Salman 'His Secret Passion'

Cine Blitz 2000 June


The world may call him a black-hearted, arrogant, shallow, impudent and ill-mannered fellow but to many cancer patients (some of whom may not live to see another day), Salman Khan is like the kabuliwallah, bringing hope and happiness to spread around.

On a huge wooden board at the Cancer Patients Aid Association, was one name that caught our eye - Salman Khan's.We did a double take. Since when did Salman begin to feature in charitable organisations? One has heard of him being a gem of a guy, but that aspect of his personality seemed to be reserved for only a few close friends. Everyone else only knew him, via scoops, scandals and suchlike. Salman has been painted a villain, seemingly without a heart, a conscience or a soft side to him.

But one hot summer afternoon, we were allowed to see a side to Salman, we didn't suspect, even existed.
This was a Salman with a heart (in the right place), with a conscience (more than his fair share) and most definitely, with a very soft side. And offering us an insight into his character, were two people who have come to know him closely from their four-year association with him. Rekha Sapru, Jt. Secretary, and Viji Venkatesh, CPAA.
Going back in time, Rekha Sapru reminisces about when the CPAA first got to know of Salman.
"I remember it was September 22, which we celebrate as Rose Day. It's a big occasion for us because CPAA sends across a lakh of roses all over the country, to various cancer treatment hospitals. We were busy couriering roses, when we got a call from Helen, Salim Khan's wife, saying that her son Salman wanted to come over to the hospital to be with the patients. We were a little surprised because stars are not so forthcoming. They are so busy that you have to wait for many days before you can get through to them. But here was Salman calling, saying he wanted to spend time with the patients."
Salman was duly invited and his visit extended to a three-hour journey of discovery, of building bridges, and of making a commitment. "Salman hasn't stopped visiting us since," says Rekha Sapru. "To this day, whenever he is free, he is here, talking and chatting, cheering up the patients. The children love him because he gives them all of himself. When Salman comes here, the children run amok. They are all over him, on his shoulders, in his arms, in his lap. And you can see that he enjoys being with them."
Viji Venkatesh adds, "It's true. You can see Salman's true nature when he is with the kids. He is laughing and playing, and thoroughly enjoying himself. He loves to teach them new games. The funniest sight is of him trying to teach the kids to play pool. Very often, when he goes abroad, he shops for the children and his favourites get an extra something too."
Does Salman have any favourites among the patients?
"Yes he does," says Rekha Sapru. "There is a little child in Israel called Ben Hur, who Salman is very fond of and makes sure to ring up and ask for his progress report. Then there was this other child who he was very fond of but unfortunately, we were not able to save him. When this happens, we avoid telling Salman because he is the sort to grieve deeply."
Apparently, though Salman may not show it, he is extremely sensitive but tries his best to gloss over the fact with a brash facade. Rekha maintains, "Very often, stars come and break down before the patients. Sridevi did that once. She just couldn't stop her flow of tears. We had to escort her outside, so that she could control herself. But Salman is very strong when it comes to things like this. He seems to know without being told, that these people don't like to be told in any way that their days are numbered. So he makes that extra effort to be happy and joyful when he is around these patients. And really, it's so contagious that most patients cheer up considerably when he is around."
CPAA has adopted Salman as one of their own. And Salman himself has given them the liberty to do so. He is a hot favourite amongst everyone there and for once, it's not because of his well shaped biceps and triceps. It's because of something much more important - his heart. Says Viji Venkatesh "He is a wonderful human being. I don't know why or how he gets such bad Press but I when I see the filth people write about him, I just feel that the record has to be cleared somewhere. He is one of those rare people who care very deeply for the less fortunate. When he is in town, we receive a call from him ever so often, asking us about this patient or that patient. Once, he called and wanted to know what percentage of people die of cancer and what percentage are saved..."
There seems to be an unquenchable need in Salman to do something for cancer patients. "Salman has a soft heart," says Viji. "He feels happy when he does something for someone. He has this need in him to be of some use to someone. I think it's also your family that passes these values down to you. I know that Salim Khan, Salma and Helen, are all really spiritual people..."
Rekha agrees, "Theirs is a family that is very God-oriented. You talk to Helen about anything that concerns God and you will see that she starts crying. That's her level of involvement. So it's not surprising that Salman has this strong streak in him. In my opinion, he is a very well brought up boy. I have personally seen that if any of his parents are around, he will not take a chair. He will stand obediently for hours but will not sit down. I have known Salman for the past four years and I have seen the changes in him. He is more settled today, more sober. Four years ago, he was full of this youthful josh. Today, he is more contained in his energy."
The CPAA and all its patients are an extended family for Salman. Ever so often, the patients want to go and see Salman and at such times, he is just a phone-call away. "We are welcome anywhere on Salman's shoots," says Viji."For Salman, the top priority are the patients. He may be shooting way out somewhere but he will make sure that he is accessible to us. Many times, it happens that he is not able to visit us at the hospital because he is so busy and the children start missing him.
So on demand, they are taken to meet Salman. He spends hours playing with them, talking to them... I overheard a really sweet conversation between the children and him once. They wanted to know if they could be big stars like him and he was telling them all about what it was to be a big star and how when they grew up, he would make them all stars too. The children were thrilled! The patients miss him a lot when he is not around. Right now, he is doing shows in America but any patient can call him on his mobile and talk to him whenever he feels like it. If his mobile number changes, he calls to personally inform us of the new number."
There have been many incidents where Salman has personally come to the aid of ailing patients. "Once, when he saw an advertisement about a little girl who needed a bone marrow transplant, he rushed to the hospital and told them he was ready to give his bone marrow," says Rekha. "We had his mother on the other line saying, 'I don't know what my son is doing but please make sure that he is safe'! We really had to convince him against it because bone marrow transplant is a very painful operation and more so, for the donor than the patient. But Salman has given us standing instructions that if there is any need for bone marrow and if his matches the patient's, to give him a day's notice and he would be there."
And this is not an isolated case. Time and again the hospital has called Salman when all else failed, and he has given them a helping hand, be it emotionally or financially. Says Viji "There was one time when this little boy was refusing to take his chemotherapy. He was petrified of the treatment and nothing that his parents or I said to him, could stop him crying and resisting the therapy. I was at the end of my tether because it was very important for this child to have the treatment. I felt completely helpless and was wondering what to do when Salman came to mind. I rang him on his mobile and Salman told me quietly, 'Pass the phone to the child'. I don't know what Salman said to him but 10 minutes later, this same frightened child had a big smile on his face and happily agreed to have his chemotherapy.
"You know, each and everyone of us here, expect back something from the investment we make in terms of time, emotion, labour... Salman makes the same investment but the wonderful thing is, he doesn't expect anything back. He does it because he wants to make that much of a difference to someone's life."
Rekha agrees, "He is really like a family member here. He has become a 'ghar ki baat' for us. He has helped us out financially so many times. One day, he landed up with several cheques amounting to 13 lakhs. He said that he had collected it from his friends. In fact, this cold drink that he is promoting, well, they had to pay him a remaining sum of three or four lakhs and he told them to send it to us. Yes, he charges to perform or to be a chief guest somewhere but do you know that all the money that he makes, he passes on to us? The other day, some sponsors called us saying that they would give us 10 to 15 lakhs if they could get Salman to perform for them. I told them that I would get back to them after asking Salman.
When Salman heard of the amount they would pay us to make him perform, he told us, 'These guys are cheating you. Unless these people offer you about 50 lakhs, don't agree with them.' He has told us that he will arrange a Salman Night for us and he will ask all his friends to perform, and that he would give us much more than those sponsors were paying. You can't imagine the help Salman is. There are so many expenses to be met and it's people like Salman who bail us out. And the best thing about him is that he does all this without publicising it. The other day, he called Viji and said, 'I want to go to K.E.M and visit some patients for half-an-hour'.
He was shooting at Sewri and didn't know how to get there. So Viji met up with him and he spent a good hour with all the patients, cheering them up.
No one knows this side of Salman but we do, and that's why we value him. Salman may brush off everything that he is doing for us but someone up there is keeping an account and someone up there will also give back the blessings double fold!"
It was an afternoon well spent. It also taught us an important lesson. That judging people superficially are not one of the best things to do!

2000 June 1