THE MAIN CONTOURS of his life’s story are, by now, fairly well-known.
Habib Tanvir was born circa 1923 in a traditional, religious family. His father was a Pathan from Peshawar. Tanvir went to school at Raipur in the Central Provinces (now Chhattisgarh), and did his BA from Morris College, Nagpur. He spent a year at the Aligarh Muslim University, before shifting to Bombay, where he pursued an acting career in films. Here he was drawn to leftist ideas through the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) and the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). He also did a variety of odd jobs.
Eventually, he forsook his film career and moved to Delhi. In 1954, he created his first classic, Agra Bazar, on the life and times of the 19th-century plebeian Urdu poet, Nazir Akbarabadi. He incorporated the villagers of Okhla into the play, an experiment he was to continue in a sustained manner later.