People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 24 

June 14, 2009


Moments And Memories

Habib Tanvir Remembered In Delhi

S K Pande


MUSIC, poetry, songs, reflections, moments and memories –– all combined as Delhi bid its farewell to Habib Tanvir on June 10, 2009.  It was a gathering of artists, writers, dramatists, poets, street theatre exponents with a sprinkling of the downtrodden, rubbing shoulders with the glitterati. The over all message: “Habib Tanvir is no more, Long live Habib Tanvir”.


Habib had led a full life, so it was something more than just obituaries.  It was indeed a celebration of a theatre colossus, a multifaceted personality, a rare humanist inspired by secularism, love for the masses, and a penchant for grassroot voices.


The function at the Muktadhara Auditorium was organised by an amalgam of organisations working in unison to bring out in just three hours more than eight decades of a theatre thespian, who dabbled with films, loved his theatre and even had a stint in journalism.  The organisations responsible for a rare evening were the Jan Natya Manch, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, the Janwadi Lekhak Sangh and of course the grand (young lady) of Delhi, the legendary Zohra Sehgal.


All this in the backdrop of the stills of Habib saab, young, middle aged, old, bubbling with life, ideas depicting his characters from the ‘maulvi’ to the romantic hero, at times in the barricades, at times abroad lecturing on Indian theatre.  Just a few months back many of the same artists felicitated him on his 85th birthday.


The memorial meeting began with Dr Brijesh of Jan Natya Manch announcing that “this was not a meeting for mourning.”  “Instead, we will sing his songs and read his poetry,” he said.  Tanvir’s poetry and songs from his celebrated play Agra Bazar were performed.  Murli Manohar Prasad Singh, secretary of the Janwadi Lekhak Sangh termed Tanvir’s death as “the end of an era.”  “He was a warrior for secularism.  It is our responsibility to carry his message to all corners and continue his struggle.” Similar sentiments were echoed by photographer Ram Rahman who recalled Tanvir’s key role in the formation of Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT), after the death of Safdar Hashmi in 1989.  “He was at the forefront of the cultural sit-in at Ayodhya in 1993. His commitment towards fighting forces of communalism and casteism was unwavering,” he said. In fact, the title “Ham Sab Ayodhya” for the sit-in at Ayodhya was given by Habib, he revealed.


Asghar Wajahat, who wrote Jis Lahore Nahin Vekhya…, one of Tanvir’s celebrated plays said, “My play had been poorly received until Habib saab decided to produce it.  He gave it a unique touch through his direction and vision; he transformed it into something else. 


Long-time friend Zohra Sehgal speaking with pain, anguish and at times a twinkle in her eyes reminiscing the days gone by recalled “He directed me in my first play in the late 1950s.  For the world, he was a great artist.  Personally, I miss the man more than the artist,” she said. 


Artist Satish Sehgal paid a poetical tribute, with Al Jawed chipping in as the president of the Progressive Writers Association. Scientist Professor Yashpal narrated how a scientist like him grew fond of Habib, learnt from his experiences and even lived with him and his family in Habib’s younger struggling days in Bombay. The Kingsway camp of Delhi jam packed with refugees like Yashpal and Habib Tanvir as relief volunteers were all recalled to life.


Present in the gathering was a one time field reporter whose first report ironically was titled: ‘A place for rest’.  Habib saab after a late night shift wanted to be dropped at Humayun’s Tomb where it is said he and another artist J Swaminathan argued for a long while, looked at the moon in full bloom and then slept peacefully.  Farewell Habib saab.