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by HUMRA QURAISHI September 10 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 24 secs

Humra  Quraishi comments on the truth lurking behind green curtains in the capital city especially decked up for the G20 Summit and reviews the book ‘Jadunama – Javed Akhtar’s Journey’.

New Delhi looks spruced up! Nowhere close to what it was looking like a few days ago and to where it will return in a few days…today it is sans the street vendors, pavement dwellers and those loitering around clutched by a nothingness! Also, there are no signs of dogs, cats, or cattle.

To put it in a nutshell, the city roads, intersections and flyovers are painted, dusted and made up for a brief stretch, especially showcased for the foreign guests at the G20 meet! It’s hard for a Delhi-ite to swallow this make-over, but each of us is sure of a bounce back to what our city was before the green curtains went up to hide our reality.

I’m thinking aloud here: Is it fair to portray ourselves this way to foreign guests? Are they not already aware of where we are with our development? Is it ethical to drive away the disadvantaged citizens of the city to outer stretches and shoo away the homeless from pavements and parks where they sleep at night? Shouldn’t our city own its characteristics instead of going into a state of denial? For how long can we brush our truth aside and under the carpet?

And above all this, has all this ‘bandobast’ been successful in driving away the mosquitoes of Delhi and its adjoining cities? Will Malaria and Dengue be in control henceforth?

Last month, I interviewed Javed Akhtar at the Bengaluru Poetry Festival and before that read this latest book on him titled ‘Jadunama – Javed Akhtar’s Journey’. It is published by Amaryllis, and authored by Arvind Mandloi (translator – Rakhshanda Jalil). And, as the title of this volume suggests, focus remains on the poet’s journey, both personal and professional. One feels comforted reading it. Also, the publishers have aced it with the quality of production. It is sophisticated and sleek. It is a well published book.

Each photograph and sketch published in this volume stands out. The images along with the text bring to life each incident in his life and the characters involved. The short and long conversations, guftagoo, of the author Arvind Mandloi, with various personalities who were a part of Javed Akhtar’s life, are wonderful. The text is brimming with invaluable material. Akhtar talks about the many twists and turns in his life, his memories are vivid. 

I quote Javed Akhtar, here, in one of his memories: “Today life is good for me in every way, but I still remember that day from my childhood, 18 January 1953. The place is Lucknow, my nana’s house. My distraught khala takes my younger brother, Salman, who is six-and-a-half years old, and me by the hand and brings us to the big room in the house. There, many women are sitting on the floor. My mother, wrapped in a white shroud, is placed on a takht; her face is uncovered. My nani sitting at the head of the takht, is crying, softly, slowly, as though she is exhausted. Two women are supporting her. My khala takes both of us children to the takht and says, ‘See  your mother for the last time.’ It was just yesterday I had turned eight. I am old enough. I know what death is. I look closely at my mother’s face so that I remember it well. My khala is saying, ‘Promise her that you will become something in life. Promise her that you will do something in life.’ I am unable to say anything. I just keep looking at her till some woman pulls the shroud over my mother’s face, covering it.”

This volume is laced with anecdotes, happenings and incidents from Javed Akhtar’s life. One after another…many! All recounted by him in one of those direct and un-complicated ways. Even the way he talks about his first love letter.

To quote him again: “I am a little older. I am fifteen years old. I am writing a letter to a girl for the first time in my life. My friend Biloo is helping me. We prepare this letter together. The next day, I meet that girl in an empty badminton court. Gathering all my courage, I give her the letter. This is the first and last love letter of my life. (I have forgotten what was written in that letter but I remember that girl even today). I am leaving Aligarh after matric. My khala is crying copiously. My khalu is trying to quieten her by saying, ‘You are crying as though he is going to the battlefield and not Bhopal.’ (at that time neither he nor I knew that I was indeed going to a ‘battlefield’).”

I leave you today with this verse of a parliamentarian-author-poet-academic, Dr T. Sumathy (aka) Thamizhachi Thangapandian, from her book ‘The Throb Of Silence’. Publisher Vitasta. Translation from Tamil to English, K S Subramanian).

The verse is titled ‘Al Janabi’s Sixth Finger’, and it has a background:

In Baghdad/on a March noon/with the grating and neighing/of old and decrepit horses/Time knocked at your door/With the stamp of youth still strong/the grip of dominance on the one side/the masculine arrogance/on the other/held captive//Your  body slipping/as a lump of flesh/as the sixth finger/alienated from you,/your six-year-old sister watching you/with the remnant of a sweet/you had both shared/still lingering in her molar//In eerie silence they watched/the violent rape of land and woman/your mother hiding her veil/and your father at gunpoint//Inhaling the stench of rancid blood/the doddering horses panting away/set out Time//Only witnesses/a flutter of dove wings/just a poem.

(Five American soldiers gang raped and killed 14-year-old Abeer Qassim Al-Janabi. This is considered to be one of the significant  atrocities of soldiers in Iraq).’

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.