The year was 1942. While India was struggling for freedom against the British Raj, under the guidance of Mahatma Gandhi and his Quit India Movement, a young woman of 30 years was trying to convince her family for her marriage. At a time when child marriages were still in fashion, this lady managed to stay single till the age of 30 before she met her Mr. Perfect. One might wonder then, why she had to convince her family? Shouldn't they be happy that finally their daughter was ready to take the vow? Well, it seems our lady was fighting more than one battle. Her life-partner to be, Kameshwar Nath Sehgal, was 8 years junior to her. Zohra Sehgal, after all was a strong lady who concealed her iron grit comfortably behind her humor and smile.
Her life was a struggle. She saw many ups and downs right from the age of 1, when she lost vision in her left eye due to glaucoma. She lost her mother at an early age. But her never-say-die spirit enabled her to turn the thorns of life into the throne of success. She had to compete against the beauty of her own sister for the roles in theaters and movies. Her life took a sudden turn when she lost her husband in 1959. Yet, she did not deter. Her passion for the theaters and dance brought her to Delhi and she continued teaching with a new enthusiasm. She just refused to give up. In her own words ," Life has been tough but I was tougher. I beat life at its own game." And there isn't a soul who can deny .
Her onscreen charm was just a reflection of her life. At the age when most of the people are bed-ridden and gulping down medicines, this 90-something youngster was busy doing stunts and emotional scenes in movies. She breathed humor and free-spiritedness. One wonders, what kept her going when most of the people, at that age are either busy reciting God's name or just waiting for the death to release them from the shackles of agony? Where did she find her outspoken and humorous nature? Maybe it's because she spent her teenage and early twenties in the liberal European culture or maybe because she knew what it is like to live anonymously under the darkness of the purdah system . Whatever the reason, she certainly knew how to make a lemonade when life offers you with lemons.
Her contribution to the Indian theater is no less. She is not called 'doyenne of Indian theater' for nothing. She has won all the highest awards related to dance and drama. She received Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1963, Padma Shri in 1998, Kalidas Sanmaan in 2001, Padma Bhushan in 2002, Sangeet Natak Academy Fellowship in 2004 and finally the second highest civilian award, Padma Vibhushan in 2010. She was clearly the lady-version of Benjamin Button, who was getting younger by the day, not physically of course, but even better: spiritually and energetically. If 40s is the new 20s, I think Zohra Sehgal has redefined 90s as the new teenage.
May the Grand Young Lady of Indian cinema rest in peace !!!