A collage, a photo frame, a diary! No, none of these define the flavour of the book. The memoirs are spun and crafted in a beautiful Tea-Cozy, much to Shaukat Kaifi’s liking, keeping the incidents alive and warm. The title is suggestive of a collection of dates and events, people and places to construct and deconstruct a whole life. The following narrative offers a mirror image of her time, for the generations ahead. Acquiring a more autobiographical element, Shaukat begins from the beginning and tells her own story sequentially.
As the telling begins, two platforms or two modes of expression coalesce. In other words, a theatre artist turns writer or a writer brings to life, her own theatre persona, thereby creating magic on paper and recreating her performances for the reader. It is here, that her real life unfolds and doubles up as any other character played by her on stage. Once again we find Shaukat performing! This time on paper.
As the story begins, it winds through many lanes and displays all possible colours and shades, as in Shaukat’s dupattas. The ‘Hyderabadi’ Urdu maintains the period and context despite its transliteration in the Devnagiri script. Undivided India, the partitioned lives and chaste-unchaste episodes, all find their place in the book adding to the authenticity of the experiences. From minute details about division of a rupee into ‘paisa’ and ‘sers’ to her scented clothes and her long lasting love lore, Shaukat keenly threads each of her memories and almost relives all her life while putting it on paper. The book offers scope for a graphical plotting of Shaukat’s life. A life spent on the scale of riches and poverty moving vertically, one also sees a horizontal movement in a pre- to post-independence time frame. Thus, it acquires a perspective and realizes the juxtapositions of the two scales. Even though Shaukat faced many a days of life with poverty, her life becomes exemplary due to her command over it.
The childhood allows a peek into the inner sanctums of a Muslim family, moderately liberal yet rooted. Girls and boys were educated and the veil was negated by Shaukat’s father himself. Her father being an excise duty officer, the pattern of living and the utilities seem influenced by the British taste. However, Mushairas or poetry sessions allowed a necessary space for new ideas and the progressive mood. Though the book presents a young girl’s life at this juncture, it sub-textually showcases an emerging face of the country’s youth. The likes of Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sardar Jafri, P.C.Joshi, the progressive poets worked for and influenced the masses by their new ideas of equality, liberal thoughts and humanitarian concerns. However, the narrative remains bereft of the chaos and unrest that arrested the country during Partition. Only the works of the left party find a mention but that also moves along the personal lives of a few of the comrades.
As the story progresses and Shaukat steps into her new life with Kaifi, the picture turns rosy. The tough time of struggle for love is over and Shaukat blooms into a wife, a companion for Kaifi Azmi.
The book provides a close up and insights into the lives of Kaifi Azmi, Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Balraj Sahni, Zohra Sehgal, all names to reckon with, she makes the reader not only read with her but also nearly live all these moments with her. As the descriptions become intense one sees more of the people in their social roles, barring Kaifi and Shabana who have also contributed to humanitarian causes time and again. The aura around Kaifi and Shabana Azmi finds ground through Shaukat’s telling. Their combat with the social ills and the passion with which the two approached their concerns highlights the deeper sides of the personalities.
The book revolves around Kaifi Azmi, his works and his poetry, Shaukat’s plays and movies and Shabana’s and Baba’s lives. A portrait of a family on paper. The attempt to remember, recollect and recall all materialize into a series of events of her life which was influenced and moulded at various stages, literally and metaphorically. However, the telling entails a happy story where angelic friends, godfathers and godmothers make the journey easy. All the people that Shaukat or Kaifi encountered or came in contact with, turn out to be nice human beings. At certain points the story seems fairy tale like and unreal. Or probably Shaukat chooses to filter out the rough patches from her memory. She locates and presents the beautiful moments at large and the lows of life find only a passing reference.
Cut to reality, and all’s well that ends well. Though Shaukat craves for her dead companion, the ecstasy of their love lives on with her. Her daughter, Shabana, who used to sell coffee for her summer job is now an actress of international footing, social workers and ex-MP. Her son is an established cameraman and she herself revels in her past and Kaifi’s poetry. The life comes a full circle as she pens Yaad ki Rehguzar.
Namrata Jain, currently pursuing Mphil English from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her M.phil dissertation looks at Contemporary proscenium theatre vis-à-vis nautanki folk theatre for Habib Tanvir’s Charandas Chor, Girish Karnad’s Nag Mandala and Vijay Tendulkar’s Ghashiram Kotwal. She is teaching English Literature at Hans Raj College, University of Delhi.