Suraj Pancholi, 22, is deeply emotional, strong-headed, does not drink or smoke and is calm even when provoked. He always knew that while his parents did not share a good marriage, they could both give their lives for him, but today he loves them more than ever before. He has his father's heart and his mother's brains. For the first time ever, he opens up to TOI about his girlfriend Nafisa Khan he still loves and his 23-day ordeal in jail. Excerpts:
Let's talk about your 23-day jail ordeal?
I got a call from the police station saying, 'Suraj, please come for interrogation to Juhu police station.' I got ready and got down my building where these four people put me in a car and drove me to the police station where I was arrested. They took my phone, iPad, drives and laptop that I have still not got back. I was in the Santacruz lock-up for four days. I live alone in Juhu and had not met my parents till then. For those four days, I did not have a bath or brush my teeth, remained in the same clothes, had no pillow or a blanket. There was one wall fan and I shared Odomos with the guy who I shared the cell with. There was pee on the floor on both sides as the guy I was sharing the cell with was 20 and told me he had raped two girls and was a drug addict. There would be vomit on both sides and paan and tambaku spat on the floor. They did not let me talk to my family in the lock-up for those four days and I first met my mom on the fourth day in court. I did not get to talk to her, but just took a sip from the water she was carrying. I was then taken to Arthur Road jail that is considered one of the dirtiest jails. People say if you have gone through Arthur Road jail, you can go through any jail in India. Tihar is like a five-star in comparison. Initially, the hygiene would bother me but I got used to it in my first few days.
Talk about Arthur Road Jail?
People who have been in that jail for long are better than the best lawyers in the country. They were amused by the fact that I was in for such a kachcha case for which there was no proof. There are about 10 gangs there and fights and stabbing take place routinely. I saw them stabbing each other using spoons. Before I went in, they knew I was coming in. I was kept in what they called the 'unda cell' where they put the biggest terrorists. Kasab's room had been just adjacent to mine. It's a large secure egg-shaped cell with seven sub-cells and anyone in each of these cells can see others within the unda cell. In my cell, there were two older non-criminal men, one was a builder and the other, an income tax professional. They put me with them so that I would not be stabbed or subjected to extortion outside. During my days in Arthur Road Jail, I was not allowed to step out of my cell and was served food there as they felt it would be dangerous for me if I went out. 16-year-old kids were sexually abused there. We had just one fan outside our cell. The light was always kept on during the night and day and these were big lights on your face.
What were your thoughts emotionally while you were in jail?
I had no fear or guilt and in my heart I knew that just because we had broken up, it could not be considered wrong. I used to help her and have saved her life a couple of times before, so I knew I would get out. But I was in shock that my girlfriend was not there any more. The police interrogation, jail food, hygiene was a small price to pay as someone's life had gone. I did not cry in front of my parents as I knew they would feel bad. I cried when I came back home hugging my pillow.
Let's talk about your relationship with Jiah Khan?
I met her through Facebook 10 months back. She was a really nice person, quiet, small things made her happy, caring, but she was too possessive even about my guy friends. We went twice for dinner and then a week later, I get a message saying, 'Sooraj, I need help. My hand is bleeding. Can you come over?' I was in town and she stayed in Sagar Sangeet Juhu (three minutes from my house), so I sent my staff to her house at 11.30 at night. She opened the door and fainted. She had slit her hand at the elbow like 3 inches. I was 21 then. By the time I went there, the doctor had stitched her up and she was on drips. I was with her, but she did not speak. After a few days, I called her mother up in London and introduced myself. I told her, 'Aunty, Nafisa is under depression and she needs you and her sisters to look after her and be with her. I have met her only twice and she has called me'. She said, 'Beta, I will come in two months, but please take care of her'. But she took four months to come. During those four months, I fell in love with Nafisa. I could relate to her as I too, like her, lived alone and could see what she was going through. She would tell me how she was depressed due to not getting work, her relationship with her family not being good, the fact that her father had disowned her and that she supported herself. She told me about her getting abused by her former boyfriends and how an older man had raped her when she was 14 in London and how at one point in her life, she would get only one meal a day. I fell even more for her. She just needed more love from her family and respect from people around. I could not fulfil all of that, though I did more than a 21-year-old could. She would cry every night. She could never be alone after she met me and would come to my house often.
Initially, even my father did not approve of her as she had a really sexy image, but he was fine after I made him meet her. I attended several classes from morning 8 to evening 8, getting trained for my film, but she had trust issues even though I trusted her completely. I would sometimes make her talk to my sir to prove to her that I was in class. Then it reached a point where she would accompany me for my classes. I was fine even with that. I sat her down one day and said, 'Nafisa, you know what, I am an Indian boy, I have seen a lot in my family, am trying to take care of you, you cry to me everyday, I am four years younger to you and in spite of what you have told me about yourself, I still love you, so please start trusting me. I love you even more than my mother or father or sister. Even if I don't meet you for three days my love will only increase.'
Every night during the seven months we were seeing each other she would cry, barring three nights — once when we were in Goa, my birthday and her birthday. She had a depression problem and had been for counselling before and she told me she had even tried to hang herself before. Till now also, I have respect for her mother and really wish I could ask her that does she really believe I have done something as she knows what I have done for Nafisa. One day she told me, 'Suraj, I am not getting my periods. Can we go to a doctor?' We went to this doctor, who gave her a pill saying she would get it. We went back home and everything was normal. When the police asked her family doctor if I was there at the time of abortion, they denied it. The police asked me and I said, 'Sir, we had a physical relationship. She did not tell me about her pregnancy. If it can be proven that it was mine, I will accept it otherwise it is not mine as I can't say'.
Let's talk about your own family?
I used to stay with my grandparents in Juhu from the beginning and my sister lived with my parents. They both died five years back and so, since the age of 16, I live alone with my four dogs. My parents initially lived in Bandra and now live in Seven Bungalows. I could take care of myself that is why I was so good in jail. I miss both my grandparents today. There was some energy supporting me in jail. I don't know whether it was Nafisa or my grandparents. I know that she would not want me to go through this. If the mother blames me, I should tell her that I did not take her life. In fact, I gave her extension of life by 10 months. Had I not been there in her life, she would have tried this and succeeded earlier.
Why did you break up?
A month before Nafisa passed away, she came to my house at 8 in the morning crying. She said, 'I have had a fight with my mother' and had small cut marks on her hand. I left her with my friend Karan and without telling her, went across to meet her mother. I asked her mother, 'Aunty, did you have a fight with Nafisa? Did you hit her?' She said, 'No, I have never hit my daughter'. I told her I am no one to come between them both but just wanted her to know that her daughter was not doing well and needed medical assistance and her help and that I was trying my best to help her. Her mother told me, 'Beta, she does this only for attention. Thank you for coming here. Her ex-boyfriends have also run away from her but she will not kill herself and has been doing this from when she was 11'.
I told Nafisa that I had met her mother. She went to her house and I get a message from her mother saying, 'Suraj, I don't want you to be involved with my daughter'. Apart from the fact that I did not want her to break off with her mother because of me, I was also tired of her daily crying and distrusting me and told her I could not deal with it anymore and reduced my interaction with her by half in the last 20 days. Just before she died on Monday, she called me on Saturday to say, 'I am going to Hyderabad. I am going to get a film and just want you to spend this Sunday with me'. I told her okay, but I don't want to go through the trauma of separation again so this would be the last Sunday together.
I sent her a bouquet on Monday morning saying, 'All the best'. She again called me on Monday evening saying, 'I want to meet you'. I said, 'I can't meet you' and sent her a message saying, 'Nafisa, let's not do this' and put my phone off. And that's the last time I spoke to her. Two hours later, my father told me about her committing suicide. When she died he cried more than me when he realised that he could have tried to help her, had he known about her problems earlier. Her committing suicide was not a shock to me, but I cried when I entered her building as I used to pick her up from there.
Do you still miss her?
Yes, everything in my house reminds me of her. She was a beautiful person from inside and outside. She should have just waited for better things to have come to her in her life and it's unfair for her to have just left me and gone away. I couldn't really help her. I am still focused and the only thing that has changed is that my love for my parents and sister has increased. I have always been calm as a person, but even the 5% anger I may have had in my life has gone away.
Your name will be associated with hers for life?
I don't mind if my name is associated with her all my life as my heart is still connected with her's. I still love her.