Popular Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 67, had a religious streak in him that made him hit the road frequently. It was way back in October 2003 that an aide to Kapoor called up Rajendra Jondhale, the PRO and security chief of the world-renowned Shani Shingnapur Temple in Ahmednagar, saying the actor was planning to come for a ï¿½darshan’ after visiting the Shirdi temple of Saibaba.
“We decided to follow the traditions and the people of Shani Shingnapur gave him a rousing reception. He changed into a saffron ‘dhoti’ and a dark angavastram’ as we escorted him to the open temple dedicated to Lord Shanidev Maharaj,” Jondhale told IANS.
Since it was almost lunch time, Kapoor accepted Jondhale’s invite and visited his residence in the village to join his family, sitting on the floor to enjoy a typical Maharashtrian vegetarian lunch.
“It was prepared by my wife Ujjwala, with our two minor sons — Akshay, now an accountant who is married, and Gaurav who will soon join the Merchant Navy — watching in excitement. Rishi Kapoor Sir enjoyed a hearty meal of ï¿½methi-bhaji, bhakri, chutney and raw onions’ with us,” reminisced Jondhale.
“I briefed him about the temple history, how the entire village has no doors or locks and yet it is secure thanks to the blessings of Lord Shani Maharaj and other details, which he listened with great attention,” he added.
Later, he went around the village in a casual T-shirt and Bermuda shorts as a large flock of children and youth trailed him like the Pied Piper.
As he prepared to leave, a local journalist, Vinayak Darandale, and others suggested that he could consider visiting the nearby Sonai village and join the traditional ‘navratri’ celebrations which are observed on a grand scale there.
“He readily agreed and we all started for Sonai. That evening, hundreds of thrilled locals welcomed him with cheers and claps, felicitated him on the stage with flowers, and he even addressed the gathering briefly in a mix of Hindi and Marathi,” Darandale told IANS.
Unlike most celebrities who abhor or shun crowds, Rishi Kapoor would plunge headlong into such gatherings and spontaneously interact with the people without worries, instantly endearing himself to all.
“He was so impressed by the people of both the villages, the legends surrounding Shani Shingnapur and Sonai, besides the natural beauty that he made it a point to go there at least once every year. I believe the last trip he made here was around 4-5 years ago,” Darandale said.
On hearing of the actor’s untimely demise, Jondhale was rendered speechless at his new workplace, as the PRO of Bhadra Maruti Sansthan Temple in Khultabad, near Aurangabad.
A pall of gloom descended over Shani Shingnapur and Sonai with Darandale and others in both the villages in a mournful state.
Unable to move around due to the lockdown, they nevertheless recalled the actor’s frequent visits and shared memories of his interactions with the commoners there.