( This rendering of Meena Kumari’s poem is a paraphrase, not a literal translation. )
The moon is solitary, the sky by itself
My heart is lonely in all places I met
Hope is dashed, even the stars have set
Just the reek shimmers… all by itself.
Is this we call life ? Being alive all about ?
The body lonely, spirit dumped in itself ?
Even with partners who joined on the way
We walked all alone, each unto oneself.
Beyond these lights… now on and off
The house is alone, shrivelled n forlorn
Looking over the path, at wait for ages
After I depart lonely… all in myself.
What will you do, why hear me narrate
My story is bland and the tales joyless.
These words come from a soul whose life’s story is neither bland nor without joy ! She is Meena Kumari, an actor immortalised in some of the most scintillating performances that ever lit up the screens of Hindi cinema.
The first Filmfare Award for Best Actress was conferred on her, in 1953, for her role in Baiju Bawra.
She received her fourth one for the iconic film Kaajal.
And Pakeezah, which released two months before she passed away, is a stellar all – time classic today.
The words, more revealingly, come from Mahjabeen Bano, youngest of the three daughters of Ali Baksh and Iqbal Begum. The family was poor at the time of her birth on August 1, 1932 but Ali Baksh looked forward to having a son. They could just about manage enough influencial references to gain admittance in Dr Gadre’s clinic, in which Iqbal Begum delivered the baby. An absolutely downcast Ali Baksh took away the newborn and left it in a Muslim orphanage ! Hours later, the despairing but repenting father went back to pick up and brought the baby girl home.
Meena’s mother was actually a Hindu girl, Prabhavatidevi Tagore, derived from Hindu – Christian parentage, who converted to Islam after marriage. She then came to be known as Iqbal Begum, with the screen name of Kamini – a dancer, actress and Kathak teacher.
Ali Baksh was a Shia Muslim Pathan with a large heart. He had been cared for by a Brahmin for 12 years and was an adept Hindu-style astrologer. He had interest and skills in music and poetry. He used to play the harmonium and essay parts in the Parsi theatre. He composed music for peripheral films, which paid some for his efforts but never enough to secure the needs for staying in business. The family lived next to Rooptara studios in Dadar, Bombay, and Ali Baksh was forever hopeful of getting a major break in the film industry. But that never happened…
* * *
There is lot more to Meena Kumari’s life, not just as an accomplished actress or as one of the biggest stars of Bombay Cinema in the ‘50s and ’60s, but as the human being she was. She rose from dust to reach the heights and was back to how she began when she breathed her last. It’s a life richer in experience than most of us will ever live through.
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