You told me you had been in the city for just about four months when it played its trick on you. You were emerging from the hall of the Eros theatres and were about to wear your burqa in the foyer when Baba popped the question to you.
‘Begum do you really want to wear it?
You told me you paused for a moment and then you shook your head. And that was that the rest as they say is history.
Ammi letter to a democratic mother is a novel that takes the form of a letter written by Saeed Mirza to his late mother a pastiche of memories that honor the political creed she stood for the egalitarian spirit of democracy she believed in the faith from which she drew strength.
Through the fable of Jahanara Begum and Nusrat Beg Mirza tells the love story of two extraordinary people by remaining the lives of his parents. The century the three of them inhabit witness the demolition of a 500 year old mosque and unjust war fought in the name of an elusive justice quiet personal revolution bitter bloodshed between neighbors and the changing fortunes of a scriptwriter who refuses to relinquish his principles.
Shifting deftly from one form to anther short story poetry parable legend satire, travelogue memoir, history diatribe film script Mirza creates an unforgettable literary installation. Ammi moves seamlessly from a moving magical tale of love and romance to a personal testimony of growing up in India to a discourse between history and politics that presses into service mulla Nasruddin. Studs Tarkel Ibn Senna Ekalavya and Ra’abia Basri. What emerges is an unforgettable chronicle of love in a political testament for the present and a passionate political testament for the present combative and by lyrical moving and relentlessly inquiring Ammi offers a way of seeing our history and our future that is impossible to ignore.
Saeed Akhtar Mirza is a pioneer of the new wave progressive cinema in India. His iconoclastic films including arvind Desai ki Ajeeb Dastaan (1978) Albert Pinot ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai? (1980), Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho (1984) Salim langde pe Mat Ro (1989) and Nassem (1995) captured the uneasily into the 21st century. His films have all won major awards including the national Awards for film excellence in India. He is the director of the popular TV Serial Nukked (1986) and intezaar (1988) along with various documentary films on social welfare and cultural activism. Mirza trained at the film and television institute of India (FTII) pune and has also taught there. He has lectured widely on Indian cinema at universities in India and the U.S. he contributes regularly to Indian newspapers and magazines on current political debates and through film reviews. He lives in Bombay and goa Ammi letter to a democratic mother is his first novel.
This novel if I can call it one was written as a response to words that I believe have lost their meanings and yet seem to challenge each other democratic versus undemocratic civilized versus uncivilized rogue states versus law abiding ones. Meaningless words I thought to myself that were challenging each other meaninglessly. The question that crossed my mind were many. What were the criteria used to arrive at these categories? Who were the members of the jury sitting on judgment? Was the jury an acceptable one? Besides in these categories there was an insidious arrogance which denied ordinary people their wisdom and dignity that I found difficult to understand or stomach.
How could I respond? What form would my book take? How could I make an abstract idea that was inherently political into some thing that was tangible and hopefully lyrical? These were other questions that worried me greatly as I sat down to write. Finally I chose to introspect and weave in my own memories of growing up in India of going to school and college of working and traveling and somehow link it all up to a wider world and see myself both as an Indian and an internationalist. The form of the book that eventually emerged could perhaps be categorized as miniatures set in a mural a kind of reflective personal journey set in a background of ideas politics and history. In all of this I also wanted to include the love story of two extraordinary people because I firmly believed that their story needed to be told. Besides both of them seemed to be prompting me from the wings and urging me on perhaps they also have a sake in what in have to say.
What have I written? I do not know. Will it make sense to my readers? I do not know. Is it a novel or an anti-novel? I do not know what I do know is that I struggled and groped and very often floundered to contain all that was going through my mind. And in this struggle there were a few friends who came along and helped. There was essay who patiently read through two versions of my manuscript. He did not question the form I had chosen but gave me invaluable advice on how to improve upon it. There was Doreen my Irish neighbor in Goa who carefully read the first draft and asked me a lot of question. Trying to provide the answers helped me sort out my own confusion. There were Abhijit and Rajan and Kalpana and Aakar who did their bit too by not just reading what I had written but actually found the reasons to like it. That helped a lot. Another friend naresh didn’t even bother to resound. I’ll have to draw my own conclusions from that. There was ashok my reclusive friend who quietly shook my hand and smiled. I expected this kind of book from you he said I think he liked it. There was shad my young editor who patiently did his job even as I flooded him with up dated versions of the manuscript almost every week. Young people these days are compassionate. There was my friend Indu who said my book was unputdownable and I loved her for saying that though I didn’t quite believe her. There were my two long distance sons who had read just a few parts of my book but kept telling me what a great job I was doing. That’s why children are so wonderful. I hope they repeat what they have tale me once they actually read my work completely. There was Romesh my brother in law who welcomed me to his home in the hills and provided me with the getaway I so often needed to write. Every evening he showered me with the poetry that has become such an integral part of my book. Finally there was my wife Jennifer. She said she liked the book in many parts but somehow felt that as a whole it seemed disjointed and lacked cohesion. I sat down and made quite a few changes and hoped that what I now had could be called linear with a beginning middle and end. Jennifer read it again and remained dissatisfied I made a few more changes and she now says she has come to like the whole though I secretly feel it has more to do with the exhaustion of reading my manuscript over and over again.
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