Veteran actor Dilip Kumar turns 96, wife Saira Banu pays a heartfelt tribute to husband

Today, on December 11, India’s most distinguished film actor Dilip Kumar turns 96. His tirelessly devoted wife Saira Banu says no big celebrations are planned this time. Says the yesteryear’s beauty queen, who regaled us from Junglee to Shagird, “We have no party plans this year. Our plans are for prayers for good health and wonderful duas from friends like you always. Every day that God gives me to spend with Sahib is a great celebration of a day well spent. I am blessed to be with him and I treasure every moment, each second.”

Saira’s adulation, adoration and devotion to her husband is legendary. She rhapsodizes in a trance-like state, “He is my world, my love, my soul, my Kohinoor, the most precious gift from Allah to me. By now, the whole world knows how my desire to be his wife began at the age of twelve when I was a school girl studying at a private school in London. I lived with my dream day after day, praying for my dream to come true while my mother, grandmother and brother imagined it was an infatuation and I would get over it when I grew up to adulthood.”

It took a while for Sairaji’s family to realize her devotion to the Dilip deity was non-negotiable. “I finished school, returned to India, made my debut with a stupendously successful film, Junglee, and my wish only became more intense and strong. It was then that my mother understood that it was neither a school girl’s crush nor an ardent fan’s wishful thinking.”

Luckily for her, Dilip Saab reciprocated her feelings. “Those, who have read Yousuf Sahab’s autobiography, have written to me to say that the most engaging chapters in it are those where Yousuf Sahab has described how he courted me in his own dignified way, proposed marriage to me and sought my mother’s consent followed by a fortnight long dream-like, fairytale romance that culminated in a quick and sensational announcement of our nikah.”

Saira ji’s dream finally came true. “The dream I treasured came true on October 11, 1966. I began a new life with a man who was raised in a large Pathan family by a loving mother and a physically and emotionally strong father, a super star adored by millions of cinema lovers, highly respected by the motion picture industry for the excellence he consistently pursued in his work and above all a man whose inherent goodness, chivalry and humility showed up in everything he did.”

For a girl brought up in a Western country, the new life as Mrs Dilip Kumar posed daunting challenges. “If you ask me whether it was a challenge for me with my background of growing up in the UK within the protective care of small close knit family comprising my mother, a star in her own right, grandmother, a renowned classical vocalist, brother, possessing all the refinements of a western education, to adjust to a life in a large family, I would say that it could have been a challenge if Yousuf Sahab had not enfolded me within the folds of his mature understanding of my needs and expectations and gave me the same thoughtful care he extended to his sisters and brothers and the respect of being his wife. He made life a joy to live with simple gestures and pleasant surprises that made me feel I could not be more blessed and fortunate than I was. I realized that years of being the emotional and moral support of his younger siblings and his mother, who doted on him, had made him a strong, responsible individual who was ever willing to give unconditional love and concern without the slightest expectation of reciprocation.”

Veteran actor Dilip Kumar turns 96, wife Saira Banu pays a heartfelt tribute to husband

Saira ji feels she has learnt a lot about life and the finer qualities of living from her eruduite and wise husband. “I was consciously and unconsciously imbibing his qualities and adding to the values that had already strictly been instilled in me by my mother and grandmother. It made me very happy one day when in a casual conversation Yousuf Sahab revealed that the one crucial factor that egged him on to choose me to be his wife was the manner in which I had been brought up. He had noticed that I was respectful of the core values of our country’s culture and secular beliefs despite my shifting to London in my early impressionable years.”

Saira ji admits their marriage has not been without hiccups. “No marriage can be flawless and perfect. Our marriage too had its hiccups but the best thing about our hiccups was that they brought us closer and made us more thankful of God’s benevolence and greatness. In the very early years of our marriage, I took seriously ill and I had to be hospitalized in London. Leaving everything aside, my Jaan was by my side, staying awake at times while I slept secure in the knowledge that I have strong hand clasping my hand and praying silently for my recovery. I can go on and on about our journey together and our learning experiences that drew us closer each time and made us wiser and happier in our togetherness.”

Veteran actor Dilip Kumar turns 96, wife Saira Banu pays a heartfelt tribute to husband

Saira ji says there’s nothing she enjoys as much as being with her ‘Saheb’. “I am often asked how we spend our time now. I would say that if anything has changed in our sharing of the simple joys of life that the Almighty has blessed us with it is only the way we enjoy each other’s company. To those who wish to know how to preserve the joy of togetherness and nourish a relationship with it in the years when aches and pains, unpleasant twists and turns in health cause inevitable anxieties and fears I would say that it is difficult but not impossible to retain the glow if one works at it with a complete trust in the might of the Almighty to grant prayers that go straight from the heart to Him. If it was a bracing game of badminton that we enjoyed together in our youthful years, now it is a quiet dinner at home with soft Hindustani classical instrumental music playing in the background. I feel blessed when I play mother to him now by feeding him his light meal while he enjoys the soft strains of the music and gives me the smile that Mashallah still sends hearts aflutter. If it was a long drive at one time, it is a short drive now and coming back home feeling refreshed and sharing his favourite soup made from one of his own recipes. The one thing that has not changed or diminished is the contentment we share of a life lived meaningfully by being always there for our dear friends and family and of course for each other. If I have another life at all, I will once again beseech Allah to give me the blessing of living this life again.”

She recalls an earlier birthday of the Thespian when his health permitted an ebullient celebration. “The 89th birthday celebrations were held with much elaboration where the entire industry met here at our Pali Hill residence and made a great evening of happiness…music and dance..memorable evening. God willing, we shall again have a big birthday celebration  for Saheb soon.”

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