Do you believe in faith healing? Tough question to give an honest answer to. When Rati Agnihotri called up and asked me point blank, the reply was wishy-washy like, Hmm, I have faith but depends...
Anyway, Rati, the very dignified actress, who is a Punjabi-Christian mix but came to Hindi cinema via Tamil films (opposite Kamal Haasan in the blockbuster hit Ek Duje Ke Liye aeons ago), is such a garrulous and warm person that when she had a very private audience with Master Zhi Gang Sha, she set up a special one-on-one for me with the spiritual healer from China.
You can ask him for anything. For yourself, the family, even for your dog, Rati generously advised me.
There were huge ads all over the papers announcing that Master (also Dr) Sha would be in Mumbai to spread love, peace and harmony. Rati Agnihotri who has had a bad back ever since I can remember, has unshakeable faith in Master Shas healing powers. From being laid up horizontal to standing vertical and swaying to music on New Years Eve, she attributes much of her recovery to the Chinese doctors potent chants.
Rati had set up this very hush-hush special audience in her friend Smita Jayakars spacious apartment in South Mumbai. Smita, if you remember, is the consummate actress who played Shah Rukh Khans mother in Devdas. Married to leading lawyer Mohan Jayakar, Smita is part-actress, part-Sobo socialite and has a warm and cosy family life. One of those lucky women who have it all. But, as it turns out, she too is a staunch believer in Master Shas powers. Smita Jayakar and the Agnihotris had not only organised an intimate evening but had also laid out a thoughtful Chinese dinner topped with gajar ka halwa that came from Ratis kitchen. Rati has a special recipe thats yummy — dried orange rind mixed with gajar ka halwa. Try it, youll forget to count your calories.
Surprisingly, as we walked in for our private audience, curiosity overtaking all other emotions, there was a stunning visual in the large hall with Asha Parekh, Waheeda Rehman and Nanda — three stately, well-spoken actresses of yore — waiting for their turn to meet Master Sha. What I believe is that getting blessings from someone who is far more evolved than you is always a positive thing, explained Nanda a day later.
It wasnt just the seniors. Even a strapping young Eesha Koppikhar, who is stunning looking in person and married to well-heeled businessman Timmy Narang, is an ardent believer and was there for an audience. Dr Sha is a calm, tall, smiling Chinese who prays and gives you a simple chant in English.
So, are you feeling better, Rati asked me a couple of days later. My aches and pains hadnt quite disappeared, I muttered. Are you chanting regularly? she reprimanded me. Then how do you think youre going to recover? I stand guilty as charged. And its back to, are you a believer? Its still a tough question to answer.
While we sat chatting, Waheeda Rehman talked of her neighbour Salim Khan and the solid support hed always shown her. When I wrote a book on communal harmony a few years ago, Salim had insisted that I interview Waheeda. She is a very secular person, he had repeatedly said. She has always respected her husbands religion and her own. Her children have also been brought up in a very secular manner. When her husband, a Hindu, passed away, she had him cremated according to his rites. On her part, Waheeda said that the very presence of Salim Khan next door gave her a sense of security. Ever since my husband passed away 11 years ago, just knowing that Salimsaab and his family are my neighbours makes me feel so secure.
One doesnt know if this generation of Deepika, Sonam and Sonakshi will ever forge such friendships but few know that every time a new film is released, Salim Khan organises a special screening at Ketnav (the private theatre owned by late Vijay Anand). It is a weekly treat that he gives Waheeda Rehman, Asha Parekh, Nanda, Helen and all his friends from the older generation. They all come out giggling and happy after bonding over the movie of the week.
This year Salman Khan and his brothers forced their dad to do something he hates to do — travel by air. Salim Khan detests flying and would rather drive to their farmhouse in Panvel than fly to an exotic destination. But when the whole family flew to Dubai to ring in the New Year, the Khan brothers wouldnt let him stay back on his own. They dragged him along, and I went along, reluctantly. It was okay, he shrugged unenthusiastically. Back in Mumbai, while the rest of the Khans went about their daily business, Salim Khan did what he likes to do best — he drove down to Panvel for a quiet weekend far from the madding crowd.