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BANNER

8 October 2012

The Curtain Closes

1956-08.10.2012
It is with a sad heart that I pen yet another tribute. This time, however, it is not to an actor who made my heart go pit-pat in the darkness of a theatre, whose smile warmed the cockles of my  heart, or whose tears on screen caused my own heart to break in sympathy. It is to a 'real' person, one whom I met on a few occasions, spoke with on the telephone for a few more, and with whom I kept up an email correspondence for a few years. 

I first met Varsha Bhosle, known to the world as Asha Bhosle's daughter, when I was working as a freelancer contributor for the newspaper I had worked for previously. I didn't know she was Asha Bhosle's daughter; I knew her as the rough-tongued contributor whose columns 'must not be touched', who sashayed into the smoke-filled room that was the Magazine section, full of complaints, real or perceived, against one or the other of the lowly trainees who had dared to touch her copy. Varsha was not exactly co-operative when it came to her columns being edited, or even proofed.

Don't get me wrong - Varsha wrote beautifully. You may or may not agree with her views (and mostly, I didn't), but she wrote well! However, anyone who has worked in the cut-and-paste era of newspapers knows that the sub-editors were usually at the mercy of the artists who decided how many lines of copy could be accommodated. Especially in the Magazine section of a newspaper where photographs took pride of place; copy was not very important.

While I waited, talking to my friends who were still working there, I would  witness my diplomatic editor calming Varsha down, smoking a cigarette with her, while the sub-editors, thankful that the storm had passed them by, went back to doing what desk-slaves usually did - slash copy. That didn't however, stop any of us from hearing Varsha - her voice filled the room, punctuated by foul language, and short, sharp bursts of loud laughter. Love her or hate her, and the sub-editor who was in charge of her column was usually in tears after her visit, you could not ignore Varsha.

So we said 'Hello' and 'See you later', two contributors sharing a conspiratorial grin, knowing the fate of our articles depended on the caprices of the Art Director, the vagaries of space, and the mood of the sub-editors.

It was in 1994 that I met Varsha and her husband socially for the first time. Call me blinkered, that is also when I realised that she was Asha Bhosle's daughter. I still remember the face she made when she realised I had made the connection. That is when I realised that while she was inordinately proud of her mother, she had also spent a lifetime trying to live the connection down, trying to forge her own identity. She said that she stopped singing because of the usual comparisons with her famous mother and aunt, and ended that conversation right there with a laconic 'Prefer not to talk about it'.

During the course of the evening and the night, as we talked, parted to greet old friends, then met again as part of a new group, amidst the cigarettes and liquor and music and noise, Varsha was everywhere. She was part of this group discussing books, part of another discussing politics, part of yet another discussing films and music, her opinions loud, often abrasive, always strongly held, and she didn't shy away from defending them loudly and vociferously.  

That was how she and my husband became friends. After some discussion with her husband and mine, she came back to proclaim to the room at large, 'Thank god for one intelligent man!', then laughed uproariously when she realised that she was talking about my husband. That, in a nutshell, was Varsha.

In the next few years, she would sometimes call home, because she wanted to rant and rave over something that had got her goat. After exchanging a few common courtesies with me, she would ask abruptly, "Is S---- home? I want to discuss this with him." For the next hour or so, there would be an active discussion on whatever it was that had raised Varsha's ire. 

After we moved here, we kept in touch with email off and on. By then, she was writing regularly for rediff.com, her views slanted right of centre, the slant just enough to set off fights on the comment board. She wrote about politics, about religion, just about anything that was guaranteed to raise eyebrows and bring the die-hard proponents of both sides crawling out of the woodwork. 

While I usually did not comment on her columns, preferring to shake my head in private over what I considered her more over-the-top pronouncements, I did mention her column in my emails to her. Sometimes, we even had a back-and-forth discussion about something she wrote. So, when I read one particular column where she denounced the 'men of today', and proclaimed an urge, on behalf of all womankind, for the return of a certain type of man, I pointed out, in my next email, that she could hardly speak for what 'all women' want, especially since the definition of a phrase that she had used as the basis of her article was not what she had presumed it to be.

I forgot that Varsha was very sensitive to even perceived criticism. I had seen her blast her readers on the comment boards, responding angrily to some of the comments, not just the egregious ones, but also the more thoughtful responses to her very opinionated pieces that disagreed with what she wrote. I wonder why I thought that she would take it any better coming from someone she knew personally. That was the end of our correspondence, and indeed, of our acquaintance, though she did continue to keep in touch with my husband.

Soon after that, she stopped writing for Rediff, and seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. We had no news of her until about four years ago when I read a news snippet about how she had tried to commit suicide. Then, last year, while researching a post on Dev Anand, I came across an old two-part article written by her on what Dev Anand meant to her (the second part was an interview with the great man). Reading it reminded me why I used to like reading Varsha, and I wished fervently that she would overcome whatever demons she was battling against, pick up her caustic pen and write again. God knows the media needed good writers. As I read about yet another suicide attempt, I also wished that we had continued to keep in touch.

Today, a little more than a year later, she is dead by her own hand. I do not know what drove her to such a desperate step; I can only hope that she finally found the peace she was so desperately seeking. She definitely ended her long battle with life. I'd like to remember her as she was - opinionated, boisterous, not suffering fools gladly.  
Rest in peace, Varsha.

Duniyaa bhii ajab saraaye faanii dekhii 
Har chiiz yahaa.N kii aanii-jaanii dekhii 
Jo aake na jaaye vo bu.Daapaa dekhaa 
Jo jaa ke na aaye vo javaanii dekhii

19 comments:

  1. Yes, I read about her suicide in one of the Indian newspapers last night, and felt sorry that she had to take that way out of whatever problems were in her life.  I am also feeling sorry for her mother at this time and pray that the whole family is able to handle this tragedy and she has found her peace at last. 

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  2. Oh, gosh! :( Just yesterday we were talking about Asha Bhosle. And... I'd read her article about Dev. It made me wish and wish and wish about meeting him... oh, and don't laugh at me, but I'd hug him before I left. And... I know what she means about crying all the way home. I really loved her writing style.

    And wow, she is Asha Bhosle's daughter... it must hurt a lot for a person you personally knew to just be gone... especially if you had seen them recently. I've never quite had that experience, but just the night before we found out about Shammi's death, I was listening to his songs... and it hurt. A lot.

    She actually got to meet Dev. She actually GOT TO MEET DEV! And you too, right?! WHY DOES EVERYONE GET TO MEET HIM BUT MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE? Yes, yes, it happens in my dreams, but seeing him in real life? ...Wow. I would just melt into a puddle right in front of him.

    But that's not the point, self. Yeah... well, the strange thing is that just today I was thinking about how much Shammi's and Dev's and Rajesh's and everyone else's deaths hurt me, and who would be next. Life, it was just a question. Not a challenge.

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  3.  Yes, it's been a hard life for Asha, as much as it has been for Varsha. It can't have been pleasant to stand by and see your child self-destruct.

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  4. Yes. It odes hurt, BombayNoir. A lot. When someone you have laughed with, and fought with, and written to and spoken - when that someone goes out of your life, in whichever way they choose to do so, it hurts. Abominably. 

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  5. That must have come as quite a shock, Anu, even if you had lost touch. I don't recall ever reading anything by Varsha Bhosle, but yes, the news of her suicide is in the newspapers today. Tragic. 

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  6. This really gives us common newsparers to know the intimate depth of a such strong and defintive life, who other wise was simply a duaghter of Asha Bhosle.

    Such drab refrences in the newspaper, and all oter, reprts, would no doubt hurt Vrasha Bhosle.
    May Her R I P!

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  7. It was a shock. I remember a very gregarious person, full of life. And then, suddenly, she is no more. Just like that!

    She wrote for The Sunday Observer, and then for rediff.com, when it had just begun. I think she was there for about five years or so. By the mid-2000s, she had thrown up everything and had become a recluse.

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  8.  It would definitely pain her a lot, Ashokji, to be referred to only as her mother's daughter. She spent a lifetime trying to be 'more than'. She was a simple creature, from what I know of her, under all the outward show.

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  9. Rohini Muthuswami10 October 2012 at 01:11

    What a wonderful tribute, Anu! I used to read her columns at Rediff.com. She had fixed ideas and was very opinionated but it was interesting to her read articles.  I just hope she has finally found peace.
    rohini

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  10.  Thanks, Rohini. It's been an awful shock. Yes, I hope she has found whatever it was that she was seeking.

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  11. A tragedy indeed.  I'd read a few of Varsha's articles on Rediff and she certainly was a very spirited and talented writer.  Thank you for reminding us that there was a real person behind the provocateur.  My heart goes out to you.  Poor, poor Asha - she's experienced so much loss in life but this must be the hardest blow of all.

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  12.  Shalini, it must be all the more terrible for Asha because she was the only one who could handle Varsha; to know that had she only been there, her daughter may still be alive must be haunting her. At no time is it pleasant for a parent to grieve a child's death; how much more harrowing must it be when you are yourself 80? I feel so, so sorry for her.

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  13. Feel bad for having not come here for so long and worse to have missed this post at the right time. Felt sad reading this, and you have written and described so well.
    Hope you have found peace Varsha. RIP.

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  14. Visiting your blog after a long time, was busy with personal matters. I was going through your posts and saw this post on Varsha. It was quite interesting to know about her from someone who knew her personally. Having been a journalist myself I was able to relate to what you have written. It is very sad that while her mother is still going strong, she chose to ruthlessly end her life.

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  15.  Shilpi, glad to see you back, dear. I hope things are well?

    Yes, it is sad about Varsha. Asha, I heard, is still devastated.

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