“I am already 101. If I get the house, it’s fine, if I don’t, then also it’s good with me. I have never begged anyone for anything,” says Zohra Sehgal, sitting in a second-floor house in South Delhi’s Mandakini Enclave.
The veteran theatre and film actor, whose last movie was the 2007 Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Cheeni Kum, had written to the Union Ministry of Culture in 2011 for allotment of a ground-floor government accommodation anywhere in Central Delhi. The government has now decided she doesn’t fall in the admissible age limit of 40-60 years to qualify for the accommodation under artiste quota.
Says Sehgal’s daughter Kiran, a renowned dancer: “She can hardly hear or see. She cries in pain whenever she has to be taken to the dentist or for some work outside the house in a wheelchair. It’s difficult for her to even take the six steps to the area where she can sit in the sun.”
The Culture Ministry had approached the Ministry of Urban Development last month with Sehgal’s request. The UD Ministry declined it.
As per norms, an artiste needs to earn less than Rs 20,000 per month and not own any property in the National Capital Region to be eligible for the house. “It is beyond the purview of the ministry, only the Cabinet can approve the accommodation now,” says a senior UD Ministry official.
The house where Sehgal currently stays belongs to Kiran. “We do not have the money to buy a ground-floor house. We thought the government would help… We thought she has entertained people for so long,” says Kiran.
While age has forced Sehgal to stop working, she still gets offers, adds Kiran. Known for her formidable spirit, the 101-year-old shows little disappointment even now. “I start my day with four glasses of nimbu-paani. Then I do a lot of exercises. I am a Rohilla Pathan, we never give up,” she says, posing for the camera. “There is a couplet — Maya ko maya mile kar kar ke lambe haath, Tulsidas gareeb ki koi na maane baat,” she says. “The rich only help the rich, there is nobody for the poor.”
Winking, Sehgal adds: “You know Gursharan Kaur, the Prime Minister’s wife, she calls me amma. I did not even ask her for any favour — she was there at my birthday party last year.”