“‘If you want to see magic lands, close your eyes, and you will see one.’ That is how our childhood was- a world of ‘pure imagination.’ Ours was a small world, but it was the richness of our imagination that made it most beautiful. During winter and summer breaks, for my friends and me, one of best hangouts was a barbers shop at the main roundabout in our locality. The barber’s shop, with all its walls pasted with pictures of matinee idols, actors, and actresses, was no less than a film exhibition. Sitting on the barber’s shop and listening to one of most popular film songs program fauji-bhaiyon ka farmaish of Radio Kashmir from the megaphone of the community radio sets, disreputably called as halaqa-radio many times involuntarily we closed our eyes and dreamt of the tinsel city of India with all its charm, beauty, and glamour. My positing in the metropolis, in a way was a dream come true.
My love for literature and journalism made me know many an important literates and doyens of Indian journalism- some very intimately. Moreover, as the time passed by the city unfolded its cultural landscape to me like a lotus of countless petals- with every petal having a different colour and shade. Every time, the chief executive of the state visited the commercial capital; I would come to know more about the film world of the city. For his flamboyance and demeanour, he was very popular with the film crowd and had lots of friend in the industry. Some top people in the industry hosted not only huge dinners for him but also arranged special shows and performances. One such invitation to the chief executive took me to the apartment of two sisters- big names in Indian classical dance and music, perhaps it was in Tardeo- a residential and commercial area of South Bombay. Of the two sisters, one of the names had on occasion rung in my ears but the name of the second sister I had never heard before. For a downtown boy, born and brought up in the city of resistance, the words like classical Indian dance and music were altogether alien. The two sisters were Tara Devi and Sitara Devi. I had zero information about the two sisters. Nevertheless, the ambiance of the apartment with trophies, medals, testimonials on the cupboard, musical instruments spread on the floor and Tara Devi squatting on a couch with Sitar on her side had cast a magical spell on me. The chief executive reading my blank face whispered into my ear, they are the pride of Indian classical dance- great exponents of Kathak. In 1983, Sitara Devi was 63 years, and Tara Devi as I remember was almost eighty. Sitara Devi died thirty one years after in 2014, at the age of ninety four. She had shot into prominence in her teens when she had performed before a select audience comprising Rabindranath Tagore and Sarojini Naidu in a private royal palace and earned a title from the great Bengali poet. Then there was no looking back for her. Through her Kathak dance, she did not only spellbound audiences in India but in Europe and America. She was married to K. Asif, famous for directing all-time hit film, Moghul Azam; it has ended at a bitter note. Sitting in a corner, in their apartment, when I watched Tara Devi, singing some classical songs at such a ripe age, I did not believe my ears and eyes. Her voice haunted me for many days- it made be believe that art does not die with ageing but makes it more hallowed.
Notwithstanding, being dance-illiterate, I was awe-struck on seeing for the first and last time Sitara Devi effortlessly dancing like lighting at sixty three in her apartment. I never before had seen a woman at such an age with such a high-energy. Besides, some members of the chief executive’s team others in the audience were her daughter Jayant Mala, a Kathak dancer, and her son musician son Ranjit Barot. Those days she was interested in setting up a Kathak dance academy in Bombay, and she wanted the chief executive of the state to put a word to Vasant Dada Patel then Chief Minister of Maharashtra for allotting some land for it.
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist