Everything was going well until the wind changed direction. Suddenly Nargis was trapped inside a ring of fire. In a manner reminiscent of his daredevil days in Khurd, Sunil leapt into the flames. Strangely, Nargis had made no attempt to get out of the fire. She later said she was listening to some higher power which told her to stay there, and was 'ambiguous' about being rescued. But when Sunil reached her, she allowed him to lead her out. They were both badly burnt. Sunil had burns on his face and chest, and she had burns on her hands. Had Sunil not acted swiftly, Nargis could have lost her life in the fire.
She was only 28 years old then.
Bombay was too far for the injured couple to travel, so Mehboob sent them to recuperate in his homestead in Billimora, 35 miles from Umra… Once at Billimora, Nargis felt better after swallowing some painkillers, but she was horrified when she went into Sunil's room. He had high fever and was drifting in and out of consciousness. Nargis felt her inaction during the fire was responsible for his state. She sat by his side, changed the bandages, gave him his medicine and kept vigil over him. She placed wet bandages on his fevered brow, brought him food, and sat with him throughout the night, carefully monitoring his comfort. She anxiously waited for him to open his eyes, and was surprised at the rush of relief she felt when he did… Sunil was deeply moved by her efforts to look after him. After all, she was a famous film star and he was still a newcomer. Yet, she was making him feel as though they had known each other for ages. His natural reticence in front of women began to recede. Soon they were talking like friends-sharing ideas, thoughts, dreams. Their fortnight in Billimora became a turning point: incredibly, they had fallen in love.
As she sat by his bedside, she realized that his courage in pulling her out of the fire had impressed her. It was a long time since someone had sacrificed anything for her. She was the one who always did things for others, whether it was for her family or Raj. Though they were both close to 30 years of age, when she looked at Sunil she saw something of the ideals she had once possessed.
His shy and gentle style, quite unlike Raj's flirtatiousness, was like a balm to her. Unusually, she was spending time with a man who treated her like a normal human being.
To her own surprise, as she talked to Sunil, she realized she had stopped caring for Raj a long, long time ago. And even if she had loved him, it had never been like this. What she felt now was a powerful emotion that engulfed her and made her happy beyond belief. The depression she had been through evaporated in the face of this love. She admitted that she may have ended her life because of the 'turmoil' in it, had he (Sunil) not said, 'I want you to live.' Raj had come into her life when she was 19 and ready for a relationship. If it hadn't been Raj, it would have been someone else; he just happened to be her first boyfriend.
She said she was 'shameless' in discussing every detail of her life, and was not worried because she knew 'that his (Sunil's) shoulders were always there for me to cry on-and I also knew that his garments will absorb my tears and not scatter them out for people to make fun of me.' As the days merged into one another, Sunil discovered how difficult the last few years had been for Nargis, caught in a hopeless relationship with a man who did not care for her reputation or her future, and only wanted to exploit her. More and more he wanted to protect her and look after her forever. She confessed to Sunil that her relations with Raj had been on a 'razor's edge', and that she had been 'desperately' trying to cling to him without any response. She told him that Raj 'had started making me feel disgusting even to myself' and that before she met Sunil, she had 'no reason to be living-I was like that beautiful plant which wanted to bloom but could not because there was poison in the soil.'
With Sunil, things were different. To begin with, he was not as complicated a person as Raj. He was a straightforward, plainspeaking man with a deep respect for women. He could never put his woman on a pedestal one minute and abuse her the next. He was also far less experienced in matters of the heart. Apart from a few mild flirtations, he had never been with a woman, or even had a girlfriend. It was this naïveté that appealed to Nargis, no longer the young girl who had been swept away by twinkling blue eyes. She longed for someone steady and thoughtful. She found in him all the old values of chivalry that made her feel safe. Finally, she had met someone whom she could respect as well. And even more wonderfully, she loved him and he loved her back!
In her letters she was open and blunt about her affection. And within the fortnight they had decided to get married. But it would be a while before they could share their secret with the world. Mother India was still under production, and had people suspected an affair between Nargis and Sunil, it could have led to a scandal.
To avoid their relationship becoming public, the couple began to employ all sorts of strategies. They decided that they would not speak about it to anybody, or at least to as few as possible. As a result, even to this day, most people, even family and friends closest to them, have no idea how often they met in those early days. It was usually in secret, at night. Since they couldn't meet openly, they constantly wrote to each other. In their letters and in the journal each one kept, they addressed each other as 'Pia' and 'Hey There'. When they sent telegrams to each other, they would sign as 'Pia' and 'Hey There'.
Another set of fun pseudonyms was 'Marilyn Monroe' and 'Elvis Presley'.
In her correspondence with Sunil, Nargis reveals herself to be a woman hungry to show her love. Almost as though she could gaze into the future, she wrote to him, 'Darling, don't get angry, but remember even if I die, I will always be there with you spiritually. I am so much attached to you that even death can't take me away completely from you.' These lines would probably comfort Sunil much later, but right now it was the constant separation and the rumours which had him worried.