An Elegiac Gulzar

UntitledShri-GulzarThe many treats on campus in the last couple of weeks- that included the concert by Hariprasad Chaurasia, the lectures by Sivakami, Sharankumar Limbale, C. Rangarajan and by Gopalkrishna Gandhi– were capped, as it were, by the short but intense visit of the poet Gulzar.

Gulzar (aka Sampooran Singh Kalra) came to collect the honorary doctorate that we had conferred upon him at the convocation in October this year, and in the hour-long ceremony, interacted with a full audience in the DST Auditorium. To welcome him to the UoH the Head of the Department of Urdu, Professor Muzaffer Ali Shahmiri had written four stanzas, reproduced on the left (in the Devnagari script).

Gulzar’s acceptance speech was gracious, and much of the question and answer session that followed centred around his poetry and the films that he had written and directed. As the brief discussion drew to an end, though, he let his regret show, that although he had stopped making movies nearly twenty years earlier, the audience focused mostly on that and not his books…

9780670085897And his books- there are as many as 74 listed on Goodreads, with four on the Penguin current list (in English)- are on varied topics for diverse audiences. Poems for the environment, for children, and many collections of short stories, some familiar from the movies that were made from them, but all of them touching several chords. “Kitaabain jhankti hain band almari ke sheeshoon se,” he said, a touch of sadness, “badi hasrat se takti hain maheenon ab mulaqaatain nahi hoti”.

Gulzar1-400x300So much of Gulzar’s legacy is accessible through the visual medium of the movies, but there is also the socially conscious poet and writer who insists that we need to read his work, not just to be spoken to by his songs and dialogues, in order to truly understand what he is all about.

There is much truth in that, and his books not only beckon from behind the closed doors of almirahs, they now also come to us on other devices and platforms, waiting and indeed wanting to be read. One cannot but agree;  opening a book is a good way to also open a mind…

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Bend it like Zohra

zsAt recent meetings of the Academic and Executive Councils of the University, we had decided to confer the degree of Doctor of Arts (honoris causa) on Zohra Segal, doyenne of Indian theatre and cinema. Since she wrote to say she was unable to travel to Hyderabad, this was to have been presented to her daughter at our convocation on October 1 this year (see the correspondence below),  but now will be given posthumously.

I had written to her daughter, the Odissi dancer Kiran Segal on 25 June:

Dear Ms Sehgal [sic], I am very pleased to convey the information that the University of Hyderabad wishes to confer the degree of Doctor of Arts (honoris causa) upon your mother, Mrs Zohra Sehgal. We would be most honoured if she would accept this degree at the next convocation which will be on October 1, 2014.

The Departments of Theatre Arts in the Sarojini Naidu School would also like it if she would kindly agree to give a distinguished lecture at the University around that time and interact with the faculty and students.

We do hope that she will agree to be with us in October and I look forward to hearing from you. With regards, etc.

to which I got the very gracious response on 30 June:

zohrasegalDear Mr. Ramaswamy,

Thank you very much for the honour that your University is bestowing upon me! I am now 102 years old and therefore unable to travel anywhere. I hope you understand.

I still remember my visits to Hyderabad in days gone by & I must say that in each visit I had a lovely & delightful audience. In the past whenever I had visited Hyderabad, the ‘culture’ & ‘sensitivity’ of the Urdu language prevailed but, unfortunately it is rapidly fading!

As a suggestion and if it suits you, my daughter Padmashri Kiran Segal could come & receive the Degree and read out some excerpts from my ‘time spent in theatre’.

With best wishes, Padmavibhushan Smt. Zohra Segal

A suggestion that we are very happy to accept, and we look forward to having Kiran Segal with us at the next convocation.

There is a touch of sadness that she is no longer with us, but in her 102 years, she did so much in so many spheres. As a member of the Uday Shankar Troupe, then the IPTA, and of course the various movies that she acted in, including Bend it like Beckham. The demure photograph on the left dates from her time as a dancer, while the more characteristic one above is more recent, and wonderfully conveys the sense of mischief she brought to many of her acting roles.

Either way, she was a great ambassador for Indian theatre, and we at the UoH salute her several contributions to the performing arts!