In an era when Nagpada’s youth looked on gangsters as role models, Farooque Shaikh remained pure like the proverbial lotus, says Urdu journalist Saeed Hameed
POSTED ON DEC 28, 2018
Mumbai: The proverbial metaphor of the lotus that emerges from muddy waters and blossoms into a thing of beauty and purity is so aptly suited to Farooque Shaikh. The absolute gentleman was raised in the rough neighbourhood of Nagpada in South Mumbai in a time when gangsters like Haji Mastan, Karim Lala and Dawood Ibrahim drafted local boys to settle personal rivalry.
An environment that could have unsettled an impressionable mind failed to taint Shaikh Sahab who nurtured a steely resolve to walk the right path.
Senior journalist and author Saeed Hameed, who also lived in Nagpada, remembers Shaikh as the youth who never loitered about or engaged with wastrels yet always had a polite smile and Adaab for neighbours.
Shaikh Sahab’s fifth Remembrance Day is being observed today Friday, December 28.
Hameed, whose latest book ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Aur Musalman’ was released recently, met TOI in his office in Nagpada, a short distance from Shaikh Sahab’s former home. Interestingly, Hameed became his neighbour again in Andheri. In the 1990s Shaikh Sahab moved to Lokhandwala Complex while Hameed shifted to Millat Nagar nearby.
From the 1950s until 1987, Farooque Shaikh lived in Memni Building on the Duncan Road flank of Nagpada junction. Now the road has been renamed Maulana Azad Road.
Hameed says, “I saw Shaikh Sahab during his student days in the 1960s though the family lived there well after he made Noorie (1979). His father Mustafa Shaikh was a reputed advocate. He passed away early.”
Shaikh Sahab was the eldest of five siblings. “He was a striking youth even then, very distinguished from the rest of the boys who lived in the area. He was very handsome, fair skinned, and he wore his hair long. He would keep running his fingers through his hair! He was always well dressed, with his shirt tucked into his bell bottom style trousers.”
“One must understand here that the Nagpada of the 1960s, 70s and 80s was a locality of churning influences. You had notorious gangsters of the underworld like Haji Mastan, Karim Lala, Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Shakeel. Several young lads in fact looked up to them because they had few role models to emulate. It was easy to get sucked into violence and crime for it was so common. The bordellos of Kamathipura were not too far. There were scarcely any graduates in the area, most dropped out after basic education.”
“But Farooque Shaikh was a different class of man. Very well bred, from a well educated, well-to-do family. We only saw him come home or go out. Na cigarette, na sharab, na koi aur lat. Unhone apne mahaul ko khud par kabhi haavi hone nahin diya. Never did he hang around with groups of boys or loiter about like the other youngsters. No stories of misdemeanour were spoken about him, let alone vice.”
There are two popular restaurants in Nagpada that still exist, one named Sarvi (pronounced Saarvi) in the next building which is famous for delectable seekh kebab. Dilip Kumar and other actors would visit this place. The other hotel Rolex was the favourite haunt of litterateurs, poets and journalists. “Eight out of ten” prominent Urdu newspapers were located in this area so this restaurant drew writers in the droves. “But we did not see Farooque Shaikh in either. He kept himself aloof from the influences of Nagpada,” says Hameed.
Yet, Shaikh Sahab was by no means cold even though he was detached. He would say Salaam or Adaab and smile at neighbours as he passed by, without engaging too much. He always seemed focussed and very busy.
Hameed knew Shaikh Sahab’s younger brother Fazal. “He was my junior in Maharashtra College. The family was clearly cultured and religious. Fazal, I think, was considerably younger than Farooque Shaikh but a five-time namazi like him. He was a boxer.”
As the days passed by, the youths realised that Farooque Shaikh had become a model. “We began to see his pictures in print advertisements in magazines like Illustrated Weekly and in movie theatres at the start of a film or during the interval. You remember, the slide show ads with a voiceover? I think he modelled for Lifebuoy also. Farooque Sahab became very famous in the mohalla. It was a wow moment because a young lad from our own locality had made a name like this.”
Here Hameed Sahab makes sure to mention actor-director Kadar Khan who lived some distance away. “I took admission to Saboo Siddik Polytechnic where Kadar Khan was my professor. He was very active on the theatre circuit with the Kal Ke Kalakaar (KKK) troupe. And Farooque Shaikh was an integral part of the St Xavier’s College drama team. Both these groups figured prominently in a prestigious inter-collegiate dramatic competition. In fact, Rajesh Khanna representing K C College, Amjad Khan from National College, Sagar Sarhadi, Jeetendra and Sanjeev Kumar all made their presence felt at this event. Shafi Inamdar and Mushtaq Merchant would rehearse with Kadar Khan in Saboo Siddik.”
(Shaikh Sahab’s house on second floor of Memni Bldg; the one with series of closed windows)
Hameed points out an interesting similarity. Both Shaikh Sahab and Kadar Khan made a prominent entry into the world of cinema in 1973, Shaikh with Garm Hava and Khan with Jawani Diwani.
Hameed meanwhile went on to make a career in journalism in daily newspapers like Aaj and Urdu Reporter, and the weekly Akhbar E’ Alam.
In the late 1980s, Shaikh moved to Bandra where he lived in Rafi Mansion, which was earlier Mohammed Rafi’s bungalow. The family then went to Lokhandwala Complex in Andheri.
In 1992-93, Mumbai was engulfed by two horrific waves of communal riots in the aftermath of the martyrdom of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. The traumatic aftermath of the demolition shook the social conscience of all right-minded citizens. Shaikh Sahab could hardly remain insulated given his strong moral fibre.
“The largest relief camp was set up in Millat Nagar by Ziauddin Bukhari. Particularly, there were 300-400 Muslim families living in Pratiksha Nagar whose safety was threatened amid growing violence. Abu Asim Azmi set up a small facility in Colaba. Bukhari got the families evacuated in trucks with help from Sharad Pawar. The Aman Committee pitched in too. Smaller camps were set up in Nagpada also,” says Hameed.
But there was nothing to equal the scale of relief work in Millat Nagar. This is a vast colony with a few score buildings. Some were still under construction, others unoccupied. It soon came to shelter 2,000-2,500 people. Sunil Dutt, then the Congress MP for North West Mumbai came to help. Johnny Walker and Shaikh Sahab who lived nearby also helped. Shabana Azmi would call in too.
Hameed says a control room of sorts was installed on the top floor of Sagar Malkani Tower located on S V Road, Jogeshwari, which is about five minutes’ drive away from Millat Nagar, to monitor the welfare of the displaced people. He says Shaikh Sahab would visit to inquire into their needs and offer assistance.
Hameed was an active member of this monitoring group. As a journalist, he had a curfew pass and could travel across affected areas to gather information in an era when there was no satellite TV, no cellphones and no Internet. So he was an active source of news for the team. Every evening he would come, often walking miles, to Sagar Malkani, and give updates.
“We did not require funds because help was arriving from various sources. But Farooque Sahab proved useful because he had very good relations with senior politicians in New Delhi. Rajesh Pilot was the home minister of state then, so Farooque Sahab could tell him about their problems and grievances and seek assistance. Shaikh would personally shuttle between Bombay and Delhi to expedite matters. Local authorities spring into action only when higher-ups in government put in a word, and here Farooque Shaikh’s contribution was very valuable.”
Rajesh Pilot even came to Bombay and visited Millat Nagar to offer assurance.
Hameed is also aware of Shaikh Sahab’s patronage of Lucknow’s chikankari industry. Most women who embroider chikan kurtas for SEWA, his regular supplier, are from broken homes and often the sole earning members of their families. And Farooque Shaikh knew in his heart that his costly purchases of white kurtas went into a good cause.
It is hard to think of a celebrity other than Shaikh Sahab who seemed to have made it his mission to be of use to people he met. Hameed recalls how he tried to help him gain assignments in the film industry. “He was acting in a serial named Chamatkar where they needed a good writer. He recommended my name but they chose somebody else. He went to the USA shortly afterwards but when he returned and realised they had not selected me, he was so apologetic. Is qadar ma’azrat ki. Another time Subhash Ghai’s team was seeking a dialogue director for Anil Kapoor. Farooque Sahab trusted my Urdu diction and suggested my name, but it did not work out. Both times he felt so sorry but I understood. What could he do? He tried for me twice.”