The company of friends you keep shows the manner you have lived your
life. If you apply the yardstick to Javed Siddiqi, you will discover he
has been more than lucky. He has every right to cherish and celebrate
the memory of the wonderful days spent together with a bunch of friends
who made his life such a joy. The embers of their memory refused to die
and this inner turmoil made him draw the vignettes of his friends and
Roshandan is a book about some well-written sketches which
bring back the era that Javed Siddiqi nostalgically weaves. A renowned
screenwriter, dialogue writer and playwright of Urdu and Hindi, he has
worked with the legendary Satyajit Ray and also wrote dialogues for the
classic Shatranj Kay Khilari, apart from many other commercial Bollywood films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Raja Hindustani, Pardes etc.
He honed his skills while working for IPTA (Indian Peoples Theatre
Association) and later on gave the viewers memorable plays like Tumhari Amrita.
While going through Roshandan one encounters many amazing men
and women; there is an old Bohemian self-taught Niaz Haider who knows
many languages and local dialects; there is the redoubtable Sultana Apa
(wife of Ali Sardar Jafri) whom the author owes a lot, and you also get
to read about Zahid Shaukat Ali (son of Maulana Shaukat Ali and nephew
of Muhammad Ali Johar) etc.
Javed Siddiqi hails from the family of Ali Brothers — Shaukat Ali, Muhammad Ali Johar — and he got a chance to work for Khilafat newspaper of Zahid Shaukat Ali.
In those days he lived in a small room in the Khilafat House. He tells
us all about Zahid Shaukat Ali that is worth-sharing. At times affable
and at other times very cruel, Zahid Shaukat Ali was an unpredictable
man. Javed Siddiqi had to face the music when he wrote an editorial in Khilafat, vehemently attacking the Saudi dynasty of Arab.
He was instantly dismissed and only then it dawned on him that Zahid
Shaukat Ali was living on alms sent by the Saudi dynasty. Despite all
his human errors and foibles Zahid Shaukat Ali emerges out to be a
colourful character who believed in enjoying life.
As a struggling journalist Javed Siddiqi was barely making ends meet
when his friend took him to Sultana Jafri who used to work in the Soviet
Information Office. Thus starts a long association with the
down-to-earth lady who helped him many a time. It was also Sultana Jafri
who made almost all the arrangements for his wedding at a time when he
was abjectly poor.
Javed Siddiqi tells us that when Ali Sardar Jafri died, a Shia cleric
supervised his last rites. The cleric wanted to bury him at a Shia
graveyard but Sultana Jafri cut him short by saying, “Sardar Jafri will
be buried in the Sunni graveyard as all his friends are lying buried
there. He will feel lonely in the Shia graveyard.”
Javed Siddiqi sneaks deep into the chaotic life of Indian director
and film writer Abrar Alvi who later committed suicide. He writes about
his troubled relationship with Alvi sahib quite candidly and lets the
readers make their own judgement.
There is a relatively short sketch of theatre legend Habib Tanvir.
One feels the author should have given more space to him. It seems as if
the sketch has been written in haste. Also included is a sketch of
newspaper man Ghulam Ahmad Arzoo whom the author worked with in an Urdu
daily Hindustan. A simple man, he left a deep influence on Javed Siddiqi for his strong commitment to the profession.
Baba Niaz Haider, the eternal vagabond and bohemian, didn’t appeal to
him at first. But he started adoring him as he came closer to Baba. No
wonder he has written a very entertaining sketch of Niaz Haider in which
we clearly see his many talents. There are ten sketches in this finely
produced book and credit goes to the tireless Ajmal Kamal who published
the book in Pakistan. He deserves to be feted for presenting topnotch
books to the readers.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.