Actor Shyam (1920-1951) who died very young
The partition of India and Punjab entailed human tragedies on a gigantic scale. Naturally, filmdom had its fair share of such tragedies. As the Lahore-Bombay link physically ruptured, it left a trail of blood in a metaphorical sense, as fond memories, close friendships and deep emotional ties were also snapped. On April 25, 1951, Shyam, one of the handsomest heroes of Bollywood, succumbed to head injuries he sustained when he fell off the horse he was riding during the shooting of Shabistan.
I was just four at that time, but remember distinctly that it was
a topic both at home and out on Temple Road, Lahore. Having collected oral
histories for years on my book, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and
Cleansed (OUP, Karachi, 2012, Rupa, New Delhi, 2011), I am acutely aware
of the fact that traumatic events can register on the memory of extremely
small children, sometimes far more vividly than on grownups.
Shyam acted in many memorable films whose songs continue to haunt people. I will name only a few here: Mann kee jeet (1944), Majboor (1948), Dillagi (1949), Patanga (1949), Chandni Raat (1949), Meena Bazaar (1950) and Samadhi (1950). Shabistan was released in 1951 though the last scenes were filmed with a pathan, tall and stately like Shyam, though his face was not shown.
Shyam was probably the closest friend of Saadat Hassan Manto in Bombay. The two shared an apartment for quite some time. Shyam was also a close friend of another great Urdu writer, Krishan Chander. Both wrote articles on him that could be considered very powerful and moving obituaries. The common observation of both was that Shyam was an exceptionally humane and broad-minded individual. He was also a generous and caring human being who took care of his stepmother and stepbrothers and sisters with great affection. He nevertheless always felt a great void in his life because his mother died when he was very small and he continued to miss her.
When during the height of the partition riots, Shyam told Manto
that news from Punjab about his relatives in West Punjab being subjected
to atrocities was making him mad, Manto was greatly perturbed. If the
partition syndrome could affect Shyam so profoundly, then he thought it
was better to pack up and leave for Lahore.
However, Shyam’s links to Lahore were rooted in deep love. He
had married a Muslim from Lahore, Mumtaz Qureshi, better known as Taji.
They had two children together. While their daughter, Sahira, was born
while Shyam was alive, their son was born posthumously, two months after
his death. Taji’s elder sister Zeb Qureshi acted in a few films in
Bombay. Both sisters returned to Lahore after Shyam’s death. Zeb Qureshi
was married for a while to the maternal uncle of a good friend of mine.
While researching for today’s article, I managed after a considerable effort to trace a nephew of Shyam, Vikram Chadha, all the way to Pune, Maharashtra. Vikram is a lawyer. I phoned him from Stockholm and had a long conversation. I learnt that a nephew of Shyam, Bimal, works for The Indian Express and a younger brother, Harbans, lives in Chandigarh.
Vikram Chadha expressed a desire to contact his Muslim relatives
in Pakistan. “We are after all the same family,” he said. That
reminded me of a classic dialogue spoken by Rishi Kapoor in RK Films’
Henna (1991). He says, “Chand se agar wo Chander ho gya, to kiya wo
insaan nahin raha?” (If instead of Chand (a Muslim) he has become
Chander (a Hindu), does that mean he is no longer a human being? That, of
course, is not for us to decide, but the philosophical and moral worth of
the question cannot be ignored. I told Vikram that if Shyam’s children
read my article and wanted to contact him, I would be extremely pleased to
facilitate the family to reconnect.
Daily Time: June 24, 2012