Not many people know that Noted IPTA activist and later JAN NATYA MANCH founder , SAFDAR HASHMI also taught english at university of kashmir someime in 1977and 1978 .I also vividly remeber this tall bespectacled young man coming to our Bank with my colleague and friend Tej Dhar.Tej was Prof A. N Dhar’s son . Prof Dhar taught english and later rose to become HOD and Professor Emritus . SAFDAR also taught english during 1977 and possibly during 1978 also .Twice we sat with Safdar in Coffee House over a cup of coffee . He smoked uncontrollably and drank black cofee .He would move with a Jholaa type of a bag hung over his shoulders. A kurta with tailor stitched loose trousers and simple sandals was all that he would put on usually. Sipping coffee and discussing Camus , Sartre , Kafka and Kierkegaard .Safdar also informed us about his St. Stephan Background where from he had graduated before completing MA in English from Delhi University . Safdar was also drawn towards Pranesh Nagri another friend and colleague in the Bank. He was a marxist .
And then one day, a girl joined him when he came to the Bank. Tej said she was Mala or Moloyshree . She was from Bengal , very sharp and well read . They had a live in arrangement and then some time later Tej told me that safdar had married her in Delhi . Safdar also started theatre activities in kashmir university . Dr Jayaraman who was HOD english university of kashmir at that point of time organized an English Play Woyzeck. The play was staged at Tagore Hall kashmir with actors comprising of Dr Jayaraman’s family members , Aalok Aima , Safdar , Tej Dhar and many others from Kashmir university .
Safdar had earned many friends in kashmir . He was unforgettable for many reasons . He was simple and childlike but always fucussed in his discussions. Safdar had unshakable beliefs and convictions . He was liberal and a lover of all types of fine arts . He sang Old songs of Rafi anwd liked music and paintings . Theatre was his soul. And when he left Kashmir university possibly in 1978, I would always seek his welfare from Tej. Tej kept me informing that Safdar had joined as Press Information Officer West Bengal Information Centre at New Delhi and had married his companion Mala . Tej also informed later that Safdar had plunged into communist Party work and Theatre on full time basis leaving his government job. He had formed his own group called Jan Natya Manch or JANAM. Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das, Sanjana kapoor , Naseer Ud Din Shah , Jamini Pathak , Salim Arif and many more actors and Theatre personalities got associated with JANAM. ‘JANAM ‘ gave about 4,000 performances of 24 street plays, performed mostly in and around working-class neighborhoods, factories and workshops.
He wrote plays which his group performed in colonies of poor workers . His plays like Machine , Kursi kursi kursi ,Gaaon Se Shehar Tak,Teen crore ,Aurat ,DTC ki Dhandhli, and some TV documentaries had become quite popular .Khilti Kaliyaan was a TV serial that he wrote for DOORDARSHAN. He also wrote some books for children. Safdar was also a sensitive poet who wrote poems as well. With all this work , safdar turned out to be a great crusader against the forces of disruption, division and communalism in the country .
Safdar was one of the most sought-after film and video narrators in India . He told an interviewer that he had earned enough at documentary work to ‘’spend 11 months doing anything that the party wants me to do.’’
And then one day in January 1989 , we heard the sad news that Safdar had been attacked by Political Hoodlums while he was performing his most popular Play Halla- Bol in Sahibabad .He succumbed to the fatal injuries of the attack. Safdar was thirty-four years old when he died.
His friends and admirers from the Artist fraternity started SAHMAT or Safder Hashmi Memorial Trust to carry forward his mission. Those associated with this trust include actress Shabana Azmi, Poet Javed Akhtar ,Noted Theatre Personality M K Raina , Actor Roshan Seth , Actor Om Puri,Moloyshree Hashmi and many more .SAHMAT has been organizing Art shows , dance recitals , Classical music |concerts ,Theatre workshops , Nukkad Plays and many more events in the country( Attended by leading Artists ) to promote a culture of tolerance and also to provide space to all forms of creative activity .
Over the last several years SAHMAT has sold around 2 LAKH copies of several books they have published, and these include books for children, significant among which are two volumes of poetry and one anthology of short stories dedicated to promoting democratic and secular values by contemporary Hindi writers .Some of the books that I have seen coming out from SAHMAT are MANTO NAAMA ( PRICE Rs140/=), IPTA KI YAADEIN ( Price Rs140/=), AKBAR ( Price Rs60/=), GANDHI KE PUNARVICHAAR ( Price Rs50/=) and MUNSHI PREM CHAND ( PRICE Rs30/=) . These books have been published with a single purpose of making GREAT literature of the country available to people at large at very cheap rates.
Several audio-video cassettes of contemporary and classical poetry and music have also been brought out by SAHMAT to underline the commitment to cultural plurality.
Safdar was fond of children. He wrote stories and poems for them .His Hindi poems like Pehli Baarish, Duniya Sabki , Holi , sardi , Samar Singh Ki Saalgirah , Shivi Ka Angootha, Raju Aur kaaju and Machchhar Pehalwaan became quite popular with children and were published in many Hindi magazines.
I end this brief post with a poem Kitaabein ( books ) by Safdar Hashmi that I have rendered to simple English.
KITAABEIN ( BOOKS )
-Books also communicate ,
-Revealing tales of time gone by,
-Tales of our world,
-Stories of Human beings ,
-Today’s tale or yesterday’s tale ,
-Tales of every moment spent in happiness or pain ,
-Flower laden tales ,
-Cruel stories of Bombs ,
-Stories of our victories and defeats ,
-Tales of love and deceit ,
Love! Shall you not listen these tales ?
Love! shall you not go through these books ?
Look ! How eager these books are to communicate .
Look ! How Impatient these Books are to stay with you.
( Safdar Hashmi )
Autar Mota is a Blogger , Translator and writes in English , Urdu , Kashmiri and Hindi. His write-ups have appeared in many national magazines and journals.