to admit it. Because she was a great person. I can never repay her for the things she has done for me, the care that she had lavished on me during my worst phases. Professionally and even personally, I was going through a lot of ups and downs at one point. I had become depressed and withdrawn. That's when she helped me the most. She never unnecessarily sympathised with me. She knew that would have weakened me. She was just there like a pillar of strength, gently guiding me out of it with a firm hand. She was my confidant. I liked to share all my experiences happy, sad, angry, resentful with her. Because she always understood. Like a shadow she was always there but never overpowering. I know her film achievements are what she will be remembered by, but that's nothing compared to her greatness as a mother. I wish I had a brother or a sister with whom I could now sit and recall our days spent with her, the little-little things, the long ago incidents... Besides my father and I ,no one did really know her. Today, we are both trying to cope without her, yet paradoxically, our strength comes from her. To a great extent, that is because of the way she evolved spiritually. We have seen how much she put into her marriage and in bringing up her son. I never feel I shouldn't have said this or that to her. I am confident she understood things in the right perspective and spirit.

Nutan and a young Mohnish Bahl
During her last few months, she had become withdrawn, from all who loved and cared for her. But especially from me. Looking back, I feel she didn't want us to be deeply hurt by her death. She was, in her own way, preparing us for her exit. And particularly, she wanted me to be completely independent of her. I was totally dependent on her, all my life. So when she stopped taking an interest in my day to day chores, I got upset. I used to get angry. My aunt, Pearl, used to ask her why she was doing this when it was hurting me. She told her, "Timmy has to grow out of his attachment for me. He is 30 now and should only depend on himself." Similarly, both my father and I couldn't accept her spending all the time in reading and in satsang. But we both understood her need to find strength in spirituality.

She used to worry all the time about my career. But I am glad she was alive to see it take-off well the second time. She saw both my hit films, Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) and Baaghi and she was happy for me. I think, she left us peacefully, knowing her son's career was doing well and that I could handle it independently.

I really don't feel she's gone. When I visit a studio, a million memories flood my mind. I have driven her to every studio, met her or she's come to meet me there. And now when I go I feel she's still around. Now there is no need for a telephone or a letter to talk to her or send her a message. All the barriers are broken.

Just a few days back, I couldn't sleep at night. So, I walked round the house, then came and sat on my bed and suddenly I felt happiness. ALl through the thirty yerars of my life, she didn't do a single thing that didn't shape my life or my self and I feel she's looking after ,e even now from wherever she is. Ofcourse, sometimes I get depressed and restless, especially as evening comes. They are the worst hours, perhaps because that's when I lit her pyre. But after that, all that remains is a feeling of warmth and confidence.

This article was originally published in the Junior G supplementary of March 1992 issue called Nutan : A flashback. The images used are taken from the original article.

  • Share

About the Author