Blast from a pen’s past

As Urdu Day approaches, Hyderabad-based author Jeelani Bano speaks about her bond with the language 

Published: 05th November 2016 10:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th November 2016 10:40 AM   |  A+A-


Jeelani Bano(Photo | R Satish Babu)

Jeelani Bano, 80, looks frail in her sea green sari with that mop of pepper-and-salt hair. Her demeanour is genteel, but only a talk about her stories on bonded labour, her aapa Ismat Chughtai and Progressive Writers’ Movement lights up her eyes. The decades pass on her soft wrinkled face as she turns pages of her autobiographical book Main Kaun Hoon and takes you back to an era gone by that’s still alive in her Banjara Hills house in Hyderabad, serenely tucked in another time-frame. 

As Urdu Day approaches on November 9, she speaks about her association with the language. Many of her stories appear to be of our time. Jagirdari may have gone but capitalistic clutches don’t let go of the bonded slavery. Her story Paththaron ki Barish is heart-wrenching. Bano, who has authored 22 books, says, “A lot of writers of our time revolted against this inhuman system. Something also sparked in me and I wrote such stories. But today also, the situation of daily labourers is the same.” 

Her book Aiwan-e-Ghazal, which tells the tales of feudal landlords in Hyderabad, has been translated into 14 languages. She then talks about her dear aapa—Ismat Chughtai—the firebrand writer. 

“She was also from Badayun in Hyderabad, where I was born. She was friends with my mother and supported me a lot in writing,” says the 2016 NTR National Literary Award winner showing the letters Chughtai sent to her. Ismat wrote to her, “After marriage, respect your writing as much as you would respect your husband and in-laws.” In ’70s, when Jeelani Bano and her husband Anwar Moazzam, poet and writer, went to Pakistan, famous poets and scholars came to meet them at the border. She shares, “Nobody wants to understand what people of both the nations want. Sarhadein dilon ko nahin baant saktin (Borders can’t divide hearts).” 

When once she went to the US, a scholar asked her, “You’re a Muslim woman. How did you get permission to write?” To this, she replied, “Nobody has stopped me from writing. Perhaps you haven’t been to India or else you wouldn’t have asked me this.” 

Renowned poets and scholars such as Shakeel Badayuni, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Jigar Muradabadi and Kaifi Azmi were hosted at her Mallepally home. But, she along with other children weren’t allowed to go to the baithaks. The young Bano would watch these poets, while playing in the courtyard. 

Such gatherings shaped up her thought process. But she has a lot of respect for Marxist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. When he came to Hyderabad in August 1978, she recalls, he was staying at the house of Mariam Bilgrami in Mallepally. Showing her photograph with the bard, she says, “He wrote to me after he was released on parole from jail, saying ‘Your writing determines your place in literary circles.” 

When she met Faiz, she said, “Mujhey Jeelani Bano kahtey hain (I am addressed as Jeelani Bano).” To this, Faiz Ahmed replied, “Hum bhi toh yehi kahtey hain (I also call you that).”

Bano is so passionate about her work that she attended a story-telling event of her works at the open cultural space Lamakaan. She stood at the door after the interview as the pillar holding past and present sturdily. And for once her frame didn’t look frail.


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