by: Harjap Singh Aujla

The Sunday News May 04, 2008


Dev Anand is an icon in Indian film industry. Born in 1924 in Gurdaspur, a district headquarter town in Lahore Division of undivided Province of Punjab. He is in his mid eighties, but is still going strong and healthy. He has never put on excessive weight. Perhaps that is why he has lasted this long without any serious health problems. He has been a “Casanova” for over half a century. Even today he has several admirers amongst the women film goers. During his hey days, from late forties to late sixties, he was a rage amongst women and his films did very well.

Dev Anand’s early life revolved around the towns of Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Lahore and the hill stations of Dalhousie, and Dharamsala. He hailed from a well to do family originally of village Gharota. The family later on settled down in Gurdaspur twenty miles away. Dev Anand’s mother was a pious, loving, caring, dignified and deeply religious lady. She meant well for all her children. His father was a leading lawyer of Gurdaspur, who wanted to give first grade education to all his children. Dev Anand’s father had attained a command over Persian and Arabic languages. At times he used to recite from the Islamic scriptures and explained the meaning to illiterate Muslims. At other times he used to narrate chaste Urdu poetry.

Dev Anand’s autobiography “Romancing with life” appears to be a very honest portrayal of the man called Dev Anand. This article is composed on the basis of revelations recorded in his life story. Being a very shy boy Dev’s father put him up in a girl’s school in Gurdaspur. It is obvious that Dev had a very captivating face. It is no wonder that the girls were infatuated by his charm. He was like a toy at least to some of them. One such bold girl was Florence. She was a dark skinned girl, who was always dressed in a small frock and black stockings. She loved Dev. She will be humming around Dec like a bee buzzing around a flower. She will chase him in the class and later on when he went to the local park for an evening stroll. Dev was afraid of her and on seeing her preying presence, he will run away into the protective fold of his mother. But Florence will be back to her Dev chase campaign again in school. One day Dev was admiring some flowers in the garden and Florence emerged all of a sudden from behind the flower bed. Dev ran away from her, but Florence was faster on her feet. She handed over the flower that Dev admired the most. Dev was looking on the flower that Florence smeared her lips all over his face. A blushing Dev ran away wiping the face. The mother served nice freshly cooked food to Dev, but what Florence did to him was lingering in his memory. Perhaps this single episode changed him for ever and he started fantacizing the female charm. Eventually he became a real Casanova.

As he started growing, he became more and more curious about knowing the sex appeal of a female. He had never seen the beautifully crafted splendour of a fully grown woman. One day Dev Anand and his childhood friend Bhagoo (a short for perhaps Bhagwant Singh) were peeping through a window. A growing girl in the neighbourhood was looking at her newly developed elegance in a mirror hanging from a wall. She lifted her shirt up to look at her newly emerging shape. Soon she realized that her privacy was being violated by some one. She suddenly pushed her shirt down and saw Dev and Bhagoo stealing her glimpse. She immediately shut the window and after a while half opened it. Both Dev Anand and Bhagoo were still seeing her. Then she shut the window permanently. Both friends were embarrassed by their action, but there was no let up in the curiosity.

During summer vacations in the schools, Dev’ Anand’s father used to rent a small cottage owned by an Englishman Mr. Robinson at a hilltop in Dalhousie, a very captivating hill-station in Gurdaspur district. Dev was put for the summers in a famous Sacred Heart Convent School Dalhousie, set among highly picturesque surroundings. He used to go by the “Thandi Sarak” and return by “Garam Sarak”. Both roads had tall and majestic pines on their sides. For sometime Dev studied in Dharamsala, another hill-station in Kangra district of the then Jalandhar division of undivided-Punjab. Dev and fellow students used to go on hiking trips in the hills. One day, while hiking, they were caught in a snowstorm. They had to spend the night huddled together in a dilapidated room with a rusty tin roof and no arrangement for heating. The night was spent shivering. The students came out of the room the next morning when the sun shine appeared. Lost in his thoughts, Dev and some friends were chasing an imaginary beautiful dame of the hills. Suddenly one pretty girl came out of her house with her luscious hair flying in the hilly breeze and Dev fantasized that she was the beauty about whom every one was curious. She vanished quickly behind her tiny cottage. Dev lured a Scottish tourist also into the search for that eluding beautiful girl of the hills. He lent his binoculars to Dev. Both were trying to have a glimpse of the beauty.

As a child Dev was fond of playing with marbles on the street outside his house. He was an excellent marksman from any distance. He was always sure of hitting every marble that he aimed for. Due to his marksmanship, he had won several marbles and stored those in a big jar, which was his proud possession. His father hated him for playing all day with marbles. Dev was afraid of his father. One day his father admonished him for playing with the marbles all the time. He said that this was not the way to attain stature in life. But he loved his mother very much.

While Dev was still in Gurdaspur, his mother developed Tuberculosis, a fatal disease during those days. The rare medicines necessary for her treatment were unavailable in Gurdaspur. Dev and friend Bhagoo used to go to Amritsar, more than thirty miles away from Gurdaspur, by bus to bring medicines for the treatment of his mother. Dev was fond of a special “Lassi” made from full fat milk, which used to have “Pedas” crushed into it. One sultry summer day Dev was sweating outside the Golden Temple in Amritsar. A Sikh gentleman was selling “Almond Sherbat”. Dev put his hand forward to grab the tumbler of “Sherbat”. The Sikh “Sherbatwala” saw the unique blessings of sun on Dev’s forehead. He quickly said that some day you will be a big shot in life. Dev narrated this to his mother, who hugged him and told his father to give him the finest education and other facilities so that her son gets what he aspires for. His mother soon became too weak to walk even and was moved to a sanitorium, where she died.

Dev was enrolled in Government College Lahore for his graduation, which he did with honours in English. But soon he discovered that his father had fallen on bad days. Dev wanted to go to England for higher education, so that he could get an elite government job on return to India, but his father admitted that he could not afford this. His father gave him the option to do his master’s degree from Lahore Government College and then serve as a clerk in a bank, which Dev declined.

Dev Anand wanted to explore the wide world of filmdom in Bombay, where due to his captivating personality, he could rule the hearts of millions of film goers in India. While in the Government College Lahore, Dev was fascinated by the architectural beauty of this great temple of learning. The fire of romance kindled by a female class-fellow’s extraordinary beauty was burning in his heart.

In his batch, there was a white skinned girl very impeccably dressed mostly in a “Saree”. The girl had beautifully chiseled features. She was Usha Chopra, the daughter of a professor in the college. Her mother was an English woman. She inherited the best features of both parents. She was quiet and studious, always the first to take her seat on the front desk. Dev Anand sitting in a row behind her was secretly in love with her, but was too shy to express his sentiments. One day prior to his intended departure for Bombay, Dev Anand went to the office of Principal Dickinson to get the character certificate. The young beauty closest to his heart was standing in a corridor waiting her him. On seeing Dev Anand, she asked “Are you enrolling for master’s here”. Dev reluctantly said no. She was taken aback. Eventually Usha Chopra expressed her liking for him and tried to persuade him to stay on in the college. Dev Anand was triumphantly happy to hear what his ears always longed to hear, but his shyness of childhood days always came between him and his love. Dev Anand went to his room. Washed his face and looked at it in the mirror. He was wondering to discover that his face was presentable enough to conquer his love. But it was already too late for him and her both. Dev Anand had big plans for his future in Bombay.  

After purchasing his third class train ticket to Bombay, Dev was left with only thirty rupees in his pocket. He boarded the Frontier Mail traveling between Peshawar and Bombay via Lahore and Amritsar. The fantasy of Usha Chopra stranded at Lahore Railway Station was making him nostalgic and restless. He was fondly remembering his last conversation with the beauty he loved from his heart, but with whom, due to his shyness, he could never share his feelings.

His first real love even in Bombay was with a superstar Punjabi actress singer Suraiya, which due to religious differences did not culminate into marriage.