Former MP and cine-star Shabana Azmi threw a tantrum when she was sent to a municipal school. At home she protested by banging doors and stamping her feet. In school, she made sure that she got a zero in every subject. Finally her father, famous poet Kaifi Azmi, decided to spend Rs 30 of the 40 he earned to send her to a convent. There was another problem: only children of English-speaking parents were allowed. Neither Kaifi nor his wife Shaukat spoke the language. Finally family friends poet Ali Sardar Jaffri’s wife Sultana and Munish Narain posed as Shabana’s parents to ensure her admission. Things were fine till the day her class teacher went to a mushaira to hear her father recite: “He looks very different from the gentleman I meet in school”. Muttered Shabana: “Typhoid after-effect”. The teacher actually believed her.
Hell broke loose when ‘Abba’ (her father) bought a doll with black eyes and black hair instead of the “blonde, blue-eyed one” that Shabana wanted. It took days to broker peace.
If her grandmother had her way, Shabana would probably have been Fatima: “Had Sardar Jaffri not named me before my grandmother could, I would not be Shabana” she says. It is a name she loves, a kind of a two-in-one as it were: “Say Shabana and it is nectar, say Shabana Azmi and it sounds powerful” says the former MP. While her cook calls her ‘Munni didi’, she is ‘Munni’ to her parents, ‘Shavy’ to her college friends and ‘Shabi’ for the family.
Her cook guarded his recipes more than his life. But Shabana was never a threat. Reason: she cannot cook or ever get a recipe right. It is a nightmare if she enjoys food at a friend’s. She not only insists on the recipe and attempts cooking it but also “gets mad” if it does not turn out the way it’s meant to. She claims, however, to have cooked chicken and khichdi or at least her version of it.
Poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar did not woo her with verse, flowers or gifts. She does not even remember if he proposed: “Ours was not a fairy-tale romance. The only poem he sent me was also not his own. During four years of our courtship, he bought flowers only once” recalls Shabana. Post-marriage, he has been of little help. Tell him to fix a switch or a bulb and he tells her that she should have married an electrician rather than a poet. The one time that he was pushed into washing glasses, he emptied the liquid into the glass: “Ditto Abba, who was incapable of doing chores”.
While Parliament was a “learning experience”, Shabana took lessons from BJP MP Sushma Swaraj on how to keep cupboards tidy: “If I have time on my hands, I start tidying my cupboards because I can never find anything when I need it”. When she is not doing that, one may find her fast asleep: “Sleep deficit” is how she explains her sleeping spells.