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Rakhshanda Jalil, 47, is almost broke!

entertainment Updated: Jul 24, 2010 01:21 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Mayank Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times

She looks up at the evening sky, stays still for a moment before starting to pace again. I met Rakhshanda Jalil, 47, in Gandhi-King Plaza, a little pool garden in the members-only India International Center (IIC), a cultural institution near Khan Market. “I’m almost broke,” she says.

Jalil, an IIC member, has edited two collections of short stories, co-authored two books on history, published eight works of translations, wrote a collection of essays on Delhi’s monuments, and was once a columnist for HT City. She has a day-job in Jamia Millia University.

Then why is she broke?
“I’m on a year’s unpaid leave.” Jalil is completing a long-pending PhD. Her subject — the Progressive Writers’ Movement in Urdu and its impact on the freedom movement — is vast and “inter-disciplinary.” She is now in the process of winding up the loose ends. “I do nothing but think of the progressives during the day. Even in sleep I’m crafting sentences.”

Jalil lives with her lawyer husband and two daughters in Jamia Nagar, south Delhi. She is, however, spending most of her waking hours in the IIC where she has rented a cubicle in the library. “I come in mornings and work till late night on my thesis.”

For over 15 years, Jalil has been secretly working on 10 short stories. Last year she found the courage to show them to a publishing house. “I remember nervously sitting in the IIC Lounge as the editor from one of the country’s leading publishing houses read my stories. I can’t remember the last time I was this edgy. The editor read it silently, then she turned around and said she liked them. I was dazed.”

Sitting on the steps leading down to the pool, Jalil says, “The subject is sensitive… these are stories about Indian Muslims, not the scarf wearing, bomb-throwing kinds of popular imagination, but the other kind who are as normal, as mainstream as any Indian, except that they do have another layer of identity, their Muslimness.”

Last month, Jalil spent four weeks in London researching for her PhD in the British Library. She stayed at her sister’s house in Finchley, north London. “I would take the tube everyday to the British Library at King’s Cross. The day would go in scrutinising files, making requests for the next day, taking notes. I’d reach home by 8.30 pm, have dinner and sleep like the dead. The next day it would start all over again.”

In London, Jalil lived like a full-time scholar. In Delhi, she has to perform other roles, too. “My girls are being very supportive of my PhD, but they are only children. They give me space to finish what is clearly important for me but I know they need me.” Just as Jalil needs her daily grind of writing. “I know I can satisfy my own standards when I’m writing reviews or essays. But with fiction, no… it’s an altogether different sort of thing,” she says.

Has she shown her stories to friends? “Yes. They find them simple but evocative.” It is getting dark. Walking to the car parking, Jalil says, “Fiction writing demands a certain confidence. But I’m trying to draw consolation from the fact that others have walked down this path and felt much the same.”

First Published: Jul 23, 2010 17:09 IST