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Quratulain HaiderQuratulain, literally means that core part of the eyes (-ain) which gives life to the eyes (loosely speaking the centre of the eyeballs); when referring to it as someone’s name, Quratulain metaphorically means ‘the apple of my eye’ and especially something that gives solace to my eyes – a perfect description for our thought-provoking Urdu writer and the topic of discussion at Mehfil@Prithvi in June – Quratulain Haider, fondly known as Annie Apa.

The winds were blowing ferociously at Prithvi Adda, almost in anticipation of the feisty writer who had kicked up a storm with her writing. In an effort to avoid an unexpected downpour, mehfil was moved to the room on the first floor of Prithvi House. A discerning Urdu loving audience of about 40-50 people gathered together expectantly, to know more about Annie Apa. We had the gracious presence of Javed Siddiqui saab and Shauqi saab, with Suhail Akhtar Warsi leading the conversation on Annie Apa, his favourite writer. Javed saab began with a brief introduction on Annie Apa – she was born in Aligarh but had her early education in Lucknow University and started writing at an early age of 11. Javed saab spoke eloquently about Annie Apa’s writing style and the way she vividly painted a picture of the scene in front of your eyes, through the beauty and skill of words.

After Javed saab’s brief but interesting introduction, based on his first hand interactions and experiences with Apa herself, Suhail and Priya read out a piece written by Apa (in Urdu) and T.S.Eliot (in English), respectively, that was used as the preface in Apa’s magnum opus ‘Aag ka Darya’ (River of Fire) and had many similarities in thought and word.

This was interspersed with readings of several of Apa’s stories, that gave us a flavor of her unique and descriptive writing style. We had Urdu enthusiasts Shabana, Farid Khan saab and Sadia Siddiqui reading these out in Urdu, to the audience. The stories read out were –
– ‘Awara-gard’ was read by Shabana
– ‘Aksar is tarah se bhi raqs-i fughan hota hai’ was read by Farid Khan
– ‘Karman’ was read by Sadia Saiddiqui
Suhail also read out a piece in Urdu from ‘Aag ka darya’ where Annie Apa describes the beauty dance form of Bharat Natyam with such nuanced detailing and beauty that it left everyone spellbound.

Mehfil@Prithvi in June was preordained to be an interesting evening, as we got closer to understanding the charm of Annie Apa. The evening ended on a high with Javed saab recounting a fascinating anecdote on an elaborate tea (lopchu chai) making ritual that was a must, every time he and Shama Zaidi visited Apa’s home. The anecdote has been captured in one of our earlier blog posts, here: