down memory lane History & Culture

A day in the life of Bilqis Jan

A view of G.B. Road in Delhi

A view of G.B. Road in Delhi   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

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How the life of a heart-throb of yesteryear changed in a day...

Once while visiting G.B. Road to buy hardware, one was tempted to interview Bilqis Jan, a heart-throb of yesteryear but came back with a different story after eavesdropping at the kotha. Bilqis Jan tossed in bed. It was an uncomfortable afternoon with the residents of the nearby kotha fighting among themselves. She could hear the threats of violence to Mira, who hated entertaining more than two customers. A week ago an old businessman had given her ₹ 5,000. He had promised to come again provided she kept herself free. Mira had agreed. Now the madam was after her. She wanted the girl to entertain a truck driver.

Do you think you are an actress, lying there with a magazine in hand and the fan on? shouted the madam. “I am what I am and I don’t want to hear your rickety old voice,” said Mira.

“You damn thing, how dare you talk to me like that? Didn’t you come here with a craze for horsey men? Here you two catch this wretch and shove her into that room where that man is waiting. Then we’ll see who rules the place,” shouted the vulgar old woman. “See if I don’t teach you a lesson for this, you old hag,” said the girl as the toughs tried to bundle her into the waiting room.

Bilqis could hear the girl’s cries for help until she couldn’t bear it any longer and walked across. “Amma stop this now, things are going too far,” she pleaded. “You keep out of this. Do you think you’ve got a Surkhab’s feather stuck up to come and interfere like this? It’s people like you who have cast an evil influence on most girls here. That’s why they misbehave. Better stick to your profession or there won’t be anyone to even help you wash your backside in old age,” chided the madam.

“Bilqis made a face and then changed her line of argument”. “How much is Mira earning for you? – ₹ 5,000 a week. What will the waiting chap give her? A hundred at the most. If you are so hard-headed then Allah save you,” she said wagging her finger.

The old woman knitted her brows. She was beginning to think. Then in a voice choked with phlegm, she shouted to the two toughs to push the visitor out. “Leave the bitch for now.

I’ll settle her some other day,” said the madam putting a paan in her mouth. A string of curses greeted the madam as Mira vowed to starve rather than earn anything for her. She then went and locked herself in a room. “Doesn’t she deserve to be whipped ?” shouted the madam. “Amma calm down, she is in a temper just now. Leave her alone and all will be well,” advised Bilqis as she walked back to her room.

“I wish someone marries me and takes me away from this wretched place,” she exclaimed throwing herself on the bed. Somebody knocked at the door. It was a turbaned man, reeking of liquor and sweat, with a wad of notes. “Not today,” said Bilqis, banging the door on his face.

Yearning for marriage

Bilqis caught her nose and sniffing her Jasmine scent moved towards the window. Just then her friend Zohra came crooning the latest hit. “Zohra, I want to get married. I’m sick and tired of this whorehouse,” she blurted out. “Marry Shamshul,” she replied with a giggle. “But he’s gay... ” “Ask him to go to hell. I’m not looking for riff-raff,” said Bilqis.

“Then it is a difficult proposition. But keep praying, my dear,” said Zohra and breezed out in response to a shrill summons from the madam. Bilqis wondered if her prayers would ever be answered but she did not know how close to God’s window she was standing. That evening after she had finished the “mujra” in walked Shamshad with his friend Munnae Khan. “Bilqis may I have a word with you?” he said. She took him to an ante-room. “What is it,” she asked eyeing the visitor suspiciously. “Munnae Khan is looking for a wife.”

“Oh, Shamshad not him,” protested Bilqis. “Munnae Khan is your best bet. I have known him for years. He is rich and respectable. The only drawback is that you will be his third wife and have to look after a lot of orphaned kids on a farm.” “Oh, no,” she said turning up her nose.

“Don’t be silly,” said Shamshad, “such a chance may never come again. You don’t have to go by looks alone.” “I need some time to consider the proposal,” she replied. Shamshad nodded and walked out to rejoin Munnae Khan, resisting the urge to spend the evening there. As he turned into the lane leading to the mosque, a shopkeeper called out to him. He frowned and replied, “Bazaar se nikla hoon, kharidar nahin hoon” (I may be passing through the bazaar but am not a buyer). It was a well-known quotation from poet Majrooh Sultanpuri. Munnae Khan laughed and hailing a rickshaw took his leave, leaving Shamshad to wonder if Bilqis would really be happy with him. But as things turned out the union was a success. At least this is what Shamshad said later and Bilqis testified while cuddling her new-born son in front of Sughandi perfumer’s shop in Chandni Chowk.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 4:35:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/the-hindu-metro-plus/article24252305.ece

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