It was a terribly warm day in mid-May; the outside temperature was in excess of 40∘C. I had wound up early from the office and was driving back to Noida. I wanted to get home fast. A traffic jam on the Ashram flyover had caused a holdup. I entered the Delhi-Noida-Delhi Expressway and heaved a sigh of relief. “I can speed up now.” I thought. Just then, I saw a man on foot, about a hundred metres ahead, dragging a motorbike.
I stopped by his side, lowered the glass and asked him if I could be of any assistance. He was sweating at each pore. Wiping his forehead, he said, “ Sir, my bike is not starting. I don’t think you can do anything.”
“Don’t tell me you will drag your bike four kms across the DND Flyway in this scorching heat.”
“I don’t have a choice.”
By then I had come out of the car. “Why don’t you lock your bike and come along with me to Noida and get a mechanic.”
“Sir it will be a big exercise, if the mechanic is unable to detect the fault. Besides, he’ll fleece me for coming here. Please do not bother. I’ll manage. Thanks anyway.”
He was in a pitiable condition. I wanted to help him somehow. I had my towrope in the car. And I had had sufficient experience of towing cars––until then I had towed more than sixty cars on Delhi roads. “Would I be able to tow a bike behind my car?” I debated in my mind. “I just have to tow the bike the way I have been towing cars. It is this guy who has to balance the bike.”
“I have a towrope. What if I tow your bike?” I asked him. “Will you be able to manage? It’s a long distance.”
“I can give it a try.” He was hesitant.
“Are you sure? It will be a tad risky.”
He mustered courage and said, “I’ll do it.”
I tied the towrope to his bike and connected it to my car. I then briefed him on the hand signals that I would use along the way. And finally, I briefed him about the likely emergencies, and the actions in those situations. I wished him good luck and settled in my car.
Thumbs up! And we rolled slowly. I gained confidence as we moved. I had an eye on him in the rear view mirror. I gave him another thumbs up; this time, to indicate that I was going to accelerate. He smiled and gave me thumbs up to go ahead. I was tense all along the way, worrying about his safety.
When we reached the tollbooth at the other end of the DND Flyway, I disengaged the bike to get past the barrier and asked him to re-join me on the other side. When we met on the other side, he looked at the IAF stickers on my windscreen and enquired, “Sir, are you from the Air Force.”
“Yes, I am a Wing Commander,” I nodded.
With gratitude in his eyes, he said a few sentences in praise of the armed forces. I cut him short politely and asked him to reposition his bike for towing further, he said that it was OK and that he would manage further. When I said I had no issues towing him up to a mechanic, he said that he had to go close by. “Sir, Thank you so much. Please don’t bother anymore. I have to go to the Film City. It is just here.”
“Do you work there?”
“Yes Sir, I am a makeup artist,” he said with a sense of pride.
I was impressed. I posed to look smart, and winked, “Can you make me look like Shah Rukh Khan?” That question was just for fun; I didn’t want an answer.
He smiled and said, “Sir, you must be joking. Shah Rukh Khan is just an actor. You are a real hero. Does he do what you are doing? If at all, the likes of Shah Rukh Khan must crave to be you; act your role.” He gave a pause and winked back at me and said, “In any case it would be easier for me to make you look like Anupam Kher rather than Shah Rukh Khan.”
We parted on that light note.
My book on Operation Cactus had been published (I had participated in that Operation in November 1988). Discovery channel had telecast a documentary on Operation Cactus (they had given me the credit as ‘Episode Consultant’). Bollywood producers had expressed a desire to make a feature film on Operation Cactus.
I was sitting with two producers, a director and a scriptwriter and was discussing the film in Mumbai. I recalled with a sense of déjà vu what the makeup artist had said that day. I thought, “If all goes well, a Bollywood star would be acting my role in the film.”