Mission Delhi – Furqan Ali, Ghalib Academy Library
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He contains multitudes within himself. Furqan Ali writes verses in his journal, is a trained calligrapher in Urdu, and an archivist as well, and also an “e-book scanner,” which is his day-job. But in his heart, he’s a theatre actor.
At 29, Mr Ali has already portrayed a range of characters on the stage. “I was a priest in an adaptation of Phanishwar Nath Renu ’s novel Maila Anchal, which was performed five times, including in Bareilly.” This afternoon, working as a (real-life) book scanner in central Delhi’s Ghalib Academy library, Mr Ali is leisurely browsing through shelves—it’s his lunch break. “Just last month I played a judge ka naukar in Mangalsutra.” This play was adapted from a Premchand novel, and was performed to an online audience (due to pandemic-related concerns) at Sangeet Natak Akademi, in Mandi House.
But Okhla, where Mr Ali lives with his parents, is too far from Mandi House. His “ammi papa” remain indifferent to the stage glamour. In fact, they were in dark when their son made his theatre debut. “I was in 11th standard and didn’t tell ammi papa because they’ve always thought of acting as useless nautanki.”
He finally came out as an actor to his parents in 2012 during the first year of graduation when he was cast in a college play. Mr Furqan nervously invited them to watch him portray an unnamed havaldar, a cop. “They later told me “theek hain.” They realised I hadn’t gone astray.”
But Mr Ali’s parents are “like any concerned middle-class people who want their children to get a suitable degree, find a decent job, and get married.” In other words, they always expected him to be like his older brother—a hardware engineer with a wife. Although a black sheep in the family, Mr Ali never had any desire to be a rebel. “I don’t want ammi papa to feel disappointed.” After completing his BA in economics and Urdu, he was hired as a “e-book scanner” by Rekhta, a web portal on Urdu literature. It is as part of this job that he is in the library scanning pages from rare Urdu books. “My parents now want me to settle down, which means I must marry.”
This clashes with Mr Ali’s idea of settling down. “I’ve never been paid for the roles I’ve played… I will truly settle down only when I start earning from my theatre work.” Returning to his scanning assignment, he says that “as of now I feel incomplete in life.”
[This is the 440th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
An actor on life’s stage