By Pradip Rodrigues
Last week two very public figures in India were in the news for all the wrong reasons- Salman Khan and Shaimak Davar. Both connected with Bollywood and both known to me very well at different points in my life. They meant a lot to me. I never expressed my gratitude to them ever but with all that is happening, I thought this would be a good time to do so publically.
In 1976, I was a Class 6 student of St Stanislaus High School, Bandra, a week or so into the school year, a new kid joined our class and was assigned to sit next to me. He happened to be Salman Khan. He was quiet, contemplative. He had transferred from a boarding school and I’d ask him questions about life there. Like young kids often do, I recall repeatedly teasing and mimicking the way he’d sit at his desk with his thumb in his mouth. That would enrage him and he’d threaten to hit me if I didn’t stop annoying him. Mercifully he never did carried out his threat and it was all in good fun, typical of 11-year-olds. Over the next couple of months, we became good friends and Salman who was a member of Playmate Club, part of the now demolished SeaRock Hotel, offered to take me swimming. I didn’t know to swim but Salman promised to teach me and encouraged me to join him. So on one Thursday which was our day off school, I went over to Galaxy apartments which was a four minute walk from my home. We then would walk down the road to SeaRock hotel. He signed me in as his guest and I started in the Kids pool, Salman ofcourse was a great swimmer who jumped off the deep end of the adult pool. From time to time, he’d come over to the Kids pool and give me swimming lessons. Every other Thursday we’d go swimming. Swimming remains my number one outdoor activity. Years later we lost touch and eventually fell out over something I said and am sorry for, but to this day I remain grateful to him for teaching me to swim .
In 1995, I did an interview with Shiamak Davar for the Bombay Times, we spent three hours talking and in parting he mentioned a deep belief that if something was meant to be it would happen. That evening I was attending a play at Sophia Auditorium, Mumbai, when a common friend singer Shweta Shetty and Shaimak came in and had seats next to me. Now that was a coincidence, Shiamak winked and said we were fated to meet just a few hours later. Over the next couple of years, we became very good friends, we’d meet over meals at exclusive clubs and restaurants and he became a bit of an advisor to me. When I had a hard decision to make, he suggested we go to meet his guru, the late Khorshed Bhavnagri, author of The Laws of the Spirit World.
We drove one afternoon to Ms Bhavnagri’s home, he introduced me to her and we spoke. Shiamak had books and books of automatic writing which he said was communication between him and Ms Bhavnagri’s two sons who died in a motorbike accident years earlier. Shaimak told me he believed the world was in great danger and that Vancouver was the safest place to be, this was before he eventually put down part of his roots in that city. Ms Bhavnagri gave me her advice which I followed, it turned out to be right. She also gave me a copy of The Laws of the Spirit World, which both of them strongly insisted I read to better understand things.
Whether or not Shiamak was gay or bi-sexual was something I got asked about now and again by others who were curious about his sexual orientation. It was and still is none of my business. We never discussed it, period.
When I went through one of the most painful periods of my life, it was Shiamak who spent long hours that extended into the wee hours of the morning with me. He counseled me and the others involved. When I was about to quit my position at Times of India because of it, he called up the director telling him not to accept my resignation and explained the situation to him. He thus saved me from compounding an already bad situation. I am forever grateful for all he did for me back in the day.
We lost touch ever since I came to Canada in 2000 and I have never felt the need to write about the people I knew in my past but the events that unfolded last week compelled me to write about the positive experiences I’ve had with two really nice people.
Whether or not the courts find either of them guilty or innocent is not what this piece is about. These were two individuals who at points in my life I considered friends who came through for me.