By S.M. Shahid
I was once asked by a journalist friend to write the obituary of a famous artist. “But he is alive!” I said.
“Indeed he is. But he is very ill. We generally keep obituaries of famous people ready just in case… you know what I mean… one should avoid last minute embarrassment….”
Getting a cue from the above and in a moment of light heartedness I suggested to my journalist friend: “You, Latif Kapadia and I are in the same age group and vulnerable in equal measure. What about our obituaries?”
“Good idea!” my friend said.
“But let’s not leave it to others. We can write our own obituaries, can’t we? I can write yours, you will perhaps write Latif’s.”
“Who will write mine?” I asked.
Needless to say, none of us took the matter seriously and forgot all about it.
Today, Friday, March 29 — Latif is the one to go first. Smart guy. He died early that morning. Only the previous evening, he was recording an Anwar Maqsood play on Ghalib. He lost his breath during the recording but refused to heed Anwar’s advice to go home and take rest. Instead, he asked Moin Akhtar to take him to Liaquat National Hospital across the road so that he may get himself “recharged” with some oxygen. At the hospital he was given oxygen and as soon as he had regained his breath he returned to the set to finish the scene.
I have just come back from Mewa Shah Qabristan after burying my friend. As the slabs were placed on the grave and Latif was never to be seen again by anyone except the angels, people present there were asked: “Aaeeaye hazraat, mitti deejiaye!” I too stepped forward and threw some earth on his grave, and as I wiped my hands with a handkerchief, I could hear Latif say: “Chalo, ye kaam bhi hua!”
He had his pet expression for every occasion and I am sure he always meant what he said. Raising his glass he would never forget to shout: “Hail Hitler! Jiye Bhutto!” His message to the world was clear: “Sanbhalnay ka hai. Jamana bara najuk hai, kya.” His affection for his children was reflected in the suffixes he added to their names: Jamila was Jamila Bano, Ruby was Ruby Jones, son Ahmad Husain was Qibla Ahmad Hussain Kapadia. His old friend Mushtaq Ali Khan was Barbad Ali Khan. (Incidentally, Mushtaq too passed away a month ago and informing me about his death, Latif said: “Yar, Barbad mar geya!”)
The Kapadia family is an unassuming and loving family. In this family there is no place for ego or hypocrisy — and the lack of craving for money and power makes them a delightful bunch of people. In some ways Latif was different from his eight brothers (four of them are no more in this world now) since no one could beat him in exuberance and an unending quest for excitement in life. Even as a small boy he would keep jumping and dancing on one leg, prompting his grandmother to remark to his father: “You will see he will work in a Natak company one day.” Prophetic words. Adventure ran in his blood. At the age of 14 he ran away with a friend to Lahore to join the filmi dunya. They called on Madame Noorjehan who discouraged the boys and advised them to return home at once.
My friendship with Latif goes back half a century. It was on the stairs of Aimai House on Victoria Road that we first met. I was with Barbad Ali Khan and Latif was with Safirullah Lehri. We became friends instantly. Those were carefree days. Lehri and Latif would
present skits on stage and Latif would also sing the songs of Pankaj, Jugmohan and Hemant in his deep, melodious voice. He was a good singer but he never took his singing seriously.
The high points of a relationship spread over five decades can not be recalled coherently. It is 1980. After an exciting New Year in Bombay, Latif takes us to Abrahma, small village in Indian Gujrat where he was born. We take the train from Bombay and it is raining and Latif is singing: Jug mein chalay pawan ki chal. The four-hour journey takes us to Amalsad from where we ride a bus to Abrahma. Walking through the narrow lanes we pass by a lake. Latif’s wife Amna shows us the place by the bank where she along with her friends Ratna, Madhuri and Shanti used to go to wash clothes. She also points to the big banyan tree under which Latif’s mother is buried. “I am looking at this tree after 30 years,” says Latif. At home, Latif’s mother-in-law tells us: “They were kids when they got married and left for Pakistan.” The following day we leave for Krishnapur and are struck by the sight of the long line of village damsels in their multi-coloured saris and glittering brass vessels balancing on their heads, going to the river to fetch water.
We reach Dharampur in the evening and hire a bullock cart to go to Jharia, a small village in the jungle. We are greeted by the 80-year-old housekeeper, Rahmli Bai who walks briskly in front of us holding a lantern, showing us the way to the house that is surrounded by jungles. A bonfire is lit in the courtyard and the village people are gathered around the fire, and the young girls and boys begin to dance and Latif joins them and keeps a sprightly rhythm till everyone is exhausted…
And I am thinking of those music parties in our Gulshan-i- Iqbal home…and his late night visits with Masood Haider and Zafar Masood and Kamal Ahmad Rizvi… Latif had never learnt music formally but his sensitivity for it and understanding of the subject was remarkable.
Time may be a great healer but it inflicts more wounds than it can heal. In the last few years Latif was no more the youthful, smart, mercurial man that he was. He had become a museum of illness and had surrounded himself with all kinds of medicines — unani, homeopathic and what not. While he was very particular about visiting his doctors, he was not ready to alter his lifestyle. His indulgences remained unchanged and at times I could notice a suicidal streak in his behaviour. Being an optimist he still talked of celebrating his 70th birthday, or 52nd wedding anniversary, but the way he bowed out of the stage this morning makes me think that he had decided it was time to call it a day… and I can hear him say: Chalo bhai chalo, buhut ho geya!