When I was 13 and ugly, I was sent to London to visit my cousin all by myself. I had a peculiar sounding hairstyle called a wedge cut, which at that time looked trendy, but I was clearly living in denial. My cousin and I would email each other back and forth about my trip. Instructions would listlessly be given about a variety of topics: “Go through the green channel, not the red one”, “Be polite to the immigration lady”, “fill in a form before you get off the plane”. I carefully noted down my sister’s address on the first page and the last page of the notebook that I carried everywhere. Just in case something disastrous happened to the first page.
It is never a good idea to spend more than a week with your relatives no matter how much you love them. I learnt this a little early in life, call it a premature revelation. I was supposed to be in London for a month, and my relatives were a little tired playing tour guides (and good ones at that). To mix things up a bit, we decided to go watch a Hindi film one night. The only one running was Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, which I knew was going to be a hopeless film because it had Bobby Deol.
From a ticket in a dusty box, I am reminded it was called the Odeon Swiss Cottage cinema. I grudgingly went for the film that night, knowing that I was going to be asleep through half of it. A majority of the audience in the cinema hall was Indian, with a couple of white faces in the crowd who wanted to see what the jazz about Bollywood was. The cinema hall was not packed, but it had more people that one would normally see at a film like Jhoom Barabar in India.
Maybe they had come out of desperation, much like us. Before the interval, my stomach rumbled and I had to pee. I informed my Chachi, who was enjoying the film a little too much because her eyes were glued to the screen; she did not even look at me.
My cousin beside her was fast asleep and snoring lightly, her mouth slightly open. I sauntered off to the washroom, glad to be away from the inane film, which had already killed some of the little brain cells I had. When I came out, I attended to my rumbling tummy and went to the food counter and began to decide between a day old cheeseburger and a normal burger. It was awfully quiet and I seemed to be the only one attending to my stomach, when a silvery voice cut through the silence and said “I want a coke”.
I turned around, and saw a kid with shaggy hair, a bald, buff man beside him and a shorter man next to him. It took me a second to realise that this man looked strangely familiar. Dressed casually in a jacket and jeans, his hair fell across his forehead and covered a good part of his eyes. I felt dizzy when I realised that it was Shah Rukh Khan. I rubbed my eyes uncharacteristically to make sure it was not a dream. I continued to gape till someone tapped me on my shoulder, “Your burger, miss?” said the server from the food counter. I told him I would come back for it and ran inside the theatre to get my notepad and an inseparable part of me: my camera.
“Shah Rukh Khan is outside!” I told my chachi. She asked me if I went into another film theatre. I was twelve but I was not stupid. “No!” I said adamantly, and sloppily took out my pen devoid of its cap, my purple notebook, and my small camera. “Shh! Don’t say it loudly or there will be a stampede here”, Chachi said to me.
I did a half skip half walk to get outside and to my relief he was still there, getting his son a coke. “Excuse me, uh Shah Rukh?” I said. I was a little surprised by my utterance. Should I have addressed him differently? While his bodyguard callously pushed me away, my eyes were glued to SRK’s face. He noticed and said “It’s ok”.
In the mean time, a number of people had recognized him and spoke in hushed tones. I pushed my pen and notepad forward, and made sure not to blink lest I missed a moment of seeing him. He was much shorter in person and his face was a little sallow. His dimples seemed as if they were carved into his face. I also had the sense to ask an autograph for my other cousin who was as big a fan as I was. He obliged and smiled as he handed the notepad back to me. Somewhere I read that one should always shake hands with a celebrity. So I did. I shook hands with him. I was too elated to speak and wondered if I should
tell him that I saw him in 2001 when I was 6 and that he’d kissed me on my forehead. I reprimanded myself not to be so silly. “May I have a photograph please?”, I said in my cutest voice. “Uh no photos please”, he replied.
I settled, because his tone sounded like this was the most disappointing thing to have ever happened to him. I gazed at him for as long as I could. At that moment, SRK buying his son a coke and popcorn combo was the most fascinating thing in the world. Soon after, Chachi and my cousin had also come out because they couldn’t stand the film any longer. I was aware of their dislike for SRK. With vinegary humour, they said, “Chee he’s so short. He looks so much better in the movies.”
At home, I gazed at his autograph and replayed all the moments that led to it. Sometimes after something of a grand scale has happened, I become anxious thinking about the what ifs that could have barged in and spoiled it. A delayed stress reaction of sorts. What if my tummy hadn’t rumbled? It was a good thing that I had not eaten lunch.
One such day, my cousin and I were walking along Brompton road, near Piccadilly Circus. It was crowded and I was too old to hold my sister’s hand and too young to be by myself. “Keep close”, she said. She had taken me to my favourite shop in all of London— Claire’s.
After we crossed Harrods, I felt the need to empty my bladder. The nearest washroom was at the tube station, which we had already crossed. We began to walk backwards. My sister was a little exasperated but that was mainly to do with her inexperience with mercurial teenagers like me.
We waited at the red light to cross the street. At the red lights, I supposed that people came to a standstill, as if an imaginary being had shouted “statue!” Once the light transformed into a bright green, people returned to their normal, busy selves lost in the hustle bustle.
We crossed the street and walked towards the station. Suddenly I bumped into the torso of a tall man. He smelled so good that I looked up. It was Hrithik Roshan. It is a peculiar feeling to recognise a celebrity; you see them onscreen all the time, but when you see them in person, it registers slowly and one has a eureka moment.
I did not believe my eyes, so I followed him, overtook and walked towards him again. I had lost my sister in the crowd by this time, but I was sure of one thing- it was indeed Hrithik Roshan. “Excuse me, Hrithik?” I said.
Again, I thought if I should have addressed him differently. He turned and looked at me knowingly, of what I was about to ask him. I smiled at him politely and simultaneously rummaged about for my uncapped pen that had stained the insides of my bag, and my notepad. I nudged my notepad and pen towards him and he did the needful. Meanwhile, I stared at his face, dotted by numerous moles and a strong jawline. “May I have a photo?” To my delight, he agreed.
My sister burst through the crowd and hissed “Srishti!” She was visibly annoyed but I did not care. “Look!”, I squealed and thrust the camera in her hand. She took a photo of me and Hrithik Roshan, scowling all the while. I asked Hrithik Roshan to put his arm on my shoulder and he obliged.
Whenever I see the photo I cringe a little. I am wearing a kurta my mother had lovingly bought me for the trip, but it fitted me a little oddly. I wish I had worn better clothes that day.
When I returned, I naturally told everybody about meeting Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan. Some people in my family did not believe it, thinking that I ‘met’ them at Madame Tussauds. I got their autographs framed, while my other sister said that she would make a wallpaper out of SRK’s autograph.
In any case I have still not figured out the right thing to say to a celebrity.
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