Bhakti-Didi – for me.
Like every responsible adult in those black and white television DD (DoorDarshan) years my father too watched television news avidly; and since I was on his lap most of the time, newsreader Bhakti Barve’s face was familiar and friendly for me.
I was in my early teens when I first actually got to meet her face to face. We had gone to watch her act in the Marathi drama, “Tee Phularani” written by the great Marathi multi-faceted writer P.L. Deshpande's noted adaptation of GB Shaw's Pygmalion and Jay Lerner's My Fair Lady.
It took me a while to understand that the local vernacular accent that she had ‘put on’ was actually a perfect put on! Back stage we got to interact with her and frankly I don’t think she even noticed me – what with my father being the Secretary for cultural affairs in the Mantralaya (Government of Maharashtra Secretariat) and my mother inviting her to our home.
In the years that followed, I came face to face with her often as she was a regular visitor along with other film fraternity that frequented our house. I was thrilled when she actually remembered my name on a few occasions and thereafter I would always watch her plays from the VIP front row with family or friends. I remember seeing her powerful performances in “Tee Phulranni, Thank you Mr.Glad, Teen Paisha cha Tamasha, Rang Mazaa Veglaa, Gandhi Virudh Gandhi, Double Game,” and my very own personal favorite, “Aie Retire Hote” again and again.
My father passed away in 1985 and things in our home changed forever. We moved to Pune and my connection with her was only renewed when she would visit our neighbor Madhu-kaka Ganu, in Pune. She shared a very unique relationship with my mom thereafter and I soon became her ‘friend’ and I started calling her Bhakti tai! She would love my mom’s cooking and besides meals we shared many a happy times. I still remember the day she first brought her husband, Shafi Inamdar to our home. I was doing a summer job then and she simply came to pick me up and we went on to Vaishali and window shopped on Fergusson road! Oh I have never gotten so much attention and much to Bhakti didi’s irritation I was so embarrassed that I refused to go out with her the next day!
A few years later due to a weird play of circumstances my mother and sister ended up in her home at Bhakti Marg, Pune as paying guests! They lived together for a year and it was a wonderful time when she was part of our family. She had a cozy two bedroom home that was full of Lord Ganesha idols! She loved the elephant-headed god and had miniatures to life sized versions in every way imaginable – on different vehicles, playing various musical instruments, in every material from papier-mâché to gold plated!
She was such a frank talker and simply wore her heart on her sleeve. When I heard of her death through the television, I was shocked beyond belief. It was indeed hard for me to imagine that I would never hear her deep baritone voice ever call my name again. I knew then that her laughter and love would only exist in my memory.