Shalini Nair : Mumbai, Mon Dec 30 2013, IE
AnchorShruti with her sons. “I regret I couldn’t thank him,” she says. Pradip Das

The country knew and loved Farooq Sheikh as the actor behind many a sublime role. Few knew another side of him, as a fiercely secretive philanthropist who kept his identity hidden even from his benefactors.

On Saturday, Shruti Kamble discovered that the man who had helped her and her two sons after her husband’s death in the terror attack of November 2008 was Shaikh. Offering a silent prayer for the actor, the 40-year-old says: “My regret is I could never thank him.” All that the Kambles knew, from the many envelopes Shruti saved, was that a “Shaikh sa’ab” was helping them.

The 65-year-old actor died of a heart attack in Dubai on Friday night. The funeral is on Monday.

Exactly a month after the 26/11 incident, The Indian Express had received an SMS from Shaikh, characteristically self-effacing in tone, regarding a story that had appeared in the paper on the wife and two small sons of Rajan Kamble, a maintenance worker at Taj Hotel who had died in the terror attack. Shaikh had also read a previous story on Rajan in the paper, detailing how he had been shot by terrorists while ushering hotel guests to safety.

Reading that Rajan had wanted elder son Rohan to go to a military school and younger Atharva, only 2 at the time, to become a pilot, Shaikh had got in touch. He offered to fund the children’s education, after extricating a promise that his identity would be kept a secret.

The Indian Express would call him at the beginning of every academic year and inform him of the amount needed, and he would promptly dispatch a cheque to the Kambles. He never asked how the money was spent.

While Atharva is one of the best students in his Class II now, Rohan, who is in Class IX, plans to work at the Taj. “While the Taj management has taken care of us, if not for Shaikh sa’ab, my children couldn’t have dreamed of making it so far. Today I can finally tell my sons that this was the stranger who looked after us when everyone we called our own gave up,” Shruti says.