How Anup Jalota became third-time lucky

When the king of bhajans met his classical music match

By TT Bureau
  • Published 19.05.13
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On paper, everything about much-decorated singer Anup Jalota’s third marriage spelt “mismatch”.

Twice divorced, it was yet another attempt by the Bhajan Samrat (Emperor of Devotional Songs, a title bestowed on him) to seek marital bliss. His bride this time was an aristocratic Punjabi, for whom it was a second marriage. Medha’s earlier high-profile, traditional wedding to international filmmaker Shekhar Kapur had come apart, and their marriage was formally ended in a court in New Delhi in December 1994.

The singer typified a hearty son-of-the-soil where bhojan (food) and bhajan met with aplomb. On the other hand, she, Medha Gujral, former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral’s niece, carried the upper crust air of Delhi around her.

Medha had glimpsed Anup for the first time when her gang of classical music aficionados had gone to hear him at a concert and she had come away with disdain at his heavily compromised semi-classical music. “There he goes,” she had smirked along with her friends. “Watch him reach one note and hang on to it till the audience’s claps resound through the concert hall.” But once Anup and she met as man and woman, Medha’s tune changed forever.

***

That December in 2008, Anup had just flown down from New York to Mumbai, after spending six, intensely crucial weeks with his wife in a hospital bed…

The New York-Mumbai flight plan was one that Anup knew by heart. Seven years ago, he had flown the same route for two unrelenting years when his wife had almost lost the battle for life but had combatted it victoriously. After a seven-year spell of sunshine that had flown by with great speed, Anup was back to flying the New York-Mumbai route, with menacing clouds threatening to envelope his star-crossed love story once again…

The two failed marriages, prior to his finding the perfect partner in Medha, had been well-reported in the ’80s when Anup was a bright-eyed new entrant on Mumbai’s bustling music horizon. The young romantic had fallen head over heels in love with a spunky music student, a Gujarati girl called Sonali Sheth…

“I was seeing Sonali,” reminisced the bhajan singer whose chequered love life had nary a closed chapter, “when my parents arranged my marriage with another girl. But the planets played such a game that it was in my destiny to marry Sonali. One week before my marriage, I met Sonali again. I saw her and realised that I was still in love with her. We ran away and got married the next day.”

And his bride ran away from him the very next year.

…If Anup’s marriage to Sonali defied family, the screechy break-up cocked a snook at societal conventions. His marriage not only broke up, it witnessed Sonali running away with his own accompanist, his tabalchi (tabla player), an unknown but talented romantic called Roopkumar Rathod… Roopkumar and Sonali Rathod soon settled down as a celebrity couple with a rich cultural identity of their own.

After Sonali, Anup had bowed to his parents’ wishes once again and agreed to an arranged marriage. His parents had fixed a match between him and Bina, a Kutchi Bhatia, handpicked by them. Grand invitation cards had gone out from the jubilant Jalota clan to celebrate the return of the prodigal to the fold.

The arranged marriage at a five-star hotel was everything a traditional family would have wanted for their son. But it turned out to be far from an ideal match as Bina couldn’t settle down comfortably with the Jalotas…

A second round of matrimonial disaster would have found most celebrities scurrying into a private corner. But Anup was stoic enough to face the media and accept that his second marriage too had failed.

***

“Our meeting was a beautiful story,” Anup smiled beatifically, as he narrated how he had met and wooed wife No. 3. Neelam, wife of late actor Joy Mukherjee, played Cupid.

“Joy Mukherjee and his wife Neelam were good friends of mine. One evening, Neelam had come over and after dinner we were chatting when she told me that she went for regular walks with Medha, Shekhar Kapur’s wife. I said, ‘Oh, I also know her, she had come over to my place one day with Pandit Jasraj’s group. How is she?’ Neelam mentioned to me that Medha was single now. And instantly something inexplicable happened… a bell went off within me, something fell into place. I asked Neelam for Medha’s number and at 11 that night, I called her up. Medha sounded angry. She must have thought, ‘Who does this guy think he is, calling me up at night like this?’ I told her that Neelam had come over for dinner and then out of the blue, I asked her, ‘Will you come for lunch tomorrow?’ She heard that, grew angrier and demanded why on earth she should do that. I said, ‘Just like that, for no particular reason.’

“In the morning, I called her up again and said, ‘Coming, aren’t you?’ And she agreed! I sent her the car, she arrived around 1pm… We talked for the next two-and-a-half hours. I didn’t give her lunch. We just talked and talked and at 3.30pm I proposed to her. That must have convinced her that I was a complete lunatic.”

It was rather dramatic too. “Just as I proposed to her, there was a thunderstorm and heavy winds, the windows were rattling and there was a rumbling sound. The first monsoon rain was lashing Mumbai. I told her, ‘See, even nature is with us. You can’t say no.’ She said, ‘Let me think, khaana toh khilao, where’s my lunch?’” Anup wisecracked, “I had kept her starving, so that she would be too weak to resist my proposal.

“She left after lunch. I began to call her up frequently but in vain. She must have checked up on me. My reputation in the marriage market was very bad and some fellow singers had also delighted in maligning me…

“Fifteen days later, I phoned her from Kolkata and asked her, ‘What have you decided?’ To my utter delight, she said, ‘Yes.’ I remember I burst into tears, I cried like a baby. After my programme, I came back to Mumbai and from the airport went straight to Medha’s house in Versova. I put her in my car, brought her home and introduced her to my parents as their new daughter-in-law. We had a meal together before I went to drop her off at her place. After that I didn’t return to my house for several months. In fact, I returned home only after one year.”

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