'Pain can be very beautiful, too. You
start feeling, yaar, maza aa raha hai'

Ihave a complex that I'm not a muscular man. Yeh chhaati chowdi karke, aur sehat karke… I didn't even accept costume dramas as they did not suit me." Uncle what about Hindustan Hamara in 1950? Your Krishna Bhagwan was cute as a button. "I did it only for my friend Paul Zils. I hated doing Insaaniyat (1955), too. They stuck a moustache on me." Aah! the only film with Dilip Kumar…

Okay, don't get mad now, but many call you a non-actor, like Cary Grant. "My range, my stay, my span speaks for itself. I'm not just a fluke, am I? It cannot be! Koi kuchh bhi bol deta hai. Go ahead, enjoy yourself, I say. Tomorrow is another day." My heart hurtles to him. Given my bias, maybe it doesn't count, but I think he was a good actor through the sixties. Navketan deliberately planned films with a spectrum of roles, and he acquitted himself with honour.

With Dharmendra But, Guide was something else again… "The world will say that -- because it was a climax from the point of view of film-making, story material and thought. It was a great book. Yet, you can't compare every film with it. Whatever I may do, they love me only in romance." That's not true, I wail. He has a strange smile: he knows I'm lying.

I realise that I've stopped seeing the shadow of my dreams as the pain in the eyes of the real man comes into focus. I recall someone saying that Devsaab is a very detached man, that nothing gets to him. Although at that time a Heathcliffe-like image added to his charm, I don't buy it anymore. I'm convinced that the feet of my idol are made of vulnerable flesh.

"I have faced so many losses in my personal life and in this business. People try to rein me in. if I listen to them, main khatm ho jaoonga. To main akela ho jata hoon -- I read, I write, I create. My solitude helps me to pick up something of greater interest. Or, I may travel abroad and meet new people, see new places: that gives me inspiration for creativity. Aise karke detachment develop ho gaya. The trick is to look forward with excitement, then you're alive all the time. That's the way to be perennially young."

Dev Anand Uncle, it is hardly an acquired trait. Are you telling me that you do not hurt inside? "Did I say so? I'm a possessive man: when my loved ones go away, jhatka lagta hai. Ekdum takk-se ho jata hai. But pain can be very beautiful, too. You start feeling, yaar, maza aa raha hai. Koi baat nahi, duniya me aisa hi hota hai, that is the process of growth. Remember the philosophy from Guide: Dukh woh amrit hai jis-se paap dhote hain… Zindagi ek khayal hai; na sukh hai, na dukh hai, na deed hai, na duniya. Na insaan, na bhagwan - sirf main hoon, main hoon… Sirf main. Detachment is a difficult process, but it can be done. You must control yourself and mature; or you may end up in an asylum, a jail, or as an alcoholic."

Images of Guru Dutt flash before my eyes, of Kaghaz Ke Phool, of his untimely demise: He never developed detachment. I say so. Also, that this is turning out to be rather gut-twisting. Where are the stars in my eyes I had come with?

"Chalo, I'll tell you something amusing from when I was employed with Prabhat for my first film (Hum Ek Hain, 1945). One day, the dhobi mixed up my laundry. I went looking for my shirts and found them with the assistant director/choreographer of Vishram Bedekar. That's how Guru (Dutt) and I met and became pals. We were a set. We made a pact that, some day, ours would be a Jimmy Stewart/Frank Capra-like alliance. After Afsar (1950) flopped, I told Chetan to bring in Guru for Baazi (1951). What novelties it introduced: Geeta Bali and I; Balraj Sahani's script; Johnny Walker's, my wife's and Sahir's first film; the S D Burman/Sahir combination… Then Guru set up his production, and I starred in Jaal (1952). He became a big director."

With Madhubala But you never worked with him again. Shrug: "Meri kitaab badi zabardast likhoonga. I joined films on July 19, 1945. I will go into the 21st century -- Dev Anand has something to say after five decades in this great profession. Real education is what life teaches you, your contact with humanity, your starvation, your observations, your frustrations, joys and sufferings. Duniya ko nahi pata hai maine yeh kitni baaten tere saath ki hain."

I sense that he is spent. I, too, have an ache in my clenched jaws and a lump in my throat: I know that this evening has robbed me of all the pleasures of yearning, of swooning over 'Karan' and his makhmal ki topi. I have been stripped of my fantasies.

To top it all, I can't be absolutely certain of his sincerity. After a half a century of charming people with his little toe, I was a push-over, anyway. He interrupts my thoughts, "Teri humne koi khaatir bhi nahi ki…" Uncle, it's late, I have to go. In any case, you made me wait for an hour just for that BBC crew. "Apne samajh sakte hain." Hmmm… verry charming. It doesn't wash, but what the hell: if not Devsaab, then who? I realise that he hasn't really used his legendary charms on me. I don't know if I'm not insulted.

However, I do know that everything is changed. A part of my life has vanished forever. I may never see him again; our paths have no reason to cross. The lump intensifies. Devsaab escorts me to the lift. Before getting in, I have one request -- Uncle, may I touch your face? He is a little startled, "Yes, of course!" I feel the dent. I touch his cheeks. "Thank you. God bless you", he says.

KD Lang croons on the car radio: Constant craving… Has always been… I cry all the way home.

Yaar, kuchh-kuchh maza aa raha hai…