Amin Hajee : Cover Story

The Hills are Alive With the Happy Sound of Barking

If there be a life lived in sheer bliss, natural, pure and simple, with the frolic of kids and pets to fill your
day, then Charlotte and Amin Hajee's home in Panchgani is where it's at. Farzana Contractor pays a visit
“So, you love Charmer?” I asked of the youngest of people I have ever interviewed, and pat came the
answer, “Yeah, a lot!” Followed by, “And lots and lots and lots!” This is Summer, the totally adorable six-
year-old, who is in the habit of bringing home any animal in need of love. One day, she will become ‘a
doctor who looks after animals', she says.
I am in Panchgani, seated on a swing with Summer, on a deck overlooking the serene Krishna river. It’s
the rustic home of Charlotte and Amin Hajee and their twin girls Summer and Sky and of course Charmer
the handsome Golden Retriever, and Pepper, the cat that just sauntered into the Hajee home one day
and stayed on.
Sky, no less an animal lover, stops wheeling around on her scootie and comes and joins us. “You know,
Charmer loves daddy the most and then mummy. We are only his sisters, so that’s fine.” Well, I guess.
Seriously, this is one extraordinary family. So in tune with nature and all the wonderful creations of God.
Amin is part of the film industry; actor, director, scriptwriter. Charlotte, a highly educated woman is an
anthropologist, who has done a PhD in Religion and Politics in India. She came here almost two decades
ago for the shooting of Lagaan, to be part of the ‘British crowd’ as they watched the cricket teams play.
Her brother also acted in the movie. Amin, as any Bollywood film-watcher would know, had an
interesting part to play in Lagaan. They met on the sets, fell in love which happily culminated in marriage
and the production of Summer and Sky!
And they now live in Panchgani, full-time, with Amin making work trips to Bombay, as and when. And
they couldn’t be happier. Says Charlotte, “I like Bombay, but I can’t imagine living there. I like it here.
And so do my girls.” And why would they not? Such quality lifestyles they get to lead. Walking in the
woods, exploring in the forests, cycling to the market for a Sunday breakfast, eating organic food, all
kinds of juicy berries, swimming in a pool under the shadow of Table Land, playing tennis on grounds
overlooking the beautiful valley, going on drives, camping weekends in tents by the lake, even kayaking,
and wait, no school to go to!
Yup, you read right. Summer and Sky are being home-schooled. And I so fully approve, given the way the
curriculum is these days. I feel the pressures of modern education turn kids into geeks or robots, most
times. With hardly any room to nuture qualities that children of yore did. When children were children,
happy and joyful, creative and stress-free. But a debate on that subject is not the subject matter of this
article, what is, is how well-rounded and balanced are the lives of Summer and Sky. Under Charlotte’s
guidance and planning (with a little bit of help from daddy Amin), the twins are bright and chirpy, knowledgeable and wise and so with it. At Jer Mansion they have a special room, called Butterfly, where
they spend an hour or so, everyday, where they may play with clay, draw, or colour pictures. Where
they sing, listen to music, play an instrument, learn through puppetry. Where Charlotte reads out stories
to them. “I don’t follow any strict rhythm,” she says, “I just let them lead me. Learning comes through
stories, including the learning of alphabets. I use the Rudolf Steiner method, as a guideline, where kids
are not taught to read or write until they are seven years old. But yes, we bake twice a week, things like
cookies, pizzas, all part of the learning process…"
As the twins run off to play with Charmer, Charlotte, Amin and I sit discussing the merits of children and
pets. We couldn’t agree more how important a role animals play in shaping the lives of children. “A pet
is a must, in every home,” declares Amin. Who admits he was not a great animal person but between
the three women in his life has become an avid lover. “See, I was once bit by a dog, right on my face, in
fact, on my eye. My eyebrow had been yanked out! So for many years, I was really afraid of dogs. Until I
met Tessa, an amazing 14-year-old Golden Retriever. That changed everything!” What I learn then is
Tessa was Charlotte’s dog in England, in Frenchay Bristol where she grew up. And it was after Lagaan
when Amin was wooing Charlotte that Tessa played a huge role: “The way to a woman’s heart is through
her dog!” says Amin with a wink and a guffaw. Anyone who knows Amin, knows he is very funny. Makes
you laugh all the time.
By now the kids, expended of their boundless energy were back on the big wooden table and
demanding of their dad to tell me another Charmer story, of how he came into their lives.
Well, it was by chance. Their plumber was going to adopt a dog and asked Amin to help him go fetch him
in Amin’s car. The previous owner was certainly not one the dog loved, for he gladly jumped out of his
car and rushed into Amin’s, when Amin opened the door and said, “Come in.”
“God!” reminisces Amin, “He was such a charmer! And guess what he was called then, Charger!”
As luck would have it, the plumber’s mum did not like the idea of a big dog in her small home and Amin
and gang happily took Charger home and re-christened him Charmer. Summer and Sky were all of two
years, Charmer, seven months old.
From then till now, the twins and Charmer have been inseparable. Hats off to the parents who did not
think twice about their two-year-olds lying on the belly of a big dog, or felt afraid when their kids cupped
the big face of the dog (with big teeth in the mouth) in their little chubby palms, or gurgled joyfully when
they playfully pulled his tail, all sprawled on the floor.
“To be honest, more than us, it’s they who just don’t know what fear is. They are just not scared of any
animals. They go and immediately play with anyone they get an opportunity to interact with; dogs, cats,
horses, donkeys, hamsters, rabbits, squirrels…” says Amin. “Like recently, I had taken them up to Table
Land for a horse camp,” continues Charlotte, “the whole day we were up there and Summer and Sky
learnt everything there was about horses. Tiny as they are, they were totally un-bothered about
standing close to the horses, touching them, feeding them. Summer, like, had her whole hand inside the
horse’s mouth!” “And they also watched the complete exercise of a horse castration, without blinking an eyelid!” says Amin, all astounded. And I learn that Summer was also game to put her hand up a
pregnant horse to feel the foal!! Wow, she is gonna be a vet, someday, for sure.
“I am going to be a dog trainer, when I grow up!” This is Sky, who has come traipsing with Charmer who
is patiently allowing Sky to do what she wants with him. “Really,” I answer. “but I thought you will
become a film star, what happened to that!” I tease (coz she is a complete natural in front of the camera
and can hold long poses!) “No, dog trainer,” she asserts and settles in to tell me, how she loves to dance
with Charmer. “I simply lift his paws off the ground and we dance. But we can’t lift him, daddy can.”
“But we can swim with him,” this is Summer, sweetly smiling and telling me so.
Nature plays a big part in the Hajee lifestyle. Out on a walk, they once found six under-nourished pups
lying in a ditch by the roadside. They couldn’t leave them there unattended so they landed up with
these orphans at the only shelter in Panchgani, which is Janice’s Trust.
I knew Janice Smith pretty well. She was a compassionate teacher at my little niece’s school, the St
Joseph’s Convent. Janice housed hundreds of homeless creatures in her home, until the day she died
and now in her memory, a shelter has come up, on her very own premises.
Here is where Summer and Sky would go every day to meet the puppies they had saved. Which was fine,
until they discovered the donkeys there and started to go every week to bathe them!!
Then, of course, there is Mona’s Farm (a family friend) where they go get acquainted with the cows and
play with the calves. One day they will milk them.
While Charlotte went to refill the teapot and Amin to his computer to fine-tune his script, which will
soon become the first movie he will direct (Jaane Na Koi), I started to think of the fearless twosome,
Summer and Sky. They may be six-year-olds and prattle along like the kids they are. But there are
instances when they are the epitome of young ladies. And while you can see their intelligence shining
through, alongside there are other characteristics that lend depth to their little personalities; immense
confidence and deep compassion. Both the girls have oodles of kindness in their demeanor.
I sat thinking… attributing the development of these qualities to the fact that they are so in tune with all
the creatures that God has created and which they are surrounded by and with whom they have a
special connection. I mean how many kids are there that I know who go bathing donkeys and nursing little
kittens, watching castrations, wanting to feel unborn foals… Brave and bold children… I was thinking,
just when my chain of thoughts was broken by a loud and unending shriek… Summer stumbled upon the
deck, Sky almost falling over her, “Daddy, daddy, come quickly, there’s a cockroach in the kitchen.!”
They were almost hysterical.
I burst out laughing, brave yes, but girls will be girls.

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