I celebrate Independence Day, not my birthday: Rakhee
Monday, August 06, 2007 10:50 IST
By Santa Banta News Network
Her 60th birthday falls on Aug 15, but as always veteran actress Rakhee will not celebrate. The memories of a struggling past weighing heavily on her, she may instead visit a village school for a flag-hoisting ceremony to mark the nation's independence day.

Sitting in her simply furnished, 9th floor apartment in Mumbai and sporting shortly cropped hair, a deeply reflective Rakhee spoke at length about her childhood years soaked in the pangs of partition, her later life and the lives of fellow Indians.

"Even after 60 years of independence I can see a huge gap between the rich and the poor. The poor are still poor. People whom I saw struggling then are still struggling. There may be an exception like me but more or less things are the same," Rakhee told in an exclusive interview.

"When we got freedom, the infrastructure was there and only administration changed hands. So why has it taken so long to bridge the gap?" asked Rakhee, who spends most of her time at a village farmhouse on the outskirts of Mumbai.

"This media hype about people entering the billionaire list or buying private aircraft is ridiculous. They don't talk about poor people. They don't report which village is improving, which is not and where we don't have a dam.

"My father earlier used to say this is the politics of convenience and now he calls it the politics of compulsion. He says earlier the British used to rule us and now our own people are looting us, and they say it's a republic. Where is the republic?"

Talk about Independence Day as a child, and Rakhee - born Aug 15, 1947, in Ranaghat, West Bengal - takes a nostalgic walk down memory lane.

"I didn't understand the significance of Independence Day till I started going to school. I remember in schools and clubs, flag hoisting used to take place. As far as households or citizens were concerned, I never saw much euphoria, especially in the part of India I used to live."

That may have to do with the scars of partition. At that time, her father was uprooted from his village in East Pakistan - modern day Bangladesh - and came to settle down in West Bengal.

"Nobody knows that my father had a full-fledged jute business before he was driven out in 1947. After partition he was given a choice - convert or escape." He came to India.

"My father had a huge family. The tragedy is that my father's entire family converted. He never forgave his sister for converting. I remember my father feeling miserable.

"He is 88 now and till date I have never heard him expressing the desire to meet his sister or to visit his village. My father was so badly affected that he refused to say Bangladesh. He even refused to say East Pakistan. One of my uncles fled to Russia after partition.

"My family was struggling to start a new life. As a refugee you can imagine things were not very encouraging. The only thing I remember is my father hearing the live telecast on radio. He used to do it ceremoniously and I have inherited this habit from him."

Post independence, people in Ranaghat mainly talked about revolutionaries, she remembers.

"People who had lost everything had a different perspective altogether. They used to discuss mainly revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Bagha Jyotin (Jyotindra Nath Mukherjee). I especially remember Bagha Jyotin because I was very fascinated by his name. He is said to have killed a tiger with a dagger.

"I remember my father saying 'Bharat maa ke do haath kat gaye'. He would say this referring to East and West Pakistan. At that time I was too young to understand the meaning of his statement. But I remember his comment used to upset me. So as a child I have seen this kind of atmosphere."

She says her birthday is not an important day for her.

"As far as my birthday falling on this day goes, it's not important. I could have been born on Aug 13 or 14. For me, everyday is a good day. Yes, this day for our country is very significant. Our motherland was freed from British rule."

The actress, who has taken a sabbatical from acting these days, spends most of her time at her farmhouse. On Independence Day she visits schools in nearby villages for the flag hoisting ceremony.

"I never celebrate my birthday because when I was young my parents couldn't afford to celebrate my birthday. Rarely would I get new clothes. The only celebration used to be a small bowl of kheer, if possible," said Rakhee.

"When I started working in films, I wanted to keep things the same way. When I started earning, I never indulged in cutting cakes, throwing parties."

Tarachand Barjatya introduced Rakhee to Bollywood in "Jeevan Mrityu" but it was "Sharmilee" that catapulted her into the big league and later she featured in memorable films like "Daag", "Blackmail", "Lal Patthar" and "Kabhi Kabhie".

"I always had a quiet birthday. The maximum I would do is to wear a new sari and go to a temple. I am a Chakraborty Brahmin and our deity is Kali. We used to have a temple in our house. Ma used to cook food and the same kheer ki katori... we used to have. That's it. Now I don't even stay in Mumbai on my birthday."

However, she does remember going on long drives with friends and Gulzar, whom she married at the peak of her career. "I continued it even after my daughter's (Meghna - a filmmaker) birth. Even today I ask my daughter to take me for a drive on my birthday."

Once the late Sunil Dutt, whom she adored, threw a birthday bash for her. "In 1972 I was working in his film. He had arranged a huge birthday party Aug 15. And that's the first and last birthday party I had."

She says today the country needs leaders with a rural background because it is important to bring a change in rural India.

"I see these poor people and their sufferings. And only those who have a rural background can understand their needs and problems," said Rakhee, whose favourite politicians now are Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lalu Prasad.

Asked about the first woman president, she replied: "I haven't formed my opinion about Pratibha Patil. But it will be very difficult to forget (her predecessor A.P.J. Abdul) Kalam especially for the children and the students."
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