“AMMI: letter to a democratic mother“
The fact that the author is a well known and loved raconteur is what attracted me first to the book and of course the not so usual theme – that of a grown up son writing to a mother who is no more. Well known screen writer and director of hindi films and television, Saeed Mirza, takes us through the life of his parents and some turbulent times. In the author’s own words, the book is
“a kind of refelctive, personal journey set in a background of idea, politics and history”
“This is a story about a young man and a young woman, and how they met and fell in love with each other, It is also a story about a time and a place.”
The narrative moves up and down in the form of anecdotes, short stories, part of a novel and sometimes poetry. The story starts in an old haveli in Quetta, ruled by Shahbobo, the quintessential matriarch that you expecet to find in such places. Jahanara is her granddaughter and here is where she meets her aunt’s brother Nusrat Beg, the scholar and idealist. Her father agrees to the match against his family’s apprehensions and the young couple move to Sibi, a dry an arid place in Balochistan. Their years there lay the foundation to a life long journey of love. Woven through the words is Jahanara’s inquisitive mind, het thirst for knowledge and her liberal, yet traiditional outlook against all that she comes across.
The story is interspersed with tales from the author’s childhood, stories of Aryabhata, Ekalvya, sufis, saints, maulvis and of course couplets by Mirza Ghalib. He then takes us through his growing up years, how English and everything western started influencing him, his years in the film school, incidents from his film making years, gripping encounters with unusual people met during his travels and so on. All through this are thrown around snippets of conversations with his mother on subjects as diverse as Vietnam war, intercaste marriages, the sikh riots, communal wars and the like.
The connecting thread through the myriad and diverse images is the author’s affection for his parents, specially his mother and his suppressed anguish that he could neither spend enough time with her nor talk to her as much as she would have wanted him to.The story is as much about him as his mother. The letters that he now addresses to her is a sort of penance for the earleir ones that
“were bahanas, excuses for the real thing. ‘Letters’, you said, ‘should be about things that people want to say. Not what they ought to say”
A must read!