I think I was eight, maybe nine. That was the first time I met Qurrat ul Ain Haider. Of course I had no clue who she was...Aini Khala, I was supposed to call her. She was the cousin of some family friends who were also related to us in some kind of weird way. I remember her being quite intimidating
She wore some kind of printed sari and cool cats-eye glasses, her voice rather deep and manly, sitting among the men, holding court. My father had a bit of a crush on her when he was younger...I am sure the crush was intact even then.
As I met her through the years, sometimes she would meet me with great affection. At other times it was as if she had never met me before. The dreamy eccentricity of a writer. Other people just said she was sort of rude and sunki. They were adults... I believed them.
She's some kind of writer. Wrote something called Aag Ka Dariya. Hmm...angrezy mein nahin hai? Whose going to read it then? How ignorant was I?
It was only as I grew up that I realized I had been in the presence of one of India's greatest writers. A fascinating, modern woman...regardless of the time when she was born and when she lived and wrote.
As I try to make my own way in the writing world I realize that even though I never really came to know her well...she's been somewhat of a role model, even if peripherally. A woman (now in her 80's) who lives life on her own terms. Never married, she wrote and lived (and lives) on her own terms. At a time when marriage and motherhood was the only way for women...especially Muslim women, she forged her own path. She wrote, made enough to support herself and didn't have to answer to anyone or anything. She is a writer...a thinker...before being anything else, who did not fall into the trap of roles.
Youth is really wasted on the young. It certainly was on me.
Maybe next time I am in Delhi I'll actually go and meet her. If I am lucky, she might even know me this time. And we'll talk...of life and love and writing.
I don't know why I thought of her today after all these years. But here's to Aini Khala.