Pankaj Kapur and Shahid Kapoor
Pankaj Kapur with his son Shahid Image Credit: Instagram/shahidkapoor

As the quote goes, it’s hard to believe in coincidence, but it’s even harder to believe in anything else. Coincidences are an inevitable part of life. We all have them. I’ve had my fair share too — some forgettable ones but many memorable ones as well. However, one coincidence stands out for its spontaneity, pleasantness and unlikelihood.

In 2013, I was idling away with a couple of friends at a popular restaurant — Ahdoos. Established in 1918, Ahdoos has a certain aura about it and it’s a favourite hangout of journalists, lawyers, academics, politicians, visiting diplomats and, of course, tourists. Ahdoos, to me, is a tea connoisseur’s delight. Its perfectly brewed tea comes with delectable king-size chicken patties.

On that bright spring day, I had the company of Kalpana and Nasrun. Kalpana is an epicurean, a hard-core non-vegetarian whose fetish for bones is legendary. Her bone crunching ability can put a spotted hyena to shame.

Nasrun is a warm, happy-go-lucky guy with whom I share my love for tea. Settled in UK now, he has a unique English accent which is neither British nor American; it surely isn’t Australian either.

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As the three of us were chitchatting, the conversation veered towards art, movies, actors and all that. I had watched the Bollywood movie Maqbool the previous night, for the dozenth time, I guess, since its release in 2003.

So I was just sharing my impression and how I loved the movie, especially Abbaji’s character played by Pankaj Kapoor.

Kapoor’s range of acting is breathtaking and very few actors can match his ability to modulate the voice.

It’s remarkable how easily he could bridge the gap between a worldly unwise and innocent Musaddi Lal from Office Office and the brutal, coldhearted Abbaji from Maqbool. And there is a lot before, after and in between these two characters.

As I was engrossed in my non-stop commentary on the great artist and his feats, Nasrun blurted out: “Shabir bhai, Pankaj Kapoor.” I turned around and instantly recognised Supriya Pathak, a terrific actress in her own right, in the dimly lit ambience.

I couldn’t see Pankaj Kapoor who was by that time seated behind the polished woodwork. I had to make a little adjustment and stick my neck out to see him. A collage of his performances from the small screen to the silver screen flashed before me.

What a coincidence! So abrupt, so pleasant and so exciting! We looked at each other in disbelief and decided we would let them enjoy the meal and meet them after they were done.

It was interesting in more ways than one that in a jam-packed hall and the spacious compartments of the restaurant, almost nobody seemed to have noticed them.

Beautiful moments at a busy food joint

While they were lunching with their son and daughter, I marvelled at how lucky he was that he wasn’t crowded by people unlike many much less illustrious actors, riding on their stardom, who didn’t have such luxury. Here was a legend, an actor’s actor having his calm, beautiful moments at a busy food joint with his beautiful family.

When they were done with lunch in half an hour or so, we walked up to them.

We introduced ourselves and my two friends told him how big a fan I was before I told the legend how much I loved and respected him for his mastery over his craft across genres. I told him how he had been mesmerising me since school days and that he was an all-time great.

A modest arey sahab, arey sahab was all he would say, while blushing. I was floored by his humility. The joy on Supriya’s face wasn’t lost on me as I was talking to him. She was a proud wife. His children were equally delighted.

For me, those moments were an experience of a lifetime and also a lesson on how you can touch the skies and yet have your feet on the ground. We talked for barely a few minutes before leaving them alone but this one coincidence was going to be a part of me as long as I could breathe.

Shabir Hussain is a journalist based in India