Neena Gupta, 60, was way ahead of her times when she took the bold decision to go ahead with her pregnancy with one of the world's finest cricketers, Vivian Richards, 27 years back (their daughter Masaba today is 26 years old). She is honest, hardworking and impulsive with simple needs. She has high self- respect, but is shy and reluctant to ask anyone for work. Her perception may be that of a strong woman, but, in reality, she is quite a housewife, who is happy to adjust and is extremely vulnerable. In their first ever joint interview to any media, just ahead of Mother's Day tomorrow, Neena and Masaba Gupta open up to Bombay Times. Excerpts:
Conversation with Neena Gupta: 27 years back, you took the bold decision to give birth to Masaba. What made you do that?
Because I am known they say arey tumne kya kiya. But in India, there are so many poor women who are forced to be single mothers. The only difference with me was that I did it by choice. It was very tough and I wanted to do it, but I always tell people that it was a wrong decision, as it is very difficult to bring up a child alone. You make a child suffer due to your wish and whim. Child does not have that side of the family. Because I was working, I could not even get married and have a sibling for her. My friends told me don't do this, but I was young and had thenasha, so did it. I feel it was very tough for me and I did my best. But I had to do bad movies, as I needed the money to bring her up. I lost my mother to cancer, so once Masaba was born, my father moved from Old Delhi to live with me in Mumbai. He became the man of the house till he died five years back. He also was my anchor, even though initially, he was dead against my decision to go ahead with my pregnancy. Even though he was very orthodox, once he knew that I had decided, he stood by me like a rock. Masaba was jealous of him as he loved me more than her. It's so strange that God has had his way of looking after me. I used to always think that God will give me a man when my father dies and that is what happened. As soon as I got married to my present husband Vivek, my father died.
You have a reputation of being this tough woman?
Because of media, who has made my reputation of being a strong woman. And a strong woman is a bad woman in India. In reality, I am very vulnerable and honest, so people feel scared of me.
What does Masaba mean to you?
Everything. I feel that when I pray, I say that I want to be alive for her. I have lived a life of many shades and am very thankful to God for what he has given me and not given me. I didn't want to get married to somebody just because I was ageing and wanted a child. For me, it was an emotional decision as I had fallen for him. I don't know what I would have done without Masaba. She has nobody else other than me. I have enjoyed her despite going through a lot of hardships. I have not lived a normal woman's life, as I had to work and spend time with her, but it has given me so much solid satisfaction that it was all worth it. And she has been a good child who listens to me, so long as I don't shout at her. She has this amazing quality that she got from me that she can laugh at herself. I was worried that people would say things to her and that she would not get admission, but I told her the truth. I told her how her father is not a family man and how he was like this and this. In the beginning, she would feel bad that Vivian was not in touch with her till the age of about 20, but then he got in touch. His problem also is that he is not net savvy and so, it is very difficult to get in touch with him. Sometimes, he would call her on her birthday and sometimes, he would not call for even three years. Sometimes, he would come here and meet and sometimes not. By then, I knew him and how he was. If I told him I needed something, he would go mad finding it to bring it for me, but on his own, he would not bring anything. He is a person who cannot express his emotions. I was in Jaipur watching a match in which he was playing. They lost the match by a run and as a captain, I saw him almost crying and I liked that about him. He is a very nice guy, down-to-earth, disciplined, but you can expect only that much from him. I feel that God gave me my father instead of him.
What was emotionally the lowest point in your life?
When my present husband and I were about to split. We knew each other for 14 years, but we got married only five years back. I shifted to Delhi with Masaba and my father, without marrying him. I had chicken pox and that's the time I decided and I want to say this to all women, 'If you want to live in India and in society, you have to marry.' Do not be this modern woman that I was, saying I don't believe in marriage. You have to marry. I told Masaba when she fell in love with Madhu Mantena, 'You are not shifting there till you marry him.' I have faced a lot because of that. I used to tell the guy, and he had no problem staying without marriage as there is no commitment and it was full fun for him. But paper ki commitment hai na, toh hai. So my husband asked me, 'When you met me, you used to say we don't need to get married and that you don't want kids at 50.' I said, 'Ya, I used to think that at this age, there would be no problem, but the way you are, a traditional family Punju man, I have seen you. You don't stand with me like that, so you have to marry me.' So when he didn't marry me, I was the lowest emotionally. Finally, he did get a divorce to marry me.
Was marriage a priority for you even before that?
I had this very pseudo intellectual thing that I am so committed, the man is so committed, then why shaadi? But when I thought that I wanted to marry, nobody wanted to marry me. One guy who said he would marry me, ditched me. I was engaged to Shaarangdev (the son of Pandit Jasraj) and was practically living in their house, but last minute, he refused. And then Vivian happened. So marriage became a big thing in my mind.
How is Masaba emotionally?
She is a very introverted person unlike me. She would not express or talk, but I could gauge everything. I am very happy that she has found somebody. And I am very happy that she has found somebody who loves her and who is a little older than her, mature and doing well. And they seem to get along very well and he is in Mumbai, so she can continue her work. Right now, I understand that it is lust and love, but after that, if he is a good guy and Masaba remains good,tabhi gaadi chalegi.
Conversation with Masaba Gupta:
From your point of view, what was it like to be brought up by a single mother?
People keep asking me how difficult it was, but I don't remember it being difficult for most part of my childhood. I remember it being difficult only when we had to go on holiday, and when there wasn't a man to plan. Once we were going on a holiday and our passports and bags got stolen at the Mumbai airport, so there was no one to run around to the police station. My mom was the man of the house, who had to work outside, then come back home and entertain me and also my granddad, as he too, like me, wanted her attention. I used to think that he didn't like me much and liked my mother more. so I was very jealous of that. I would go out and play tennis for eight hours and he would say, 'Haldi lagao isko, yeh kaali hai, kya hoga iska?' I didn't like his school of thought and was rude to him as a child. When she came back from work, we would both go and sit in her room, waiting to see who she would give attention to. But after my grandfather died, I realised how cool he was. To adapt to my mother having a child from a man from the Caribbean, was a big deal. To be able to be cool with that and support her through it, is commendable, so my whole viewpoint of him changed and I understood him. Also, I went to Jamnabai Narsee School, where there were so many celebrity kids who came from dysfunctional families. I was in Class VII when someone said to me that you are a bas***d. I didn't understand what it meant, but someone said it means that you don't have a father and I said, 'Well, I have a father. It's just that he is not around.'
What is your mother like?
She is the most kind and normal person I have come across in my life. She has had a hard life and she has had many instances where she has been challenged, but that has not made her bitter. And she could take care of herself and did not become reckless with her life and looks. She knew that if I saw my mother unhappy, it would have had an effect on my personality and that I would blame myself for it. She also ensured that I had a healthy relationship with my father.
Are you attached to your father Viv Richards?
I am attached to my father, but it won't kill me if he is not a part of milestones in my life. I look at him more as an icon, as a celebrated cricketer, a celebrated human being. Since I have seen him in that light from far, sometimes it doesn't even register to me that he is my father. He lives in the West Indies, but he travels for six months. Over the last 4-5 years, I visit him for a fortnight 3-4 times a year. We chat about life a lot and he has great lessons to give basis his experiences.
Have you ever asked him why he didn't marry your mother?
No, because he can't. In the Caribbean, you don't get married to each other. It's a part of their culture. He is married and separated from his wife for many years and now has a girlfriend who lives with him. There the culture is to have multiple children with multiple women. I am actually grateful that they didn't get married as it would have ended in a disaster.
Talk about your father?
He is very strong on the outside but he is a puppy inside, but he doesn't show that side to anyone. Also, he has very strong values where he will not do something wrong and is a principled man and will never demean anyone.
How different are you from your mother?
I too am very emotional and very laidback and don't have different personalities. What I am at home is the way I am at fashion week. I am strangely orthodox, for instance, I would do my Diwali puja that mom wouldn't care about. I believe in the institution of marriage and having kids at a certain age and do believe in not living in.