Shumita Didi Sandhu



“Our home had always been a space open for all our parent’s friends, our friends and everyone in between! It was peopled at all times with very old relatives, some comrades who were passing through, writers, poets, musicians, singers, painters, .theatre people,  even dancers who may be using the space for a rehearsal, mehfil, informal exhibition.


As children we considered it most normal that evenings were meant for poetry, singing and washing dishes! The visitors treated the house as their own and were seen cooking in the kitchen, cleaning house, looking after the elders;  there were times when we rued the lack of privacy, each wanting a small cubby-hole for a room,  yet our lives have been irreversibly enriched by this experience of “open house” our Communist parents, Sheila and Madan Lal Didi nurtured. Despite always being short on funds, food somehow kept appearing on the table as did make-shift beds – it was with warmth, abandon, cultural activities and joy that people associated our somewhat scattered home.”


It is important to have alternative spaces where the proscenium / audience divide is broken, where people feel creatively challenged and participate in community cultural action. There are some such spaces in Delhi and Bombay, many more in London and NYC that I have partaken of.


(Initiatives like – Saanjhey Ranng Punjab De, Creative Women’s Forum, Eclectica, have begun in this space.)


“In keeping with that we have continued to carry this spirit to our respective homes and have also begun to share our parental home as “Dayaar-e-Didi – Studio 40”. When our Father passed on in 2008 we began celebrating his birthdays there by inviting Nur Zaheer, celebrated progressive poet Sajjad Zaheer’s daughter, a talented writer and raconteur in her own right. We followed that up with Neelabh (Upendra Nath Ashk’s son) reciting his poetry, Akhlaq Ahan from JNU reciting Persian and Urdu poetry, Muneer Khatun Begum from Allahabad singing Hori, Kajri, Thumri and Ghazals, had discussions with Sheherzade Alam, Pakistan’s accomplished potter and incredibly warm effusive human being.


We have begun screenings of short films, ‘Atu Khoji’ by Rajeev Sharma and  “Ma Boli” by Rawal Varraich which were followed by discussions. We projected Slides of Paris based Artist Photographer Naresh Singh against a backdrop of Jazz music- in discussion with his daughter Nirmala Singh – and slides of Pakistan’s old city by the Chenaab, Wazirabad, by Photographer, Akram Varraich.


Amarjit Chandan & Nirupama Dutt shared their poems with us one enchanted evening in a softly lit back courtyard. Professor Oberoi has regaled us with anecdotes of days bygone.”


In the near future we plan to host evenings and sunny afternoons discussing good films by starting a “film club” for which we are fund-raising for a portable projection unit. This unit will be available to schools, colleges, communities for screenings and discussions around short films. we are working on launching project “Punjab Tasveer” which will assist Punjabis to scan and save old photographs..and learn to tell stories by piecing them together with music and voice…


Film-maker/writer/activist Feroz Mehdi of Alternatives (Canada) will soon share a short film from a 13 part series, “Daastaan-e-Hazaar Ranng” about India’s rich syncretic tradition with us and will share readings from his Father S. M. Mehdi’s work, ” Channd Tasveerein Channd Khatoot”. Film-maker Mansoor Khan will be joining us to discuss his concerns about Peak Oil and his current life-path as an Organic farmer in Coonoor.


Renowned dancer Navtej Johar and Sufiana singer Madan Gopal Singh will be joining us on Christmas eve to pay a cultural tribute to our Mother who passed away last month.

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