A school student, bursting with hormones and curiosity, I would not budge from my window. I ate my breakfast, the bowl of ginger granola mother had served, standing impatiently at the window and scanning the street. The crowd had multiplied, the traffic had stalled, and a police posse was trying bravely to keep things in order. People seemed excited, anticipating something special and periodically giving a shout, of annoyance or ebullience I wasn’t sure.
Finally, after more than an hour of waiting, there was a deafening roar, as a big black limousine slowly slid through the throng. A door opened, a person emerged, but the six surrounding burly bodyguards let neither me nor the people see the person. A groan of disappointment arose from the crowd. I returned to the last dregs of my granola in despair.
Then the remarkable thing happened. Suddenly, miraculously, on the extended upper-floor balcony of the theater appeared a lithe, smiling man, and a giant, spiraling roar of excitement rose from the multitude. It wasn’t really a man, it was Dev Anand, who clearly preceded the 330 million gods of the land. He wore a black shirt, tight black pants, a flamboyant vermilion necktie and an exaggerated pompadour that was his trademark. He also wore five large marigold garlands that must have been foisted on him the moment he entered the theater.
Then His Stardom played his master stroke. He took the first garland from his neck, bent low and threw it with great force to a section of the crowd. The crowd went wild. People ran, pushed, clawed, fought, grabbed, for a fraction of the garland – or even of a marigold. Before the scuffle was over, Dev Anand took the second garland, bent low again and tossed it in another section of the crowd. Once again, a ferocious pursuit, followed by a furious melee, as people jostled and struggled to secure the minutest part of the star’s cast-off gift.
The same scenario played out three more times as the star carefully and energetically, as if he was playing a board game, neatly lobbed a garland in a new direction and provoked a mad frenzy for a fragment of a torn and worthless garland. You saw a thousand hands stretch to touch a particle of a marigold that might have touched the holy corpus of the celluloid deity. Each time after the showy exercise Dev Anand stood erect again, watched the frantic race for a tossed garland and switched on a flashy smile. He seemed satisfied, like a master choreographer, that he had created precisely the denouement he had intended.
I was young and naïve, but by the fifth encore of the performance I had begun to feel a creepy sensation. There was something disturbing, in fact revolting, in the calculated game of using people’s adulation to tempt them into a humiliating scramble for a trifle. We all admire some people, somebody beautiful or successful or famous, but to race like hounds for a useless memento seemed demeaning for human beings.
Years later, I did some stints for the movie industry and got to mingle with some beautiful people both in the east and the west. I would talk to a few famous stars, be taken aback by their unalloyed confidence that they were the Chosen People who fully merited their place in the sun. They seemed to take for granted the affection and admiration that came their way. They appeared oblivious both that such exaltation was invariably fleeting and the people who offered it were also human, just like them.