|Sophiya Haque, 1971 – 2013|
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, 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 instruments 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 (Thanks Sunil, Sudandshu and all who were part that MTV team) 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 sensbilities, had not been given a wider platform. 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 Sophiya well at all by any means, and yet her death disturbed me. 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 collapsed and silently folded into darkness?