Odd coincidences find their way into the most impressive of our literary works. Where the literary work in question happens to be a novel most of us tend to shake our heads and decry “but for that sign of immaturity, this would have been a truly great work.” They are more fruitfully associated with an older form of drama, where such ‘coincidences’ were taken to be a sign of the dramatist’s capacity to tie up all loose ends before the curtain descends on the final act.
But such approval or disapproval of literary coincidences often clouds one very important truism: that they are very much a part of our lives.
One such coincidence in my mother’s life revolved around the Shah of Iran and the year 1979. Another revolved around a recording of Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s ghazal ‘Aaye Kuchh Abr’.
My mother once told her father that, from a certain angle, he looked like the Shah of Iran. My grandfather, ever the epitome of modesty (or maybe with some objection, given the Shah’s youthful dalliances), said “अरे ये तुमने क्या कह दिया!” [Oh, what have you said! being a very literal and rather rough translation in English]
The monarchy of the Shah of Iran was deposed through a popular Islamic revolution in February 1979. Later that year, my grandfather passed away after succumbing to injuries suffered in a car accident in Hungary. The Shah was forced to live in exile in Egypt (that most Biblical of centres for exile) where he was granted asylum by Anwar al Sadaat. My mother’s life after the accident in 1979 was like an extended exile in itself, what with constant struggle even in the brief affluent interlude of around eight years.
My mother had learnt her social sciences and history well. She would sometimes respond to my excitable, amateur enthusiasm about a new topic with a matter-of-fact comment that would at once hint at the depth of her knowledge and pre-empt any boastfulness on my part. So it came as a surprise when, after I came across an article pertaining to the Iranian Revolution and spoke to mum about it, she seemed uncharacteristically foggy on the subject. She explained that large parts of 1979 were now foggy in her mind, other than a few obvious incidents. I understood.
Yet another coincidence played itself out one winter evening in December 2015. It was just your usual evening, so I sought to add a little ambience to it by playing something I’d downloaded from one of those mp3 repositories you find online. I had newly found Faiz, so I played ‘Aaye Kuchh Abr’ in Mehdi Hassan’s rendition of it. Mum’s eyes widened and she told me she’d recorded the same song from a Radio Pakistan broadcast back in 1978 or 1979 when grandfather was posted as Press Counsellor at the Indian Embassy at Moscow! Safe to say, that wasn’t my last Faiz, not by a longshot. That episode really impressed itself on my memory. Up until then, Mum had been my primary impetus to good music, Indian and Western. She introduced me to rock ‘n’ roll, enrolled me in classical music programmes, and showed me the charm of the top three entries to Eurovision ‘73. Enough said.
And since it never hurts to end a post with some analysis, I hope a bit of reflection on this and on your memories of Mum bring out the spontaneous, genuine woman who didn’t hesitate to say what was on her mind (unless it was utterly imprudent not to, of course), and a woman of culture, not only interested in good music but also willing to engage with it through some good old initiative.