Birthday special: When Dilip Kumar’s voice averted a war with Pakistan

Dilip Kumar, the thespian, is known for his nuanced acting. But how many Indians know that he was instrumental in averting a war with Pakistan with just one phone call to then Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media
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Kapil Patil

Dilip Kumar, the thespian, is reputed and respected for his nuanced acting. But how many Indians know that he was instrumental in averting a war with Pakistan with just one phone call to then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif? And how many Indian Muslims know that he has helped many deprived and downtrodden OBCs among them get reservations?

Acting comes naturally to Dilip Kumar and he has influenced many great actors of our times right from Amitabh Bachhan to Shahrukh Khan. But, acting is not Dilip Kumar's only love. He has been an avid reader and has as much command over English and Marathi as over Hindi and Urdu. He also has an enviable library.

Dilip Kumar’s family migrated from Peshawar to Nashik in the years immediately after Independence. They stayed for long years at Deolali. So whenever he comes across a local from Nashik district, he talks to them in the local dialect – the typical Marathi spoken in Western Maharashtra

He has also memorized several Marathi songs and most of all he likes the traditional form of Marathi theatre – Tamasha - and knows Lavani well. Whenever the mood strikes, he can sing Lavani in proper rhythm.

Once while shooting for a film at Aurangabad, he came to know that Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was staying at the Subhedari Guest House and went over to see him. They had a long interaction and during the course of that conversation, Babasaheb urged him to do something for the downtrodden of the Muslim communities. Although he could not take up the cause immediately due to professional commitments, he had Dr Ambedkar’s suggestion at the back of his mind throughout and that's how he started working for the issue of Muslim OBCs (Other Backward Classes).

Islam does not recognise the caste system as there is no discrimination there. But the Indian Muslim community follows the general caste system prevalent in India. That is the very reason because of which the Mandal Commission included several Muslim communities in the list of OBCs. The OBC Muslim movement was started to secure reservations for them.

Initially, certain upper caste Muslims opposed the idea. But, Dilip Kumar stood firm and ensured that the opposition to the Muslim OBCs waned. Various conferences took place at several places in Maharashtra. Dilip Kumar personally visited several cities like Lucknow, Delhi, Hyderabad and lent his weight to the movement. At first, he had the support of the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra Sharad Pawar. Later Vilasrao Deshmukh and his deputy Chhagan Bhujbal, himself a worthy and influential OBC leader supported Dilip Kumar to accomplish this task.

When I asked him where he had got the inspiration and the courage, he said it was not just Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and narrated a poignant personal incident. Dilip Kumar was part of the football team of the University of Mumbai. After winning an inter-university competition, the team captain, Babu, invited all team members to dinner at his residence. Babu himself cooked chicken. But, only Dilip Kumar turned up at the dinner. The actor then obviously enquired as to why no one else had turned up for the celebration. Babu, the captain of the winning team, told him: "Yusufbhai I am a Dalit. How will they eat something cooked by me?" Tears glimmered in Dilip Kumar’s eyes and his voice turned heavy as he narrated this episode.

There is one more incident. It was the time when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister of the country and Nawaz Sharif was his counterpart in Pakistan. The situation between India and Pakistan was tense during that time. One day Dilip Kumar received a call from the prime minister. Prime Minister Vajpayee called Dilip Kumar urgently to Delhi. And so, Dilip Kumar flew to the national capital along with Dr Zahir Kazi. Dr Zahir Kazi was his close friend and his doctor as well.

On Vajpayee’s instructions a call was placed to Nawaz Sharif and the then Pakistani prime minister was pleasantly surprised when he heard his favourite actor Dilip Kumar’s voice on the other end. Nawaz Sharif happens to be a huge fan of Dilip Kumar. He even knows several dialogues and songs from Dilip Kumar’s films by heart.

Dilip Kumar’s voice had a magical impact on Sharif and this somehow averted a possible war-like situation and helped ease the tension on the borders. Vajpayee used a simple, but clever strategy and Dilip Kumar’s diplomacy saved both the countries from an armed conflict.

In his long life Dilip Kumar has been fortunate to get the constant support of Saira Bano as his wife. Today she is almost his mother, taking care of the smallest of his needs. Saira Bano has literally dedicated all her life to her husband. She is a great actor, but a far greater soulmate.

Dilip Kumar undoubtedly is a great Bollywood actor but the humanitarian and the zealous patriot within him is a far greater person than the actor. The contribution that he has made for the downtrodden Muslims is simply incomparable. Equally great is his role in achieving Hindu-Muslim unity.

Central government should honour such a great personality by conferring upon him Indian government’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna. December 11 is Dilip Kumar’s birthday. Let’s wish the best to both Dilip Kumar and Saira Bano. Salaam to the great pair!

Kapil Patil is a former journalist and now Member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council from Sharad Yadav's Loktantrik Janata Dal. He represents Mumbai Teachers' constituency.

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