In the early 50s, not long after she had arrived in Bombay (later Mumbai) as a newly-married bride, my mother portrayed Anarkali in a theatrical production.
The director, K Asif, happened to see the play and was so taken with her performance that he wanted to cast her as Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam. Over 200 photos of her were taken on the movie set, including ones with the iconic feather grazing her face.
Ultimately, she had to decline the role owing to family pressure, as in those days women from respectable families did not act in 'pictures'.
The photos remained in an album which she sometimes opened whenever she felt like reminiscing about her life before migrating to Pakistan.
She had vivid memories but my mother did not view the past through rose-coloured glasses. Though she never spoke of it publicly, she carried an immense pain throughout her life. Once she felt I was old enough, she began to share her secret history with me, speaking with the utmost frankness, mother to daughter.
Her public life in Bombay was filled with the trappings of glamour. There were movie premieres with film stars like Dilip Kumar, Madhubala and Kamini Kaushal, photos at official functions with heads of state like Prime Minister Nehru and history-making individuals like Tenzing Norgay.
The glamorous mirage masked a terrible reality. My mother was being violently abused, physically assaulted by her husband at the time. The entire duration of the daily abuse, a period of seven years, she kept up appearances, accompanied her politician husband on campaign rallies, hosted elegant soiréeswith the pallu of her sari draped just so that the bruises would not be visible. She begged her family to intervene, only to be ignored time and time again. After one particularly brutal beating, my uncles came and took her back home to Bhopal.
However, her husband persuaded them to hand her back with a written apology and undertaking that he would never hurt her again.
Needless to say, the abuse continued, until one day her gynecologist, the eminent Dr Shirodkar, told her plainly that she would be dead within six months if she did not divorce her husband. My mother took his advice, but the price she paid for going against that devious and influential monster was enormous.
He was a barrister and a politician and she a woman with a minimal education and no defences against his cunning. He took custody of both her young children, my step-siblings.
She spent the next 20 years desperately searching for them. When she was finally able to track them down and met them in their adult years, they had already been thoroughly brainwashed against her by their father.
The final manipulation came in the form of the threat that if they ever reconciled with their mother, he would disinherit them. It worked.
After the briefest of reunions, her long-lost children cut off all ties with my mother, breaking her all over again.
My mother cried herself to sleep every single night of her life. No joy could fully overcome the pain of the separation from her children.
It was remarkable that she had the courage to keep on going in spite of her inner agony. Constantly harassed by the police in Bombay, she decided to take a break and visit Karachi for a family wedding, where she met and married my father, a love marriage across Shia/Sunni sectarian lines.
Time and time again my memory goes back to dwell on the early years of my childhood, between the ages of six and nine, that were spent in Karachi with my mother as head of our household, while my father was a prisoner of war. She never let us feel the lack of a father. Our rooms in the Services Club had no kitchen, so come evening it would be time to discover a new restaurant or revisit a favourite eatery.
We would pile into the bright red Dodge, which she drove at race car speed with the top down and her hair flying in the wind. There were weekends on the beach at Hawke's Bay and Sandspit and endless trips to bookstores. I couldn't have asked for a better childhood.
Bia carried herself with great poise in her new life in Pakistan, but never failed to journey to India every year for the next two decades in search of her children. Each time she would return newly heartbroken and dejected.
Bia loved music as well as singing. Music for her was a kind of opiate. She had a gorgeous voice, had studied a little with an ustad in Bombay and was a great aficionado of the ghazal form. Time and time again my memory goes back to dwell on the early years of my childhood, between the ages of six and nine, that were spent in Karachi with my mother as head of our household, while my father was a prisoner of war. She never let us feel the lack of a father
Our rooms in the Services Club had no kitchen, so come evening it would be time to discover a new restaurant or revisit a favourite eatery. We would pile into the bright red Dodge, which she drove at race car speed with the top down and her hair flying in the wind.
There were weekends on the beach at Hawke's Bay and Sandspit and endless trips to bookstores. I couldn't have asked for a better childhood.
2016 Pushcart Prize nominee, Sophia Naz has
published in numerous literary journals.
The article appeared in Dawn.
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