My search for Irshad Panchatan started a couple of years back, with a blog-post – Irshad Mia, where are you ? - about a long-lost coffee-house comrade. We were regulars at New Delhi Janpath coffee house in early 1960s. It has been so long ago that Irshad had remained in my fading memory cells a forgotten folder , waiting to be retrieved.
This was till a couple of years ago when I happened by on TV a familiar face in the telecast of this German movie - Reclaim Your Brain. The face was that of Irshad Panchatan, my coffee-house friend. I couldn’t contain my excitement. Of course, Irshad wasn’t a close pal, but sharing a coffee-house table tied us into a biradari (brotherhood). And then, it has been over 50 years – time lapse of a yuga, after which a re-connect triggers excitement of its own. During our lost decades we drifted away from New Delhi, into our separate work life, and into marriage, family, retirement, and now, ageing . He must be 80 ; I am 73.
We now have the Internet, Facebook, Linked-in and other social networking tools. They weren’t of any help in finding Irshad. Wikipedia entry on him is in German. I blogged about him – Irshad Mia, where are you ? – in the hope that if Irshad or someone who knew of his current whereabouts were to read my piece in DadiNani , he or she would know where to find me. This was my way of sending a message-in-the-bottle, tossed out into cyberspace.
After doing the blog-post I sent the link to another coffee-house friend S P Dutt (NDTV Barkha’s dad), and he forwarded it to his friends. Speedy’s (is how friends call S P Dutt) networking produced a Berlin phone number. As part of the Janpath coffee-house brotherhood Speedy got involved in the search for Irshad. For the next few days the three of us - Speedy (in New Delhi), Sushil Nangia (in London), and I (from Mysore) called Berlin. No response.
Stonewalled by unanswering ringtone from the Berlin phone line, we gave up our search. My wife and I moved base from Mysore to Chennai – this was an year back. Irshad lapsed out of mind, till the other day when DadiNani editor Subodh Mathur e-mailed, saying, your message in the bottle made it to Irshad Mia’s daughter. Rita Sonal Panjatan had left a comment in my blog post – The message in the bottle has reached, I will forward this to my father.
And within the next two days I get a mail from the man himself – ‘Your bottle must have touched so many shores of different planets before it was fished by Rita in a German space shore’. Irshad quoted Firaq to convey his feelings at hearing from someone he didn’t ever think he could - Urdu poets have a couplet for every thing, don’t they.
And then, added Irshad: I was stunned…your message took me back into the 60s, to beautiful days of our meetings at Delhi Coffee House …. Those meetings played a very important role in my life,….am thankful to my Coffee House friends. Their critique helped me become a Pantomime. You, RG Anand and Balraj Komal were my main critical guides. M S Mudder who put me on stage on and on (with whom I’m still in contact) and O P Kohli (died decades ago) who used to do the lights for me…Two years back, moderator of German TV show ‘Weltspiegel’ (World mirror) Navina Sudarum, niece of painter Amrita Sher-Gil, sent me the newspaper cutting relating to Dr.Charles Fabri (The Statesman dance critic), who loved and encouraged me as you also know. It was a lovely and very important time for us all, that we can never forget.
I left India again in 1971….for Europe, where I stayed, as you know, with Ingrid in Berlin, and later, opened a Pantomime School also. But that I closed in 1995 and after some time also stopped performing. Now from time to time I get offers to act in small roles in German TV and Films.
I am eighty and Ingrid is still beautiful and active. Rita, who did her MA from London School of Economics,lives close to us.