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Heaven On Their Minds

Updated: Jun 7, 2020


“NANDU! HEAVEN ON THEIR MINDS!!”

Alyque’s deep resonating voice demanded. And Nandu turned Mumbai’s erstwhile (Not Just) Jazz By The Bay into an instant scream factory. At the end of the show, Alyque gave me his email address: apad@vsnl.com. Honestly, he never replied. This was in 2001.

Let’s fast-forward to 2014. The legendary rock singer Nandu Bhende passed in April. A memorial concert was put together shortly thereafter. The audience comprised luminaries from the world of art, cinema, theater, literature, advertising, and music. Needless to say Alyque was in attendance. I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t remember me. But after my performance of Stairway To Heaven, he called me aside to say:

“Nandu played Judas in my 1974 production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I am bringing it back. If you would like to audition, I will ask someone to be in touch.”

Rounds of auditions and months of rehearsals later, Alyque created a reasonably convincing Judas Iscariot out of me. Convincing enough for Catholic nuns to stop their vans to put a hand on my head and say they were moved. I was unemployed and thoroughly depleted when I had auditioned. Honestly, I just needed to get out of the house to escape the sight of my mother’s tears. So validation like that meant everything.

Now let’s fast-forward to 2018. On landing in Bangalore, a devastating message arrived on Saturday, November 17. I spent the day in disbelief. Friends and loved ones called. All I could say was I wasn’t ready for what had happened. I rambled on like a mess to anyone with a patient ear. I remember telling a journalist that if you have had teachers like him, you have to live responsibly. (She turned it into a headline for the Times Of India.) That night, I played one of the best shows of my life... because I knew who was watching.

The next morning when I landed in Mumbai, there was a cab strike. Fortunately, a Uber driver confirmed my ride somehow. I still called him, pleading repeatedly not to cancel, explaining where I needed to be and why. He said he had read about it and understood the urgency. At 11 am, he dropped me at the Worli Prayer Hall and Crematorium.

I was the only person in colored concert attire in a room full of blacks and whites. But pain knows no color and together we cried... Bollywood veterans, production engineers, singers, actors, writers, directors, choreographers, and the Padamsees.

ALYQUE PADAMSEE HAD PASSED!

At 1 pm when we lowered him into the electric furnace, the mothers of his children touched his face one last time. His housekeeper Ida touched his feet and his son Quasar Thakore-Padamsee put a handwritten note into his pocket. Then the flames touched him and the door dropped shut. Quasar was the first to clap. The rest of us followed suit.

With that tearful standing ovation, Alyque Padamsee walked into a room high above the earth. Waiting in that room with his arms open wide was his 1974 Judas. Someday his 2014 Judas will walk into the same room. Until he does, you may not really know how poignant ‘Heaven On Their Minds’ can sound. But if you play the video above, maybe you will.

~ Tirthankar Poddar

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