Yavar Abbas and Noor Zaheer
Yavar Abbas and Noor Zaheer

AS the COVID-19 threat loomed heavy upon the United Kingdom and the British government advised people aged over 70 to prepare for a period of self-isolation, 100-year-old citizen Yavar Abbas had one major concern: how will the coronavirus containment plan impact his upcoming nuptials?

Mr Abbas, a UK-based filmmaker and journalist formerly with the BBC, was all set to marry his partner, Indian activist and writer Noor Zaheer, in a ceremony originally scheduled for March 27. But the coronavirus outbreak and its resulting advisories from the government threw their plans into disarray. As the UK’s confirmed cases approach 2,000, with 104 deaths, British authorities are mulling lockdown measures.

“When we learnt that over 70s will be asked to self-isolate, we took the bus to the marriage registrar’s office to ask if there was a plan B for us,” Mr Abbas told Dawn. “But there was no alternative arrangement and we would be unable to get married if the isolation period started. We then decided to get married immediately. The only available slots they had were within the hour and also the following morning. We were unable to ask our witnesses to come the same day at such short notice, so we agreed to doing it the following morning (March 17).”

Mr Abbas said there was an option to ask the marriage registrar to conduct the registration at their residence, but added that this would have involved a fresh application and delay of another month. “We did not want to waste time.”

Yavar Abbas and Noor Zaheer. — Photo courtesy Pervaiz Alam Facebook page
Yavar Abbas and Noor Zaheer. — Photo courtesy Pervaiz Alam Facebook page

Centenarian Abbas marries celebrated writer and activist Noor Zaheer in Middlesex

Mr Abbas, who hails from Lucknow in UP, began his career as a photographer for the British army during World War II, when he was posted to Burma. In 1945, he was among those who documented the surrender in Japan. He has been associated with BBC Urdu on and off between the 1950s and 2009.

Ms Zaheer and Mr Abbas celebrated their wedding at their home with a small reception attended by a total of six people.

One of the guests, Durdana Ansari, said that she was unable to partake as witness to the registration as originally planned but attended the reception at their home: “Both of them looked so happy and so relieved. I cannot describe the look on their faces — I have not seen such elation on the faces of even young couples. It was like a fairytale, truly a sight to behold.”

She shared that Mr Abbas, who had worn a suit and bowtie to the registrar’s office, promptly changed into a black kurta and red waistcoat for the reception at home.

But what was the motivation for a 100-year-old man — clearly in the at-risk category for the fast-spreading virus — to marry at this age?

“The motivation is love,” said Mr Abbas. “We fell in love. It doesn’t matter how old I am. She is past 60 but even the age difference doesn’t matter. We are very happy together.”

Zaheer and Abbas celebrated their wedding at their home with a small reception attended by a total of six people. — Photo courtesy Pervaiz Alam Facebook page
Zaheer and Abbas celebrated their wedding at their home with a small reception attended by a total of six people. — Photo courtesy Pervaiz Alam Facebook page

He spoke with pride of Ms Zaheer’s involvement as an activist in the anti-Narendra Modi protests in India and said it is disappointing how a right-wing ideology has consumed so many people in both India and Pakistan.

Noor Zaheer is one of the four daughters of renowned Urdu writers and political intellectuals Sajjad and Razia Sajjad Zaheer. She carries the legacy of her parents in modern India through her writing and activism as a member of the Communist Party of India and former president of Indian Peoples Theatre. She has published 15 books, including My God is a Woman, The Dancing Lama, Denied by Allah, Sukh Karwan Key Humsafar, Rait Pey Kahani and Merey Hissey Ki Roshnai.

When asked if she is worried about the risk of the virus, Ms Zaheer said: “Even though we are both susceptible, I am not particularly afraid of pandemics or epidemics because as an activist I have worked in remote areas of India which have faced serious health risks — perhaps not to this scale — but quite.”

She said the couple will spend their early marriage days in self-isolation by doing “a lot more reading and also by talking to each other”.

“We have known each other for over 10 years but properly connected at the Faiz Amn Mela last October in London,” she said. “Our friendship revived and deepened and we decided that we should make it permanent.”

While some will naturally be surprised by the decision of a 100-year-old to marry, their friends are supportive.

“Mr Abbas is an honourable man. He wanted to give Noor respect and security by formalising their relationship,” said Durdana Ansari.

“People may feel that it is strange for a man of his age to marry, but we see it very differently. His home will be abaad (settled) and he will no longer be lonely. He lived alone and that can present a set of challenges. Now he will be taken care of.”

When asked about their age difference, Ms Zaheer said: “We attach a lot of importance to age and what should be done when. The ‘right age’ is not the prerequisite to love.”

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2020