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Zohra Sehgal : Her life and times

Zohra Sehgal’s original name was Shahibzaddi Zohra Begum Mumtazullah Khan that was shortened to what we know her. She was born in the town of Saharanpur to a Rampur nobility of Rohilla Pathan stock on the 27th of April, 1912.

She studied in Queen Mary’s Girls’ School based in Lahore and was kind of a tomboy. She later went to Germany accompanied by Saeeduzaffer Khan, her maternal uncle, who is known to have studied medicine in Edinburgh in a car. One should imagine her determination to move across Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, then Iraq, after which taking a boat right from Alexandria to get to eastern ‘walled’ Europe, to arrive in Dresden for joining ballerina school of Mary Wigman. This is where she became a true talent and was sought by none other than the great maestro Uday Shankar, who met her at the backstage while he toured Europe with ‘Shiv-Parvati’ and was said to have promised her a job in the troupe as she completed her training. Later, she joined the Japan tour. Besides dancing in Dada’s production, Zohra also remained Shankar’s most important dance partner. She followed him to Almora, where she became a principal teacher and tutored boys such as Narendra Sharma and Sachin Shankar.

With the closing of the institution, Zohra had married Kameshwar and later shifted base to Lahore for starting and running the Zoresh Dance Institute. She was also a permanent fixture of the Prithvi Theatres and is credited with performing plenty of memorable roles like Dharti Ke Lal, Neecha Nagar, Afsar, Heer, Indian Tales of ‘Rudyard Kipling’ and various TV serials. After her husband’s death in 1959, she left for England and was supported by her two children. She is also instrumental to give English theater in the country, while Indian theater art in Europe, thereby, becoming a vital link to India.

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