Next week on March 8 the world will celebrate International Women's Day. Men too will defer to this day with expressions like 'this is your day' 'every day is women's day' 'go do your thing- this one say feel free'. Media will carry all this chatter to fill airtime and columns.

But I am thinking of two men who more than half a century ago celebrated women's day by making a film about the working girls of Bombay called Gyarah Hazaar Ladkian.

In black and white frames they showed ordinary girls of a metro city who appear every morning briskly on footpaths, having finished their daily home chores, carrying their lunches, catching buses, entering the local train stations, ready to start the day behind typewriters, files and telephone wires. Girls in cotton saris, shalwar kameez, skirts and scarves; 11000 girls to whom the writer director K A Abbas and the poet Ali Sardar Jafri raised a toast.

This combined venture of the two fared as badly at the box office as most of Abbas's films did in those early Bollywood days. People were not excited to see working girls in offices wearing worn our chappals, their uncurled hair in long braids or jooras. This despite the fact that two popular actors of the day, Mala Sinha and Bharat Bhushan were cast in the title roles. Ali Sardar Jafri wrote the theme song; its lyrics were sung in the magical voice of Mahinder Kapoor set to lilting music by N Datta:

Kaam ki dhun mein hain ravaan
Gyarah Hazaar Ladkiyan
Aati hain daftaron mein ye
Fasl e bahaar ki tarah
Padhti hain khushk filein
Nama e yaar ki tarah
Naach rahi hain ungliyan
Bol rahi hain chooriyan
Gyarah Hazaar Ladkiyan

Moving, absorbed in their work
Are elven thousand girls
Arriving in offices
Like the wafting breeze
They read their dry files
As they would lovers’ letters
Fingers dancing
Bangles talking
Of these elven thousand girls

This year on International Women’s Day, the Khwaja Ahmed Abbas Memorial Trust is celebrating the '11000' girls along with Abbas's three women centered stories; Bholi, Sylvia and Teen Aurtein.

The stories will be dramatically read by three sets of actors; the first in Hindustani, the second in English and the third in Urdu. Abbas wrote freely in all three languages.

Within these stories lies the meaning of Women's Day. The first story Bholi is about a young girl called Bholi who has a 'haklahat' meaning, speech impediment. She is laughing stock of by girls and boys of the village but that does not deter her from attending the school sitting quietly in the last row. The weary and wary parents arrange her marriage at age 15 to middle aged widower with children who are older than her.

On the day of the wedding when she is brought out to the mandap to place the garland around the neck of her aged groom, the half blind man demands dowry before bending his neck for the varmala. The weeping father places all his savings at his feet along with his turban seeking a short reprieve until he can mortgage his house to the local sahukar. Then.... Bholi the stammerer and stutterer rises like a fury and the story turns upside down.

The second story ‘Sylvia’ is about a nurse whose days and nights revolve around her ward patients. She is caregiver, lifesaver, and consoler, the Florence Nightingale in a small hospital tucked inside the heart of Bombay. She cleans them, bathes them, removes their waste, and dresses their sores. Day after day until her body says 'enough'. Surely she deserves a better life. Then one day comes along the man who promises her a different life.

A life away from all this pain, suffering and service and give her a home and which would be her own aesthetic away from the filth of the ward. She fingers her white wedding gown, imagines her flower decked altar, and dreams of the life awaiting her. And then? Abbas's Sylvia takes a turn and another turn until the story bounces away into a different direction. A woman's strength and stature becomes a legend of Sylvia.

The third story is mine, yours, everyone's story. We see ourselves in the three women who are walking on a railway track. The story is simply called Teen Aurtein. There is the young beautiful woman with bright cheeks and dark hair. There is the mother with a baby clinging to her milk filled breasts. And there is the old woman with dark circled eyes and sallow skin.

One behind the other they walk on the track while a train approaches, a mere dot on the far horizon. Passengers in the crowded compartment notice some faint blots in the distance. And then as in all Abbas stories comes the crashing climax, the epiphany.

Abbas’s women Bholi, Sylvia and Teen Aurtein rise like phoenixes from their own ashes.

Abbas and his two comrades, poets Majrooh Sultanpuri and Kaifi Azmi were celebrating International Women’s Day at a time no one thought of this epithet for women. While the film Gyarah Hazaar Ladkiyan and the stories create their own aura, there are these poets writing an ode to the woman urging her to throw away her shackles and walk free. The lyrics sung by Mohammad Rafi define a new woman and new man building a new life, in step, along side, with one another.

The Film was released in 1962 (56 years ago). The song was sung by Mohammed Rafi and filmed on Bharat Bhushan.

Meri mehboob mere saath hi chalna hai tujhe
Chaand se mathe pe mehnat ke pasine ki lakeer
Jaag uthi jaag uthi Hind ki soi taqdeer
Kat ke gir jayegi pairon se purani zanjeer
Ladkhadaeygi kahan tak ke sambhalna hai tujhe

Kone kone main sulagti hai chita tere liye
Teri dushman hai teri naram ada tere liye
Zehr hi zehr hai duniya ki hawa tere liye
Rut badal jaye nazar aisey badalna hai tujhe
Meri mehboob mere sath hi chalna hai tujhe

You, my beloved, will have to walk along with me
Line of perspiration on your moon-like forehead
Slumbering destiny of Hind awakens
Old chains will sever and drop from your feet
How long this faltering? Steady yourself!

Every corner a pyre burns for you
Your softness itself is your enemy
This world for you is poison
Change your view so this air changes
You, my beloved will have to walk along with me

(Dramatic readings of Abbas's stories and clips and songs will be performed at India Habitat Centre on March 8 2018 at 7pm. Khwaja Ahmed Abbas Memorial Trust and IHC invite you to share this experience)