When the clouds of the Second World War were hovering, a young man from Peshawar was spreading his charm among English men and their wives with his irresistible personality and of course with his tempting sandwiches in Pune.
Well, here we are talking about none other than legendary actor Dilip Kumar, who before staring his acting career, because of his differences with his father Lala Ghulam Sarwar Khan, whom he called Aghaji started a sandwich business in Pune.
In the autobiography ‘Dilip Kumar: The Substance And The Shadow’, he mentioned: “My sandwich business opened very successfully. All the sandwiches were sold out in no time and the latecomers were disappointed when they found out that the sandwiches were very tasty and they had missed the chance to enjoy them.”
He was a perfectionist- an excellent actor and at the same time, highly professional as there was a great balance of quality and success in his life.
He is not remembered because he was an actor par excellence but also because he re-lived his characters. Even without uttering a single word, his eyes can be seen as speaking a thousand words. He was a method actor.
Indeed, it is interesting to see how an actor of his stature was so successful as a businessman. In the autobiography, he also talked about his differences with his father: “I don’t remember when exactly but I was in my teens when I impulsively set out for Poona (now Pune) from Bombay after a mild disagreement with Aghaji. We did not exchange harsh words or any such thing.”
“He lost his temper over some trivial matter and I still did not know what got into his eyes when he was angry, and on that fateful day, I decided to leave home quietly with more hurt and humiliation in my heart than anger or spite.”
Though he had no argument, the young boy was determined to prove himself. He left with 40 rupees.
“I left home with just forty rupees in my pocket, boarding a train to Poona from Bori Bunder station. I found myself seated amidst all sorts of men and women in a crowded third-class compartment,” the thespian recalled.
“I had never before travelled third class and I hoped no one known to Aghaji had seen me at the railway terminal boarding that compartment because he was always one to give his sons the best in everything and all of us had first-class passes for our local travel.” Though, he decided to do it to save money.”
Later in Pune, he went to an Iranian cafe for tea and some biscuits and asked the owner about work, and from there he got an opportunity to start his business.
“In retrospect, I think I was really adventurous to leave home and head for a city where I knew no one and had no idea of employment opportunities there. In Poona, I went first to an Iranian cafe, where I ordered tea and crisp khari(salty) biscuits.”
Later, he spoke to the Iranian owner of the cafe in Persian about some work for a shop assistant or something and he asked him to go to a restaurant owned by an Anglo-Indian couple. “It was my habit to walk briskly, so I reached the restaurant in no time. It was a quaint restaurant with its doors open for people who came there regularly, I guessed for a good English breakfast,” Dilip Kumar recalled.
The owner of the restaurant suggested him to meet the army canteen contractor who was a native of Peshawar and there was an apprehension in Dilip Kumar’s mind: “Anyone from Peshawar would know Aghaji and that would lead to trouble for me and the news would reach him about my job hunting in Poona.”
He went the next morning to the office of the canteen contractor where he met Taj Mohammad Khan and his elder brother Fateh Mohammad Khan OBE (Order of the British Empire).”There was no sign of recognition when I introduced myself rather vaguely as a job seeker from Bombay.”
While serving the officers, he got a new name ‘Chico’, which he mentioned later was also used by his wife and veteran actress Saira Bano. “They were all very fond of me and called me Chico – a name my wife Saira still uses when she wants to flirt with me in her won refined manner … I learned that Chico in Spanish meant a youngster or a lad.”
However, making an independent name in the sandwich business happened when the regular chef was absent and he had to make sandwiches for the officers along with tea and was given the order to use ‘fresh bread and butter.’
“Fortunately, the sandwiches were a hit. The guests of the Major General praised the manager, who received compliments smiling broadly. That was when the idea occurred to me to request him to get sanction from the contractor and the club’s office bearers to let me set up a sandwich counter at the club in the evenings.”
This is how he established himself in the sandwich business and wrote a telegram to his family about making his name independently.
“I am well and working in the British Army canteen,” wrote Dilip Kumar, the actor par excellence in his telegram to his family.