Even before I got married, I was committed to adopting a girl child. That thought came to me when I was a 20-something and studying at FTII in Pune. I did a film titled Shree Vats (God’s child) for an NGO and had an amazing experience with children in orphanages. They wouldn’t come easily to the camera but once they were comfortable, they would be all over you. I could sense their need, their hunger for love. That time, the girl child was not even preferred. So I decided that when I was able and capable, I would adopt a girl child.
Deepti (actress Deepti Naval) and I lost a child at a very advanced stage of pregnancy (in the eighth month). We never had any differences, but post that, we drifted apart. But, my resolve to adopt a girl child was known to her. It was coincidental that while we were in the process of formally divorcing this opportunity to adopt a girl child came our way. I could have adopted as a single parent but since Deepti and I were and still are good friends, she was happy to sign as a mother.
Those early days
In 1988, an orphanage in Delhi where I used to volunteer, called to inform me about a ten-day-old infant who was abandoned under a cinema seat and was very sick. The baby had an infection and was possibly bitten by rats and insects. I brought her home and took care of her for about 10-12 days before she was fit again. We got attached to each other and I initiated the process of adopting her. I was living in Delhi then and doing a lot of Doordarshan serials while Deepti was stuck in Mumbai with her work. Our divorce came through that year, but it was Deepti who named her Disha.
For one whole year, I personally took care of Disha; bathing, cleaning and feeding her. I used to take her around in a little cane basket in my Maruti 800 to reach my workplace. When she was about a year old, I moved to Patna. Professionally, there wasn’t anything for me to do. The NFDC, under which I had made Damul and Parinati, was not active any longer and I was not in touch with commercial Mumbai cinema. On the personal front, I was just through with a divorce. I quit the industry and went back to my hometown, Patna and decided not to pursue films, but set up an NGO instead. The real life between me and Disha began when she was 4 ½ years old, after my mom, who had by then become her primary caregiver, passed away. I had no work, my mom had died and suddenly I had no one to take care of my child.
In 1993, I came back to Mumbai with Disha. I had no work and no place to stay so I stayed at the Golden Manor hotel for three months. I got Disha enrolled in Sanjeevani School in Panchgani. She was so young that they allowed me to stay for about eight to ten days and when I saw her blending in, I came back. In Mumbai, things began to roll with Mrityudand and it has been good since.
‘Any change has to come from within’
While Disha was at Panchgani, life was about driving to and fro to meet her and celebrate the special moments with her. When she became an adolescent, it was easier for Deepti to deal with her. We have been very frank when talking to each other and she stepped in to take care of the teen troubles. About three years ago, I realised that Disha needed her space and so I moved out. We now have independent homes.
As a parent, you keep nagging. For instance, I would constantly keep telling her to watch her weight. Sometimes she would hate that, sometimes she would rebel. But now, she has stuck to a diet and is taking care of her health. Any change has to come from within. This is why I have always wanted her to develop as an independent person. Disha studied up to 12th standard in school, post which she started assisting in various film productions. She surprised me a year ago when she came up to me and said she had a script, adding that I should finance it only if I liked it. I am currently producing her first production (Fraud Saiyyan).
Apart from the usual growing up problems, she has never given me any trouble. She doesn’t have any bad habits. I personally taught her to drive as soon as she turned 18. Now she has her own house, she gets her salary and she manages her own expenses. Once in a while she still uses my card though!
‘I showed her the exact place’
We are good friends. We share each other’s problems. I haven’t ever asked her about when she is planning to get married. She will when the time is right. Sometimes she tells me she has a friend so I can sense she is confident. I have never talked her down, except that occasional I-don’t-like-this-dress. Sometimes she listens, sometimes doesn’t. I am sure there are many things she doesn’t like about me either, but she maintains a fine balance. With Deepti, she has a different relationship. At times, all three of us go out to dinner together.
Most people appreciated that I had adopted a kid. Some in the village would ask, why not your own child? Why not a son? They needed just one answer – if I had my own, it would’ve been good. Now I have her and that’s lovely too.
When Disha turned six, I told her about how God had sent her to me. I asked her if she wanted to go to the palna (cradle) where she was found. I showed her the exact place. When she was 12, I told her I could find out who her biological parents were. She mulled over it and said no. I was prepared for any kind of reaction, but I didn’t want her to learn of it from anyone else.
Message to parents
Let children grow, give them a life! In the assumed responsibility of trying to do the best for your children, you will ruin your own life. Be that pillar of strength which they can come to, rest on, and draw from. They have their own wings. If you don’t let them do their own things, they will constantly look for support. I think people are just too stuck up about parenting, trying hard to design the personalities of their children on the basis of their own upbringing. I grew out of the indoctrinated net pretty soon.
Sometimes, if you are not capable of supporting them, tell them the truth. For instance, when Disha wanted to change her car recently, I told her I couldn’t pay for it. She initially got upset because she never thought she would have to get a loan. Then she found out about the EMIs, rearranged her expenses, and organised the seed money. Children shouldn’t grow up not understanding anything about money. We can’t let them think they have everything. If they are not financially aware, they will spend it all in two days! Also, your children should understand that people who come to help us with our work – cleaners, office workers, drivers, must be treated like God.
Time to let go
Disha is big now. She is in the post-production of her film and, for all I know, she is already framing her next one in her head. She knows her choices and that’s what matters.
As told to Harshikaa Udasi