I Feel Like a Kati Patang: Asha Parekh on Her Hospital’s Closure
Yesteryear actor Asha Parekh has one more passion other than cinema, find out more.
(This story is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 2 October 2017. It is being republished to mark Asha Parekh’s birth anniversary)
Since early morning, magnum-sized bouquets of roses, orchids and tiger lillies have been arranged in the living room of her Juhu apartment. It’s her 77th birthday (2 October).
Asha Parekh flashes a thin crescent smile. Come on, she could look cheerier, I exhort. “Don’t know,” the sweetheart of 1960s entertainers says. “I’m going through mixed feelings. There’s gratitude that I’m remembered by my friends from the film industry on this day. And there’s a sense of..how do I put it?…befuddlement. The hospital, which I’ve devoted 55 years of my life has closed down, following so many issues that my head is spinning.”
She had hoped that the BCJ Hospital-Asha Parekh Research Centre would be back to square one as negotiations were on with the Shalby group to collaborate on the hospital’s re-opening and redevelopment.
The actor’s chord with the hospital was initiated during the early 1960s by the star’s mother, Sudha, a social worker who was a member of the Association of the Residents of Santa Cruz. That’s the thickly populated Mumbai suburb, where the medical institution is located. Right. So how does Asha Parekh look back on the hospital’s glory days, and how come the closure, hopefully temporary?
Her answer, she sighs would be too long and winding. Before she prepares herself for the morning pooja or attends to the incessant phone calls, the teenage girl who became an overnight sensation with her debut as an all-grown heroine in Dil Deke Dekho (1959), recalls the high as well as low points of her unbreakable connection with the now-shuttered hospital:
As a student at the JB Petit High School for Girls, I would dream about becoming a doctor, complete with a spotless white overcoat and a stethoscope. That dream went for a toss.
I must have been 11 or 12, I was rushing to catch the 8 a.m. train when I saw the body of a young man killed on the railway tracks of Santa Cruz station. The sight of blood traumatised me. Let alone a doctor, I couldn’t see myself ever becoming a nurse either. In a subliminal way perhaps, my attachment to the Bhikubai Chandulal Jalandwala (BCJ) Hospital, was the closest I could come to my childhood dream.
I suppose it came to be known as Asha Parekh Hospital, because I was a popular name then. An autorickshaw driver had told one of the doctors that he didn’t know where the BCJ Hospital was. When she mentioned my name, he said, “Why didn’t you say so earlier? And I don’t know whether I should be flattered, but it seems bus conductors still tell passengers who disembark at the stop outside the hospital, “Here’s Asha Parekh!”
Since I have remained single, I would love to visit the neo-natal department frequently to look at the new-borns looking so lovely in their incubators. That prompted me to look for a baby at an adoption centre. My heart went out to an infant in a crib, the paperwork was started but at the last minute the officials said, “Sorry, not possible. The baby has been born with a terminal illness.”
The hospital is run by a trust comprising 30 members from different walks of life. Of these, only about half the number take an active interest. Meant essentially for underprivileged patients, we have had to depend on donations to ensure its survival. AK Hangal saab who was suffering from advanced age ailments, passed away there. I didn’t even know about this. Hangal saab’s brother had admitted him to the hospital.
The hospital had closed down for two years earlier. Around 2006-’07, the workers’ union had gone on a strike. We could revive the institution, thanks in no small measure to my film industry colleagues. It was re-inaugurated by Amitabh Bachchan. Subsequently, Sushmita Sen gamely agreed to inaugurate the Cosmetology department. Down the years, Kishore Kumar, Hema Malini and Shatrughan Sinha would be consistently supportive. Amitabh and Juhi Chawla have made generous donations towards the upkeep of the hospital.
Close friends have helped with their special skills. Daulat Dastur, whom I’ve known ever since we were in our teens, left her well-paying job as a physio-therapist in a private nursing home. Now she has had to resign from the hospital. I feel awful, and hope she can get another job right away.
I’ve seen heart-rending moments. An emergency surgery had to be performed on a schoolboy who had fallen from a building’s roof. The operation was being done for free, as is the custom at the hospital. But some pre-surgery medicines had to be bought immediately. The child’s father procrastinated, saying that he had several children. If one passed away, it wouldn’t make a difference. He argued,“With that amount of money, I can look after my family for three years.” Imagine that! The surgeon volunteered to pay for the medicines. By the time, the father took a call, the child had passed away.
For a decade, efforts have been on to find corporate collaboration. One corporate was keen but kept delaying things for three years, thus aggravating the deterioration of our facilities. I’m sorry to say this but corporate and industrialists’-backed hospitals have led to the emergence of five-star luxury medical centres.
The rich are getting richer treatment. Every hospital, by the rules, has to reserve a quota of beds for needy patients. Is this being done? On the contrary, there have been news reports about a sting operation at a well-known hospital.
What else can I say? Thank you for the birthday wishes, but if you ask me I feel so much like a ‘kati patang’ today.Asha Parekh
The doorbell rings sharply. More roses, orchids and tiger lillies are being delivered. Her weak smile seems to state, it's just another birthday in Cinema Paradiso.
(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and weekend painter.)
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