By Humra Quraishi

This ‘gas chamber’ capital city can get on your nerves. What with the pollution, the pace, the murky politics around. And last fortnight, I decided to get going …towards Satoli, not too far from Mukteshar and Almora in Nainital. Within a couple of hours after reaching Satoli and settling down in a lovely cottage — One Partridge Hill — one felt the change in the very atmosphere.Not just an abundance of clean fresh air but absolute tranquility. Solitude!

There is something wonderfully serene about this belt; drawing several who’s who of the capital city towards it …to this serenity. Our hosts, couldn’t last minute make it but gave adequate instructions to the staff to provide us elaborate veggie meals and take us around …we traveled towards Mukteshwar, Kwarab and the connecting locales.

For me the only jarring note in this otherwise great trip was monkeys and apes all along – that is, all over the Kumaon region. They seemed to be not just along the roads and highways but also on agricultural stretches. In fact, an agricultural expert told me that farmers and cultivators of this belt are finding the going tough as monkeys have been let loose.


In 1999, I knew Saira Bano and Dilip Kumar were in New Delhi. I was keen to interview them, so I tried all the possible sources that could connect me with them. But the closest I could get by way of a source was a homoeopath who was treating the couple. And the closest he could get by way of helping me get an appointment with them was to tell me that they were staying at the Le Meridien Hotel.

I landed at the hotel lobby, but before I could move towards the reception, I could see Saira Bano and Dilip Kumar in the glass lift descending to the lobby.

I rushed towards them, but in vain as the couple asked me to first have an appointment while walking through the lobby. It was the summer of 1999 — the year of the big political controversy surrounding Dilip Kumar and the Nishaan-e-Imtiaz, which the Pakistani Government had bestowed on him, and which he refused to return….I was told that the two were meeting several important political people in Delhi at the time and were keeping miles away from journos.

Not one to give up, I finally managed to interview Saira Bano. My first question to her was “Why doesn’t your husband return this award? Why keep it when it is causing so much tension?”

She’d replied, “Return it? Are we living in a democracy or is it some sort of dictatorship? How much we are being bullied! Tell me how much of a mess can you take in your life? After all, this award was not given to him now, but it was given last year, in March 1998. Even then, Dilip Saab was so cautious, that he first took permission from our Government and from the Prime Minister.”

“But your critics are crying themselves hoarse, saying that this is 1999, there’s a war with Pakistan so the scenario has changed…”

To that, Saira Bano said, “Tell me, do we now go looking for all those trophies, awards and citations that our cricketers and sportspersons received when they had played in Pakistan? Should we ask them to give back all those awards they’d received earlier? I’m told that even LK Advani sahib had got some citation from Pakistan…all this talk of returning awards seems petty.”

“Your husband’s critics point out that Rabindranath Tagore had returned the title that the British had bestowed on him.”

“Rabindranath Tagore returned it on his way on a certain occasion. He wasn’t labeled anti-national, nor was he bullied and threatened, like we are being bullied and threatened,” was her terse reply.

“It is said that certain Right-wing political parties in Mumbai are not happy with the social service you undertook after the Bombay riots of 1992-1993. Is this why you are facing this backlash?” I queried.

She said, “There is a communal trace to the whole issue, but let me add that I do social service for all people, people from different communities. I try to reach out to whoever is in need…And I do so with a group of close friends who belong to different communities.”

 “Usually film stars stand united in times of crisis, but in this present crisis that you and your husband are facing, film stars are maintaining a studied silence. What do you think of this?”

“Have they stood by anyone? Nobody takes a stand these days! Even when Sanju (Sanjay Dutt) was being harassed, the only two people who spoke for him were Shatrughan Sinha and my husband. Even when the film Fire was in trouble, only my husband spoke out on the matter.”


The very first time I had attended a Dhrupad concert was in the mid 80s, at the residence of the then envoy of Qatar to India, Dr Hassan Al Nimah …The setting was absolutely perfect – under white shaminas erected on the sprawling lawns of the ambassador’s residence, the two Dagar brothers – Ustad N Zahiruddin Dagar and Ustad N Faiyazuddin rendered Dhrupad.

And the very first time I had met Ustad Sayeeduddin Dagar was around the same time i.e. mid 80s. In fact, several days after that concert I wanted to interview the Dagar brothers and set out looking for their home. I was directed to a first floor flat in New Delhi’s East Nizamuddin locality. The stairs led to a study which had a shelter (white sheet) spread out on the floor. Ustad Zahiruddin was sitting on it doing riyaz …I wasushered inwards by Ustad Faiyazudin sahib’s wife Mehmooda Begum. She had introduced me to her brothers –in – law- Ustad Sayeeduddin, Nasir Aminuddin, Fahimuddin, Zia Mohiuddin and Zia Fariduddin.

And now when news comes in of the passing away of Sayeeduddin Dagar nostalgia overpowers. One doesn’t want to sound clichéd but then, how else to describe the scenario – passage of time taking its toll… Yes, till about a couple of decades back, it was a full household when the seven Dagar brothers were alive. One would see them all at their small home Though three of them – Zahiruddin, Sayeeduddin and Faiyazuddin – lived in that home together with their families (Faiyazuddin and Sayeeduddin were married with children but Zahiruddin remained a bachelor), the other four brothers – Aminuddin, Fahimuddin, Zia Fariduddin and Mohiuddin – would visit from the cities they were based. And yes, it was a treat to watch them for their seemed much togetherness and that feel of a clan. Clan of great music givers, for not to be overlooked is the fact that Dhrupad started in the 15th Century when a Dagar was a court musician for Emperor Akbar and till date, this tradition has been going on, unbroken so far.

And I had last met Sayeeduddin Dagar around the start of 2014, during the two day long concerts by the Dagars at the Indira National Centre for Arts.Sayeeduddin Dagar was performing with his sons, Aneesuddin and Nafeesuddin.That evening amongst the audience were a large number of his French students – several had travelled from France to India to be able to do riyaz with him and were putting up at the various guest houses in this capital city.After the concert we all drove to Wasifuddin Dagar’s Asiad Village home for dinner and an informal get -together …There was tremendous warmth and I got to meet his French disciples – prominent was the 67 year old Mitchelle Dehoky, Jerome Cormier, Brigitte Peterfalvi …and several other Indian disciples too. I recall meeting one of their Jaipur based senior disciples, Iqbal Khan, who is closely associated with the Dagar family for years and makes it a point to be there for each and every occasion associated with this family.