January 18, 2013
Does it take death to recognise life?
I saw her in Akasa and thought she was the most beautiful thing in the galaxy. Then I met her and knew it was for real.
It was 1993, and thanks to STAR TV beaming the avaricious world of Bold and the Beautiful into the subcontinent, coming generations of Indians would never be the same again. I had just graduated and was bumming around the dusty streets of Bombay, rigidly rejecting the thought that all that was in store for me was a nine-to-five grind-till-you-die routine. Surely there had to be more?
Just as I was giving up hope, the spark which fired by the incessant re-watching of Broadcast News on smuggled-in-from-Dubai VHS tapes, was fanned into full-blown fire by Channel V. The music videos on the channel represented the world of rock ‘n roll in a far away land, where everything was free, and there was no hold to expressing individuality in whatever way one saw fit. So there I was in my parents’ home in Lokhandwala Complex, Bombay, sniffing at the smell of sewage that high tide had blown in from the sea, and glued to this music channel non-stop. I watched Channel V, to the extent that the address of Hung Hom Bay in then exotic Hong Kong—where one had to write in with requests for music videos to be aired by the VJ’s (yes I am of that vintage who have actually known a world before the email became common place, collapsing geographical perceptions forever)—will forever be etched in my memory.
Among the Born in the USA world of head banging and air guitaring rock videos hosted by Danny McGill, I noticed a slight figure dancing with the grace of a ballerina. Light on her feet she twirled as she sang One Night in My Life, Two Hearts beat together in a music video by the same name, featuring her band Akasa.
Sophiya Haque was the first Indian looking female face I had seen in a music video which set easy-to-get English words to the strains of Indian ragas and was broadcast on an honest-to-goodness mainstream music channel in India. It was my first taste of how when the East married the West the result could be mind blowing.
Perhaps somewhere at that point began the realisation that I too could break down walls, which those before me had not. There was a sense of liberation, of actually daring to dream to travel to different countries around the world, of following my heart and not having to conform to that what was being handed down to me.
I had no idea then that I would actually end up joining MTV, be part of the team which brought Bollywood music to the mainstream, contributing to its cult status in popular culture around the world, live in Hong Kong, and actually meet Sophiya over drinks, post her stage-searing performance as a courtesan in The Far Pavilions at the West End in London.
In real life, she was even more petite than on screen, ethereal, glowing from the adrenaline of the just wrapped up show and with a ready laughter that pealed out at every opportunity. I wondered how such a wonderful woman, one who embodied the perfect blend of the magical qualities of the East rounded off by western sophistication, had not found a wider platform. I didn’t realise it would take her sudden demise for headlines across UK and India to explode with what was so evident to everyone who had interacted with her over her life-time. I didn’t know her well yet her death disturbed me more than it should. Perhaps because she died the same age as me, perhaps because we were part of the very same revolution of satellite television which swept India in the nineties? Because somewhere some seventh degree of separation from my life past had collapsed and silently folded into darkness?
Why is it that only in death do we recognise life? When the image of immortality sweeps away the ego that prevented us from showing them the stars?
Watch Sophie Haque & Akasa in One Night in My Life here