In conversation with Waheeda Rehman

 In this extract from the book Conversations with Waheeda Rehman, Nasreen Munni Kabir reveals a little-known aspect of the yesteryear star’s life - her role as an understanding mother, caring wife and down-to-earth woman.

Were you a strict parent?

I was a little strict when my children were young. My mother was quite strict with us girls. I felt Shashi was too lenient. He said yes to everything that Sohail and Kashvi wanted. I don’t believe in being rigid. That’s too suffocating. You can break some rules, but discipline is still a good thing. Now the children have grown up. We talk and fight too. 

They aren’t scared of me any more. They know I am fine with whatever they choose to do, but I don’t want an outsider telling me what they’re up to. I always tell them: ‘I may shout and scream at you, and even if I get angry, it will be for a short time. If you do something wrong, I am bound to get upset. But it doesn’t mean you should not confide in me. I am your mother and am always there for you.’

Sohail and Kashvi live with me here at Sahil. They aren’t married. You know nowadays young people talk of chemistry. I see many people divorcing around me, and so I don’t force them to get married. I think they should just be happy and healthy.
Given the emphasis today on everyone looking young, especially celebrities, I am sure people have asked why you decided not to colour your hair. 

My mother did not have a single grey hair. My father turned grey young, and my sisters and I took after him. And because we were making films in colour in the 1970s, I had to start dyeing my hair. 

In 1997, my husband had his first stroke. A week later my mother-in-law fell and broke her hip and needed hospitalisation. There was chaos in the house - the kind of chaos they show in the movies. I remember once telling a producer: ‘Why must you show tragedy after tragedy befalling the same family?’ He smiled and said one day I would see that life could sometimes turn out like that. I realised he was right. 

My husband was unwell, my cook had left, it was pouring cats and dogs, the car wasn’t working as the brakes had failed, we had no electricity and, on top of all that, for two days the phone was out of order - disaster means disaster! I had to cook, look after my husband and run back and forth to the hospital, as my mother-in-law was frantically worried about Shashi.

There was no time to colour my hair and by the time things had settled down, my hair had turned grey. That’s when I decided to stop colouring it. When I came to Bombay for the first time after that and my friends saw me, they looked shocked - Nanda, Salim Saab, everyone. I said my children were grown, and Shashi had silvery hair, so why not me? 

Mrs Krishna Raj Kapoor saw me in a shop one day and was taken aback. She said: ‘Waheeda, what have you done? I am so much older than you. Go straight to the saloon and get your hair dyed!’ [we laugh]

Another funny thing happened. Sunil Dutt was in the ICU because he had suffered a stroke and was paralysed. He had been extremely helpful in getting my brother-in-law admitted to Sloan–Kettering in New York. Sunil Dutt knew everyone there because that’s where Nargisji was treated for cancer. 

When I entered his room in the hospital, and Sunilji saw me all grey, he was startled and said: ‘Waheedaji, what’s wrong? Shall I call the nurse? Why have you turned grey all of a sudden?’ 

‘It didn’t happen all of a sudden. I just stopped dyeing my hair. That’s all. You’re a grandfather now and we aren’t young any more.’ He laughed.
(The book is published by Penguin India)

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