I remember exactly where i was when I first heard the news of Kurt Cobain's death. I remember Michael Jackson's, too. Some musicians and cultural icons hold such an important place in our lives that their passing can affect us like a death in our own family, leaving an indelible stamp on our memory.

I can't say that Dev Anand, a major star from the golden age of Bollywood, has held a position in my life as significant as Cobain's or Jackson's, but I certainly won't forget where I was when I heard the news of the famed actor and director's death: huddled around a television screen with a group of strangers at a peculiar little diner on the south side of Indianapolis.

I had arrived there quite by accident while en route to Bloomington. Anyone who has made the drive from downtown Indianapolis to Bloomington knows that the journey begins with a brief trip through the one of ugliest sections of our city. The bleak industrial landscape of Indy's near south side can look dark and gray even on the sunniest of summer days.

I never expected to encounter anything of cultural value while navigating through this web of factories, industrial parks and abandoned warehouses, so I was quite surprised when I noticed a large sign written in Punjabi (a language of North India) tucked away between an adult bookstore and CB repair shop in the vast parking lot of a truck stop near the confluence of South Harding Street and I-465. (Editor's note: Take a tour of the area from behind your computer screen.)

  • Artur Silva
  • Omelet Shoppe - Indian & American Restaurant

Intrigued, I immediately veered off course to take a closer look. The sign led to a vintage Waffle House-style roadside diner, which now seemed to be operating as an Indian restaurant. I wasn't hungry, but my intense curiosity pushed me inside anyway. I quickly plopped down in an open booth and began soaking up the scene.

"I'll be with ya in a minute honey," the waitress called out from behind the counter as she flipped a row of burgers on the grill. On the surface, it was a typical greasy spoon. Burgers and fries, bacon and eggs; all the typical artery-clogging favorites were represented. But a closer examination of the menu revealed a selection of Indian curries, breads and rice.

"What'll ya have?" she asked, her accent mired in rural Indiana twang. "I'll have the aloo gobi," I replied. "Oh, you want Indian food?" she asked, seeming surprised. She was a young, white woman probably in her early twenties.

As I waited for my food, I continued to study the room. Plasma TVs were hung on opposite ends of the diner's walls. One screen played an NFL game and the other was tuned to a Punjabi satellite channel. The Punjabi station caught my attention; they were broadcasting scenes from vintage Bollywood films starring Dev Anand. When a musical selection from Anand's 1965 classic Guide appeared in the rotation, a hush fell over the room. It was the beautiful evergreen ballad "Tere Mere Sapne." A small group had gathered around the screen, spellbound, to watch Anand passionately act out the tune's bittersweet lyrics. As the song ended, a commentator appeared and announced that the beloved actor had died.

I was shocked. At 88 years old, Anand's death wasn't entirely unexpected, but this had been a particularly brutal week for Indian culture. A few days earlier, the country had lost two of its most important and gifted musicians: Ustad Sultan Khan, a sarangi virtuoso and master of Hindustani classical music; and singer Kuldip Manak, a legendary innovator of the Punjabi folk music known as bhangra.

The announcement of Anand's death had clearly stirred the emotions of the Omelet Shoppe's South Asian diners. You could read it on their faces. Anand was not your typical movie star. In a career that stretched 65 years, he appeared in 114 films. During that time, he became an icon to several generations of Indians.

My food arrived at the table and, as I began to eat, I recalled that my fascination with Indian music was propelled by a film that Dev Anand wrote, directed, produced and starred in, the 1972 psychedelic morality play Haré Rama Haré Krishna. The film spawned the massive hit "Dum Maro Dum," a song that continues to attract new audiences year after year. It's been performed by avant-garde chamber music ensemble Kronos Quartet and remixed and sampled by DJs worldwide.

After finishing my meal I decided to hang around a little longer, as I was enjoying the presentation of Anand film clips. I found it interesting that the media and Anand's fans chose to remember the actor through the songs in his films, despite the fact that Anand never wrote or sang any of the music in his movies. I guess it's a testament to the ubiquitous presence of song in Indian cinema.

I was also enjoying the banter between the Omelet Shoppe patrons as they traded stories and memories of their favorite Anand films and songs. The communal experience of sharing and appreciating the work of Dev Anand had bonded them together in this quirky little diner on the south side of Indianapolis.


Kyle Long pens A Cultural Manifesto for NUVO Newsweekly and in 2014 began broadcasting a version of his column on WFYI.

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