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.
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.
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