She was only 22 and he was 44 – but Saira Banu couldn’t say no when Dilip Kumar proposed marriage to her. After all, she had been in love with him since the age of 12. It was at the age of 16 when she got the first chance to meet the thespian. It was at the premiere event of Mughal-E-Azam in 1960, held at Mumbai’s Maratha Mandir. All she wanted was a glimpse of him in person. But her heart was broken when Kumar couldn’t make it to the event.
But she did meet him later… and remembers how her heart had taken a flight when he had looked at her, smiled and said she was a pretty girl. The two were brought together by Saira’s mother and former actress Naseem Banu. The two got married in 1966. The 22-year-old age difference didn’t bother them even a bit. But there were others who thought this marriage wouldn’t last. Which marriage is absolved of highs and lows? None. And the same was the case with Dilip Kumar – Saira Banu as well. However, each time they drifted apart, there was the universe working its way to bring them both together. Looking at the tragedy in the tragedy king’s personal life with regards to his health, the controversies that their marriage had to rise above, will seem trivial.
It was in the early 2000s that a major health setback hit the actor and his family was caught unawares and unprepared. Imagine, waking up to a husband who doesn’t remember who you are? Has no memory that you are his wife and behaves as clueless as someone who’s met you for the first time in their life. And this after spending almost four decades with you under the same roof. It is a harsh truth that is neither easy to acknowledge or accept. That was a temporary disorientation that lasted a few minutes but triggered the family to get further medical investigations done. The reports showed that Dilip Kumar has Alzheimer’s disease.
The early symptom of Alzheimer’s is short term memory loss and many might just ignore this as one of the side effects of old age. Though that incident had stunned Saira and she gets teary eyed each time she remembers about that fateful morning, in hindsight, she feels perhaps that shocking episode helped her and family realize something was wrong and seek medical help to avoid further complications.
Saira was upset and shaken. But she didn’t waste time on brooding over ‘Why Me’. She knew she was now his memory. The former actress had always been a hands-on wife and she knew that that disease that had gripped her Yusuf Saab (as he fondly called him) needed her to be more alert and aware. She read up material on Alzheimer’s and had lengthy discussions with the doctors to understand more about it. His ability to remember had weakened but he had Saira who was arming herself each passing day with ways to deal with this. Yes, she was going to be with him in this journey, throughout.
It is heartening to see that barring a few months when Dilip Kumar stayed away from going out of his house or meeting people (they had even stopped entertaining guests at home), nothing had changed. Very soon, daawats at Dilip saab’s were happening again. His birthday every year on December 11 was being celebrated with the same pomp and show and the doors were kept open for friends and family Eid celebrations.
Today, as the nation mourns the demise of the legendary star, we pray for strength for the family and Saira Banu in the time of this insurmountable tragedy.
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