Song of Bird: Zohra Sehgal, the immortal, as i know

Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-ullah Khan  was the actual name of Zohra Sehgal ji.  But I knew her most energetic persona. Zohra Sehgal ji. Many years back I saw a TV serial Mulla Nasiruddin on Doordarshan. it was based on stories that we used to hear during childhood. But i had been admirer of Zohra Sehgal ji as i am a student of Dance. Thus anyone in India who is learning dance must know about Zohra ji. Beacsue she was the leading dancer in Uday Shankar’s dance troupe that toured the world in 1935? imagine that was before India got freedom. And in those days dancing by any girl of a respected family was something unbelievable, it was something like death. But Zohra Sehgal ji was always a fighter. However she got backing from her maternal uncle and few of his friends. With the help of her maternal uncle she went to Europe to study, but she also joined classes in Dance, modern dance. In material available in net she is termed as a tomboy? means during childhood she was not just a girl.

with her daughter Kiran Sehgal



Alice bonner, Uday Shankar, Beatrice, Uzra (Zohra's sister), Zohra Segal
with Uday Shankar
book by Kiran Sehgal on her mother Zohra Sehgal ji

img37 She acted in few plays, stage shows withe her sister Uzra in Lahore.


at her 100 birthday celebration

images (81) First Indian woman to learn ballet at Mary Wigman's ballet school in Dresden,

With Uday Shankar,


She worked in the Prithvi Theatre as leading lady/actor in many stage shows accross India, her sister Uzra ji was already a leading actor of Prithvi Theatre.



Zohra Segal icon of the stage and screen celebrates her 100th birthday with an official biographyimages (75)

She met Kameshwar Sehgal, when Uday Shankar started his dance academy at Almora(1940). Do you know our great film maker Guru Dutt ji was also learning dance at this academy. Zohra ji married Kameshwar Sehgal. Later they started as school at Lahore, Zohresh dance Institute. But they during migrated to Bombay, and She joined the Prithvi Theatre as an actor in 1945. She worked in few Hindi films also.

After death of her husband she moved to Delhi and then to London. There she worked in theatre shows also got opportunity to work in TV series, few on BBC also.

World famous and reputed Merchant Ivory production roped her in a film Courtesan of Bombay in 1982. This production house of James Ivory with the Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (the mysterious script writer) has always brought out interesting films on Indian themes. Thanx to Doordarshan that i was able to see few of them.

As she was dancer, she also did some choreography in films. most famous i remember the song (dream sequence) in Awara.

Her life in London was difficult to an extent but she some how established herself in TV series and films. Once somewhere i had read that she even did some stitching  work for  firm that was roped in for making curtains for the palace.

padma visbhusan
Honoured with Padma Vibhusan in 2010

On Doordarshan when i saw the Jewel in the crown i did not know that Zohra Sehgal acted in the film as lady chaterjee (lili). I only remember a British lady near the end of series says that India  actually is the jewel in the crown. Then she acted in Tandoori Nights.


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Mind your language, a comedy TV series 1977, retelecast few times

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later in 90s she got some films also but she did plays with her sister also during this period. She appeared in Salman & Aishwaria starer, film Hum dil de chuke sanam.  on 9th July 2014 she passed away.  I think she should have got Bharat Ratna.

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Why she was most respected is that in-spite of the fact that she was born to a muslim family that too in a well to do family, in those times when purdah system was enforced she got education in school and went on to become s stage performer (dance & plays). Imagining about such a life one can really think of the hurdles she might have felt in her life. I or we must salute to the courage with which she worked all her life (independently on her own terms).

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During 1980s I saw Doordarshan. Earlier I got chance to see Doordarshan only on few days at one house at IITK campus who owned a TV. All children used to gathered at their window to watch TV programs. In those days we only knew few programs, Such as Films, chitrahaar etc. Later we came to know about phool khile hain gulshan gulshan, Antakshri etc but most of these programs which became famous were based on films. I am not talking about the people who owned TV. Those people might be knowing lot of TV programmes. But people like me who did not own TV came to know tv programmes only due to either the owner told us or we got to know from other sources i.e. childhood friend or gossip in the class. I doubt if anybody in class v or vi student might have been reading any magazines. If some did read magazines, those were rich might have subscribed to children magazines- Lotpot, Champak, Parag, Chandamama, gudiya etc.
 I got to read some of pages from magazines like Dharmayug, Hindustan etc. Parag, Lotpot and champak came later in my life. My father was in Indian Navy and got posting in Bombay n lonavala. Being in Bombay they got exposure to magazines. Thus they might have started reading those magazines. But how I came to know about those magazines? is due to their habit of collecting pages. Thus the pages collected during 1965-67 etc came to our hand in 1976 onwards, when we siblings started reading all the printed alphabets. Thus began my reading of various printed material housed in our home, collected by my Parents during their stay in Bombay and other places.
Our collection included Dharmayug, Hindustan(a magazine not the news paper), Kadambani, Illustrated weekly, LIFE magazine, etc to name few, There were lot of cuttings from old news papers. One was a very good English dictionary. This was the main source of information and attraction for me. This dictionary had many pictures in it. Thus pictures had always attracted me, and those pictures contained various information. Type of horse carriages used in Europe, the types of leather straps used in tying the horse etc. My father brought a record player prior to 1982 I had it at our home, it was of SANYO brand. Few LP record I purchased. I had a long record of “The Sound of Music” I think it was a movie. Actualy when I started attending PPN Degree college at Kanpur. For the first time in my life I got freedom to travel alone, while studying in BSc. Near to college was Parade ground and on it was a great bazzar, it had everything. I saw the old clothing of police and military. During winter woolen clothings were sold. Next to it was a market of old LP records and related accessories. I used to go to that market to collect LP records or old songs. I thus got few LP- the tawa as it were known in Hindi. It was similar to tawa in looks on which chapattis are cooked. There were 33 rpm and 72 rpm etc. I got pakeezah, a LP named Akhiri Mujra and Mehfil e mujra. These records which I bought had song of dances of films.
I also bought few of Ballets, Tango, Salsa steps, without knowing ABCD of these dances. But when TV came to my home in 1982 everything changed for me. I got to know about a different world, that was hidden till 1982 to me. First song was on Immortal melodies and singers. Famous Singer Noorjahan had come to India from Pakistan. When somebody asked her about this coming to India, She said I always had asked Allah that pl give me one chance to atleast meet this person before I die- that person was Dilip kumar. He was with her that time both of them were very close friends. She was beeming with happiness and whole of her saree was glitering.                                                                            On my TV screen she was a glitering star. Even though we had a Black and white TV but those moments which I witnessed were full of colors. Full of emotions and I could feel those emotions those were the true emotions and not acting. There were Famous singer Rajkumari, Naushad ji and many more. Through reading magazines and watching TV, that outside world became known to me. Thus I  became conscious of word ART and MUSIC. After that whenever the chitrahaar and films came on TV I was fixed to one place for hours, but contrary to others I used to observe nuances of arts, The costumes, The set designing, The dance steps,  choreography. When films started. the titles used to start, I used to read who is dance director, who is assistant dance director, who is Art director, set designer etc,
By the time TV came to my home I was already famous as a “dancer” boy in my school and in IIT Kanpur campus. I was actually an UNTOUCHABLE. Whole class mates were mocking and making fun of me. I grew up ignoring those jokes, comments, racist remarks, Unpleasant remarks, demeaning remarks, Not only from my classmates but from their young sisters and brother, from their mothers and often from fathers.
One of the Professor at IIT Kanpur was very famous for attending the music programs but when there was some topic of her daughter dancing with me or sharing stage with me. That foreign return professor who was teaching at IIT Kanpur denied and told his wife that not to let their daughter dance on stage. This very same professor welcomed a boy of a middle class family to their home, whom they did not considered upto their class before, I mean he never considered that middle class family upto their class before but when this boy secured good marks in some examination they immediately dreamt that he would be a good suitor for their daughter. That daughter was not very much studious as far as I know. That daughter was much younger to me they were (both boy and girl) born in front of me. I mean I had seen them growing since their first year of life. I shifted to IIT Kanpur campus in the year 1973 or so (if I correctly remember).
Often when my classmate boys ignored me, they did not let me play with them, or not let me join their group. Those days were very pain full for me.  girls were left to talk to me I then got a chance to communicate with my peers. I started playing with those girls. they allowed me to play with them. What games girls play??
Thus when I was permitted to play with girls, obviously I had to play those games which girls played. What is harm in that?. But there also I was not spared. I was bombarded with comments that he is a girl and plays with girls. Funny boys!!!. First they did not let me in their group activities they hid lot of secrets from me and when I was permitted to play with girls then they started abusing me ? what is the law of land? Thus in class VI & VII in old campus school building I played langdi with girls in free periods. I am gratefull to Sunita, Lily, Savita, Ragini, Rajni, Anita and Anita2, to name few girls who let me play with them. I still cherish those friendship beyond anything. Since in those tormenting times I was given space and time to breath like a free spirit, even though they did on second thought. But I am quite happy that they let me play with them without any inhibition.  
 In this group there was also two three groups as was within boys. The race and caste system was inborn. At IIT Kanpur campus I felt the difference of class, the poor and rich. But at IIT Kanpur campus there was FACULTY and STAFF feeling always.  As children do, it is their normal habit to boast off among their peers. But the subject or the object to boast off was quite interesting. Few boys and girls  were engrossed  with idea of their supremacy over us – the middle class families, what they had more was the knowledge of English. Often the professors were called as foreign returned. They spent few years in America or outside India. Few boys boasted off about their green cards etc things.
Very few class mates did invite me to their birthdays. But I invited everybody to my birthday. One of my classmates remembered and told in front of his colleagues that I invited all the girls and only him (a boy) to his birthday.     This statement was a big surprise to me. I thought ok if he is saying so when he is 49 years old then I must accept his statement. But I am sure he was exaggerating it. I did invite few of my friends. Naturally when I used to play with more girls I will invite more girls than boys, what is new in it?
One day I went to Lily’s house for I think it was birthday. There on tape record I heard a song which was from the film shikari, dil tumko diya itni naaz se naina lad gaye bhole bhale….. The moment I heard the song, the beats and taal  whole music took over me. And inside of me somewhere I could not resist myself from dancing on the song.
So powerfull music it has. The song had Ragini and Helen ji. Both danced superbly. Helen ji did a superb job. She matched each and every step to the Ragini Ji. Ragini ji was a trained and a famous dancer. She was a renowned Bharatnatyam dancer, she was one of the TRIO the famous Travancore sisters. They were well known faces in the dance field. But in this song Helen ji danced better than Ragini ji. Helen ji was not much trained but she is a born talent. I don’t know whether she received any award from Govt of India?. It is awkward that the much famous dancer of her time did not receive any award for recognition of her art/ Talent.   Few hero and heroines of films  of recent times have been decorated with the awards like Padma shri.  she must get PADMA BHUSAN. But the society is such grappled with the fear psychosis about dance, the stigma is still there. Stigma attached to the dance is still there. She must receive sangeet natak award or Padma bhusan for her contribution to the dance in films.
Whatever dance she did it was of a class. She was never looked or favoured vulgarity on the screen. Whatever getup was given to her by the producer and film director she wore it and she performed with first grade. She was the only one who could it. No one is near to her in film industry who could perform like her. Without any flaw?? Her’s was a flaw-less performance. There should be DADA SAHEB PHALKE award for the contribution in film dance segment. I think Helen Ji deserves it….all the heroines must be taken into confidence and all the living heroines must be asked to vote for saying yes or no for giving any award to Helen ji, and let us see what the result come. I don’t know why Karan Johar and Faraha Khan do not ask anyone in film industry this question whenever they host any programme?
 There was another film which captivated me and my attention. It was KALPANA, not the kalpana made by Shri Uday Shankar, but it was a Hindi film a bollywood movie. Full of music and dance. There were Stalwart of BharatNatyam, the duo of sisters,  TRIO the Travancore Sisters.
Padmini ji and Ragini ji. Both danced to full limits, but i doubt since in this film there were directed by the dance director, choreographer.

Both the dancer wanted to please the god through their dance.  Dance became puja for GOd.          For hours i used dance at roof of our house at TYPE TWO, IIT Kanpur campus. All the neigbours were thinking me as a mad.  few thought i had sex change.  

As One uncle said there will be problem for your papa, if you do this. he would have to search a MAN for you for marriage?. or he also said who will marry you, there will be problem for your marriage. This uncle was my neighbor and that too  I think hailed from Lucknow Kanpur area, where the NAUCTH had been famous from centuries. either in form of Nautanki  or the tawaif dances.
He was most polite MAN in my neighbourhood, He died in front of me. irony was I was to witness his death.

He became very sick, i think there was some kidney problem. He was taken to Delhi. Owing to habit and nature of my father, i was forced to visit this uncle at Delhi, I dont remember but we had gone to Delhi for some work, thus once we were in Delhi, it was but natural that being a neighbour my FATHER found it as a duty, we had to visit this uncle. Thus in hospital we used to visit him. He was on dialysis. When we visited him, aunty might have thought that he is not neat and clean [i mean when visitor arrive mostly people try to make up their home to show off]. Aunty said will you stand and change your cloths. we did not know what instruction doctors had given to them or not. He had a heart stroke also that time. there was a tablet in his mouth. I came to know that in such cases they put a tablet in mouth???. Aunty took him towards the bathroom for changing the payjama. after few seconds aunty screamed loudly from inside the toilet. I think uncle must have collapsed but she must have tried to pull him up, but since his body became heavy she could NOT hold him up thus she screamed and called for my papa. My papa rushed towards toilet, and he brought uncle in his arms lifting towards the bed. Uncle had died the moment he was taken to bathroom. If he had a heart stroke  What was need to change his payjama at that very moment. Next time his son was admitted in a hospital. But somewhere I still feel the trauma with I which I had gone through during the childhood. It has resulted in my stunt growth. also the UNTOUCHABILITY somewhere protected me from becoming polluted- young mind was saved from going hay……..
But now when I have reached 47 years of  my life- I still feel VOID of that close friendship- I have few class mates but I still deep inside of me cannot say that they -my classmates- like me or not??? whether they consider me as a BOY or they consider me a HUMAN Being or not? Always a query keeps coming up in back of my mind… Why my classmates do not consider me as a human being and why they did not behaved with me NORMALY…. what was abnormal in me- If I loved to dance what was their problem- I was socially targeted. Whenever and where ever I used to go or walk I observed some curious eyes following and who ever met me always hinted or commented about my dancing abilities—– SO much so when I was in BSc while going to the bus stop at BANYAN tree in IITK Campus on the way few classmates sang the song – “Tauba eh matwali chaal” or some will sing “naatch meri bulbul paisa milega” I mean all sort of comments I heard in morning while going to attend my college. Some time I used to feel that why I should go in front of them these silly boys…but I could do nothing since only one bus goes to Kanpur city from IITK at 9.30 AM by which I could go to my college.    But God knows when we all will DIE.

Dances on TV and their viewing – my view only

For many years I tried to copy a dance step, which I saw in film Kalpana. The dancer did fly doing steps. The famous duo of sisters Ragini and Padmini did the song “Tu hai mera Prem Devta” in film Kalpana. But I did try for few years then gave up since I could not do it. Later as I grew up and came to know that the films are made edited, and now effects are inserted by computer. In film Avatar we could see the partial Human and partial aliens. The set on which the dance of film Kalpana was shot was superb. I think what they might have done with it. Whether they broke it down?. I think they must have conserved it. It was a work of ART. The SHIVA statue and the wall fresco with engraved sculptures, all were superb. 

Both the characters were in a competition and offering their Kalaa tapasya (the art of dance) to the God. And from that dancer whose dance the lord wakeup will be the winner. There are two Bhaav. One is the swift, energetic and proud of itself. The other one is as we call Dheer-Gambeer, the serious full of Bhakti and devotion towards the lord. The chirrupy was portrayed through the GANGA, who is always considered as full of energy and proud of her own power. The other was portrayed through GAURI the consort of Shiva who is always devoted to the Lord SHIVA, A true Bhakti. When we see the dancers, one can immediately gets glimpses of their mood and kind of personality. First is the dress and second is the body movement. The Ragini ji has assumed the Ganga, who is always energetic. The ornaments and the dress were matching to the personality of Ganga-who is full of power and proud-ness and shows this by her movements. As I have read in the story of Ganga avataran. Shiva knew this side of hers. That’s why he was ready and alert to protect others from drowning by the power of Ganga, which she intended before coming down. But the power was brought under control by the Lord Shiva’s long traces of hairs. That means scientifically speaking the Turbulence force was controlled by the putting enough small channels so that the force is diverted in many directions and not in one channel. Like to distribute the one gushing river water into many smaller canals so that water gets distributed in these smaller channels and does not effect much in the main river.

The other dancer was dressed in a well manner not too loud and not too flashy. Padmini ji portrayed the Dheer Gambheer and devotion with her movements. Both of them were great and very learned artists. They were the part of Trio known as Travancore (trio)sisters. I read in the illustrated weekly a news article about them many years back (almost 30 years). I still don’t remember much about Lalita ji the third sister member of trio.
The backdrop was also powerfull and made its impact on the aesthetics, and well accompanied the dance sequences; the camera was all through made us to see whatever was possible with the techniques. Remember at those time the technology available to those camera man. They have done the impossible job. Since they thought differently and tried to bring the imagination alive for us. They succeeded in their work. I salute all those involved in making these songs, picturisation, writers, screenplay etc.
I remember a day when I had gone to house of Dolly didi with one of my distant cousin. She was classmate of Dolly didi. In Chakravarty they had a tape recorder. They played the song “Tumko dil diya itni naaz se”. On hearing The song immediately started dancing(inside somewhere) not in their home. The beats and the sound of music was so powerfull that one cannot resist swaying with the beats.  Later one day I saw it in chitrahaar on Doordarshan.  Ragini and Helen ji were there in the dance. They did superb job. I don’t imagine anybody finding any fault with their dancing. Remember in those days when technology was not so advanced.
  Both the Ragini and Helen ji have done perfect job. The Choreography was excellent and the music was mind blowing. Anybody who has inclination to the good music will certainly praise the way the play of beats was brought out in this song and over that the dance steps to meet the beats was also a tough job. The song is pleasant on ears but the dance was very difficult to choreograph. I don’t know whether in those days any award was given to choreography and costume etc. This dance was one of the most suited for the top slot.
But still till day I remember and keep remembering the day when I heard the song on tape recorder of Dolly didi at Type two, IIT Kanpur. I am thankfull to them for letting me hear that song. I hope that Smt Shanta Serbjit Singh reads this page and comment on it’s contents. I consider her as the first Guru, who through her articles on Dance in newspaper always inspired me. And More so living at Kanpur I got the news of happenings in Dance scene. There was no question my going everywhere just see DANCE. As a boy I was expected to study and become someone and not a naachwala or nautanki wala etc.