FATIMA Surayya — Bajia to one and all — who passed away in Karachi on Wednesday, was the kind of lady one would have liked to have as a grandmother. She was sweet, warm and a repository of children’s bedtime stories. Tales narrated verbally or presented in the form of plays were her forte. Her spotless white hair vied for attention with the white starched saris that were her trademark, if one may use the word.
Bajia was born on Sept 14, 1930, in Hyderabad Deccan to a highly literary family that hailed from Badayun (UP). Her maternal grandfather held a senior position in the state. But when the Nizam government fell after the invasion by Indian troops, the family had no choice but to migrate to Pakistan. She remembered distinctly that a senior officer of the Indian Army helped them take a train to Bombay (now Mumbai) from where they sailed by the SS Damra to Karachi. The large family, including her great-grandmother, grandparents, parents, Bajia and her nine younger siblings, disembarked at Keamari, the port in Karachi. Their baggage included 80,000 books, a claim Bajia never failed to make.
Used to comfort and luxury, the family faced a difficult time. Bajia’s marriage broke up, and she had had to bear the loss of two stillborn babies. With all her elders, except her mother, dying within the first decade of their migration, Bajia had to assume the responsibility of fending for the family. She started making dolls and later designed and embroidered clothes to keep the kitchen fire burning. In an interview with Dawn in 2010, Bajia claimed that she was among the first clothing designers in the country. Her services were used by the All Pakistan Women’s Association at the Gul-i-Raana Club in Karachi.
Her talented siblings include poet Zehra Nigah, painter and writer-cum-TV presenter Anwar Maqsood, and culinary expert Zubaida Tariq. One of the most widely read individuals that this obituarist ever met was her younger brother Ahmed Maqsood Hameedi.
Bajia’s one weakness was tobacco-filled paan which she took in excess for several years. It took its toll in 2003 when she fell prey to mouth cancer. A difficult and long-drawn surgery ensued, and a lengthy period of convalescence followed. Yet once she recovered, she was back in harness with a renewed vigour.
Bajia told this writer in August 2012 that she had penned more than 300 plays for children, women and general viewers. Initially, of course, she wrote for the radio but when TV made its debut in the country she started writing long plays and serials for the audio-visual medium. Her most popular serials included Shama, Afshan, Ana and Aagahi.
She had long had a fascination for Japanese literature. She wrote poetry in the Japanese-style Haiku, and claimed to have popularised it. She also adapted Japanese short stories and novels into stage plays in Urdu.
Her forte was musical programmes and the one that stands out in many people’s memory was Sakal bin Phool bani Sarsoon, which included songs written by Amir Khusro 700 years ago. Zehra Nigah, Bajia’s younger sister, rendered the commentary in her melodious voice. The songs were subsequently released on a long-play record which turned out to be a good seller.
Bajia had links with the premier educational institution PECHS School for Girls, set up by Begum Amna Majeed Malik. She helped the staff organise milaad events and mushairas, lending to them her distinct touch of elegance.
At the risk of using a cliche, one can say that the lady with the old-world charm will be missed by a wide variety of people.
Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2016