I find it tough to believe that a person can be liked by all. Sunil Dutt, who passed away last week in India was perhaps one of the very few. Despite being the victim of Partition, he rose above it, was part of the secular leaning Bombay filmdom, married a Muslim actress of iconic status, Nargis. Sunil Dutt was a secular Punjabi Brahmin, however oxymoronish that may sound today.A friend tells me that one of the reasons that he remained secular was because of he adored his mother Kulwanti Devi, who asked him to forget the Partition. I am not sure if this explains it all, but frankly I really dont know the reason. His cousin brother Subir Dutt, a notable Urdu poet, was himself married to one of the sisters of Sahir Ludhianvi. And a few years ago, when I thought that the defining aim of my life was to write a definitive biography of Sahir, I planned to see Subir Dutt. He had edited a journal, whose name I forget, that was dedicated to Urdu poets and writers. I had seen many of those at Punjab Book Center in the eighties, when I used to frequent the bookshop in Chandigarh. Sunil Dutt was close to Faiz too, as the numerous pictures of Faiz at Sunil Dutt’s house at a site dedicated to Faiz indicates.
I personally felt a lot of warmth for Sunil Dutt, though it was naive on his part to set out on a padyatra during the height of terrorism in eighties and nineties. But he did- and that naivete amidst those senseless days probably defined the man in an age of catastrophe and crisis. I felt, like many others who stand by Nehruvian-Left secularism, a pain when he had to grovel before the Shiv Sena chief. But I guess we all understood his position- and it endeared him to us. It was a moment of intense pride when he resigned from the Congress during the Narasimha days in protest against what he felt was the Party’s softness towards Hindutva.
I dont think he was considered a great man during his lifetime. Neither will he be remembered as one. Despite a few years of impeccable success as a film actor, his life was one of struggle- and amidst that his tenacity to stand up for humanist and secular ideals was, to say the least, exemplary.