Teji Bachchan was a renowned social activist from India who is best known for being the mother of Bollywood megastar, Amitabh Bachchan.
Teji Bachchan was born as Tejwant Kaur Suri on Wednesday, 12 August 1914 (age 93 years; at the time of death) in Lyallpur, Punjab, British India (present-day Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan). Since her childhood, Teji was interested in literature and loved to read poems and couplets of the contemporary polymaths.
Family & Caste
Parents & Siblings
There is not much information about her mother and siblings.
Relationships, Husband & Children
She got married to Harivansh Rai Bachchan, a noted Indian poet, in 1941.
The couple went on to have two sons – Amitabh Bachchan and Ajitabh Bachchan.
Jaya Bachchan is her daughter-in-law while Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is her grand-daughter-in-law. Abhishek Bachchan is her grandson, and Shweta Nanda Bachchan is her granddaughter. Aaradhya Bachchan is the great-granddaughter of Teji Bachchan.
Teji & Harivansh Rai Bachchan – The Love Story
The couple, Teji and Harivansh Rai Bachchan were often termed as an amalgamation of ‘tradition and modernity;’ as Teji had an Anglicized upbringing while Harivansh Rai was an icon of deep-rooted Indian tradition. When they first met, Teji was teaching psychology at Khoob Chand Degree College, Lahore, Punjab, British India (present-day Punjab, Pakistan) while Harivansh Rai Bachchan was a professor of English at the Allahabad University. The couple met at a time when Harivansh Rai Bachchan was still recovering from the traumatic loss of his first wife, Shyamala.
There’s an interesting story about their first meeting. It was Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poet friend Prakash who once invited him to his home in Bareilly. Harivansh Rai onboard a train from Delhi to Bareilly and reached Prakash’s house early morning, and when he asked Prakash the motive behind that sudden invitation, Praksh winked mischievously and told that nothing was serious and that he wanted him to introduce to one of the admirers of his poems from Lahore; it was none other than Teji Suri. When Teji entered the room in a salwar-suit with a sleek dupatta draped over it, Harivansh Rai mesmerized with her beauty, and it was ‘love at first sight’ moment for him. While describing her beauty, Harivansh Rai once said,
वह कोई स्त्री नहीं, बल्कि सर झुकाए कोई यूनानी देवी खड़ी थी। जैसे किसी पुरानी किताब का कोई चित्र जीवंत हो उठा हो।”
When Prakash and Teji insisted Harivansh Rai to recite any poem of his, he presented a poem that he had written almost twelve years back –
इसीलिए सौंदर्य देखकर शंका यह उठती तत्काल, कहीं फंसाने को तो मेरे नहीं बिछाया जाता जाल।”
Another poem that he recited at that time and which marked a great influence on Teji was –
On that evening, both had lots of talks over literature and other stuff, and from then onwards, their love started blossoming. After a long courtship, they got married to each other in 1941.
Teji Bachchan – The Artist
Apart from being a lecturer in psychology, Teji Bachchan was an accomplished singer and theater artist and had a keen ear for poetry and music. After her marriage with Harivansh Rai Bachchan, the duo set up a home in Allahabad; a household that was often described as a typical “Allahabad Sangam of Tradition & Modernity.” They would often play host to intellectuals and writers and attend literary meets where the couple earned acclaim as a singing duo. Being an amateur actor, she performed with several troupes in Allahabad and Delhi. After marriage, Teji performed in Shakespeare’s plays translated by her husband, such as Macbeth and Othello.
A Connecting Link Between The Bachchan-Gandhi Family
Teji Bachchan was also known to be a confidant of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; during the Bachchan Family’s stay in Delhi in the late ’50s.
It was, in fact, Teji who acted as Sonia Gandhi‘s godmother when Sonia Antonio Maino arrived in India as Gandhi Family’s “Bahu.” On 13 January 1968, when Sonia came to India as Rajiv Gandhi‘s fiancee, It was Amitabh Bachchan who received her on a chilly winter morning at Palam Airport. Until her marriage with Rajiv, Sonia lived at the Bachchan’s residence where Teji acted as her godmother and schooled her in Indian customs. Several wedding rituals like Sonia’s Mehendi ceremony were held at the Bachchan’s home. In a 1985 interview, Sonia said,
I came to learn a lot from them. Teji aunty is my second… no, my third mother (after her own mother and mother-in-law Indira Gandhi). Amit and Bunty (Ajitabh) are my brothers.”
Reportedly, it was Teji Bachchan who had persuaded Indira Gandhi to let Rajiv get married to Sonia; as Indira wasn’t happy over Rajiv’s choice at that time.
Even after the Rajiv-Sonia marriage, Sonia and her family stayed briefly at the Bachchans’ New Delhi residence at 13, Willingdoon Crescent. The Gandhi-Bachchan relation peaked to a new high when Rajiv Gandhi brought Amitabh Bachchan in politics and offered him a Congress ticket to contest the Lok Sabha Elections from Allahabad that he even won over Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna with a handsome margin.
However, the relation started getting sour when Amitabh resigned after three years; as his name appeared in the Bofors scam. Although Amitabh was later given a clean chit in the case by the Supreme Court, the relation between the Bachchan-Gandhi family had never been the same. The last time when the Gandhi-Bachchan family met together was at her funeral in December 2007.
A Celebrity Mother
Although Teji Bachchan had her own identity and even before Amitabh Bachchan had arrived in the limelight, Teji Bachchan’s name was reckoned with the celebrated activists and scholars in India, she is better known as Amitabh Bachchan’s mother; owing to the hight the actor has achieved in his career.
She was, in fact, the curator of Amitabh Bachchan’s professional life. Although she had an Anglicized background, she ensured that her children were equipped in Indian culture. Her close ones say that Teji was a disciplinarian and she had framed a proper time table for her children, and they had to strictly follow that; a trait that Amitabh still carries, and he is known for his punctuality in the film industry.
Even after Amitabh rose to stardom, he never forgot to take her permission wherever he wanted to go.
Reportedly, it was Teji who had encouraged Amitabh to join films; contrary to Harivansh Rai who wanted him to concentrate on his studies. The Economic Times While talking about it in an interview, Amitabh said,
She introduced me to theatre, films and music .. and to ballroom dancing .. took me to the floor at Gaylords, that popular restaurant in Connaught Place Delhi, one evening.”
Teji used to call Amitabh “Munna,” and while talking about him in an interview, she said,
One day when Munna, after working for 22 hours, came back home, Bachchanji told him, ‘Dekho Munna ek roti bhi bahut hain.’ Munna replied, ‘Dad mujhe aaj bhi yaad hain, main bhoolta nahin, aap kehte the roti badi mushkil se milti hain, aaj main kehta hoon paise badi mushkil se milta hai.”
Amitabh Bachchan often shares emotional notes for his mother on his social media accounts and in one such note, he wrote –
Its Mother’s birth Anniversary .. August 12 .. when you failed she consoled and gave hope .. when you succeeded she wept .. till her last days she insisted on knowing whether I had eaten .. and when going out, to advise, not to be late .. I had grandchildren by then .. but that is Mother !!”
In another note to his mother, Amitabh reminisced Teji Bachchan, a Sikh, singing the Gurbani (hymn) to him –
Those early years in Allahabad, when Ma recited and sang the eternal pious and divine words of the Gurbani, in my ears… ‘tati vaar na jaavaee.”
After remaining bed-ridden in Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital for almost the whole of 2007, Teji Bachchan breathed her last at the age of 93 on 21 December 2007 after a prolonged illness. According to the hospital bulletin, she died at 1.05 pm at Lilavati Hospital. The entire Bachchan Family and many celebrities from across the country were in attendance at her funeral.
- She was born into an affluent Punjabi Sikh Khatri family.
- Reportedly, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru often used to introduce Harivansh Rai Bachchan and Teji Bachchan at social gatherings by pointing towards Harivansh Rai as “He is a poet” and then pointing to Teji, he would add, “And this is his poem.”
- Teji played “Lady Macbeth” in the Hindi adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by her husband, Harivansh Rai Bachchan.
- She, along with her husband Harivansh Rai, played a cameo appearance in Yash Chopra’s 1976 film, Kabhie Kabhie.
- In 1973, she served as one of the directors of the Film Finance Corporation (now, National Film Development Corporation of India).
- She actively curated the professional life of Amitabh Bachchan. For instance, she lobbied hard to Manmohan Desai to change the ending of “Coolie;” as in the original script, Amitabh’s character was meant to die. Rediff
- Reportedly, it was Teji Bachchan who had requested Indira Gandhi to write a personal letter to actress Nargis Dutt; recommending Amitabh as an actor in Bollywood. Express India
- The renowned actor-director, Tinu Anand is a great admirer of Teji Bachchan, and he gracefully owes a lot to her. While talking about her in an interview, he said,
I’ll always be grateful to Teji Bachchan. She had persuaded Amitabh to act in my film Shahenshah. She is our family friend. Our families became close during our stay in Peshawar.”
- She was often spotted attending the premiers of Amitabh Bachchan’s films.
- Teji Bachchan and her Mama’s (brothers of her mother) were the Prabandhaks of the Anandpur Sahib Gurudwara. News 18