Irrfan passed away on April 29 last year. They tell me that time heals, but it hasn’t healed me in one year, says his wife Sutapa, as she speaks on strength, loss and introspectionHow have you been through the past year?
I’ve been up and down, up and down. Everything seems to be going normal, and I tend to get normal, and everything seems to get… and suddenly it comes back like as if it just happened yesterday. So… I don’t know.
Everybody tells me that time heals. So I also wait… okay, time is going by, and time will heal. And then suddenly, you know, you get hit so strongly that you just tend to kind of get flustered… then you know it hasn’t healed. So that’s how it is.
It’s not healing?
No, it’s not healing.
I have got work to do. I have got offers to write, but I have not been able to concentrate to write. Getting into another zone altogether is becoming very difficult. Abhi tak toh main career ko seriously le hi nahi pa rahi hoon. I have got two-three people asking me, ‘will you now start writing, are you okay? Are you ready?’ But nahi ho raha hai.
Fortunately, the responsibilities are kind of letting me not get to self-pity zone. Which is good in a way. Fixing classes, arranging tutors, and all that. So I guess the chores are actually making it in a way more normal. If I did not have anything to do, I think it would have been very, very difficult.
But sometimes, you know, it just hits me – the helplessness. As if I am lying down and then somebody has really punched me in the lower abdomen. That pain is like a punch. And it’s the whole feeling of helplessness, extreme helplessness which makes you feel very insignificant.
Temperament-wise I am a more positive person than Irrfan, have always been. Irrfan always had these blues, you know. He was more sensitive that way. He went into those blues and his sadness and his depression would go on for a longer time. So that’s not my personality to be hopeless and helpless. I don’t want to feel that depressed. I resist it, you know. So it’s a very complicated zone. I am becoming better but that’s how it feels, at least this month. It feels as if somebody will just take the gut out of my body. It’s a very strange feeling. And then I can’t sleep, so I get a sleep disorder. So it’s all mixed up.
How do you cope with his absence?
The loneliness is very strong. Because as is, we were not very social, we did not have too many friends. We were always that two-people unit.
He was working a lot, so it’s not like he was there the whole day with me, so that way I am quite used to being alone, being on my own, doing my own book reading or whatever. But the point is, you know, whenever there is leisure time or a time where you are having some kind of a break, it was everything to do with him only, na. He would come back from shoot and we would see a film or talk – mostly see a film. So it’s so revolved around him and along with him. It is very difficult to figure out a life without him.
I have a friend, one of my closest friends, and she is single and she said you know, problem hogi, but once you get used to it, it’s a wonderful life to be single (laughs). This is how she put it to me.
In the end, you will reclaim your life. You will finally know who Sutapa is, because tera thoda tendency tha, tu bhool gayi thi apne ko. She is very critical of me because she thinks I am a great writer and I did not give enough justice to my own talent vis-a-vis my family.
I am saying, nobody is stopping me, I have the time and I can do anything I want, but the entire feeling to surge ahead alone, as of now it’s not there. Maybe tomorrow it will come, how long can I stay in this state of, you know, just writing things about him, thinking about him and talking about him… There will be a time when I will go ahead, I guess, but abhi tak toh nahi hua.
Staying strong in the face of this loss – how difficult has that been?
I think I tried to be too strong, you know. I pretended to be too strong and I took to family responsibilities and duties and everything else. Too early, too strong.
My intellect comes in front of my emotional thing. Your mind is always controlling your emotions. I don’t talk to people (about such topics) because I find it so embarrassing to cry in front of people, you know. So probably that’s why I didn’t cry as much as I should have. I don’t know. Probably it’s all bottled inside.
And then last month I went for the marriage of Irrfan’s brother’s son. I can’t take a flight, it makes me claustrophobic. So I drove down to Jaipur from Mumbai. And when I went there, I just cried, and cried. I cried uncontrollably for days… for seven-eight days. 24/7 I cried. I’m not sure why… One, I think, my children were not there with me, I had gone alone – I didn’t have to be strong. And secondly, I don’t know what happened, maybe it’s the place and he was there, since it’s Rajasthan.
I think it still holds that connection and it’s very strange, you know, I do get hints of him being around.
Irrfan and I have a very strange connection – both of us loved the rain. And both of us would joke – if it was very hot and Irrfan was going to shoot somewhere, he would be like ‘
bahut garmi hai dekhte hain na…’ and it would rain the next day. And he would say, ‘
Dekha? I got the rain!’ So you know, we always had this rain connection, this joke.
And when I went to Jaipur, it was a very hot day – and then, that night, it rained! The weather wasn’t like that at all earlier. It felt so strange that it rained. But that wasn’t all.
When I was travelling back on the Jaipur-Mumbai highway, Google Maps told us that there was congestion and suggested an alternate route. My driver also didn’t understand it, we thought it must be a short diversion for a bit, we took it anyway. It was an unfamiliar road, I kept seeing where we were going and then I was like – Oh my God! We are going via Tonk!
Tonk is the place he belonged to. Initially, I had planned to go to Tonk when I came to Jaipur but then had cancelled it because of the COVID situation – and then I find I am, despite that decision, finally going via Tonk. Drawn there, sort of.
And also, you know, sometimes there is this smell thing. Woh jo baarish ki jo geeli mitti ki khushboo jo Rajasthan k
i hoti hai na woh Bombay
ki nahi hoti. Sab ki alag-alag hoti hai. So this happened in Bombay. Woh jaise baarish giri aur woh khushboo aayi na meri naak mein, main chhatt pe khadi thi, ek dum se na mujhe laga – My God! Matlab, I could feel every inch of his face. I could feel him saying that aisi khushboo toh nahi aati na Bombay mein? I could actually, literally feel him. It’s that.
And there are things like that when I literally feel that suddenly there is some fragrance of some flowers. And it comes and it travels and it goes. I’m not a person who would believe in such things, but woh kuch cheezein aisi hoti hain ki aap ko aisa lagta hai ki they are signs from the universe. I don’t know what it is.
It’s not that I am looking for a connect – dekha 11-11-11 ko yeh hua tha. I am not that kind of a person at all. But there are things where I feel suddenly that you know, as if everything is the same. He is around, he is just not physically present. That’s it.
Is it comforting or unsettling?
It’s a comforting thought.
Did you see last April coming, given the backdrop of the past two years?
No! Two months before he passed away, we were thinking of planning a holiday. In spite of every doctor, everybody telling me this is going to happen sometime or the other. But at the same time, they also said that people do survive for five years and 10 years etc… So we were never actually mentally prepared. Then, we would look at reports and they tend to become better so it’s… I don’t know. I mean people say a
ap ko toh andaza hoga ki itni buri beemari hai. Lekin mere ko really andaza nahi tha. I always had hope that he would recover…
He was actually looking at a script and that’s why I am saying that he was not prepared. He was looking at a script for him and Babil. He was like, ‘Babil ka yehi raha na ki acting hi karna hai toh yeh jo film aa rahi hai na, Sutapa…’ It was a very nice film about a coach who trains some specially-abled children for a football tournament and a win. And he said, ‘I want to do it with him. I would like to act or direct, maybe if I can’t act, I’ll direct. But maybe I would like to act…’. That was the kind of dreams and plans and everything and then suddenly… I don’t know…
Although I don’t think he wanted to act so much anymore, you know. Because he had started enjoying this time we had. We saw films and good plays in London and we spent time together with the kids and did everything which we had not for long, long, long time because he was so busy. So maybe he was just waiting ki theek bhi ho jaoon na toh wohi ek film karunga saal mein and I’ll spend my time with my family. That remained unfulfilled… because it was not in destiny, I guess.
He was not into shoharat anymore. He was not ki main famous ban jaoon aur ab aur karna hai, but he loved to do films. He would have loved to do the film with Iñárritu (Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director of movies such as Birdman and The Revenant). It actually came to him. I came to know later, when Mira Nair said that the director got in touch with her and he wanted to cast him. And he was Irrfan’s favourite director. And Irrfan didn’t even know and went away without knowing that this has happened. It is only after his death that Mira spoke of it. So destiny is so interesting and funny. You don’t know what you plan, and he was planning ahead, so I don’t know what it is…
His courage and curiosity – did they stay in that difficult period with him?
You know, yes. I have to say that he had his unique relationship with death, with the concept of death. It was there since we were students in NSD. Since then, I heard him casually speaking – because his father had also expired before he came to NSD, he always said – kya hota kya hai death ke baad? You know, you’d feel very strange – a 23-year-old talking about death. He would not say ki main mar jaunga, but always explored death as a concept.
So every play we did, I remember him mulling, and if that play had the concept of death etc, I saw him always giving it a lot of attention. From there, it travelled to a kind of a fear – what if I die? I am not talking about now, I am talking about 15 years back. So curiosity, then fear and then fear of claustrophobia, that he even dealt with now. But in this final two and a half years, he was not scared of death anymore. He was not scared, but still of course he wanted to live. It’s not black and white. He still wanted to grow a forest, he wanted to do a lot of social work…
What was his philosophy, his approach to life and death, especially in the last two years?
Mere ko toh yeh bhi lagta tha ki he will make his own religion! If nothing had happened, cancer had not happened even then. Even then, he was destined to leave this showbiz and go on some search of his own. He was on the journey of a search, of himself, of this world, bigger things than this world, parallel reality, parallel world. He was constantly into it – reading and studying, you know. He was like a… kaise main kahoon, matlab ek yatri hota hai na duniya mein? That this is the only reality – he did not believe in it. Religion for him was spirituality. During this period, he read the Upanishads, he read Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Vivekananda… but he was never a typically ‘religious’ person. Osho, Mahaveer, he read everything.
I don’t know how to tell people that he was beyond your comprehension. Somebody asked me what is the fittest tribute you can give to Irrfan? Maine kaha, by not being guided by any religion but by being true to yourself and by literally and truly being just a human being without any tag – Mr/Mrs/gender/religion – that would be the greatest tribute you can give. Even one person, even I, Sutapa. I am keeping my fast, imagine. Irrfan was not a practising Muslim, I never converted, I am a Hindu, but I am keeping fast.
Because I don’t know why… I feel at night when I break my fast and meditate to God. See. I have not read the Quran so I don’t know (the rituals). I do it in my own way. That’s what Irrfan has taught me – that I don’t have to convert and be a Muslim to keep rozas and to converse with Allah. Irrfan couldn’t fast, though he wanted desperately to in the last two years. He would say ki ek din hafte mein main fasting karunga hi. And he gave a shock to his relatives saying, ‘
Maine soch liya hai ki main somvaar ka fast karunga, Shivji ka din hota hai’. That’s how we have been.
Irrfan believed in one religion, one God. He was not a non-believer, though he was not a practising Muslim. He did not believe that you can reach the Supreme through only one way. Ki agar aap Muslim hai toh tabhi pahunch paoge, ya agar aap Hindu ho tabhi pahunch paoge. Koi bhi pahunch sakta hai, aap ka tareeka alag ho sakta hai. But he definitely did not believe in rituals, he thought it was actually a waste of time and energy – all the rituals of all religions. His whole life went into looking for “
neeyat”. He just believed in it so, so strongly ki humari neeyat mein koi khot nahi aani chahiye, chahe aap kuch bhi kar lo.
And I just go by what Irrfan had told me, that Ramzan is a month of introspection. I am keeping my rozas for introspection, introspection of what I am and what are the wrong things I have, so that I watch, I look at myself. I look at every action of my life and that is what Irrfan always taught me. He always told me, ‘Sutapa tum bahut hadbadi karti ho. Yaar ruko, dekho, introspect karo, apne har movement
So, yes, I introspect.