Thought Box



by HUMRA QURAISHI July 7 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 51 secs

From Sufis seeking solace in Kashmir to the tragic genius of Guru Dutt, and the controversial escape of Bhole Baba—Humra Quraishi explores unanswered questions in vast spaces of history and contemporary events.

Will the self-styled godman Narayan Sakar Hari, also known as Bhole Baba, go unpunished? He and his followers have already started blaming "anti-social elements" for the deadly stampede during his 'satsang' (religious gathering) on July 2nd, in a village in Uttar Pradesh's Hathras, which killed 121 people and left many more injured and devastated.

Bhole Baba and his aides seem to be hiding in some safe refuge. As of the afternoon of July 4th, he remains beyond the reach of the police force. It appears that a certain political lobby and certain politicians are adopting an obvious strategy to protect this controversial man, who has a tainted past. He was reportedly forced into compulsory retirement from the police department, where he served as a constable, after facing serious charges

Given this background, is it safe to let this man go scot-free? Also, why label this entire tragedy a “conspiracy” when the Sub-Divisional Magistrate’s (SDM) preliminary report on the stampede states: “A crowd of more than 200,000 people was present in the pandal. Around 1:40 pm, when Bhole Baba came out, his followers started running towards him for ‘darshan’ and to collect the soil on which he had walked. Baba’s personal security and ‘sevadars’ began pushing and shoving the crowd, causing some people to fall. The crowd ran towards the open field, where most people slipped and fell due to the wet slope.” Incidentally, this SDM, who gave permission for the ‘satsang’, was present at the venue when the incident occurred.


On several past birthdays of Guru Dutt, I made it a point to read, or rather re-read, Sathya Saran’s book "Ten Years With Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi’s Journey" (Penguin). This book, launched several summers ago, captures many details about Guru Dutt, the genius filmmaker, and actor. In fact, let me add, Guru Dutt was a great-looking genius! His emotionally charged eyes conveyed much. He was one of those men equipped with a set of potent eyes!

Though I never met him, I have been his ardent admirer. Each time I saw him on the big screen, I felt drawn to his emotion-laden eyes. Of course, this is not to brush aside all the melancholy surrounding his personality, which culminated in his tragic decision to take his life at the age of 39.

Given this background, I never miss reading anything related to him. I have read every possible piece of information on him. I also viewed Nasreen Munni Kabir’s documentary film "In Search of Guru Dutt." I was keen to find answers to the tragic suspense - why did Guru Dutt kill himself? Why was he going through such severe depression? Why couldn’t his immediate family be there for him? Why was he left all alone that night when he was in acute depression, leading him to end his life?

In the documentary, when Waheeda Rahman appeared on the screen, one hoped she would offer relevant insights. However, she spoke in a well-guarded manner, focusing only on his films and avoiding personal details. This left me hugely disappointed.

In contrast, Guru Dutt’s sister, Lalitha Lajmi, spoke candidly in the documentary. As the camera focused on her, her eyes seemed to focus on the floor as she said her brother Guru Dutt had a personality best described as “disturbed.” She revealed that he had previously attempted suicide and was once in a coma for three days. Lalitha Lajmi mentioned that when they found him dead, one of his hands was outstretched as if he wanted to get up.

As the camera focused on Guru Dutt’s mother, sitting on what seemed a wooden bed or takht, she described his childhood personality traits in a matter-of-fact tone: “He was very stubborn (ziddi) and did whatever obsessed him. Sometimes, he would ask such questions that I thought I would go crazy answering them.”

Unfortunately, none of them could shed light on the immediate reason for the drastic step Guru Dutt took. Why did he kill himself? What was so upsetting that led to his tragic end?

Abrar Alvi, his favourite scriptwriter, mentioned that on the evening before his suicide, he found Guru Dutt in a depressed state. Alvi shared, “I had reached his home around 6 pm to discuss the final scene of the film in making ‘Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi’ but found him drinking since early evening. He was talking in a morbid way. I spent the whole time trying to get him out of those morbid thoughts. I left his home around 1 a.m., when I was sure he had come out of that depression and was okay. But then, the next morning, I heard he was no more.”

The film personalities interviewed in the documentary, including Johnny Walker, Raj Khosla, Murthy (his chief cameraman), and Abrar Alvi, could not pinpoint the exact cause of the severe depression that led to his ultimate end.

All the commentators reached a single conclusion: Guru Dutt was a little too sensitive, a little too different, and a little too passionate and humane for the Bollywood industry. One commentator even said that if Guru Dutt ever lied, his ears would blush! Obviously, such an emotionally sensitive man could hardly survive in the harsh world of the film industry.


On the recently passed World Refugee Day (June 20), I have been reflecting on the Sufis who came from the Central Asian Republics, Iraq, and Iran, seeking refuge in the Kashmir Valley. They reached the Valley and did not move further, settling down with the local population accepting them.

Their dargahs and ziarats, dotted in and around Srinagar city, remind us of that historical period when these Sufis travelled to the Kashmir Valley. Many arrived as refugees, fleeing their home countries in search of peace. In all probability, they found such tranquillity in the Kashmir Valley that none of them returned to their homelands.

Look how times have changed. Today, refugees worldwide find it increasingly difficult to settle. Ironically, even in a city like New Delhi, where those affected by the Partition found refuge, most seem to have forgotten those trying times. There seems to be little effort to reach out to present-day refugees living in the city. While today's refugees may not turn into Sufis or demonstrate mystical powers, they should be accepted as they are.

Do not overlook the fact that seeking refuge is a state of mind. Many times, we mentally transport ourselves by closing our eyes, finding ways to escape from one situation to another, which might be slightly further away from painful realities and insecurities of the day.  

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.