Tumhare Naam, with love
If you think you know all that is to know about Javed Akhtar, think again. Rajkamal Prakashan has just brought outhis mother, Safia Akhtar's letters written between 1943 and `53. They talk of her character, his early years. Also, his brother Salman has come out with his works, says RANA SIDDIQUI.
Sayeeda Hamida, sister of Safia Akhtar, Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi at the launch of the book of letters, "Tumhare Naam". Photo: Anu Pushkarna.
THE TIME changes, struggle does not. Can the struggle of an educated, working mother of early 1940s, who has to rear her two small children in absence of her husband, a wife's longing for her husband under severe financial crunch and a woman's lonely fight with ever-growing skin disease, be different from today's woman reeling under the same condition? The answer, definitely is, no.
"Tumhare Naam", a collection of letters from October 1, 1943 to December 29, 1953 penned by Safia Akhtar, an educated Muslim woman, a struggling wife of the late Jan Nisar Akhtar, and mother of famous poets, Javed and Salman Akhtar, narrates a similar tale. The letters, originally written in Urdu, were published in 1955 by Maktaba Jamia for the first time in the shape of a book, in two volumes under the title, "Harf-e-Aashna" and "Zer-e-Lab". Now, to widen the reach, Rajkamal Prakashan has published them in Hindi. The book was released by Shabana Azmi at Aiwan-e-Ghalib in New Delhi this past week. The letters are translated from Urdu to Hindi by Professor Asghar Vajahat, former Head of the Hindi Department, Jamia Millia Islamia.
The book, as Salman Akhtar put it, comprises four concentric circles: first, it's the story of a married woman, her conflicting loyalties between a brother, mother, husband and children, second, birth of a Muslim, secular, liberal intelligentsia that emerged from Aligarh Muslim University and other Movements, third, mid-20th Century's socio-political and cultural events unfolding in the wake of Nehru and Gandhi's calls, communal riots, court cases and more; and fourth, the most important one, is a universal, ubiquitous, profound circle that narrates the story of a human being, who, when he gets separated from loved ones, feels abandoned and how he deals with life against all odds.
In the book, some letters were written before marriage to Jan Nisar Akhtar, and most after he went to Mumbai for a job and then got underground as he turned Communist. Safia had to rear Javed and Salman all alone. But these letters do not talk of only her financial disability and longing but also about waning interest of people in Urdu, the socio-political scenario in then India, specially Aligarh where she lived and taught. "The most remarkable thing about her was an ability to surrender with dignity, for the sake of a relationship," said Shabana Azmi in an emotionally-charged evening. She could not withhold her tears reading her last letter that she wrote 19 days before she died of skin disease in Lucknow, "Akhtar Aao, mujhe marne na do. Main marna nahin chahti. Albatta bahut thak gayi hoon saathi... "
"She deserved a better life," moaned Sayeeda Hamida, an 80-year-old sister of Safia, in whose lap Safia took her last breath.
PEOPLE SAID, it was an opportunity to gauge and even compare the poetic sensibilities and capabilities of two wizards, one of whom they knew in India and another, they never did. Some whispered: "Many poets, much greater, get published and vanish unnoticed for the their lyrical pearls of wisdom don't see such a great launch". Some sounded liberal, "Witnessing a rather unknown carrier of a traditional legacy is a unique spectacle altogether, so let us enjoy that"!
They did enjoy, with one and all though. They laughed boisterously, clapped, shed genuine tears of concern and recalled moments of love and separation with their near and dear ones. All courtesy Salman Akhtar, a psychoanalyst, a poet and son of the late Jan Nisar Akhtar and Amar Varma, Chairman, Star Publications Private Limited, the publisher of his collection of poems in Urdu and Hindi poems titled "Nadi Ke Paas" that saw its release by eminent scholar and President Sahitya Akademi, Professor Gopi Chand Narang, at India Habitat Centre this past week.
Shabana Azmi, Salman Akhtar, Professor Gopi Chand Narang and Javed Akhtar at the release of Salman's book "Nadi Ke Paas".
The event saw a rare, lyrical flow of chaste Urdu language coupled with subtle humour, as Urdu scholar Makhmoor Saeedi anchored the programme. Added to it was an emotional value, for it saw in public, a family reunion of Javed and Salman Akhtar, after a long gap of 30 years! Salman lives in the U.S.
The book, which is his third after "Ku-ba-Ku" and "Doosra Ghar" published long back from the country of his residence, is now published both in Urdu and Hindi in a single edition, priced at Rs.150. The book gives expression to Salman's feelings of restlessness for being away from his motherland, the hollowness of a posh society and a visibly high-standard life, ever haunting lack of love, fearlessness about body, confession instead of complaints and so on without using any literary jargons and chaste Urdu language. "A book of poetry is not meant for framing and guarding it secretively by a language scholar. It is meant for all those who enjoy them," hence the simple language, the poet reasons. Incidentally, Javed, a guest of honour in the evening along with Shabana Azmi, wept as he also flipped though pages of his own preface in the book that nostalgically recalls their childhood moments. "He is one-and-a-half years junior to me in age and 10 years senior to me in poetry," admitted the lyricist adding humorously that, he "started writing at an age when people leave it!"
Narang remarked that Salman does not waste his words and that good poetry should always raise a question, citing an example from the book, "Gham likha hai kisne mere chehre par, aur mujh ko hansa raha hai kaun?" He also opined that in all these 50 years of Independence, the Government of India has been making political formulae, but on the language side, it is Hindi that has made Urdu survived and also vice-versa. "If these two tongues mix, we can build a Taj Mahal of language in India which is now burdened under a culture of violence. We must read these poets who speak language of love crossing all barriers of borders," proclaimed Narang giving impetus to an emotionally-charged ambience as singer Nasir Harwani, also sang two ghazals from the books:
"Ye dil hi is ka darwaza, dheere- dheere khulta hai
Dastak de kar thoda rukna, fauran laut na jana tum"
Is anybody listening?
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