Teji Bachchan: Indira's friend

Last Updated: Sat, Dec 22, 2007 04:46 hrs

Teji Bachchan, wife of the late Hindi poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan and mother of Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan, died on Friday after a prolonged illness. She was 93.

Teji, who passed away around 1.15 p.m., was admitted to the Lilavati Hospital in suburban Bandra in January for multiple age-related health problems.

Shortly after her passing, her body was taken to Amitabh's old bungalow, Pratiksha, at Juhu. The family currently lives in the new bungalow Jalsa, barely a kilometre away, in the same area.

The funeral procession will start from there Saturday morning for the Chandanwadi electric crematorium in south Mumbai, around 20 km from the Bachchan home.

According to Bollywood sources, Teji was suffering from liver problems and also dementia, a disorder which leads to gradual memory loss. It is said that in her last few months she was unable to recognise even her family members.

The Bachchans decided to get her admitted to the hospital to ensure she could get top-class medical attention round-the-clock. She was under the care of a team of doctors led by J. Barve.

She was moved to the ICU last November in a critical condition but later recovered.

A steady stream of mourners, film stars, industrialists and politicians, visited Pratiksha to express condolences with the Bachchans. Among the visitors were Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh and Sahara chief Subroto Roy.

Teji Bachachan was better known as a close confidante of the late prime minister Indira Gandhi.

She had earned fame as an indefatigable social activist and caught the attention of Indira Gandhi. A bond developed between them and they became close friends. The relationship remained strong till Indira's assassination in October 1984.

The duo's closeness came to the fore openly when Rajiv Gandhi was courting Sonia Antonio Maino, the shy young Italian girl. It was Teji who acted as a gentle mediator when her friend, the powerful Indira, was reluctant about her pilot son's wedding to the Italian girl from a middle-class family.

When the Rajiv-Sonia marriage was finally fixed in 1969, Sonia and her family had nowhere to stay in New Delhi. As per Hindu customs, a betrothed girl cannot enter her in-laws' house before marriage.

Once again, Teji came to the family's help. Sonia and her family moved in briefly and stayed at the Bachchan's New Delhi residence all through the wedding. After the wedding, Indira's elder daughter-in-law moved into the Gandhi household.

Sadly, the warm relationship between the Gandhis and Bachchans soured after Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister upon Indira's death.

Rajiv had earlier convinced his childhood friend, the youthful Amitabh to join politics. He was given a Congress ticket in 1984 and won from Allahabad with a handsome margin for one term. They were part of the famous youth brigade in Delhi, comprising Satish Sharma, Arun Nehru, Arun Singh, Kamal Nath, and Amitabh.

Inexplicably, the relationship between the Bachchans and Gandhis started souring. The family that could once walk anytime into the prime ministerial household suddenly became an anathema and was treated like a pariah.

To her credit, Teji consistently maintained a dignified silence over the Rajiv-Amitabh controversy. Even the Bachchans have chosen never to comment about it.

After Harivansh Rai's death in 2003, Teji became a virtual recluse and her health started deteriorating sharply.

Born into a Sikh family of army officers as Teji Suri, she met Harivansh Rai Bachchan Srivastava in Allahabad where he taught English at the Allahabad University. Bachchan was a widower at that time, having lost his first wife, Shyama, after 10 years of marriage.

The noted poet, a man of few words, was enamoured by Teji's charms and spirited commitment to the society. They fell in love and married in 1941.

During his lifetime, Harivansh Rai remained completely engrossed in his muse, leaving his dynamic wife to handle all family matters. Even in social engagements, Bachchan senior always willingly played second fiddle to his gregarious wife.

Besides her commitment to social service, Teji also took part as an amateur artiste in dramatic groups, both in Allahabad and New Delhi.

Bollywood circles said that without his mother's encouragement, Amitabh would never have given up a secure private job in Kolkata to step into the quick sands of Bollywood.

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