The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stargazers & stars jostle at funeral

Mumbai, Jan. 19: Harivansh Rai Bachchan, in his life, was considered one of the greatest contemporary poets in Hindi. In his death, he became a crowd-puller, as Amitabh Bachchan’s father.

While his superstar son and his family remained closeted inside performing puja at Pratiksha, the bungalow in Juhu where Harivansh Rai breathed his last, this afternoon more than a thousand Mumbaikars parked themselves outside the bungalow — entire families came from distant suburbs — and were all astir as the stars turned up one by one.

Let alone Madhushala, the work for which he is best remembered, it was doubtful how many of them had even heard Harivansh Rai’s name.

Ratna, who was present with her husband and two children, said she was supposed to go elsewhere, but decided to do stargazing instead. Another lady, who pushed and jostled with photographers, said she knew Amitabh’s father was dead, but she had come to look at Shah Rukh Khan.

A lady from Howrah in Bengal, visiting her son, made him bring her where “Amitabh’s father” was because she wanted to meet Jeetendra who would be coming and shake his hand. She didn’t go back unrewarded.

Managing the 1,500-strong crowd required about 300 policemen, a police officer said.

The crowds started to trickle in since 7 am. By 10, it was formidable. “There were more people than even on Amitabh’s 60th birthday,” said the police officer.

They were allowed in by twos and threes till around two for a “darshan” of Harivansh Rai, laid out in the room facing the lawn. Amitabh, wife Jaya, brother Ajitabh and their children and family stood inside greeting the guests. Also on attendance were old friends Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh and the Reliance group’s Anil Ambani.

Shah Rukh, his wife Gauri, director Karan Johar and oldtimers Shammi and Shashi Kapoor were by their side.

Outside on the lawn were actors Dimple Kapadia, Jeetendra, Shilpa Shetty, Twinkle Khanna, Akshay Kumar, Amrita Singh and Saif Ali Khan.

Political stars dropped in as well — chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, ex-chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and deputy chief minister Chhaggan Bhujbal, who made a dramatic arrival, almost posing with a garland.

But the crowds wanted the stars. There was a near-stampede as Shah Rukh and Salman Khan arrived, and excitement as Karisma Kapoor, whose engagement with Abhishek, Amitabh’s son, has just broken off, made an appearance with mother Babita.

The crowds surged again as they heard Aishwarya Rai was stepping in, even as channawallahs did brisk business. The streets became a stadium.

The body was cremated at Ruia Park crematorium at 4 pm.

After that as Amitabh stood at the entrance to shake hands with his guests and spoke to Govinda, the crowds went berserk, chanting “Govinda, Govinda”!

Two Indian ladies who were visiting a relative from South Africa and had come for stargazing as well, craned their necks. Alas, they were too short to catch a glimpse of the stars.

Not so, though, another group of three women, who had come from Nagpada, about an hour’s journey by train. They had better luck with star-spotting.

Neither camp knew the poet. But then poets were never destined to win popularity contests.

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