Love’s Gone

Mehru Jaffer

Atia Naqvi, the 96-year-old grand dame of Lucknow, and perhaps the last in the line of elegance and grace, died recently. When I heard that she is no more, my immediate fear was that a lot of love that is already in short supply may have also departed from earth with her.

I wanted to write about Atia as a lesson to myself on ‘becoming’ love. But I did not know how to do so in words. Would it make sense to you if I said that Atia was one person I knew who was a personification of love?

The way she related to all human beings was a marvelous expression of love that is difficult to talk about as it is best lived, particularly at a time when powerful politicians are trying to sell the ‘India first’ story, almost implying that Indians can go take a walk for all they care!

To take this thought further, but being short on words, made me Googled Atia. That did not help. Then I Googled Love and found countless discourses by god-men and women promising instant love and happiness for a fee. I tore myself away from the Internet to wonder why the ooperwala has almost stopped making Atia-like beings.

Atia was rare only because she was a living example of all that is ‘loving’ in life. For her, only the human being and nothing but the human being mattered. Everything else in life may have been entertaining and interesting but it was the human being around whom Atia revolved her life. God, king, country were all fine but the finest for her were people. Her greatest gift, even greater than her interest in literature and politics, was her capacity to love anyone, and everyone, who crossed her path.

I got to appreciate all this about Atia over time. 

I seem to have known her forever but realized her real worth only recently. At first, I had looked upon her with much amazement only because she was the mother of so many goodlooking men. My admiration for her increased when I realised that her brood of boys was not only handsome, but terribly talented as well.

In the several decades that I continued to meet her off and on, I saw how she treasured human beings beyond all boundaries like religion, nation or class. Her lap was always filled with a bouquet of heads of people belonging to different races, religions and genders. Her love for people had blinded her so much that she was unable to distinguish any more between an attractive, and a less attractive face. A good body, or a bad body.

She did not waste her time favouring the rich and the famous at the cost of more humble lives. She seemed to have no reason to discriminate man from woman and child from adult. Her sole purpose in life was to just love everyone, without allowing this love to ever increase or decrease for those around her. Love was her creed, faith, life and religion and everything else was mere song, dance, poetry and prose.

It is no surprise that one of Atia’s favourite poets was Mir Anis of Lucknow whose wondrous use of words is loved to this day by all, whether Muslim, Sikh or Hindu. A few years ago, she chose verses from Anis, selected from volumes of his poetry  published nearly a century ago. She loved Anis because he inspired all those who read his poetry to revolt against injustice. The beautifully bound book by Atia remains a real promise of good relations with Pakistan as it was released in India by Karachi’s Ushba Books International.

Atia was last seen in public at the Lucknow Literary Festival (LLF) in March when she launched granddaughter Saba Naqvi’s book, In Good Faith.

“Despite health problems, she attended many sessions,” recalls Atif Hanif, founder and host, LLF, who admires this ‘Begum of Awadh’ for having turned her back on purdah to live by the pen.  

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2013