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Wednesday, Jan 22, 2020

Abba's spirit envelops me: Shabana

Shabana Azmi still goes by the words that her late father taught her.

india Updated: May 06, 2006 18:07 IST
Kshama Rao/ HT City
Kshama Rao/ HT City

Shabana Azmi is busy preparing for her theatre event and performance Kaifi Aur Main scheduled to coincide with her father’s fourth death anniversary and IPTA’s annual festival next week (May 9 and 10) at Prithvi Theatre as part of IPTA’s festival and to coin cide with my father’s fourth death anniversary.

An interview with the actress, activist and devoted daughter:

Do you miss your father Kaifi Azmi?
When Abba passed away I realised that nothing and no body can prepare you enough for the loss of a parent. I was devastated. But four years later I feel his spirit envelops me like the air I breathe. My reference point continues to be Abba…the choices I make, the work I do is subconsciously guided by whether he would approve of it or not. He once said an amazing thing to me, “When you are working for change you should build into that expectation the possibility that the change may not occur within your lifetime and yet you have to carry on working; there will then be no room for frustration”. That is my mantra.

What’s your present state of mind?
Contented. An unfamiliar emotion for me though and I worry that it can lead to stagnation. But I deserve the break. I have been out of the country since July last year with the play Betrayal, then a brief stint in Mumbai for an English film The Contest, then Jaipur for Umrao Jaan, Birmingham for a BBC film BanglatownBanquet, Goa for Farhan’s production Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. In the little time I have in Mumbai before I zoom off again, Javed and I are putting together the work of my parents to commemorate my father’s fourth death anniversary then we are both off to Ireland as guests of Dublin University and Amnesty International.

Shabana Azmi is busy preparing for her theatre event and performance Kaifi Aur Main scheduled to coincide with her father’s fourth death anniversary and IPTA’s annual festival next week.

You are associated with many issues. Is it possible to be equally passionate about each one?

No, it’s not. My most important concern is housing rights for slum dwellers. Sixty per cent of Mumbai’s population lives in the slums and occupies only 13 per cent land. These are largely people who have migrated from the rural areas in search of employment.

They do find work (even the Rs 20 a ragpicker makes every day is more than what he would get in the village) but no housing. Unless the State earmarks land for the economically weaker section, the slum dwellers’ ‘illegal’ status will continue to be perpetuated. They need unconditional land tenure, a system of direct finance and long-term loans.

The slum dweller pays more tax per unit of electricity and per gallon of water then you and me…except it goes into the hands of the slum-lord. If the State took away the ‘illegal’ tag from them this tax could legitimately to the State.

Housing however cannot be seen in isolation. It necessarily includes the rights of women, children, education, health etc. and so I get involved with these issues as well. The spectrum of social justice is so wide that one concern keeps attaching itself to the other. However one has to prioritise and my priority is housing and women.

Is there anything you still want to do, learn?
I definitely want to learn cooking. I am an awful cook but a good host. I love to feed people and I am extremely house proud.

My house is undergoing major renovation and I simply have not been able to give it the time it deserves. On a more serious note what I am looking forward to most is handing over homes for 13,000 families who were displaced from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

It is a tripartite agreement between the Maharashtra government, my organisation Nivara Hakk and a private builder Sumer Corporation. We are in the process of setting up a township complete with schools, health centres, workshops and all basic amenities including open space. It spreads over 80 acres and the first batch of 5000 houses will be completed this June-July. I am extremely proud of this project. It will be Asia’s single largest rehabilitation programme and I hope it will become the model for all future rehabilitation projects. This is what I want to give back to my city, to my country.