Dream Merchants, Politicians & Partition: Memoirs of an Indian Muslim (1997, Harper Collins, Pages: 152; Rs:95) by Iqbal Masud
Born F G Jilani in late 1920s into a South Indian Muslim family, his father a officer in education department under British government and his mother a burqa wearing Khilafat activist puritan Muslim woman, the contradictions, as he recounts it, were present in his life from the very beginning. The memoir starts in early thirties with an eight year old Iqbal Masud, seated between his burqa clad mother and aunt, in the balcony of a theatre, and him almost managing to catch Sulochana and Dinshaw Billimoria kiss on the screen ( in year 1935 talkie film 'Anarkali'). But the scene, at the last moment, gets censored out as his aunt clamps her hand down upon his eager eyes.
F G Jilani became critic-writer Iqbal Masud - Iqbal for his favorite poet and Masud his urf , a name 'adopted for various administrative and self-preservatory reason (the Emergency)' after the literary talents of this book reading, cinema watching Income tax officer were mentioned by Anil Dharker, the sub-editor of a popular girlie magazine Debonair (even Atal Behari Vajpayee 'kept it under his pillow'), to Editor Vinod Mehta who wanted the magazine to be a bit more Playboy like and have 'some semblance of respectability'.
Thus was born Iqbal Masud who, in the (fore)words of Vinod Mehta, could in a 700-word film review manage to 'combine Godard, Mrinal Sen, Indira Gandhi and Madhuri Dixit - beginning naturally, with a few lines from Auden.' A feat that could perhaps only be matched by his contemporary T.G. Vaidyanathan. Sample this - his review of a film called Professor Pyarelal (1981), whose opening scene had Dharmendra and Hema Malini dancing along Thames in London, started with these line by Edund Spenser: 'Sweet Thames, flow swiftly till I end my song'.
Iqbal Masud was not just a good Income Tax officer, he was also one of India's finest film critics and he was also an Indian Muslim. In his own words this book is not a chronicle, not an autobiography but just memoirs. But it is a slim book and it only offers glimpses. For a generation that doesn't know his era, these are memorable glimpses indeed. How he discovered brilliance of Indian Cinema with Ashok Kumar in 'Kismet' (1944) and 'Hindu culture', the other culture, through 'Vidyapati' (1937). He writes about relative calm of South India (and Indian Cinema of the time) with regard to Partition. Mentions watching 'Roshoman' (1950), Third Man (1949), 'Sorry, Wrong Number' (1948), 'Awara' (1951), 'Aah' (1953), 'Aag' (1948) in theater with his 'forward' (which meant 'convent educated, non-purdah' ) wife. He writes about the decline of Indian cinema with the death of Guru Dutt. Discovering culture of Middle East after a stint as United Nations recommended Tax Advisor to the Noth Yemen Government. Making friends with people like Satyajit Ray and Devika Rani. The promise of Indian New Wave. How he introduced Guru Dutt to French people and how it led India to re-discover the cinema of Guru Dutt.* In between he talks about the dark Emergency years. How he was shocked when he heard a progressive man like Ali Sardar Jafri say, ' Mera naam hai Ali Sardar Jafri. Main hoon shar-i-inquailab/Main kahta hoon emergency Harf-i-Haq hai' (My name is Ali Sardar Jafri/I am the poet of the revolution/I say Emergency is the Word of Truth). He was surprised at the big switch. And at the end he does talk about his own big switch - the switch from liberal Left to a 'fundamentalist'. A switch which surprised many of his friends. Why he played a crucial part in getting Salman Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses' banned in India and how this left leaning man was rattled by the violent Bombay of early nineties. In his own words, 'You could not dream that Hindutva would capture millions in the Nineties. That was the evidence both of our idealism and of our limited vision. We had come from pasts more traditional than that of the 'Kar Sevaks' of today. The leftists of the Forties left behind their pasts by intellectual effort. Today's cultural nationalism is the result of a refusal to make the effort to face up to the twenty-first century.'
10th November 2009
I thought I will get to never lay my hands on this little book again. I first read it a couple of years ago (previously mentioned in a post about Guru Dutt and French fame ) after borrowing it from a cousin brother who (after futilely trying to procure a copy online) bought it second hand from Daryaganj Sunday Market for rupees 10 or 20. It was nothing less than a prized possession. I remember returning the book back even though I didn't want to because he has a knack for loosing books. Sure enough, a couple of months later he asked me return back the book. I told myself, 'The book is gone.' I reminded him the sequence and the circumstances under which I returned it. He looked for it in his book shelves and boxes , dusting old books all along. Couldn't find it. Again asked me for the book. I told him I have returned it, maybe I shouldn't have. This went on for a couple of years, we would remember Iqbal Masud and the book and how it was lost. Then suddenly last month, out of the blue, he told me, 'I found the book.' It turned out that he had lend the book to friend who had since moved to Poona. So the book was with his friend all this time at Poona. 'Get it back! Get it back! All right!' That was my first response. A couple of weeks later I was back with me. I haven't decided if I will return it back this time.