He was quite amazed at the advancements in technology, but was also slightly critical of it. He often rued how technology had come at the cost of the quality of human interactions. Sahab shared a funny relationship with technology. He had dictated a couple of blog posts to me. He loved to tweet, often taking a long time to compose a single tweet. However, like any other person of his age, I believe he found technology slightly intimidating.
He had first discussed the Internet with me in 2000. It was just before I had started my company. Sahab called me home one afternoon.
“What exactly is this Internet?”
Being a techie, I was happy that Sahab was approaching me with these questions. Watching his curiosity and enthusiasm, I was more than happy to explain and demystify the mystery that the Internet was to him.
“Sahab, when you join one computer with other computers in the world, that network is known as the Internet.” “Interesting. How do I join them together?” “Via phones and a device called modem. You can use the phone line to connect your computer with any other computer in the world the same way you can call anyone in the world with your phone. That is, if that computer also has an Internet connection.”
Sahab seemed slightly confused. It was a new concept that the youth was mastering, while the elder population was either trying to understand or avoid. Dilip Sahab was among those who were trying to understand. He had a million questions and I was preparing myself to answer them in a manner that would appeal to him.
“Sahab, do you know, with the Internet, you can make a call to the US for free?”
“All you have to do is go to a website called Dialpad.com.”
“What is a website?”
“A website is a collection of web pages, or media on the Internet.”
“It sounds very confusing.”
I chuckled. I knew it was, but I was there to help Sahab understand and learn it. I was going to use Dialpad.com as a means to explain it to him.
Dialpad was one of the first popular websites that allowed free long-distance calling within and to the United States.
I pulled out my laptop, connected it to his landline phone and started showing him how the Internet worked.
Sahab asked me to call his sister in Fresno, California. Unfortunately, the time difference meant the phone kept ringing as she did not answer the call. Additionally, Dialpad. com allowed phone calls only within or to the United States of America, so we couldn’t call anybody in India.
A few years later, while walking at Jogger’s Park, Sahab and I bumped into a man who had been his fan for years. Like any other fan, he had a lot of questions for Sahab.
Sahab seemed rather agitated by the interference. The fan, like thousands of others, probably believed that Sahab had the energy to answer all of his questions. Although Dilip Sahab wanted to be polite to all his fans, he was growing old. He had a limited amount of energy, and with age, his patience had also started to wear thin.
During those days, Rediff, Yahoo and Hotmail were the three most popular platforms for online interactions. Messengers and chats were the ‘in’ thing, and people took to chatting big time. I suggested to Sahab that we host an interactive session with him on Rediff.com’s Q&A. We would make a system to announce that Dilip Kumar will be online once a month and answer as many fan questions as possible.
“You can do it live, or request that your fans send you their questions in advance. In both scenarios, it will be a great opportunity for the audience to connect with Dilip Kumar.”
Sahab loved the idea. Unfortunately, after the first day, I couldn’t find enough time to keep him interested in the topic, and the idea was left unexplored. What we did do was practice how Sahab would answer these questions. For the next few weeks, I would pose as his fan. I would come up with questions and ask Sahab, and in return, he would try and answer them as best as he could. It became a game for us, and I learnt a lot about him through our Q&A rehearsals.
When Twitter was launched in 2006, it was an instant hit. It was a great platform to share your thoughts and find out what others had to say. Public figures and celebrities joined the platform in hundreds. There were also a bunch of people posing as celebrities, so Twitter came up with a ‘blue tick’ against the handle as a mark of authenticity of the account. I wanted Dilip Sahab to join Twitter as well, but being a private person, he didn’t agree.
By 2009, I had warmed Sahab up to the idea of Twitter, but he finally authorized me to create his account in December 2011.
He posted his first tweet on his eighty-ninth birthday. Newspapers across the country celebrated Dilip Kumar’s arrival on Twitter. Twitter’s Asia Pacific Head Rishi Jaitley personally came down to my office, thanking me for bringing Dilip Kumar to the platform. Sahab was delighted with the tweets he received. I became his official typist. Every time he would want to share a thought, he would ask me to type it out in 140 characters. It is one of the best jobs I’ve had in my life
It was thanks to his engagement with Twitter that I discovered one remarkable thing about Dilip Sahab. Up until a point in time, I used to think he knew three to four languages. Then, a tweet disclosed the stunning reality.
A fan once posed a question on Twitter asking Dilip Sahab the number of languages he spoke. He replied, “In Peshawar, we spoke Hindko at home, and I had friends and neighbours from whom I picked up Pashto. My grandfather was a Farsi scholar, and I grew up speaking Farsi with my grandparents. Of course, we all grew up learning Urdu, as it was the popular culture. Since the family shifted to Bombay and subsequently Deolali, I am indebted to the Barnes School for their emphasis on written and spoken English. At Bombay Talkies, I picked up Bengali from Ashok Bhaiya (Ashok Kumar) and S. Mukherjee Sahab. Growing up in cosmopolitan Bombay, you have to be fluent in Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi. It is the local languages spoken.”
That’s nine languages!
Soon after that, I asked him, “Sahab, what would you consider your mother tongue?”
Without pausing to think, he replied, “Hindko.”
Excerpted with permission from In the Shadow of a Legend – Dilip Kumar, Faisal Farooqui, Om Books International.