The human mind, I have come to understand, has the fascinating capacity to store experiences and fertilise the imagination with these stored experiences when an occasion demands it. I learned to voluntarily keep my mind open to thoughts and experiences should be kept in the inner recesses of the mind for recollection at a later day.
My sense of storytelling was ignited during my childhood days in Peshawar. Every evening, I held Aghaji’s (father’s) finger and walked with him to the square to listen to the unfolding by one of the maulanas. I read the short stories of Guy de Maupassant. I was fascinated by the plot structure and storytelling ability of the author. In a latent sort of way, I was developing a keen narrative skill by reading the works of European authors.
We travelled by the Frontier Mail to Bombay (from Peshawar). When the train stopped at stations, there were men carrying casks of tea and water in pots calling out: `Hindu chai, Hindu paani, Muslim chai, Muslim paani.’ My parents, I remember, took little notice of the difference. They drank water and tea without any discrimination and so did many others in the compartment.
At Khalsa College (Mumbai), I had very few friends. Raj Kapoor became a close pal and he used to take me to his house in Matunga where his father Prithvirajji kept the doors of the house open all the time. The respect Prithvirajji commanded as the head of the family was never lessened by the freedom he gave to his sons and brothers to be their own selves.
We had flowers and trees in our garden, which was tended to by a jovial maali (Bihari) and his wife who spoke a UP dialect which fascinated me. Many years later, when I began work on the dialogues of the film Gunga Jumna (1961), it was this dialect that came to mind.
I am often asked what I thought of my first performance and my first film (JwarBhata), which was released in 1944. Honestly, the whole experience passed by without much impact on me. I did as I was told to do and it was not easy at times, or most times rather, to come to terms with the fact that it was all unreal and unrelated to one’s real self and real existence.
The new identity as Dilip Kumar had a liberating impact on me. I told myself that Yousuf (Khan) had no need to see or study films, but Dilip surely needed to accumulate observations of how actors reproduced the emotions, speech and behavior of fictitious characters in front of a camera. So, I started seeing films, one film a day, at two successive shows.
It did not take me long to realise that an actor should not imitate or copy another actor if he can help it, because the actor who impresses you has consciously and even painstakingly moulded an overt personality and laid down his own ground rules to bring that personality effectively on the screen. I had to be my own inspiration and teacher.
Stardom bothered me more than it pleased me and I guess I was drawn more intellectually than emotionally to Uma (KaminiKaushal), with whom I could talk about matters and topics that interested me outside the purview of our working relationship. If that was love, maybe it was. I don’t know and I don’t think it matters any more.