When Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray wanted Dilip Kumar to return Nishan-e-Imtiaz, Pakistan's highest civilian award

Bollywood superstar Dilip Kumar died on Wednesday morning at the age of 98. One of the handful of greats etched in the annals of Indian cinema, tragedy came to be affixed to his name with his turn as the brooding lover in classics such as "Devdas", "Andaz" and the epic romance "Mughal-e-Azam".

But the 'Tragedy King', who did his first film "'Jwar Bhata" in 1944, three years before Independence, and his last "Lal Quila" in 1998, was more than that.

The erudite Pathan from Peshawar, who started as a fruit trader, was fluent in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Marathi, Bengali and English. His wife, actor Saira Banu, noted that he was just as well-versed with the Quran as he was with the Bhagvat Gita and could recite verses from his memory.

"His secular beliefs spring straight from his heart and from his respect for all religions, castes, communities and creeds," she wrote in the foreword of the actor's autobiography "The Substance and the Shadow".

In the troubled early 1990s, when Mumbai was riven by communal tension, Kumar emerged as a figure of peace. During the 1993 riots in the city, stories abound of how he opened his home and made it a command centre for relief work.

He was a much-awarded artist, honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 1991 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2015 as well as the Dadasaheb Phalke in 1994. He was also a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha for one term and served as the sheriff of Bombay in 1980.

In 1998, somewhat controversially, he was awarded the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, the Pakistan government's highest civilian award. The following year, the Kargil war between the two countries broke out and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray demanded that he return the award. But Kumar refused to succumb and met then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the matter.

According to reports, Vajpayee declared, "There is no doubt about film star Dilip Kumar's patriotism and commitment to the nation."

The last rites of Dilip Kumar will be held at the Juhu Muslim Cemetery in Santacruz west, around 5 p.m.

Around 9.30 a.m., an ambulance carrying Dilip Kumar's body left for his home in Bandra west, with his wife of 55-years Saira Banu Khan accompanying along with some family members.

With inputs from Agencies

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