The launch of Bajia’s biography could not have been better suited to her personality. Just like Fatima Surayya Bajia, it was the perfect mix of austerity, generosity of person and the unabated love that she has showed every single person she has met in her long life.
Anwar Maqsood, Bajia’s younger brother and the host of the ceremony, kept the audience in stitches the whole time with his razor-sharp wit and family anecdotes. At the end of the event when the guests were presenting flowers to Bajia, he announced to the audience that a colonel from Islamabad had also sent her a bouquet. “Perhaps he doesn’t know how old Bajia is,” he quipped.
When calling actor Qazi Wajid to the stage, Maqsood joked that he was the only actor who has been doing theatre before Bajia began writing plays.
The biography has been written by Syeda Iffat Hasan Rizvi after six years of research. She stayed with Bajia and talked at length to her siblings. “At times I even asked extremely personal questions but Bajia never once raised an eyebrow,” she said.
A mischievous Maqsood requested the speakers to keep their speeches short, “just like Bajia.”
Maqsood admitted that the love shared by all of his 10 siblings, who include, eminent Urdu poet Zehra Nigah, Sughra Kazmi and Zubaida Tariq, is seldom seen anywhere. “That’s because our parents never left anything for us,” he immediately quipped. “All they left were around 10,000 books. Maybe if they had left some property then we wouldn’t love each other so much.”
His best introduction was for Zubaida Aapa – “Aap chay chamchay tehzeeb kay lijiay, aath tamaddun kay aur naun maazi kay. Phir sab ko mila kar mun kay aik konay mayn rakh lijiay. Ainda kabhi budtamizi nahi karengay!” (Add six spoons of manners, eight of heritage and nine of history. Mix them well and put some in your mouth. You will never misbehave again).
Prof. Sehar Ansari, who was one of the speakers, also praised Bajia’s character and her work. Talking about her habit of calling everyone a beta (son), he said that Bajia even called an 80-year-old beta when she was herself only 40 years old.
Director Agha Nasir told the audience how Bajia first got involved with Pakistan Television. Her flight to Karachi had been delayed and she came to PTV Islamabad station for a visit. Nasir hired her and Bajia made her debut in 1966 by acting in one of his plays. She began writing afterwards. “During Ziaul Haq’s time when the ‘dupatta policy’ was implemented and women were forced to behave a certain way, Bajia wrote about characters from Baghdad and Granada,” he said. “This was brilliant because these places were supposedly Islamic societies and no one could say anything about them.”
Nasir said that when writing a play, Bajia would literally move with her belongings to the TV station and then become an authority by default. “Anyone who had a problem would go to Bajia, not to the chief of the organisation.”
Although Bajia has been presented with many awards, including the highest civil award of Japan and Pride of Performance by the Pakistani government, none of them did justice to her services. “There should be more. Something grander,” said Nasir as he finally finished his speech.
Replying to this, Maqsood said that Bajia was better off without these awards because they were given to the likes of Babar Awan, Rehman Malik and Salman Farooqi.
Correction: An earlier version of this story inadvertently mentioned that Bunto Kazmi was Fatima Suriya Bajia’s sibling. She is in fact her niece. Sughra Kazmi is her sibling. The error is regretted.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2012.