Last week when silver screen icon Shashi Kapoor passed away, lovers of Indian cinema went all out to console each other; tributes flooded media outlets and messages of condolence flooded social media. The country was mourning the passing of a legend. To a person who belongs to the Shahrukh-Salman generation, it had even more the feel of a legend — a tale handed over generations —a story you listened to with awe and rapture, despite not entirely relating to it. It had a distant, other-worldly feel.

A trailblazer and a heartthrob, the master of ‘understated swagger’, the perfect balancer of stardom with critical acclaim and the first cross over star to venture into international cinema, Shashi Kapoor left behind an indelible mark on the millions of hearts that he touched. And yet, it’s not the passing of a legend alone that we mourn. The collective grief for a person not remotely connected to us, who was at best a distant dream and a fantasy, is a grief that encompasses complex subliminal experiences and human instincts. When you cry for a man that made you cry through the silver screen, when the world feels a little emptier for the loss of a man you never touched or hugged or talked to—it’s not just him that you cry for. Sure, you honour him for his contributions to his craft, for the alleviation of the art form, for enriching the world of cinematic art with brilliance. But that alone doesn’t explain it all.

What you also cry for is the realisation that a little bit of your dreams just died.

A little bit of your youth just faded away — youth kept alive in memories and the presence of legends. Your mind has subconsciously moulded them into symbols for the days when you dreamt freely, spoke fearlessly and were sure of changing the world for the better. When you hoped to find magic and love—and found it perhaps more in the larger-than-life world of the silver screen than in real life. The days when you wrote letters with blood and hoped even to die for true love’s sake. When you envisioned yourself as the hero that fights for whatever is right, the man that can take on the world with his honesty, integrity and strength of will.

Hidden in the backdrop of all your grief is a bit of subconscious sorrow for the loss of innocence and idealism, the wistful wave of nostalgia that makes you crave for a world altered by the blows of time—a world that housed some of the best days of your life, preserved and immortalised, perhaps, in movies that you loved.

A superstar of your youthful days stands for all this and much more. Those are the things you cry for, when you cry for a star that collapsed on itself and left a black hole in the universe of illuminated dreams.

But then, there is also perhaps a gnawing, barely -acknowledged realisation of your own inevitable mortality. Something you’d rather not think of—that you too shall one day disappear into the darkness of the infinite cosmos, with only your memory remaining like dispersed light.

When legends and icons die, they take with them a part of you that you wished you could keep alive forever. But in their inimitable way, they also embody the neat little trick to living on forever: creating something meaningful and everlasting that changes the track of the world a little; something that touches people’s hearts — making them believe they can do more, see more, feel more and be more. Live a little more in others’ hearts.

Zehra Naqvi