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Wajida Tabassum: a defiant writer

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Wajida Tabassum, who reached pinnacles of fame but got eclipsed in oblivion, died on 7 December in Mumbai. An extremely frank and to a great extent controversial storywriter, she died at her Andheri home. She had been suffering from arthritis, diabetes and blood pressure and was bed ridden for several years. She breathed her last at 7.30 a.m. and was buried at Juhu graveyard after dhuhr prayer. She is survived by four sons and a daughter.

Wajida acquired fame and popularity in 1960 when her stories carved her a name by her bold and frank narration. Urdu’s renowned satirist Mujtaba Husain said that she was the first storywriter after Chughtai who can be called sahib-e-asloob, a writer with distinct style. Mujtaba Husain told reporters that her first collection of stories Shahar-e-Mamnu (The forbidden city) had received as a welcome breeze. Describing her as a story writer with a difference Mujtaba Husain holds that had she continued her style and had not dared to transgress limits of decorum (and decency) for attracting instant fame, she would have certainly remained on the topmost position among women writers of Urdu. Wajida’s husband Ashfaq Ahmad was a railway employee who began publishing Wajida’s books after his retirement. He died ten years ago. Wajida had also produced a film with her four sons which proved a great flop. She used to provide her home – Wajida House, for shooting of films. Undoubtedly she earned so much of wealth which no Urdu writer could have ever thought of because of her amorous contents.

Beginning her literary career with the monthly magazine “Beeswin Sadi”, she acquired tremendous success when she began depicting the luxurious and amorous life style of Hyderabad nawabs and presented the aristocracy with erotic flavour. Her story “Utaran” (disposed cloth) had galvanised the literary scenario.

After this she wrote “Nath ka bojh” (Burden of the nose-ring), Haur upar (little more higher) and “Nath Utarwai” (Removal of the nose-ring) which created a heated discussion among Urdu readers about obscenity. However, even her opponents also used to relish her stories. It can be said without any doubt that had she not drowned herself in the tidal wave of fame by her erotic portrayal; she would have shone as a luminous star on the Urdu skyline. Her desire to ensure popularity through erotica was encashed by Urdu monthly “Shama” which used to pay her in the 1970s Rs 2000 to 10,000 for a single story, that too as advance. This, at the present rate of price, would mean Rs one lakh for a story. Wajida surrendered her pen (her weapon) before “Shama”’s commercial tactics. Riding the wave of popularity in the 70s and 80s, Wajida for the last fifteen years had chosen seclusion or the members of her family had denied access to her. Her arthritis had made her handicapped and bed-ridden.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 January 2011 on page no. 16

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