Monday, 30th October 2017

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  • Published 15.10.00
Calcutta, Oct. 15 :    Calcutta, Oct. 15:  Mr Amitab Bachan (sic), c/o Bombay movieland, c/o The Telegraph, the address on the blue inland letter said. On the flipside, the sender's name and address: Miss Lakshmi Dogra, 4-A Sunflower Court, Calcutta 700 019. "I do not know how to enter your contest for becoming a Crorepati. Could you please let me know how to enter the competition?" the letter said. Miss Dogra appeared to be one of the crores whose heads Bachchan's Kaun Banega Crorepati? has turned until one got to one sentence in the letter. "I am a widow and 85 years old. I am most of the time ill..." The door to Lakshmi Dogra's apartment off Ballygunge Circular Road is opened by a servant, who goes away with the calling card to inform the lady of the house. In the well-appointed drawing room, there's a huge portrait in oil, numerous brass artefacts giving it company. All the seating places are covered, though whatever furnishings were visible looked quite plush. No one seemed to be expecting any guests in this house. Inside, perched in bed, amid a pile of publications, was a dignified lady. It was apparent she stayed alone with a quartet of servants, who had formed a semi-circle round her bed, trying to follow the conversation in English, the language of her choice, which initially consisted of an explanation for the visit prompted by her letter to this paper. In slow, deliberate utterances, she expressed her desire to get on the show. "I want the money to start a school for streetchildren," she said. That would mean a trip to Mumbai by someone who has not stepped outdoors in five years, except to go to nursing homes, and can walk only with support. "I will get well. I used to be a sportsperson once," she said, with an air of quiet assurance. A maid propped her up on a pillow. "I spent my early years in Lahore. I was the only sister and used to play football and hockey with my brothers." At FC College, she met her future husband. "We tied the knot in 1936 and shifted to Amritsar," she said. After a few years there and a short stay in a village near Ludhiana, they went down south and what was then Madras became their home for the next 50 years. "My husband became secretary of the Madras Race Club. He was a keen golfer. Soon, I, too, picked up the game. Together we toured the world, taking part in tournaments and winning quite a few." She beckons a maid, who fetches a trophy: The Winifred Milne Cup, Ooty, 1961, Mrs D.K. Dogra. "We had to return the original after a year. This is a miniature." As she pauses for breath, her eyes turn to a black and white photograph on her bedside. "My husband...he was a handsome man." She gazes out of the window into the distance. "We loved dancing." Their association with Calcutta began on a tragic note. Mr Dogra was diagnosed with cancer. They moved in with their elder daughter, who was living in Calcutta. "He passed away in the city. I have stayed back here, though my daughter left for the States." In the silence of her lonesome existence, a piece of reality screams out for attention. There is no TV in the room. "Have you seen the Crorepati show?" I ask. "No. Read about it in the papers. So many people getting so much money..." she muses. Given her years and age-induced illness, her medical bills are high. Does she need the money for meeting those expenses? "I don't need any money for myself," she says. She does buy lottery tickets, though all that she has ever won is Rs 5. "I am not lucky with lotteries." She has already ordered her attendants to buy her the Diwali bumper. In the twilight of her life, Lakshmi Dogra retains her faith in fortune. That even at 85, something might happen to change her life.