Indian writer, singer and poet Minu Bakshi, whose first language is Hindi and not Urdu, launched her Urdu poetry book titled, Tishnagi or The Thirst, in London at the Nehru Centre earlier this week.
She first started taking interest in Urdu at the age of 17; it was when she saw Indian ghazal singer Begum Akhtar perform in 1972. While speaking to The Express Tribune the writer said: “Unn ko sunn kar hum pagla sai gayai [when I heard her, I lost myself a little],” describing how she felt during Begum’s performance.
She revealed how she had become obsessive and was completely mesmerised by Begum’s personality and stature. She couldn’t sleep at night and tried her best to get in touch with the legend, which she eventually managed to do. “She called me and asked me to sing for her,” recalls Bakshi. Her passion did not go unnoticed by Begum and soon she garnered the opportunity of becoming her idol’s student.
While singing, Bakshi would sometimes forget the lyrics and instead of stammering or pausing she’d confidently make up her own lyrics in the moment and continue and that is how her journey as a poet began. Her book comprises around 100 poems and ghazals that she has written over the years. It took her around two and a half years just to compile the book. “It has the story of my life and my journey, but mostly the book is about love. The first chapter is called Ishq Naama,” said Bakshi.
Speaking after the book’s Delhi launch, actor Shabana Azmi commented on the book and the poet saying: “Minu Bakshi’s poetry is steeped in love and even more importantly in romance — a virtue fast-disappearing in today’s world. There is a simplicity with which she surrenders to love and makes the reader yearn for more”.
Tishnagi includes transliterations in both, Hindi and English, thus, it reaches out to a wider audience. “The fact that a non-Urdu speaking has written in Urdu, is what makes the book stand-out,” said Bakshi. When she visited Lahore a few weeks ago she realised that many people are interested in launching the book in Pakistan.
While Begum was her main inspiration, she is a fan of many Urdu poets and it was difficult for her to name just a few: “I have read Momin, Ghalib and Zauq amongst others. Parveen Shakir is the only female poet I really know and like,” she said, adding, “To write you must read.”
The book was awarded the best book of Urdu poetry for 2013 by the Bihar Urdu Academy.
Bakshi is a woman of many talents: she is a Himalayan rally car driver, has recorded Punjabi folk songs commercially and is a professor of Spanish in Delhi.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2014.
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