Delhi’s Proust Questionnaire – Iffat Zarrin, Galli Hakimji Wali
The parlour confession.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The works of poets may linger in some high unattainable altitude but they themselves live in ordinary unremarkable streets. Such as Iffat Zarrin. This muggy afternoon the verse writer is standing amusedly on the middle of this cramped lane that is going all the way to her house. A longtime dweller of Old Delhi’s Galli Hakimji Wali, Ms Zarrin writes poetry and also teaches Urdu literature—she is an assistant professor in Delhi University’s Mata Sundri College for Women.
“These days I’m conducting classes on Google Classroom,” she informs, posing for a quick photo shoot—from a safe distance. “As a bimari (illness), coronavirus is certainly not good, but it does has given me sukoon (peace) for now I don’t have to go out much,” declares Ms Zarrin in her lecturer-like authoritative voice, which however is larded up with great dollops of friendly affection. In her 50s, she gamely agreed to become a part of the Proust Questionnaire series in which The Delhi Walla nudges folks from diverse backgrounds to make “Parisian parlour confessions”, all to explore the lives, thoughts, values and experiences of Delhi’s citizens.
Exercising the privilege of being a poet, Ms Zarrin obviously peppered her responses with her own verses. Her Urdu was translated into English by poet Saquib Hussain.
Your favorite virtue or the principal aspect of your personality
‘It’s been ages since I started on a solitary inward journey,
I’m unaware of my destination, but I’m still on the road.’
And while on the way, I try to be compassionate and empathetic to everyone, without an ounce of discrimination of any kind
Your favorite qualities in a man
His wisdom, intellect and educational qualification
Your favorite qualities in a woman
Self-made and independent
Your chief characteristic
Loyalty, punctuality and respect
What do you appreciate the most in your friends?
Whoever stands by my side in adversity is my friend
Your main fault
I trust people easily
Your favorite occupation
Writing and teaching
Your idea of happiness
To read or write anything profound or beautiful.
‘I’m a painter, and this is what is expected of my talent
I’m bound to paint a portrait even of my adversary.’
Your idea of misery or what would be your greatest misfortune?
The time when someone desperately needs me and I’m unable to be there for him/her
If not yourself, who would you be?
I would have been a high-flying bird, soaring up along the sky
Where would you like to live?
In some serene hill station, with at least one close friend with whom I can share all my feelings
Your favourite colours and flower
Green and white. Rose, as it has thorns as well, which makes me feel closer to it
Your favorite bird
Your favorite prose authors
Munshi Prem Chand. He wrote about the plight of poverty-stricken farmers and labourers, and tried his best to fight social inequality through his timeless writings
Your favorite poets
Meer Taqi Meer, Mirza Ghalib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Firaq Gorakhpuri and Nasir Kazmi
Your favorite heroes in fiction
Afsana Qalandar, aka Iqbal Bakht Saxena, a character in a short story by Qurratulain Hyder—he would always be adapting himself to help others
Your favorite heroines in fiction
Umrao Jaan Ada. As she took culture and etiquettes to newer heights
Your favorite composers
Nushad. I’m also fond of classical and Sufi music whose composers I’m not aware of
Your favorite painters
To be honest, I’m not much familiar with the painting world but I loved the persona of late MF Husain saab. He was always barefoot and he always dressed in white. I was lucky to have met him a number of times during poetry gatherings that were routinely held at the Ghalib Institute (near ITO)
Your heroes/heroines in real life
My father, late poet Musheer Jhinjanvi, who taught me how to lead a principled life. I’m still following his path
What characters in history do you most dislike?
Hitler, and the people responsible for Bhopal gas tragedy and Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar
Your heroines in World history
Raziya Sultana and Zeenat Mahal. Arundhati Roy and Medha Pataikar. Their names would be etched in history
Your favorite food and drink
Dal-chaawal and roti sabzi. Chai
Your favorite names
Kabeer And Muhammad Ali
What do you hate the most?
I hate hatred, and those people who divide us on religious grounds
The military event you admire the most
Rather than any particular war or battle, I chose to admire those who protect our nation by putting their life on the line. They have my utmost respect, and I present my salutations in their honour.
‘O country, we love every aspect, every shade of yours,
We even consider your soil to be a healer.’
The reform you admire the most
The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with
To write well.
‘Stones for hands, and feet bound forever in chains,
This is what I see whenever I see the mirror.’
How do you wish to die?
Painless death, surrounded by my family
What is your present state of mind?
Social distancing, online classes, staying home and hoping to save lives
‘The punishing loneliness has engulfed my heart,
All that accompanies me now are these doors and windows.
O life, I have been longing for you; come and hold my hand for once.’
Faults for which you have the most tolerance
When people flatter you to get their things done
Your motto in life
I never ever bother anyone for my sake
Into the citizen’s heart