A Legend Is Born
On 2nd November 1965 a normal occurrence happened at the Talwar Nursing Home in New Delhi. Just like many newborns, I was born with the umbilical cord entangled around my neck. A nurse said that it was by the blessings of Hanuman and that I would be a very lucky child. I don’t know if I believe in it but it is the one thing I was told by my parents about my birth that I remember.
We lived in Rajinder Nagar, I even remember the house number it was F-442. I have vague memories of my playschool, I think it was called Tiny Tots and was right next to our house.
After playschool I began my formal education at St. Columba’s High School, New Delhi. It was near Gole market, run by Irish brothers who believed in discipline and a very high standard of education.
I can recall my first day and the teacher who interviewed me, Mrs. Bala, asked me to tell her what my father’s profession was. And at that point my father had a transportation business, I had seen him dealing with tempos, trucks, etc. I believed anyone having anything to do with vehicles was a driver. So I replied that my dad was a tempo driver. Mrs. Bala told me that I had very cute dimples and then asked me to kiss her. That was my first kiss. Oh yes, and I was admitted to the school.
We were given black and golden stars for our behaviour and test results. Five black stars meant lying across Mrs. Bala’s lap and getting spanked three times, I think. Being quite naughty I was spanked a lot. I wish the same treatment was meted out to me even now. Looking back one realizes that what one thought punishment was actually quite pleasurable.
Overall my early years of schooling were quite wonderful. I had my share of spanking, and was often made to stand in the corner with my finger on the lips. I was forced by my teacher to learn how to swim by being thrown into the water and expected to survive with gallons of water in my stomach, eyes and ears. Till date I hate swimming…and my teacher for subjecting me to this torture.
But all said and done I love all my teachers. They were very kind and sweet. I guess the essence of one’s life is developed during these formative years. And I feel I had the best formative years because of the nice teachers I had.
Here’s to all of them…good morning ma’am and thank you ma’am.
Incidents & Accidents
One important turning point in my life occurred because I was very bad in Hindi. I used to get 2 or 3 on 10 and always failed in this subject. Once, my mother told me that if I got full marks in Hindi she would take me to see a Hindi film in the theatre. I had never been to a movie hall before. So I stayed up all night and studied my butt off and managed to get full marks and my mother took me to see my first Hindi film, in a theatre.
Two things happened because of this incident. One, I became quite the Hindi pundit and later always did very well in Hindi. And secondly, I got the feel for Hindi films. My command over the language helps me immensely to essay my roles in films today. The moral of the story is, if your mom tells you to study hard, do it. You may just become a film star and your education will help you one helluva lot. But if your mother is insisting on anthropology or biochemistry or perhaps aromatic therapy, then ignore her.
I remember sitting on the wall and blowing flying kisses to the schoolgirls passing by. Once a girl came complaining to my dad but my father was sure that it could not be me as I was too young. He made the girl wait so that she could see me and realise that it was the neighbour’s son who was teasing her and not me. But to my father’s embarrassment I walked in without my pants on and on seeing the girl blew her a flying kiss and told my dad that this was my sweetheart. This was the first and last girl I ever made a pass to.
St. Columba’s School
Right or wrong…east or west, my school is the best. St. Columba’s was a strict disciplinarian school run by Irish brothers. One could not wear the wrong uniform or grow their hair beyond a certain length. Many a times I had to get my hair cut in front of the whole assembly of students early in the morning. The barber used to be from a nearby street-side shop who hadn’t bathed or brushed his teeth. He was as sorry to be there as I was to be sitting on his uncomfortable chair. And before beginning his hack job, he would ask if I wanted a Dharmendra or an Amitabh cut. By the time he was through, I just hoped I didn’t look like a porcupine or a pineapple. My hair never recovered from these frequent attacks. This truly is the secret of my hairstyle, if one can call it that.
I was quite a good student, though I never studied throughout the year. The only time I studied was the night before the exam, when I wouldn’t sleep a wink and go straight for the exam. I did rather well and this gave me the opportunity to do a whole lot of interesting stuff in school.
My favourite soccer stars are Socrates, Pele, Maradona and Mattheus. And I loved Aslam Sher Khan and wanted to be like him and represent the country.
Electronics was my favourite subject at my A levels, and I think I got the highest marks in it when I passed out.
Mathematics was my weakest subject in school and I still have a problem with numbers. So much so if someone tells me a phone number I have to ask for it several times before I can write it down on paper. I even forget my office and residence phone number.
English, and especially Shakespeare, was my other favourite.
Mumtaz was my absolute favourite. We used to listen to the radio at night and this is when all my dancing abilities were best showcased. One had to just tell me that the song on radio was from a Mumtaz film and I would move 20 frames per second, like the way people move in the old Charlie Chaplin films.
I loved the way she moved her hips. I think nobody in this world can be as beautiful a sight as she used to be. She was sensual, innocent, naughty and very energetic, all at the same time. She was the first personality I mimicked. I loved to walk like her and dance like her.
Usually actors have very important personalities and performers as their idols. Mine was Mumtaz. Not to say that she was unimportant or not special. What I mean is that for a guy she was an unconventional role model. To me she was the single most important cause of my tilt towards anything that had vaguely to do with the performing arts.
My favourite song used to be from a Shammi Kapoor film, Brahmachari. Its lyrics still intrigue me: “Chakke pe chakka, chakke mein gaadi, gaadi pe nikli apni swaari…” Anyone who can explain the meaning of “chakke” to me, please send me an e-mail. (If you’re serious about this, you can get the email address at www.srkworld.com!)
My father, Mir Taj Mohammed, was 10 years older to my mother, Fatima, and therefore much older to me. I remember him as a gentle giant – 6’2” tall with typically Pathan good looks, grey eyes and brown hair. But he was very well-read and well educated too. He did MA, LLB and knew six languages – Persian, Sanskrit, Pushtu, Punjabi, Hindi and English. He was, in his time, the youngest freedom fighter.
Even today whenever I bump into people who knew him, they talk about his sense of humour, and how he was a gentleman. And I remember the same about him. I wish I could be like him or bring up my child in the same way that he brought us up but I don’t know if I will be able to because I am more temperamental than he was.
Somehow, my sister and I listened to him more than we listened to our mother. He was gentler than her. Of course, my mother loved us too but with my father we were friends. We used to sit for hours and listen to him talk on various topics. We used to call each other ‘yaar’. I did call him ‘papa’ but yaar was used more often. Probably because he never cajoled or pampered us like people do their children but instead, always treated us as individuals, as adults. It was always one-to-one.
My father had a great sense of humour. We used to stay on the top floor of our building. Once, an old couple staying on the ground floor complained to my father, “Upar se cheese neeche aati hai.” My father laughed at the comment and said, “Newton discovered that long ago.”
In another incident, I was teasing a south Indian girl next door by blowing up their letter boxes. Her mother came home to complain and my father opened the door. The lady could not speak Hindi well and she said, “Aapka ladka ladki ko chedta hai meri.” He replied, “Is she as pretty as you are?” She said, “What?” My father repeated his question. She replied, “Yes…” My father said, “Then I don’t blame him. If I had met you earlier even I would have been after you!” She smiled.
Besides his sense of humour, another quality I have imbibed from my father is his passion for reading. My father was a very good human being. I try to imbibe that too. I think I have inherited his goodness, though not to the full extent. The only aspect I didn’t inherit was his love for gardening. My father even enjoyed talking to flowers but I have never done that. Perhaps when I am older…
I have definitely inherited my absent-mindedness from my father. I have seen him walk out of the house in just a shirt, shoes, socks – without his pants! He would eat his breakfast in the toilet! He would just forget he was in there. I too forget names, I forget to eat sometimes. But where work is concerned I do not forget anything.
My father never screamed or shouted at my sister and me. My mother did that; even fulfilling his quota. He never hit us but scolded us once or twice. Even if he got serious for even a second, it would scare me but after a while he would laugh it off. He once told me, “Shit, I can’t even get angry with you.”
In another incident, he told me, “Look, your sister is now supposed to be studying. So I will go into her room and throw the novel she is reading, out of the window. You go and get the novel back.” He went, shouted at her and threw the book out. It was a joke and his method to tell us what is to be done.
My dad had a hot temper, not like an Army officer, but he liked correct behaviour. He didn’t expect me to get up and touch the feet of elders but a certain kind of respect had to be shown towards them. Even today if an elderly person is seated next to me, I cannot keep my feet on the table. He never told me not to do so. His persona made me realize that I should not do it.
One routine which formed on its own was my dad giving me milk in the morning. It started because my mother could not get up sometimes. Then it became a routine. He would warm the milk and give me but later decided against it. So every morning we would we would walk to the Mother Diary booth (a milk dispenser typical of Delhi). He would insert a token and I would cup my hands and drink milk directly.
I never got irritated or angry with my father. In fact, I used to love watching my father come home in the evening. My dog would react to him when he was 15-20 feet away from the house. I would rush down take his bag and walk back with him or pick him at the bus stop if he came in a bus or car.
Because of my father, every activity in the house, every duty, was transformed into a game. He charged us with the idea that we were doing such-and-such work because we were having fun. Because of this, I find work fun. That is why, I guess, I’m so energetic. I enjoy small things like sitting and watching a squirrel climb a tree or sleeping on the terrace in the Delhi summers. It becomes a game for me – the best thing that could happen to me that day.
At four years of age, my father taught me that I alone would have to deal with my screw-ups. I was very naughty in school and in the colony and I regularly got into trouble. Once, during a game, I threw a rock at a boy called Tara. The rock bounced on the ground, hit his face and broke his teeth. He began bleeding. We were very scared. I had not done it on purpose. The boy’s father got drunk in the night and armed with a knife, came knocking on our door. As soon as my father opened the door, that man began abusing and screaming: “Your son hurt my son. I’ll kill him.”
He was a rowdy kind of a guy but my dad asked him if he wished to speak to me! Imagine, there was this drunk person with a knife in his hand and my father sent me to speak to him! My father closed the door, came inside and questioned me, “Shah Rukh, have you hurt somebody?” I said, “Yeah.” My mother was hyper but he coolly said, “He is standing outside, go deal with him.” I told Tara’s father, “Uncle I am really sorry. I didn’t mean to harm Tara. It just happened.” I was literally in tears. Of course he didn’t mean to hurt me. My father had that much confidence in human nature, I guess. Dad later opened the door and asked if everything was sorted out. He told that man, “If you have a problem with me, you talk to me. If you have problem with my son, you talk to him.” I could have taken my father’s stand to mean that he didn’t want to stand by me, but I realised that it was his very nice way of teaching me that if I got into trouble, I would have to sort it out myself.
My dad taught me that in the long run, honesty always pays. In my school, St Columba’s, whenever we took a day off we had to submit a leave letter or we would get caned. My father never stopped me from doing anything. If I said, “I don’t want to go to school today,” he would say, “If you don’t feel up to it, it’s okay.” And he would give me a leave letter next day.
One day, he called me and said, “Today you go to school and tell your teacher that you don’t have any excuse for being absent yesterday. I used to be really scared of Brother Morris, our tall, well-built Irish teacher. When he caned us, it really hurt. I told him, “My father normally gives me the letter but today he didn’t. Not because he did not want to but he said I have no excuse for not coming yesterday.” Brother said, “That’s the right attitude. At least you did not lie. You were honest.” And he let me go. My father had seen the whole world and had wonderful experiences in his life. He had fought for the freedom of the country, joined Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, fought the elections against Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and lost. He enjoyed the fact that he had lost even his zamanat, perhaps he was happy to lose to a great person. When he was 16 years old, he left his home in Peshawar and walked to Kashmir, India. He studied law in a girl’s college, in Delhi. He had no place to stay, so he went to the principal, an Englishman and asked him to let him stay in the hostel. There he was the only guy. It was illegal. He said he pulled it off because he was a charming and decent guy.