Rahul da Cunha: Tale of two Toms

Oct 08, 2017, 06:51 IST | Rahul Da Cunha

Last Tuesday was an emotional morning

Illustration/Uday Mohite

Last Tuesday was an emotional morning. My friend Tom Alter had passed away the previous Saturday. An e-card had been circulated informing us of a prayer meeting at the All Saints Church in Malabar Hill. Gathered were a motley group of silent mourners from the many facets of his life.

It is possible in one's lifetime to have many hobbies, to be engaged in multifarious activities, to multi-task, even balance professions. But Thomas Beach Alter devoted his 18-odd waking hours to many obsessions, living his life in the fastest lane possible, without ever seeming hurried. Theatre and film acting, Urdu poetry, journalism, social and Indian history, basketball, cricket, teaching… these were just some of Tom's all abiding passions. But his greatest gift was the art of spreading gentleness. (Watch his interview of a 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar in 1989, to understand this quality.)

Looking around the church that morning I realised what a high level of involvement he was operating at. In so many varying fields.

Excuse the name dropping, but to my left was Harsha Bhogle; to my right Viren Rasquinha and MM Somaya, former Indian hockey captains; in front of me composer-filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, and to his left Gulzarji. Scattered around were an assortment of well-wishers from Tom's colourful life. People whose lives he had touched.

Many people spoke, including his wife Carol and son James, but by the time Tom's daughter, Afshaan had spoken of her father, if one could hear the sound of tears, that was the moment. "My father had an extraordinary quality; everyone thought he was their best friend."

This was a man who began acting not to join films as much as wanting to be Rajesh Khanna in Aradhana.

As I sat there, attempting to create a fitting Amul obituary for Tom, more tragic news was coming in — coincidentally another Tom had passed away — Tom Petty, the legendary musician. CBS announced the tragedy, only to realise he hadn't actually passed away. Was this another hoax, we thought. Like most 'Internet' deaths, the news was hastily withdrawn. But, in time, we realised this was no hoax, just a hasty announcement — the 'Free Falling' singer had suffered a cardiac arrest, and finally succumbed a few hours later. Two Toms, both born in 1950. One fully American, one American Indian. Tom Petty, a musician of rare pedigree — frontman of his own band, The Heartbreakers, and then a vital member of a supergroup called The Travelling Wilburys, comprising himself, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Bob Dylan.

And then, a third Tom has reared its head, once again, this week. The sheer tomfoolery that is the Kangana Ranaut-Hrithik Roshan saga. Apparently, Hrithik has broken his silence by finally speaking up. So much media space has wastefully been devoted to this nonsense spat, that it never occurred to me that he hadn't spoken.

Apparently Amazon Prime is planning a 10-part web series on this story. It's to be called, Koi Mil Gaya, Simran.

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62@gmail.com

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