How to be braver, according to the iconic Shabana Azmi
Whether you’re marching for communal harmony or thriving in a blended family
In 9th grade history class, Mrs Roshan would drone on and on about the freedom struggle, exploring every small detail that we would then have to remember verbatim. It was one of the most boring chapters in our 700-page history textbook but it raised one very important question. If I were alive back then, would I have been brave enough to be a freedom fighter? Would I have taken a stand and faced the people enslaving us or would I have sat back in fear and let the universe run its course? I got my answer when Mrs Roshan screamed at me for not paying attention, and I couldn’t even conjure up enough words to string a sentence together. Thankfully, there are two kinds of people in this world. The first kind, like me, who run from confrontation like the Road Runner. And the second who, despite their fear, dig their heels in and face the angry mob, like Shabana Azmi.
A 5-time National Award winner, Shabana Azmi’s acting career, firebrand activism and personal choices are representative of the lessons her parents, Kaifi and Shaukat Azmi, taught her. Until the age of 9, she lived in a commune with other members of the communist party, surrounded by political conversations. But her parents never forced her to join the party or become an activist, to the extent that she felt comfortable declaring she wanted nothing to do with politics. Shabana says, “It was to my father’s credit that he never expressed his disappointment. I think he was convinced that the Earth is so fertile that the plant is bound to take root, and that’s what happened.”
She drew strength from her indefatigable support system, even as she put herself in dangerous situations. Like the time she walked from Delhi to Meerut under the banner of communal harmony. “I had been told that people would tear my clothes and it would become very bad. I went, heart thudding, to my father and just embraced him. He said, ‘Arre meri bahadur beti dar rahi hai? Jao, tumhe kuch nahi hoga’.” Needless to say, the march was a historic event.
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It takes a different kind of bravery to enter a family that is already a unit. To form a healthy bond with adult children as their stepmother. Shabana followed one simple principle that led to her forming a relationship with her husband, Javed Akhtar’s children- Farhan and Zoya. “I didn’t push and I didn’t try desperately to be liked by them. I gave them a lot of time. Of course, the fact that Honey (their mother) was really generous about it, helped. And the fact that till they found a comfort level with me, I was there but I was never pushing.”