Qurratulain Hyder: Delhi August 2005
Born in the UP in 1927, Hyder comes from an accomplished upper-crust family of writers. Educated in Lucknow, she spent a stint in London as a young reporter on Fleet Street before immigrating to Pakistan after Partition and returning to India around 1962. Ainee was awarded the Jnanpith – India’s highest national award – and before that, the Sahitya Akademi, Padma Shree and Ghalib Awards.
On my first visit to Delhi, I was invited for lunch at Ainee Apa’s house. She lives in Noida close to Delhi. Quite symbolically, the real-mythical Jamna River separates the two localities. In Noida, I buy rajneegandha flowers (much loftier than the prosaic ‘tube roses’) and standing under a jaman tree, wonder why life is treating me so well. I was, after all, buying flowers for Ainee Apa.
She is entertaining a guest who had brought some books for her to read. There is no electricity and she repeatedly apologises for the humid afternoon and her utter helplessness in getting the supply restored. Evidently frail, there is nevertheless something electric in her manners and conversation. It takes me a while to register the reality of that afternoon. Her house is full of books; I later find that each room has bookshelves and yet more bookshelves. The walls are adorned with a decade’s worth of her paintings, some of which I recognise as they feature in her books.