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Rakhshanda Jalil
Monday , April 29, 2013

The legacy of Shamshad Begum

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There was a time in the history of Hindi cinema when the singer was the song, when the persona of the singer did not exist; the listener heard and was entranced by the song and its words. We have moved a long way from that age of self-effacing artistes. Reality TV and live shows have brought the singer centre stage and made the singer a 'performer' in a manner that playback singers of yore could never have dreamt of. Nothing illustrates this better than the recent death of Shamshad Begum at the age of 94 on 23 April at a suburban hospital in Mumbai. Shamshad Begum who made her debut as a radio artiste and went on to steal millions of hearts with a voice that was as remarkable as it was powerful, died unsung and largely unknown. Perhaps it is one of the ironies of fate that....

Tuesday , April 09, 2013

Nadeem Aslam's 'The Blind Man's Garden'

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Every now and then you read a book that surprises you by its combination of contraries. No matter how rich a lode of raw material a writer may have struck, nor how vast or variegated a canvas he may have appropriated, regardless even of how talented or dedicated he might be, he evokes exasperation rather absorption in his reader. Not consistently, not always but every now and then, sometimes every few pages but enough to make you put down the book, and pick it up again through sheer dint of will power. For, I must confess, were it not for the purpose of writing this review I would have abandoned Nadeem Aslam's 'The Blind Man's Garden' after the first 50-odd pages. I must also confess that the loss would have been mine. For all its ponderousness and portentousness, 'The Blind Man's Garden', hides within it a story that was waiting....

Tuesday , March 19, 2013

Khud-Garifta: Poems of Self-Confinement

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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.....

Friday , March 08, 2013

International Women's Day: Subcontinent's women writers in English

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Published in 1895, Saguna is said to be the first autobiographical novel in English written by an Indian woman; its author was Krupabai Satthianadhan (1862-1894), the daughter of a first generation Christian convert from Ahmednagar who wrote about her life as a 'native Christian' and her pioneering journey in search of an education. Possibly in an age when female authorship was as rare as female readership, the category of a 'woman writer' was no more than an exigency of the times. However, now while male and female literacy levels may not be at par across the length and breadth of the country, female readers as well as women writers are to be found in sufficiently large numbers to make this label superfluous. Why, then do we persist in prefixing the gender to the vocation of writing? Clearly, we don't feel the need to say women doctors, women lawyers, women teachers;....

Tuesday , March 05, 2013

Book review of 'Flame: The Inspiring Life of My Mother Shahnaz Husain'

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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....

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A review of Saba Naqvi's 'In Good Faith'

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While much work has been done on exploring and exposing communalism in India, relatively little attempt has been made to understand its conjoined twin, secularism. Is it because communal forces outweigh secular ones? Or, is it because communally-charged narratives make more compelling reading than the gentler milder cameos that are seen as picturesque and quaint rather than hard-hitting and gritty? Or, is it because, cynical and jaded as we are, we find it difficult to expect words like syncretism, pluralism, tolerance, inter-faith dialogue, to mean anything much as a lived reality? Saba Naqvi, Political Editor of Outlook, makes a valiant attempt to hold on to her idealism and, in the process, pick clean the tangled skeins of religion, politics and culture. Despite the nature of her work (she has been covering the major political parties) which inevitably breeds cynicism, she explains why it is important for her to believe....

Friday , January 25, 2013

Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi: When poetry meets piety

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By the late 11th century veneration of the Prophet had begun to assume a visible form in different parts of the by-now burgeoning Islamic world. Celebrations of maulid, the day of birth of the Prophet, on 12th Rabi' ul-awwal, the third month of the Muslim lunar calendar, had begun to make an appearance. Piety increasingly began to take the form of poetry and song. Love for Hazrat Mohammad, the Prophet of Islam, began to be expressed beautifully and eloquently in the poetry of the many languages of the Islamic world. The tradition continues - the day of the Prophet's birth is still celebrated. From the eastern end of the Muslim world to the western the maulid is a wonderful occasion for the pious to show their warm love of the Prophet in songs, poems and prayers. And hand-in-hand with the maulid has grown an entire poetic tradition - one that....

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Khushwant Singh's Freethinker's Prayer Book: A Review

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I must begin this review with a confession: I am an unabashed admirer of Khushwant Singh. I have known him for years and enjoyed many a delightful evening in his cozy flat listening to his yarns and talking about his three great passions: people, poetry and politics. Ensconced in his favourite armchair, his feet atop a cane stool, a fire blazing in the hearth, surrounded by piles of new books gifted to him in equal numbers by aspiring and established authors, he is witty, curious, engaging; in fact, a very far cry from the 'dirty old man' of popular imagination. Till his health permitted, he would permit two or three or four (never too many to make a crowd) of his friends and admirers to drop in (always after taking a prior appointment) at a scheduled time (starting from 7.00 pm sharp and ending on the dot of 7.45 as....

Tuesday , January 08, 2013

The bad girl of Urdu literature: Dr Rashid Jahan

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Rashid Jahan was a woman of many parts: a brilliant and hardworking doctor, a dedicated member of the Communist Party, a committed political organizer, a founder-member of the Progressive Writers' Association, an active member of Indian Peoples' Theatre Association (IPTA), a life-long campaigner for women's rights, and a free-spirited writer whose life was cut short by cancer at the age of 47. Given her many-splendoured personality, it is unfortunate that her legacy today - over a half-century after her death - is celebrated by only one set of people, those who see her as an icon of The Movement. While the Movement and the Communist Party shaped and moulded her, giving form and substance to her desire to bring about lasting social changes, it is important to revisit Rashid Jahan's legacy and examine it for both its humaneness and individuality. Her lifelong friend and sister-in-law, Dr Hamida Saiduzzafar wrote, 'Considering....

Monday , December 17, 2012

‘Main chalta phirta Bumbai hoon’: Manto and Mumbai

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Saadat Hasan Manto went to Bombay (as Mumbai was then called) in search of work sometime in 1936, landing a job as editor of a weekly called 'Mussavvir'. The glamour and gaiety of the city's high society, as also the grit and grime of its underbelly, provided ample fodder for a man of Manto's disposition; newly arrived from the provincial outpost of Amritsar, he must have been enamoured not merely by the bright lights of the big city but also the incredible diversity of its cityscape. The red light district of Forres Road, the chawls of Nagpara, the paanwallas, taxi drivers, washermen, Parsi landladies and Jewish hotel keepers, the editors of motley Urdu newspapers as well as the film stars, directors, spot boys, cameramen and motley hangers-on became rich sources of inspiration. Manto wrote prolifically and some of his most memorable characters were drawn from the people he....


More about Rakhshanda Jalil

Rakhshanda Jalil writes on culture, literature and society. She has published over 15 books, including the much-acclaimed book on Delhi's lesser-known monuments called 'Invisible Delhi' and a well-received collection of short stories, called 'Release & Other Stories' (Harper Collins, 2011). She blogs at www.hindustaniawaaz-rakhshanda.blogspot.com. Her Ph D is on the Progressive Writers' Movement.