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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Notice about Next Hindustani Awaaz Event -- Talk by S M Ashraf on Mera Safar

I am pleased to invite all the next talk in the monthly series: 'Why It Speaks to Me'.

Syed Muhammad Ashraf, Commissioner Income Tax and an award-wining short story writer, will speak on Mera Safar by Ali Sardar Jafri. He will tell us why, from all that he has read, this particular poem 'speaks' to him.

Mera Safar opens with these lines:

Phir ek din aisaa aaega

aankhon ke diye bujh jaaenge

haathon ke kanval kumhalayenge

aur barg-e-zabaan se nataq-va-sadaa kii

har titlii uD jaaegii

ik kaale samandar kii tah mein

kaliyon kii tarah se khilatii huii

phuulon kii tarah se hanstii huii

saarii shaklein kho jaayengii

Khuun kii gardish dil kii dhaDkan

sab rangiiniyaaN so jaayengii

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Khud-garifta -- a review of Ijlal Majeed's stunning new book

Zehra Nigah, the pre-eminent poet today, once made a very interesting observation in the course of a conversation during one of her frequent Delhi visits. She pointed out for me how, the majmua-e-kalam of even some of  the greatest poets have a lot of padding or fluff; she used the delightfully colloquial but apt description: bharti ke sher, alluding to the unevenness that is inevitable and therefore taken as a matter of course while reading a diwan or majmua from cover to cover. It is a rare poet, indeed, she said who exercises enormous self-restraint and is capable of a rigorous self-edit to publish a collection of his or her poetry. I was reminded of Zehra Apa’s words when I first glimpsed through Ijlal Majeed’s debut collection of poetry, entitled Khud-garifta. A slender volume, no more than 140-odd pages, there is nothing here that can remotely be described as fluff. Certainly no bharti ke sher whatsoever mar the evenness of tone and the immaculate, even stringent selection of what goes, and what stays back.

A writer of both the ghazal and nazm since the 1970s, Ijlal sahib has chosen only ghazals for this selection. Such nafasat, too, is rare for the modern poet seldom makes so stern a distinction between the two; Ijlal sahib does so on grounds of lehja and mizaj. He says the two are completely different in the ghazal and the nazm. In fact, his own lehja, his own idiom is far removed from the conventions of the Urdu ghazal. His choice of words and images is starkly modern. As he himself says:

            Badsaleeqa, lu-ubali, baavla, phakkad mizaj
            Ab use jo chahe kah lein who magar achcha laga

And elsewhere:

            Kiss-kiss jatan se jisko kiya tha kabhi shikaar
            Khwabon mein ab bhi chawkrhi bharta hai woh hiran

A retired Professor of History at the Saifia College, Bhopal, Ijlal sahib has been known and well regarded as a poet as his poetry and essays on poetry have been published in both Urdu and Hindi. In Bhopal -- the city of enlightened Begums who nurtured literature, among a circle of connoisseurs and rasiks who can be best described as a latter-day ‘Halqa-e-arbab-zauq’ – Ijlal sahib has enjoyed a reputation as a ba-zauq person and a poet for over five decades. When I meet him for the launch of his book in Bhopal (launched, incidentally, by another ‘son of Bhopal’, Javed Akhtar), I ask Ijlal sahib the reason for this kam-goi. For a person known as a poet to publish his first collection at the age of 74 is unusual in ange when every nausikhiya poet is in a hurry to publish. Ijlal sahib tells me that while he has always read and reflected and ruminated on poetry, literature and the arts, for long periods of time he ceased to think of himself as a poet: ‘Sirf tab likha jab kuch kehne ko hua.’ Giving a glimpse into the oceon of loneliness that lies within every creative person, he writes:

            Ek ek kar ke uddh gaye panchchi
            Khud-garift chattan tanha hai

Literature is understood to mirror social realities. To what extent is Urdu poetry, especially the ghazal, capable of reflecting this reality, with all its violence, contrariness and extremes, I ask him? While, no doubt, the Urdu poet has wrenched himself free from the limitations of the time-honoured ghazal format and freed himself of the classical repertoire of shama-bulbul-parawana, can the ghazal reflect contemporary reality? Can it say as much or as freely as the nazm can, I ask Ijlal sahib. While he agrees that the nazm enjoys far greater freedom, the ghazal can nevertheless allude to many things; it can, for instance, give ample express to the angst, alienation and exclusion that is such an integral part of the modern-day reality:

            Dariya chadha to paani nashebon mein bhar gaya
            Abke bhi barishon meon apna hii ghar gaya

Another remarkable quality about some of the ghazals included in Khud-garifta, is the compactness of the metre; while no poet myself, I believe the chhoti behr ki ghazalein demand that much more brevity and compression from a poet than one with a more languid metre. As for instance:

Udti chiriya ka saya hai
            Main samjha patthar aaya hai

            Ik girti deewar girakar
            Apne bheetar kuchch dhaya hai
            Khod ke hamne in teelon ko
Kya khoya kya paya hai

Published by Yatra Books in both Devnagri and Urdu, Khud-garifta brings to the fore a fresh, ‘new’ voice; the fact that it is not new at all, and that the poet has been active and well-known in the Hindi-Urdu circles of Bhopal tells us how provincialism has become the bane of good literature in modern times. One particular ghazal, written in 1979, has been known and loved by a select few for decades; yet it had to wait for a mainstream publisher to be placed before a larger audience:

            Shiryanon mein phire darinda
            Qaid mushaqqat sahe darinda

            Fursat mein kya kare darinda
            Ghaaron mein but gadhe darinda

            Patta-patta lahu bahaye
            Jhaadi-jhaadi chhupe darinda

            Purab-paschim wahi shikari
            Yaan nikle waan chhupe darinda

My Interview with Javed Akhtar, for Doordarshan

Here's a link to my interview with Javed Akhtar for Doordarshan

This is an abridged version of an hour-long interview. Hope to post the longer version soon.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

First Talk in the Hindustani Awaaz Series: Why Ghalib Speaks to Me by Prof Gopichand Narang


Those of you who missed the first talk in the monthly series : Monthly Monologues: Why It Speaks To Me, here is a recording of the talk by Prof Gopichand Narang. He delivered the first talk in the series, called Why Ghalib Speaks to Me.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

'I Don't believe in Destiny...' Shahnaz Husain

Flame: The Inspiring Life of My Mother Shahnaz Husain by Nelofar Currimbhoy, Hachette, 2012, Rs 295, pp. 236.


Engaged at 14, married at 16, mother to a little girl at 17, Shahnaz Husain’s life is an inspiration to those who passionately want to turn adversity into success. Losing has never been a choice for her nor has being anything less than successful; hitting upon the winning formula of age-old home-grown beauty cures has been a consuming passion for over four decades. The story of her life, told by her daughter Nelofar Currimbhoy, is as riveting as it is remarkable. Despite highs and lows, losses and gains, personal tragedies and professional triumphs, Husain’s life and career reveal her boundless courage and conviction and her relentless determination to face any challenge that comes her way. Her persona – always larger-than-life, as is amply reflected in her huge kohl-rimmed eyes, chunky jewellery, outsize sunglasses and crimson mane – is as compelling as the story of her life, making her products ‘Shahnaz Herbals’ indelibly associated in the mind of every user with their creator.


Currimbhoy, showing great promise in her first outing as a writer, reveals the innate qualities of a born story-teller. Having had a ringside view to her mother’s life and career, she studs her narrative with not only the enthusiasm of one who has watched this incredible story unfold but also the warmth of one who has loved unconditionally. The Shahnaz Husain that emerges from these pages is intelligent, driven, astute yet child-like, dreamy, glamorous, and yes, larger than life. Currimbhoy paints an intimate portrait of a woman who launched her multi-million dollar empire in a glazed verandah in a rented house in the summer of 1970. With little more than a frugal budget and endless reserves of energy and enthusiasm (not to mention a hugely supportive husband) Husain built, literally brick by brick (or more appropriately jar by jar and potion by potion) a range of treatment-based products that would soon take the world by storm. Keenly aware of the responsibility that comes with unquestioning love, she tells her mother’s story with panache and perception. Likening her mother (‘Mum’ as Currimbhoy calls her) to a flame, a flame that could not be doused by all of life’s storms, she refers to her mother as an ‘intensely free spirit’: ‘Every time a wave splashed on her, she rose again with an irrepressible – the energy of life and passion. How else would you explain the path she steered her life through?’


In a series of Chapters entitled ‘How the West was Won’, ‘When east Met west’, and ‘When the Future Came, She was Already There’, Currimbhoy gives a sampling of Husain’s astute business sense. Asked how her company would face up to the innumerable foreign brands flooding market, she narrates how her mother answered with complete nonchalance: ‘I don’t have to face them. They are coming to my country; they will have to face me.’ Speaking at Harvard, after attending President Obama’s summit of world entrepreneurs and taking in a short course on business management, Husain rued her lack of formal education (she dropped out of School at 16) but also asserted:

‘Would I have done it any better if I had come to Harvard at 16? I am not sure if I would have but I am sure of one thing – I would not have wished my career to be any different. Strangely, I have found that almost everything that was taught to me in my course, I have already applied over the years.’


A quintessential and intuitive entrepreneur, Husain and the Shahnaz Herbals model has been studied by marketing gurus the world over. What made a flourishing franchise of salons dispensing the signature Shahnaz Herbal products turn to building a distribution network from scratch? Primarily, the thriving grey market of fake Shahnaz products coupled with an overwhelming demand that the franchises could not meet. Commenting on this fortuitous serendipity Currimbhoy writes: ‘Shahnaz Herbals was an interesting example of a company that first created a market quite incidentally by remaining exclusive and then supplied an already existing demand.’

Why Should a writer's gender matter? in the Tribune, today

Ahead of International Women's Day, here's something on women's writing, the Tribune, today...

Review of Attia Hosain's Distant Traveller, The Hindu

The Hindu, today carries my review of Attia Hosain's Distant Traveller: