Never in my life had I expected to read about the passing of Asif Basra in this manner. (The actor was found hanging at his Himachal Pradesh residence and is suspected to have died by suicide on Nov 12.) To the world, he’s a famous actor, but to me he was Asif Sir, my first acting and theatre teacher during a summer camp at Prithvi Theatre when I was barely five years old. He also taught me my very first joke.
Asif Sir was so full of life and so loving. I recall very clearly and vividly his powerful, yet friendly presence when he conducted the workshop – and also the fact that he used to have a beard back then. There were children of varying ages, most of them first-timers like me, so most of us were very shy and inhibited.
Asif Sir said: “Come, let’s all of us tell a joke each. I will begin.”
I asked: “What is a joke?”
Then he explained what a joke was and taught us one! It had us all in splits. It went like this:
“Ek nimbu tha aur ek kela tha. Kela ne nimbu ko kaha, ‘main tumhe nichod nichod ke khaoonga!’ Aur nimbu ne kele ko kaha, ‘main tumhe nanga karke khaoonga!’”
For years, I’d share this joke with everyone I met, much to the dismay of my parents who had heard it a thousand times. Asif Sir’s joke broke the ice at the workshop and all the shy, nervous students soon became chirpy, jovial and fun loving.
“When I received the certificate from Shashi Kapoor, iIwas looking at Asif sir, hoping that he was proud of me” —Ishaan Puri
Subsequently, he taught us to shed our inhibitions by playing theatre games with us and also teaching us to dance. Those were the most fun-filled moments of my life and the shy kid I had been when I started the workshop soon became a lot more confident. He then guided us into collectively forming our own story, which we would end up performing at the Prithvi Theatre. It amazes me when I look back, that my first theatre performance felt like such a breeze. Asif Sir took away the fear from all of us and made us enjoy the art of performing. Our classes never felt like ‘classes’.
Ever the teacher
Long after the workshop, Asif Sir’s teachings and interactions remained fresh for me. In fact, they helped shape me and mould my personality. The self-confidence he built in me was life changing. When I received the certificate for participating in the workshop from Shashiji (the late actor Shashi Kapoor), I was looking at Asif Sir, hoping that I made him proud. His warm smile put all my doubts to rest and I was soon beaming with joy.
Asif Sir inculcated the love for acting in me. This would change my life in immeasurable ways. A few years later, while watching the railway station segment in Jab We Met (2007), I was delighted to see him on screen. “Asif Sir! Asif Sir! Arrey, yeh toh Asif Sir hain (Hey, this is Asif Sir),” I said out loud in the theatre.
I will always fondly remember my teacher and cherish his memories. Rest in peace, Asif Sir, I will miss you.
Ishaan Puri, 21, is an undergraduate student at LSE and in his spare time hosts Puri Baatein, the official YouTube channel of his father, Om Puri