Najeeb Khan was my friend. He ran the legendary Teenage Video Library out of a small store in Colaba. We talked often. About movies mostly. But also about Muslims in India, Modi’s progress and mountaineering (he climbed, I didn’t).
Najeeb was the quintessential Mumbai entrepreneur. A survivor of trends, a windsurfer riding the waves of a shifting city.
Pic for representation
Catering to the varying tastes of fickle generations.
In the 70s, he sensed that there might be a craze for comics. Archie, Casper, Phantom, and Commando were a staple for kids. Their mothers wanted to secretly inhabit the worlds of Mills & Boon and Barbara Cartland. And so was born Teenage’s first avatar - the book-lending library. Scores of kids, crowded into the shop, feasting at Pop Tate’s and the Ghost Who Walks. He explored and dabbled in music cassettes and LPs. But the big breakthrough came in the 80s with VHS casettes. Inevitably, this era morphed into DVDs. ‘Mama’ as I called him, (uncle not mom), watched these trends with much interest. Not just as a businessman but as a buff.
Recent trends however did concern him.
“Dude, downloading is killing our ‘dhandha’. Plus piracy, man; there’s no point being honest in this country.”
But he survived the onslaught.
We had a massive fight one day, several years ago. I was short with his delivery boy. Fiercely loyal to his staff, Najeeb called me, “Rahul, uhm, I would request that you borrow films from elsewhere from today. I’ll return your deposit. But no one talks to my boys like that. Your membership stands cancelled.”
“That’s fine,” I said, incensed, ‘There are many libraries I can join.”
And there were. But very few had Najeeb Khan behind the counter. Reading anthologies about films, so he could feed his customers with tidbits, facts and knowledge about movies. Very few owners that his undying passion.
A month later, I called him. “Sorry, man,” I attempted, half expecting the old Indian male ego to kick in.
“Me too, brother, I’m sorry too, think we both got carried away. Chal, let bygones be bygones. By the way, I have a movie I know you’ll love, perfect mindless action..DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE.”
And we were on our way to rekindling a friendship.
We talked every day after that.
Najeeb talked much. Not because he was lonely. But because he had knowledge to impart. And most people had lost the art of listening.
Najeeb passed away last week. Trekker, biker, outdoors guy, he had spent much time in the wilds of Matheran.
That week, he took the local train to Neral, on a solo ‘sojourn’. A train hit him as he attempted to cross the tracks.
Asif, his trusted nephew, and also my friend, called, “Bro, Mama’s gone. But let’s celebrate his life.”
Najeeb was your classic corner store guy. That huge presence in the landscape of an area. Someone you almost take for granted. Till he isn’t there suddenly one day.
RIP my friend. While you watch a movie on that giant widescreen in the sky.
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62 @gmail.com. The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.