Monday, January 07, 2008

Alwida Shafiqa Aapa: Urdu world bids adieu to the leading woman satirist

Eminent writer and one of the most well-known Urdu satirists, Shafiqa Farhat, passed away on Sunday. The 76-year-old author had a long literary career, spanning over half-a-century.

She had devoted her life to literature and teaching. She hadn't married but Shafiqa Aapa probably never felt lonely as she had numerous friends, a great social circle and admirers. Such was her simplicity, warmth and hospitality that everybody felt drawn to her.

Shafiqa Aapa was a humanist and a strong believer in secularism. She had friends in all communities. I remember an incident involving Hindi writer Kanti Kumar Jain whom she considered her elder brother.

Once her relatives from Pakistan had come and they saw her tie the 'rakhi' on his wrist and putting tilak, they were quite horrified. Shafiqua Aapa was sitting on the floor with all the paraphernalia that was required to celebrate raksha-bandhan with her brother.

One of her sisters objected and said that she had turned this house into a temple. Shafiqa Aapa got enraged and categorically told her that this was her own culture and of this country, if they are staying here they better accept it or push off. It was rare of her to get into such rage.

Her father, who was a police officer in British India, was a strict man. After shifting from Nagpur to Bhopal in 1950s, she became an intrinsic part of the literary circles of the city. She was Head of Department of Urdu in MLB College, which had for long one of the best Urdu departments in the country.

A prolific writer, she has many books to her name.When she finished 'Jaane Anjaane Chehrey', President APJ Abdul Kalam had met her in the ambulance, as she was seriously ill then. Later she had recovered a bit. Once again she was active as always, planning literary meets or concerned about students' problems in a particular college due to lack of teachers.

Despite her failing health, she remained active till her last days. I still recall the excitement in her voice when she would call me up and tell me about her upcoming work or a special issue published on her works. She often invited me and a photographer friend of mine to her house in Koh-e-Fiza.

She was always concerned about marriage of the photographer friend for whom she always suggesting girls. She was headstrong and remained firm on her beliefs but unlike many other litterateurs, she was always generous in praise for fellow writers.

She had just finished her novel on Bhopal Gas Tragedy and insisted that it was her best work. Unfortunately she passed away, even before a function of the book release. She was buried in Bada Bagh graveyard in Bhopal, the City she had made her home and which gave her immense love.

I didn't delete her number for years after her demise. The name 'Shafiqa Farhat' remained in my phone book for a long time. But then I lost the cell phone. Still, I remember her voice, the affection she had for me, as if it was just yesterday.

[The photo shows former President APJ Abdul Kalam, when he was in office, meeting Shafiqa Farhat, who is in ambulance]