Hindustani Theatre: A Journal of the Arts

 

Hindustani Theatre Journal (Niaz Haider in picture)

Hindustani Theatre Journal (Niaz Haider in picture)

On an uncomfortably sultry day in Mumbai in July last year, I found myself squeezed into a corner of what then seemed to me to be a room that had been hit by a violent, but well-mannered storm – variously-sized boxes tucked under the bed and on top of cupboards, several diligently organized folders in precarious piles, bulky files jutting anachronistically out of almirahs, stacks of old notebooks, two buzzing computers and three theatre people, all brimming with personal stories and inherited memories from more than half a decade ago. This was my first real introduction to the Hindustani Theatre and the dynamic doyenne at its helm, Begum Qudsia Zaidi. Preparations were on in full-swing for Begum Zaidi’s centenary celebrations, and Shaili was passing around bits and fragments of paper, regaling us with the adventures of the Hindustani Theatre over cups of tea and biscuit. Perhaps it was the caffeine, or the afternoon delirium, or my overzealous curiosity (or the heady combination of all three), but everything we found in that room seemed completely riveting. Old letters (Begum Zaidi knew Helene Weigel?!), planning documents (the Hindustani Theatre wanted stage managers to be paid higher than actors and directors?!), food bills (in those days you could pay for meals in paise?!) – every scrap of paper we stumbled upon added something more to the Hindustani Theatre’s story, which Shaili and her team were piecing together bit-by-bit, trying to build a coherent narrative that would tie it all together. One of the greatest treasures that lay among those heaps was a file containing carefully preserved copies of a journal published by Hindustani Theatre for a brief period in the 1960s.

Simply titled Hindustani Theatre, this “monthly journal of the arts” ran fairly regularly for nearly a year. Even to someone like me, who knew close to nothing about Begum Zaidi and her theatre troupe, it was evident that this periodical was especially extraordinary. If nothing else it was quite likely the first publication of its kind in India, seeing how it was published in 1963, at least two years before any other major theatre-centric magazines, such as Sangeet Natak and Natarang in 1965, Enact in 1967, began cropping up. I had many questions: some got answers, some lay hanging in the air. What could be the motivation behind starting a theatre journal? Who was its intended readership? What was the relationship between this printed artifact and the Hindustani Theatres performance repertoire?

Five months after that initial encounter, I had the chance to resurrect some of these questions. The journals had been scanned and meticulously catalogued by Shaili and Shreyans. The routine frustrations of technology notwithstanding, I could now leisurely peruse through Hindustani Theatre issues at my own pace, despite being in a different country and time zone. This triggered yet another question: how accessible was the journal to its targeted readers? Where was it sold and how widely was it distributed? Armed with these interrogations I re-opened the journals, bent on unearthing some sub-textual information buried within these pages. Going into this project with the spirit of a private investigator, I quickly discovered that my client was rather intractable and reserved! For one thing, none of the issues contain any kind of editorial or manifesto that declare the scope and ambition of the journal and introduce the reader to this new publication. Right from it first issue – the ‘Bertolt Brecht Number’ – the journal just dives into the job at hand without preamble, which perhaps says much more about the Hindustani Theatre ethos than an editorial possibly could. It would seem that the theatre group remained consciously cautious of any self-fuss and publicity in its journal. Even though the first ‘number’ is dedicated exclusively to Brecht, Hindustani Theatre’s own vibrant artistic investment in Brecht, through its landmark production Sufaid Kundali, the first translation of Brecht into Urdu, and its Brecht Exhibition find limited mention, and that too often inconspicuously (for instance, the latter is only alluded to in a telegram sent to the Hindustani Theatre by Helene Weigel, artistic director of the Berliner Ensemble, published in this issue). If the journal is any indication, the Hindustani Theatre’s vision seemed to extend beyond simply getting spectators for their plays and events. The larger aim, rather, seems to have been to cultivate a theatre-literate audience that would be receptive and committed to the arts at large. The process rather than the product of theatre-making is the focus, with several articles detailing the minutiae of diverse aspects of theatre, ranging from the construction and use of masks to various kinds of acting methods. The many accessible, yet critical, reviews of ongoing plays, the numerous photographs and songs that accompanied many of the articles, the decision to include content in two languages (English and true to its name – Hindustani), together suggest that the idea was not just to get people to come watch plays, but to build an audience that could think about theatre in a new, involved way. Hindustani Theatre even had an ‘Audience Member’ programme, where by paying ten rupees (imagine!) you could watch any six plays and get a yearly subscription to the journal.

National School of Drama number

National School of Drama number

Although the lengths and formats of the different issues fluctuate radically, there is some method to the madness. Each ‘number’ of the journal is dedicated to a particular topic, which can sometimes be a specific figure such like Brecht, or on occasion something decidedly more abstract, such as “Words – Theatre’s Source.” With this motley mix of subjects Hindustani Theatre managed to touch upon concerns that ultimately became hot topics for discussion among the who’s who of the theatre circles, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. Consider, for example, the love-hate relationship between indignant theatre groups and indifferent state institutions, specifically the Sangeet Natak Akademi and everyone’s favourite punching-bag, the National School of Drama. The Hindustani Theatre journal’s ‘National School of Drama number’ was perhaps one of the earliest attempts to publicly critically question the contribution of the NSD to the theatrical landscape of the country. The lead article of this issue raises the vital, and perhaps still relevant, concern that NSD graduates don’t have many career opportunities after completing their course, bringing the point home through somewhat sensational sub-headlines (“ ‘What is our future’ – they ask,” “over their head hangs the sword,” and my personal favourite – “the School’s students who enact tragedies now face one”). Interestingly, almost two decades after , Enact, a long-running theatre magazine edited by Rajinder Paul, published an ‘NSD number’ almost identical in spirit to the Hindustani Theatre one, though substantially longer and more detailed – presumably by this time the NSD had a lot more to show for itself, and had undoubtedly provoked even greater grievances.

Folk Theatre Issue Cover

Folk Theatre Issue Cover

Yet another hornet’s nest stirred up prophetically by Hindustani Theatre was about the relevance of ‘folk’ traditions in modern theatre practice, discussed at length by the theatre pundits of the time, Suresh Awasthi and Nemichandra Jain, in the last surviving issue of the journal. Dedicated to ‘Natutanki – A Dying Art,’ this number initiated what was to later become a subject of intense spirited debate in the years to come, especially during the apogee of the ‘Theatre of Roots’ movement of the 1970s.

There is no doubt that the Hindustani Theatre publication is remarkable for its all-encompassing cosmopolitan and almost prescient vision. Yet, the most engrossing and endearing parts of the journal are those that offer a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Hindustani Theatre itself: Niaz Haider’s ruminations on dramatic language, excerpts from his translation of classical Sanskrit plays, songs from Sufaid Kundali reproduced in their entirety, photographs, even corrections marked in pencil by an invisible hand on some of the journal drafts – these conjure up a world that was all but lost to us, a world that we have now been trying to reconstruct over cups of tea, through stories, memories, letters, pictures, journals and of course, blogposts!

–Sharvari Sastry

Hindustani Theatre – a monthly journal of the arts
1. Jan-Feb 1963 Vol.I Nos.1 & 2 – Bertolt Brecht – a special number
2. Mar 1963 Vol.I No.3 – National School of Drama – a review
3. Apr-May 1963 Vol.I Nos.4 & 5 – Words – Theatre’s source
4. Jun-Aug 1963 Vol.I Nos. 6, 7, 8 – Nautanki – A dying art
5. Sept-Oct 1963 Vol.I Nos. 9 & 10 – Mudrarakshas – a prakaran
6. Nov-Dec 1963 Vol.I Nos. 11 & 12 – Shakespeare and Hindi

Festival Diaries #3

25th December, 2014

It was a lazy afternoon. After a lunch of makkai ki roti, sarson ka saag and gajar ka halwa at Bengali Market, the Bombay team decided to make a field-trip. We had heard there was a Begum Zaidi Market somewhere near the Rail Museum, so we piled into a car and went looking for this market with no clue of where we were going. After looping around the Rail Museum for a while, we finally found the modest Begum Zaidi Market in Chanakyapuri.

Amit posting on social media from Begum Zaidi Market

Amit posting on social media from Begum Zaidi Market

A central courtyard sits lined by a few shops—a beauty parlour, a wool shop, a mattress-wala, a halvai, the usual requisites of a neighbourhood market. On the roof of the halvai’s shop limp shirts hang from a clothesline. A dog loiters near the chaatwala, while the cobbler, sitting next to a small temple, fixes the sole of a shoe. A black cat perches atop the temple, and a young boy parades his mother through the courtyard on his new scooter. He nearly crashes into the couple eating gol gappa. We walk around the market, moving with awkward leaps over the slush, observing the idiosyncrasies of Begum Zaidi Market. One shop has misspelled Begum as Begun, the Hindi word for something “without value”!

The halvai

The market

We are the strange outsiders at first. Everyone stares, befuddled by the descent of these twenty-somethings with cameras. The halvai even begins to pose! We realise we must run an errand, photocopy Habib Tanvir’s papers which we are carrying with us. Like every good market Begum Zaidi Market has a Xerox¬wala, too. We give the shopkeeper an envelope of frail letters and manifestos, all written by Habib Tanvir and addressed to various members of the Hindustani Theatre. As the man lifts and lowers the lid of his photocopy machine again and again, he begins to read snippets of the letters. He stops mid-copying and says:
“Arrey! These are very old. This one is from fifty eight”.

“Yes, yes”, we explain, “you know that Begum Zaidi whom this market is named after? She had a theatre group…these belong to that group”.

The man is curious. “Begum Zaidi…” he mutters. He turns to us and asks, “Oh, where is she?”

“No, no, she isn’t alive!” we tell him.

At the photocopy shop

At the photocopy shop

Photocopies in hand, we leave Begum Zaidi Market, and the community of people living alongside her name with not the faintest idea of who she was. We return to NSD for the final show of the festival, Vishakhadatta’s Mudrarakshas, translated by Begum Zaidi and directed by M S Sathyu and K K Kohli. The queue outside is maddeningly long. The theatre fills up so quick that we seat people on the floor, along the aisles. The show begins, and twenty minutes in, we hear thundering on the glass doors outside. A group of Border Security Force personnel have come to see the show and they refuse to accept that they cannot see the show because the theatre is full, and because they are late. Their thumping on the glass is so loud and disruptive to the show, and they are so keen to see the play, that we let them in. Putting their military training to use, they crawl into the auditorium through the side door and crouch down along the centre aisle. By now, Chanakya is furious. The political intrigue, and the evils of empire thicken with each scene. And every scene seems more carefully designed than the one before it. The bold colour palette of the backdrop shows up in different combinations in the costumes, from Chanakya’s all-white garb to emerald green dhotis with pink safas, and purple achkans with yellow piping. A much denser play than the farcical ones shown earlier in the festival, Mudrarakshas reveals another register in Begum Zaidi’s writing. The dialogues, though phonetically musical, do not use the colloquial ease and wit like those of Chacha Chakkan and Azar Ka Khwab. The language is restrained, perhaps harsher, evoking the courtly nature of the Sanskrit original.

Mudrarakshas rehearsal

Mudrarakshas rehearsal

Malayketu falls after Chanakya’s conniving and the Begum Qudsia Zaidi festival at NSD comes to an end. We thank everyone who helped put up this festival, from politicians to cleaning staff. We head out into the cold, toward which we have almost developed an affinity, to take down the exhibition. We pull down the panels, and pack Begum Zaidi’s life into large portfolios. The next day we leave for Bombay, taking her to the people of another city.

The Bombay team

The Bombay team

Festival Diaries #2

December 24th 2014

The seminar on Begum Qudsia Zaidi started at 11:00 am. We should have begun at 10:00 am, but people sauntered in leisurely, once they had mustered up the courage to venture into the cold. The day was spent remembering and discussing the many sides of Begum Qudsia Zaidi. Shama Zaidi remembered her mother and spoke on the formation of the Hindustani Theatre. Asghar Wajahat talked about the language of Begum Zaidi’s texts, and Dr. Gopichand Narang contextualised Begum Zaidi’s focus on a vernacular theatre against the larger politics of Hindi-Urdu. Several others reminisced about their Qudsia apa and how she affected their lives. Javed Siddiqi, himself a playwright, said he first learned of Begum Zaidi as a child, when he acted in a production of Chacha Chakkan. One day, the entire set fell on him. The show was a hit.

 

Javed Siddiqi at the seminar

Javed Siddiqi at the seminar

Of course, after so many years a person becomes an elusive memory, a fiction from some grand mythology. But it is curious that so many people remember their interactions with Begum Zaidi vividly, whether they knew her for years or for just a few months. Beyond their personal relationships with Begum Zaidi, almost every speaker mentioned that Begum Zaidi’s work for theatre ended prematurely. She failed to achieve, or perhaps even didn’t conceive of, a professional model for theatre that could be implemented nationally. With her political connections, perhaps Begum Zaidi could have developed a professional theatre system that spread beyond Delhi. The relevance of her vision and work today, then, lies in the national need for a sustainable professional theatre model.

 

Azar and Hajjo

Azar and Hajjo

While Begum Zaidi might not have achieved all that she had intended to, she did write prolifically in the short span of twelve years. The sensitivity of her language, how she transposed foreign language texts into Hindustani effortlessly, is the biggest appeal of her texts, and her strongest creative contribution. During the course of the seminar several people revealed that their favourite of her plays is Azar Ka Khwab, an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Some even went so far as to say it was the epitome of her works.

Azar Ka Khwab, directed by Atul Tiwari and performed by students of the Academy of Dramatic Arts, Mumbai, happened to be the play for this evening. Begum Zaidi’s Eliza Doolittle was Hajjo, an amrood-waali who meets Mir Azar (Professor Higgins) at a mela. Although based on Pygmalion the play had a life of its own. The sharp wit of the dialogues propelled the plot so swiftly that it left no “awkwardness” of translation. There was a genuine playfulness in the text. At one point Azar exclaims, “Hajra Hajra makkai ki roti, ser bhar bajra”!

 

Festival Diaries #1

December 23, 2014, and Delhi is foggy and cold. Outside, people head to work bundled in shawls and sweaters. Nobody wants to be out on this unforgiving morning, though chaiwalas are more than pleased with the surge in business. A hundred years ago today, Qudsia Zaidi was born, in this very city. The busy roads and the tall edifices of the Metro couldn’t even have been things of dreams, then. But perhaps the foggy cold of Delhi’s Decembers has lingered through the Decembers of a hundred years, from the day of Qudsia’s birth until now, when we remember the work she did and words she left us.

IMG_0056

The exhibition going up

The day begins at 9:30 am. The team from Bombay totters towards Abhimanch theatre at the National School of Drama (NSD), cursing the cold under their breaths. The team of NSD staff, hammer and measuring tape in hand, are ready for the morning’s mission. An unnamed black dog reports for duty on the dot. The four-legged chap seems rather friendly at first, until the watchman informs us, “voh katta hai”, the dog bites. By noon the sun arrives, the fog relents, and people lose a sweater or two. The exhibition panels with archival photographs and information and anecdotes on Begum Zaidi’s life are up, too. The mostly silent teamwork between the Bombay and NSD teams has been swifter than we’d imagined. People from around campus wander toward the exhibition, now, while Shreyans, who is feeling especially enthusiastic, offers chai to anyone he sees. Anagh, who has spent weeks designing the panels, stands staring at his exhibit, preening to himself.

Audience viewing the exhibition

Audience viewing the exhibition

As the sun disappears once again and halogen lights appear below the panels, the audience arrives. The show is an hour away but the queue of people hoping to get passes has coiled around the exhibition. Somewhere amid the crowd, a man looking at a photograph of Begum Zaidi whispers, “She was beautiful”. Behind him, an older man chuckles, “Aapa ke deewane kuch kam nahi hue” “Aapa will never lose her admirers”. As the crowd gathers, much chaos ensues. People fight for tickets, children from the Katha school come shuffling in, and everyone offers competing reasons for why they should be allowed in, even though they don’t have a pass. By 6:30pm the auditorium doors close; nobody was turned away. Atul Tiwari and Waman Kendre make the opening remarks. They talk on Begum Zaidi’s life, her vision for theatre, and the reasons for these celebrations. Waman Kendre sums it up nicely. “It is our responsibility as people who make theatre in India”, he says, “to remember those people who brought us here”.

People in the queue

People in the queue

Finally, the main event of the evening, Chacha Chakkan ke Karname (directed by Danish Iqbal and Dr. M Sayeed Alam), begins. Tom Alter plays the endearing and utterly exasperating Chacha, who creates only havoc and laughable dilemmas when he interferes, too far beyond his depth, into household matters. The audience cackles and squeals as Chacha makes dirty laundry an expedition or as he fails, with his elite Urdu upbringing, to understand his Bhojpuri-speaking servant. The play ends and the audience claps, and many are still laughing about the scene that ended a minute ago. The children cannot stop talking about which story or which joke they liked best. It seems almost festive as people make their way out of the auditorium’s warmth. Chacha has won them over. But perhaps someone else has won them over, too. Begum Zaidi’s words, which she wrote over fifty years ago, brought Chacha Chakkan, his temperament, his family, the impossibility of his logic to this Delhi audience of the twenty-first-century. Their laughter, then, is the most fitting tribute we could pay to a woman who wrote for the people.

Chacha Chakkan ke Karname

Chacha Chakkan ke Karname

Seminar on Begum Qudsia Zaidi and the Hindustani Theatre

Date: Wednesday, 24th December 2014

Time: 10am to 5pm

Venue: Antarmukh, National School of Drama, Bahawalpur House, Bhagwandas Road, New Delhi

Hosted by the National School of Drama

 

SESSION 1 – Inaugural and introduction 10am  to 10:45am

Prof. Waman Kendre will inaugurate the seminar

Shama Zaidi – BEGUM QUDSIA ZAIDI, AN OVERVIEW

TEA BREAK

 

SESSION 2 – “Qudsia Zaidi, the Woman and the Work” 11am to 12 noon 

Moderator: Javed Siddiqi 

Speakers:

Anis Azmi – BEGUM ZAIDI’S WRITINGS

M.S.Sathyu – THE HINDUSTANI THEATRE

Atul Tiwari – RELEVANCE OF BEGUM ZAIDI’S WORKS TODAY

 

SESSION 3 – “The Languages and the Language of Theatre” 12 noon to 1pm 

Moderator: Prof. Gopichand Narang

Speakers:

Prof. Asghar Wajahat – LANGUAGES

Mahmood Farooqi – HABIB TANVIR AND BEGUM ZAIDI

LUNCH BREAK 

 

SESSION 4 – “Hindustani Theatre and Newly Independent India” 2pm to 3pm 

Speakers:

Kirti Jain – PAN INDIA VISION IN INDIAN THEATRE IN THE 1950s

Dr. Devendra Raj Ankur – MODELS OF PROFESSIONAL THEATRE

Bhanu Bharti – THE SEARCH FOR A NEW IDIOM IN INDIAN THEATRE

TEA BREAK 

 

SESSION 5 – “Memories” 3:30pm to 5pm

Moderator: Syeda Hameed

Speakers (who will share their memories of Begum Zaidi):

Prof. Mujib Rizvi

Kusum Haider

Uma Sharma

DS Jain

Asha Askari

Kuldip Singh

 

तुम ज़िंदा हो – Ismat Chugtai remembers Begum Qudsia Zaidi

किताब “कुदसिया ज़ैदी” से, मुरत्तब बशीर हुसैन ज़ैदी- पृ. 75 – मकतबा जामिया सितम्बर 1982

कुदसिया ज़ैदी की शख्सियत को कलम की गिरिफ्त में लेना उतना ही दुश्वार है जितना सूई के नाके में

अज़हदहा को पिरोना. मैं ने उनको बहुत दूर से भी और बहुत क़रीब से भी देखा है, और हर एक बार एक नया

रंग, एक नया रुख नज़र आया. जब हँसती थीं तो सर से पैर तक हंस पड़ती थीं जैसे हारसिंघार के फूलों की

फुआर. न जाने क्यों समरकंद और बुखारा के शाफ्तालू के शगूफे याद आ जाते थे. और कभी जो बे-पनाह

गुस्सा आ गया तो कोड़ीयाले सांप की फुंकारें सुनाई देने लगती थीं. झिलमिल मुस्कुराती आँखों में चिंगारियां

चटखने लगती थीं.

मुझे चेहरा देख कर इंसान को जानने में बड़ा लुत्फ़ आता है. कुदसिया को देख कर न जाने क्यों मुझे पुल

सुरात याद आ जाता था, बाल से ज़्यादा बारीक और तलवार से ज़्यादा धारदार- सिवाए सच्चाई के कुछ न गुज़र

पाए.

पहली बार मैं ने उन्हें हमीद भई के यहाँ देखा था. जब मैं दाखिल हुई तो वोह कुछ अपनी बेटी शमा को

फटकार रही थीं. शमा थोड़ी दूर सख्त तनतनाई सी, फूला मुंह फेरे बैठी थी. मेरे जाते ही एक दम मौसम बदल

गया, और कुदसिया मुजस्सम गुलज़ार बन गयीं. इधर-उधर की बातों के बाद फिर शमा का दुखड़ा सर उठाने

लगा.

“बड़ी खुद-सर है”, खाला अम्मा ने चुपके से मेरे कान में फूँका. “ए है, कुदसिया की बेटी तो लगती नहीं”.

“बनी-बनाई कुदसिया है”, मैं ने फ़ैसला किया.

“ए तौबा करो, इतनी काली कलूटी!”

“सांवली सलोनी है.”

“ए ख़ाक नहीं, तुम तो हमेशा उलटी बकती हो. नाक तो देखो!”

“अभी तो बढ़वार के दिन हैं, बड़ी सजीली निकलेगी!”

“ए हटो बी, ऊपर से दीवाने कपड़े! अल्लाह जाने, जी लौटता है.”

मैं ने उस वक़्त कुदसिया के चेहरे पर रौशन मामता, अपने शाहकार पर फ़ख्र और दुनिया के रवैय्ये पर धड़का

उजागर देखा. बेगमों की राय थी, “मियाँ ने बेगम को सर पर चढ़ा रखा है, खुली छूट दे दी है!”

“ए, भला मूए ड्रामों में सर खपाने से फ़ायेदा? भली बीबियों को तो ज़्यादा से ज़्यादा छालिया कतर लेनी चाहिए,

बहुत हुआ तो कभी बीड़ा लगा लिया. और लड़की-ज़ात को तो दबाकर रखा जाये, नहीं तो बस फूटे करम.”

असल बात ये थी कि कुदसिया को हर किस्म के इंसानों के निमटने का गुर आता था. हर एक की फ़िक्र में

घुली जाती थीं. और तो और नियाज़ हैदर जैसे टेढ़े-मेढ़े अजायब-ए-रोज़गार किस्म के इंसान का कल्याण करने

पर उतारू हो गयीं. उसके ग़म में ऐसी घुली जातीं कि जी जलने लगता. वोह अँधेरे में रौशनी की किरन की

तलाश कर लेती थीं. आज अगर नियाज़ हैदर ज़िंदा और पायिंदा हैं तो इस में कुदसिया का बड़ा हाथ है. वोह

जिस मुमकिन या नामुमकिन काम पर जुट जातीं, फिर उसे पूरा किये बगैर उन्हें नींद न आती.

जो मुहब्बत वोह चारों खूंट बांटने की कशाकश में लगी रहतीं वोह खुद उनहोंने अपनी ज़ात और अपनी औलाद

को देने की ज़रूरत न समझी. उन्हें तो बहुत कुछ मिला हुआ था, बल्कि ज़्यादा ही मिला हुआ था. सबसे बड़ी

दौलत तो उन बच्चों के फ़राख-दिल वालदैन ही हैं, जो औलाद को अपने बनाये हुए रास्ते पर नहीं घसीटते, उन्हें

मुकम्मिल आज़ादी और अपने मुस्तक़बिल की ज़िम्मेदारी सौंप देते हैं.

करोड़पतियों की बेटियां बहु बनाकर लाना और मोटा दामाद घेरना उनहोंने कभी ज़रूरी न समझा. उनके बच्चों

ने अपना मुस्तक़बिल खुद ही चमकाया. वालदैन के वसीले से नहीं खुद अपनी ज़हानत से दुनिया में मुस्तक़बिल

बनाने कि औलाद को इजाज़त देना ही असल रौशन ख़याल है.

कुदसिया को ड्रमों से बेहद दिलचस्पी थी. उनहोंने जो ड्रामे अपनाये वोह अदब में गरां-क़द्र इज़ाफ़ा साबित हुए.

मौत के ज़ालिम हाथों ने उन्हें मोहलत न दी. ये मरने के दिन न थे. इतनी बेचैन, इतनी ज़िंदा कुदसिया का

मौत से हवाला देते भी वहम आता है.

आखरी बार मैं ने उन्हें कर्नल नासिर की आमद पर अलीगढ़ में देखा था. कुदसिया का चेहरा गुल-अनार की

तरह जगमगा रहा था. कपड़े वोह हमेशा सादा ही से पहनती थीं. उनका चेहरा उनका सब से अहम ज़ेवर था.

मुझे उनका कोई दूसरा ज़ेवर याद नहीं. हलके कासनी दुपट्टे में उनका चेहरा कुछ कासनी सा लग रहा था,

आँखों में सुर्ख डोरे. जब उनके अचानक दिल के हाथों इन्तेक़ाल की खबर मिली तो मुझे कासनी दुपट्टे में

खिला हुआ कासनी चेहरा याद आ गया. वोह दिल की मरीज़ थीं. किसी को शुबह भी न होता था कि इतनी

ज़िंदा, इतनी बेकल, बेचैन हस्ती के पास कोई मर्ज़ भी भटक सकता है.

उन चंद हस्तियों में जिन्होंने मुझे मुतास्सिर किया, जिन से मिल कर हमेशा कुछ पाने का अहसास हुआ,

कुदसिया का शुमार उन में है.

एक अच्छी गृहसतन, औलाद की बेहतरीन दोस्त, शौहर की चहीती कुदसिया, कौन कहता है तुम ज़िंदा नहीं हो?

आज बरसों बाद भी बहुत पास बहुत अपनी लग रही हो.

Family Fables: Part 2

Love story 1936

Qudsia sipped her morning tea. It tasted somewhat different in this city, but she had already forgotten what Lahore tasted like. Her brother-in law, the writer ‘Patras’ Bokhari, was now the head of the All India Radio in Delhi, so she had moved with him and her sister. Her new life was filled with Patras’s friends, all artists and progressive intellectuals. Unmarried, educated, and financially cared for, Qudsia had a life of independence that most Delhi women could only dream of. Then one day, Patras’s friend, the freedom-fighter Aruna Asaf Ali, visited with a marriage prospect for Qudsia. The man in question was some Bashir Hussain Zaidi: Cambridge-educated, Prime Minister of Rampur, and Aruna’s dear friend. But Patras was completely opposed to the idea of this Bashir Hussain marrying Qudsia. Qudsia was from Lahore, the height of modernity, Bashir was from Rampur, the bastion of the feudal era. She was Sunni, he was Shia. She was twenty two years old, he was thirty-eight. Her family were liberals and thinkers of metropolises, his were orthodox Muslims who lived in a small village of mango groves called Kakrauli.

Photo of Qudsia that was sent to Bashir before they met. (Lahore, Circa 1935)

Bashir, too busy with Rampur, was himself averse to the idea of Qudsia. He told Aruna to give up her silly matchmaking efforts. In 1931, when he had lost his fiancee to tuberculosis, he had sworn he would never marry. And when his mother had professed her utter distress, he had joked, “I will marry only if I meet a woman who can cook, and talk, and mourn for Muharram with the peasant women of Kakrauli, and who can also accompany me to meet the Viceroy when necessary”. For Bashir’s mother, a woman like this could never be real, so she continued to agonise about her unmarried son.

Meanwhile, in Delhi, Qudsia’s sister, Zubeida, had woken from a dream. She had dreamt that Qudsia and Bashir were suited to marry each other. Zubeida urged Patras to consider her dream and, after much argument, he finally relented. Since the two parties hadn’t met, matchmaker Aruna was called in once more– she decided there would be a dekho party (a “seeing party”) in Agra. There was to be a day’s picnic at the Taj Mahal, where the potential couple would finally meet. At the time, Bashir was in Bombay on work, so Aruna gave him strict instructions to return on a train that passed through Agra. The stars were in perfect symmetry that night, so he listened.

In front of the Taj Mahal. L-R: Aruna Asaf Ali, Mansoor Bokhari, Zubeida Bokhari, Qudsia Abdullah, Ahmed Shah Bokhari

The wedding took place in 1937. At the dinner when he formally asked for Qudsia’s hand, Bashir was so bashful that it was only after the wedding that he gave her the ring he was carrying in his pocket. Romance had been a foreign land until now– Bashir and Qudsia meeting for the first time in front of the Taj Mahal. The moment he saw her, he fell madly in love with her and she fell madly in love with him. That same year, Bollywood would produce its first film in colour. And back in Kakrauli, somewhere in a mango orchard, Bashir’s mother silently thanked the heavens.

–Poorna Swami