Book Reviews

Balraj My Brother

Balraj My Brother by Bhisham Sahni
NBT, New Delhi, 1981, 154 pages

About the Author:

Bhisham Sahni (1915-2003) was an eminent Hindi writer, playwright and an actor. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan for literature in 1998. He was also honoured with Shiromani Writers Award, Colour of Nation Award at Russia, Kala Sahitya Parishad Award, Lotus Award from Afro-Asian Writers’ Association, Soviet Land Nehru Award, Sahitya Akademi Fellowship and several more accolades.

His noted works are:  Tamas, Pali, Amritsar Aa Gaya Hai, Jarokhe, Kadian, Basanti, Neeloo Neelima and Nilofar to name a few. He also wrote over ten collections of stories.

About the Book:

‘Balraj My Brother’ is the biography of the noted film and theatre personality and Punjabi author Padma Shri Awardee Balraj Sahni (1913-1973). The author of the book, Bhisham Sahni, was an eminent Hindi writer and Balraj Sahni’s younger brother. The author presents Balraj Sahni’s life acquainting the readers with the sources and strengths contributing to his radiant, charming personality; the struggles and successes that he met in the journey of his life.

Balraj Sahni’s childhood, spent in Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan) in an Arya Samajist orthodox home environment is very beautifully portrayed in the book as the author recounts the influence of the social reforms launched by Arya Samaj on young Balraj Sahni’s mind and heart who always craved for new pastures, was never discouraged by the unexpected twists and turns that he rather enjoyed and successfully reached the summits.

Divided into eight chapters, the book is the most authentic account of the actor’s life.

The prevalent social and cultural customs, traditions in the religious set up of pre-independence society, along with the superstitions and orthodox sternness in the family had everlasting implications on Balraj Sahni. The noble values imbibed in childhood continued with him throughout his life. Talking of his acts of greatness, the author writes:

‘When his situation as a screen actor improved, and money started coming in, he began to feel more and more concerned about the needs of others.’ (p.152)

The revolutionary yet decent Balraj Sahni’s attitude in terms of non-acceptance of ages long ceremonies and a set path of life is very tactfully described in the book. His denial to continue Gurukul education in childhood; courage to put forth his choice of a particular college as opposed to his father’s choice are examples of the independent thinking and firm decision making qualities. The author, at certain instances, supports his ways of living:

‘And soon enough Balraj was talking in English in the house, much to the annoyance of mother, who could not make head or tail of what was said. There was however, nothing unique or untoward in this.’ (p.18)

The influence of freedom struggle especially the execution of Bhagat Singh had a great impact on Balraj Sahni’s thinking, whose poem is quoted by the author (from his memory):

‘Remember then, my departed brother
To send thy soul on earth again if Lord ordains.’
(Excerpts from the poem, p.19)

The author appreciates the literary qualities of Balraj Sahni, who was also the editor of several literary journals in his college years and authored six books - Balraj Sahni-An Autobiography, Mera Pakistani Safarnama, Mera Russi Safarnama, Kamey, Ek Safar Ek Daastaan and Gair Jazbaati Diary.

‘Balraj possessed a sense of rhythm, a powerful imagination and intensity of feeling – the three requisites of a good artist.’ (p.22)

The author enlists the daring and courageous steps Balraj Sahni took such as leaving his father’s well settled business and opting to move to Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan and later to Gandhiji’s Sevagram and from there to work for BBC in London before returning to India and then taking a final leap to Bombay (Mumbai) to work in Cinema. The author remembers his conversation with his father:

‘Give me your blessings and let me go. I shall certainly find something to do.’ (p.47)

The well carved out reasonable and optimistic attitude of his mother also played an important role in Balraj Sahni’s life, as the author quotes the progressive and broadminded outlook of his mother which certainly proved to be a supporting pillar in the actor’s life:

‘Every fledgling flies out of its parent’s nest when it grows wings; you should be happy that our son is eager to stand on his own.’ (p.48)

The sufferings that, at some point of time, proved to be inspirational and at other times, detrimental in Balraj Sahni’s life have been presented in such heart-touching words that the readers actually feel the pain that the actor must have gone through, especially when the author writes about the heartbroken Balraj Sahni who lost his wife, Damyanti and his young daughter, Shabnam. The author has dedicated the book to Shabnam who was much loved and adored by all and whose death broke something in Balraj Sahni that could never be mended.

The author quotes from Balraj Sahni’s letter dated 3rd March 1973:

‘A year has passed since dear Shabnam left us forever. I do not have the courage to ask anyone what the exact date of her death was….(p.146)

...As I started walking back home, I felt as though I heard Shabnam’s voice calling me, ‘Come on, Daddy! Daddy, come on!’ (p.148)

Balraj Sahni was honoured not only in the world of cinema and theatre but also in the literary field. In November 1971 he was invited to deliver the convocation address at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. ‘It was the first time,’ says the author, ‘that a film artist had been so honoured.’  Remembering his elder brother with great reverence, the author writes:

‘Nothing gave him greater joy than mixing with people, travelling in buses and trains and rubbing shoulders with all and sundry.’ (p.154)

The book ‘Balraj My Brother’ is an authentic biography of Padma Shri Balraj Sahni, whose charming personality and par excellence acting skills touch every aspect of human life bringing to light the sufferings and sorrows of the underprivileged strata of society sparkling hope and cheer among them.


More by :  Dr. Giti Tyagi

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