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Mainstream, VOL LII No 30, July 19, 2014

Bombing of Gaza, Bengal Famine, Zohra Segal

Sunday 20 July 2014, by Humra Quraishi



First things first. I can’t believe that we, human beings of this world, continue to sit like mute spectators as Israel continues pounding and bombing Gaza, killing hundreds of Palestinians. Not to overlook those thousands who are left homeless and penniless, wounded and orphaned.

What about the United Nations and the connected international peace outfits! Weak and rather redundant they seem. No apparent outrage and no halting of the ongoing blatant killings of hapless Palestinians. And coming closer home, though one didn’t expect any of the Right-wing politicians ruling our country to voice genuine concern for these deaths and destruction in Gaza, but their brazen attitude seems unpardonable. The Government of India’s tilt towards Israel and America has been apparent for the last several years but today it seems reaching an all-time high. There are arms-lobbies together with political strategies high on the priority format, together with the Right-wing’s rather too apparent dislike for the Muslims.

It’s a shame that with all those ‘days’ at its command the United Nations cannot halt the ongoing bombardments and killings. Little need for them to ‘observe’ any of those hyped ‘days’—for peace, for children’s welfare, for unity, for human rights, for human dignity, for healthy existence—when this genocide is on. Brutal killings in this day and age, under those watchful eyes!

Shame on us—as we sit like mute and biased spectators!

Of Famine and Those Offshoots

Last week at the launch of Mandira Ghosh’s Impact of Famine on Bengali Literature (Blaunskye Publishers) I’d kept thinking-why we no longer talk of famines and droughts and the dying.

Perhaps this book and the contents it carries bring along focus on famines and hunger. Maybe those details of the dead jolt us... jolt us enough to change our very attitude, to grasp the realities of the day, as drought hits many States of this country.

 As author-poet Mandira Ghosh says, “No Bengali can forget the Bengal Famine of 1943 which caused death of millions—it wiped out more than three million people from Bengal’s soil. Though seventy years have passed since the man-made famine devastated the economy and the life and soul of Bengal, not much research has been done on the impact of the famine on Bengali literature... But, then, this is the age of consumerism and there is no room for famine. Men, women and children are asking for more and more and even the memory of human skeletons on the streets, dead men scattered over, are unwelcome. No one wants to remember the tragedy. But forgetting hunger, forgetting death, forgetting human suffering is forgetting the truth.”

With the Passing Away of Zohra Segal ...

Zohra Segal—the longest living actress in this part of the world—had stood out, by her personality, her talent, her grit and sheer outspokenness.

She died last week... a couple of months after celebrating her birthday—on April 27, 2014 she had turned 102 years!

On the couple of occasions I had interacted with her, what had impressed me was her spontaneity and that tendency to offload. Telling me details about her personal life, along the dastangoi story-telling strain.

Chatting informally as though we’d known each other for years, she didn’t shy away from narrating those financial lows she’d been through after her husband, Kamleshwar Segal, had killed himself. His death had left her and her children traumatised. And they went through a turbulent phase. And it was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who helped her at that very crucial juncture of her life and career.

Thereafter she left Mumbai to re-establish herself in the UK, only to return to New Delhi. Starting off another long phase of work, struggle and more of those turns and twists. In fact, a full-fledged feature film on the life and times of Zohra Segal should be made. Details of those turns and twists in her life have been well-webbed in the book, Zohra Segal: ‘Fatty’ (Nyogi Books), written by her daughter Kiran. This book was launched in the summer of 2012, when Zohra had turned 100!

Kiran—who is a classical dancer and artist Jatin Das’ former spouse—has done an excellent job, putting together all those connecting factors in her mother Zohra’s life... Let me quote her from the foreword to this book: “When someone asked me to write a book on my mother I wondered, ‘What can I write about her? She is my mother and that’s it.’ Most important, I am not a writer—far from it. I can only dance and nothing else! Then the seed was sown and I kept thinking about it as days went by. This was in 2006—almost six years ago. My mind travelled in reverse gear to my childhood; with her, my father Kamleshwar Segal, and my brother Pawan, in 41 Pali Hill, Mumbai (then Bombay). What a happy family we were. Her strictness, my father’s laughter, the get-togethers with the neighbours, my friends and I running all over the place, going to school and of course to Prithvi Theatres with her. My first dance lessons and training were with my mother and I learnt a lot from watching her ‘dance’... I have written this book not as a historian or as an experienced writer but as a daughter who has been with her mother throughout her mother’s ‘ups‘ and ‘downs’, her struggles, her tragedies, and her several moods! My mother has also been a great friend to me. We’ve had our fights, disagreements and criticism of each other—more her than me—our jokes on ourselves and on others. It has been wonderful... On 27 April, 2012 my mother Zohra Segal completes a hundred years of excitement in dance, theatre, films, television and this journey we call life. She exclaims, ‘I have hundred years of history in me!’ Congratulations, Ammi!”

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