Remembering Vinod Khanna, the truth-seeker

Media Watch

Shobhaa De writes in the ‘Ahmedabad Mirror’ on May 5, 2017.

It’s difficult to write about someone you knew. And yet, didn’t know. Vinod Khanna, to me, was a yogi. Someone in search of an elusive higher truth, and possibly, himself. He seemed like a man on a mission looking for deeper explanations to life than the mundane ones most of us settle for. His spiritual quest was the single most attractive quality he possessed. A seeker is always a more interesting person than someone who has all the answers.

Years ago, I knew the nonfilmi, non-Bollywood Vinod mainly as a friend of a friend (Smita Patil). At the time, we were all enamoured by an extraordinary man called Rajneesh, who ran an upscale ashram in Pune, and insisted on his followers wearing 50 shades of orange. Vinod (a big name in movies even then) would spend time at this cool ashram in Pune. So would Smita. I would catch up with them occasionally and drive around in a jeep, stopping for roadside chai and bhajiyas. Vinod was a card-holding, orange robes wearing ‘sanyasin’.

Discussions revolved around Rajneesh’s discourses and the liberating joy of his philosophy. The Osho Commune in Koregaon Park was a far more accessible haven at the time and many hours were spent in the sylvan surroundings participating in meditations of different kinds, including an exhausting one that involved spinning around like the dervishes of Turkey. Through all that blur of orange and maroon, Vinod’s was a quiet presence – he being more the observer in search of that elusive truth, than one of the typical ashramites in search of instant nirvana.

Such was his level of commitment, that when Rajneesh/Osho left to set up a centre in Oregon, Vinod promptly packed his bags, said goodbye to his incredibly successful career in Bollywood and disappeared. That was not just courageous, but most felt, it was potentially suicidal given the short-term loyalty of Bollywood fans. Who would remember the handsome, alpha-male star a few years down the line? Would he even come back? Many contenders were waiting in the wings for just such a vacated slot. They would move in swiftly, and Vinod would soon be forgotten.

But guess what? When he casually strolled in after years spent with his mentor/guru setting up the Oregon ashram, it was as if he had never waltzed away. Bollywood enthusiastically welcomed him and Vinod was back in the game overnight. This is unprecedented in showbiz, where even the shortest absence from the limelight is akin to committing professional hara-kiri. It says a lot about Vinod’s goodwill, star power and popularity that not just his loyal fans but also the hard-nosed film industry greeted him with open arms.

I ran into him around then and asked what he had learned during his sabbatical. He answered with a smile, “Gardening!” And then went on to give me a detailed lecture on how to grow tomatoes vertically, adopting eco-friendly drip irrigation techniques. Vinod Khanna was significantly different from his contemporaries, in that his sensibilities were entirely devoid of typical ‘filmi’ attitudes. He behaved ‘normally’ when he entered a room and didn’t walk around with an entourage of fawning minions holding on to his whiskey tumbler or cigarette lighter as was the norm.

As a Malabar Hill resident, his friends’ circle was also non-Bollywood-y. I knew his beautiful first wife Gitanjali (Gitli) Talyarkhan as a school girl. When they got married, there was a discreet buzz in South Mumbai social circles – it was pretty unusual for a low-key girl from a pedigreed Parsee family to tie the knot with a high-profile Punjabi movie star. Vinod Khanna was a well-loved man. The outpouring of affection and admiration for Vinod was evident at his prayer meeting, and last week, during his funeral. His second wife, Kavita, conducted herself with admirable restraint, as she maintained her composure and tried hard to keep her brave smile from fading – just as Vinod would have wanted her to. I was away when the end came, but within minutes of his passing, messages of sorrow and sympathy were exchanged by all those of us who had known Vinod and respected him for all that he stood for.

From our own experience, I can vouch for his affection and helpful nature, his genuine humility and desire to spread love and happiness. As a politician, he may have been somewhat naive – but that hardly mattered. His heart was in the right place, and he did what he could for his constituency in a sincere manner, without making ridiculous promises. People will remember him for his kindness as much as for his talent. In an era of braggarts and super-egos strutting around shouting, “I am the best!” here was a superstar who recognised a simple truth – and lived it.

His humility was not put on or a carefully crafted image-strategy. Thanks to his spiritual awakening, Vinod remained a dedicated ‘satya-seeker’, acutely aware of the transitory nature of fame and wealth, adulation and flattery. Vinod’s was an extraordinary life, lived on multiple planes. A life that sought certain intangibles that exist well beyond the obvious rewards ordinary mortals yearn for. Rest well, Vinod Khanna. You deserve the eternal ‘shanti’ you so loved during your time on earth.

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