Awtar-2 (What might have happened on Apr 19 & 20, 1974)

On Apr 20, 1974, news of Awtar Kaul’s dramatic death had spread in the film and art circles like a wild fire. Especially owners and staff of Samovar and Gaylord were badly shocked, since they knew Awtar, as a bright new filmmaker and as their regular visitor. Everyone had something to talk about him. Conversations heard on ‘Apr 19’ became the backbone of the story ‘what might have happened.’ After these ‘snippets of conversations’ of his friends and people from these establishments were pieced together, there emerged a believable story line, with a time line of, not more than 12-14 hours.

First piece from Arab Bungalow (Patel family home):
Apr 19, 1974, morning. No one can have any idea exactly what time Awtar left home. Getting out could not be seen as an unusual activity for paying guests of the Patel family. Arun, his roommate too was a busy person by then. He may or may not have noticed him leaving. People go out for work, for fun, for a date or meetings… So his leaving home that day could not be seen as anything special – except that, that late morning Awtar went out for the last time.

Second piece provided by conversations at Samovar:
It is early afternoon, may be just before lunch, when Awtar got there. As Samovar staff knows their regular customers very well. Awtar would be talking about his film, its production, actors, future plans, his frustrations… to his friend Butani, a young independent journalist. She must have been scribbling all the details on her writing pad for press. It would be understood that they spend too much time at that restaurant or at some stage, may have gone away somewhere else. Their relationship was understood to be more than interviewer and interviewee. They met quite often and were together for long hours.

Third piece from a bar:
This is the most important piece of conversation that comes from a painter who narrated it to the cinematographer, Bir. This painter was a part of the group of at least three people, he himself, Awtar and the lady journalist Butani, who were carrying on from their lunch date at the Samovar. They were at the Ritz bar for a drink… after a while as they loosened up, the lady got too emotionally aggressive towards Awtar and let out steam. Due to this loud display of frustration from the woman, the painter now becomes familiar with the tangle between the two. Not only the painter; but ‘memory water marks’ of the scene are left on the staff of the bar too. Later these marks will turn into conversations for completing the story line…
In the end things become a bit calm. The group finishes wine and dine. They pay up. Awtar and the lady offer to drop their painter friend at his residence. He accepts. They take a taxi and head towards ‘White House’ at Walkeshwar via Marine drive.

Closing conversation from Walkeshwar:
Geography: The painter lived right down where the sea touches the wall of the apartment building. Situated on the right, at the lowest edge of White House, from a distance it looked like a studio apartment or even a garage. But for a painter like him, it must be a beautiful place to live, having unrestricted view of queen’s necklace, the sea and its proximity.
Painter: “After not so comfortable evening at the Ritz, Awtar and Butani came to drop me. They walked me right down till the last point. Nice of them. As I started a short walk to my house, they waited looking at me. They were being really very kind to me. It was a dark, no-moon night. Sea too was extremely noisy and rough due to peak of high tide. Tall waves were banging on the boundary wall of the building. I went inside my house but decided to keep the door open until they went away. I could see both of them talking to each other. Their actions were a bit heated now. I knew they had been having very bad emotional tiffs. I was changing and doing my usual chores. I thought they may be wanting to spend some more time with each other to thrash things out. I went in the toilet. When I came out, they were still there, but now the girl was standing on the parapet, screaming and gesturing towards Awtar and sea. She was throwing her arms all over! She seemed very very agitated. I was alarmed. Thinking of the neighbors getting disturbed, I decided to go out and cool them down. As I turned back after picking my keys, I saw Awtar standing on the parapet, in place of the woman! He was screaming his lungs out looking towards the sea with outstretched arms. I knew worst had happened! She had jumped in the swollen sea. As I got closer, I could see her being tossed up and down by the waves. Fearing for him, I moved towards Awtar to pull him down to safety. Due to the din, quite a few neighbors had woken up and were standing in their balconies. One of them threw down a nylon rope. I advanced towards Awtar to grab his shirt to bring him down. Just then the waves tossed the woman closer to the wall… and he too jumped down! He caught hold of her. In desperation we threw the rope for them. The girl had stopped trying to save herself. She had lost strength and was floating helplessly. Awtar was holding the rope; but he too was no match for the power of the sea. The waves banged him on the wall many times. They had separated now. Rope was of no use. Someone called up the fire brigade. Waves were now carrying them away from the wall and perhaps towards Chowpati beach. They seemed to have lost consciousness…
It may be a little before midnight, when I lost sight of them due to darkness and growing distance.”

Waves crashing at Marine Drive (Image for representation only)

Awtar-1 (Deadly drama )

April 19, 1974, 5 pm, ground floor of Arab Bungalow, Khetwadi main road, Girgaon, Bombay.
The day did not seem to be any different from earlier ones. Land lords of the large place, Patel family was going through its usual lazy chores. Jayantbhai, Bhabhi and Ba (grandmother) were sitting on the floor, as usual. Kids were back from school. Their servant Tukaram, brought tea from the kitchen for all of them. Arun, one of their paying guests was also hand over a cup. Between four people there were three different kinds of cups. Nobody in family think about it. Arun also did not seem to care. He was happy to be relaxing for a day from his grueling shooting schedules. Arun’s room partner Awtar Krishna Kaul, producer-director of an under production film titled, 27DN, had left before lunch to meet friends. His regular time-pass adda used to be Samovar at Kala Ghoda. It was the meeting place and savior for so many people of this city, who were either jobless, between jobs, strugglers, starry-eyed, writers, painters… People would order a cup of tea or a beer and stretch its contents to hours, unless suddenly a waiter slides the bill in front. With experience most of them knew when to renew the order well before a waiter got restless…
At 7pm Jayantbhai proudly switched on his Toshiba B&W TV, a star attraction for many. It made a regular gathering of about 15 guests feel very special, watching Chhaya Geet and other weekly movies. Those days it was a huge privilege to be in front of a TV. At 7.30pm Hindi news was scheduled. Jayantbhai and Arun would be anxious to watch it, because of the newsreader. She was a very pretty, young, dusky belle Smita Patil…
Among other political headlines Smita announced that national awards for films have been announced. Arun being a film person got interested. Later giving details of various awards, she said Awtar Krishna Kaul’s film ‘27DN’ had won national award in the best Hindi film category! Suddenly a spell of utter disbelief fell over everyone. Jaws dropped down. How could something so special happen to someone living right here inside their home? Their own paying guest? Might be a mistake. But when a clipping of the film was shown, the emotions tuned into a high-pitched excitement! Arun especially was so ecstatic. After all he was an assistant recordist in that film! Patel family boasted to all the TV watching neighbors that the news of the award was about their paying guests. Arun became an instant hero among them. Jayantbhai boasted, ‘Awtar has gone out right now… he and Arun live in that room there…’
As the national award news sunk in, something had to be done to celebrate it. They decided to organize a grand party to announce the news to Awtar and then celebrate with him. Arun and Jayantbhai went out and got a bottle of whiskey and a rum from a wine shop near Dreamland cinema. On their way back they picked up lot of snacks, like assorted bhajia, gathia, batata wada etc go with the drinks…

Jayant Patel, with whose family I stayed as paying guest, 1972-77

Awtar was still not back. Therefore, everyone used the time to organize glasses, put extra bottles of water in fridge and took out nice plates for snacks. It was past 8pm. He had to be back soon. Arun decided that they all go and watch TV again to watch the English news bulletin too (mainly to reconfirm). Normally, Arun and Jayantbhai would pour a drink around 8pm. So, 9pm was quite late. Unanimously they decided to clink the glasses at 9.30 and keep waiting for Awtar. With noisy cheers in the name of Awtar, Arun, 27DN and National award, this small group of friends took their most exciting first sip…
At 10.30, Ba (grandmother) peeped in asking has he not come yet. Arun said, ‘no.’ She said, ‘he also must be drinking somewhere like you all. Do you think he doesn’t know about the news?’ That put a different perspective in everyone’s head. ‘Yes’ all felt, he could be knowing and may be celebrating with people of his own status. Everyone felt that they should stop making noise and go out for dinner, as the family had to sleep…
Arun took the main door key from Tukaram before going to sleep. In case Awtar arrived too late and too drunk, he would open the gate quietly…
3am, Arun thought he heard a tap on his room door that in fact ajar. He thought Awtar is here finally. But it was Jayantbhai, who was shaking him. Arun thought he wanted the door key, but he said there was call for him. Call? At this time? Many quick ‘dark’ flashes crossed his mind. His father, mother, accidents god knows what. Arun was just about 23 years old and he was shit scared of getting a bad news from his family. In his drunken sleep Arun asked who has called? Jayantbhai said ‘call is from the police station and they are talking all crap. I don’t understand what they are saying.’ In the darkness Arun got up in his underwear and walked to the phone in outer verandah. ‘Hello’ he said. Caller voice identified itself as a police inspector. Arun said, ‘yes, I am Arun Sharma’ and in few seconds he sat down on the floor while listening to the cop. The receiver slipped from his hand and he passed out…
Jayantbhai was shaking him up. Arun had gone to sleep again sitting on the floor with the receiver hanging near his face. Jayantbhai put the phone to his ear and kept it down. Slowly both realized what had happened. Around 4am a police jeep noisily stopped near the gate of Arab Bungalow and two cops shook the collapsible gate. Arun was awake now and was dressed in pant shirt. Entire Patel family was awake too. Arun stepped out. He said, ‘I am Arun Sharma’. He was made to sit at the back of the jeep. They drove to Nair hospital near Bombay central station. Arun followed two cops to a room where a police inspector was sitting. ‘Come in’, inspector duty said and pointed him to a chair to sit. A green curtain was drawn at his side. Inspector held a small telephone diary in his hand and was going through it. Arun knew it belonged to Awtar. In a moment inspector got up smartly and said, ‘come’, drawing the green curtain aside. They both entered. There he was. On the stretcher was Awtar in his familiar red kurta. Inspector asked, ‘is he Awtar Krishna Kaul?’ ‘Yes’, Arun mumbled moving closer to him. He noticed many bruises and cuts on his forehead and face. Arun went yet closer to him and lifted his hair from his forehead to see if there was any other major hurt. Perhaps he wanted to touch his face and hair. He also became very angry with Awtar. ‘Why’, he thought, ‘what was the need to be so rash in life?’ They both moved out and sat in chairs. Arun had never felt an emotional tide of that magnitude in his life. He was just 23 then. Deeply shaken from inside he had managed to stand steady through it.
Inspector narrated his version. “Awtar’s body was seen floating in the sea at Girgaon Chowpati at around midnight. Fire brigade was called and with great difficulty they fished him out. You see it is no moon night and high tide was at its peak. He was rushed to Bhatia hospital, closest from there. He was alive then. For some reason they refused admission. Then he was rushed here; but was declared dead on arrival.”
For the police, identification of the body was complete. Arun was free to leave. He came out and same jeep dropped him back home.
Everyone was awake. Arun sat with them. Bhabhi made some tea. Arun narrated what he saw and reproduced inspector’s version of the incidence. Nobody knew how to react to this sudden reversal in fortune.
Arun could not sleep in the room, next to Awtar’s empty bed for many months.