I would like to recall the past in the spirit of the glowing words (quoted below) of the famous Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

  • faiz ahmed faiz shayari

The poet asks time to return to him the book of his past life, for in it are pictures of his childhood and youth.

The sentiment is appropriate to my theme, and I, too, ask time to give my past back.

Even when one has achieved success and prosperity one loves to dwell on the pleasant memories of childhood and youth.

How one longs for those days of carefree life, but time stops for no one, neither king nor beggar. It’s blind, it’s deaf, it’s dumb.

Our life is a perpetual race against time which never tires. I wonder why? Perhaps it is afraid of losing the wealth it has collected from the countless lives.

It is not easy to remember or recollect all that the book of life contains, but some of its pages are unforgettable. They contain experiences which mould the personality: good, bad, complex.

An experience I dread most is meeting women who bring their children to the studio for work. They as the youngsters to sing or dance before me or at least repeat a few lines from the dialogue of a film.

It makes me very uncomfortable to see these poor children going through the ordeal in the presence of strangers. Suddenly a shiver runs through my whole body and I can no longer stand it.

I often ask the women why they exploit their children as an easy source of income. Society owes them better treatment. They should be in school, not at a film studio.

my remarks bring an expression that of helplessness to the faces of the parents an expression that is familiar and I regret having said anything.

But more often than not I am angry and lest this be noticed, I just walk away.

Pleasant memories are often buried deep in the mind, but unpleasant ones stay on the surface as perpetual reminders.

Smiles fade away but sorrows swim in an ocean of tears. Try as hard as you like, you cannot drown them.

I have often tried not to think of my childhood spent in poverty but memories of those days linger persistently and so to speak, look straight in my eyes, like truth. There is no escape from them.

I still remember there was a well-to-do family in our neighborhood. The sons were educated and doing well in their professions.

The girls stayed at home. I was friendly with one of them and she would often talk to me about her brothers.

She told me that her elder brother moved among important people. He was a comrade she said. I was puzzled.

It was a new word for me so I asked my friend to tell me what it meant. Her explanation delighted me. Comrades lived in fine houses and wore fine clothes she explained.

They believed in equality. They embraced the rich and the poor alike and gave you all that you needed. Impulsively I wanted to become a comrade and asked my friend if I too, could be one.

How grand it would be, I thought if any sisters mother, and babuji could all become comrades. I asked my friend to recommend our case to her brother.

I couldn’t wait to give the happy news to my family and the moment I got home started addressing everybody as a comrade.

Father had gone out. As soon as he returned I told him about my discovery, expecting to be patted on the back. My eager plans made him furious.

As the train started hurtling across a river bridge I woke up with a start. Scared I rushed towards the window and in the dim light outside, saw big black giants rising out of the water and flashing past.

  • meena kumari reading 1961

He locked me up in the bathroom for my pains and his words as he did so,” You and your comrades,” still ring in my ears.

I went without food that night and heard my father saying something about our “ending up in prison”. Neither my friend nor her comrade brother came to my rescue.

Locked up in the bathroom, I was convinced that babuji had deprived the family of the chance of a comfortable life!

Whenever I hear a train whistle at night I am reminded of a long train journey on which our mother took us to Punjab to join father.

I was only four then, yet I remember vividly the few days we spent in a pleasant little village there. But let me tell you about the journey.

I was sure they were going to drown us. In a desperate attempt to protect all of us from the steel giants I dropped the shutter and shouted for mummy.

I don’t remember anything more. The shutter had fallen on my fingers and I had fainted from the pain.

When I regained consciousness, mummy and my sisters were bending over me asking me why I had behaved in that strange manner.

I couldn’t utter a word, but I was still sure of one thing, that if mummy hadn’t woken up, the giants would have thrown the train into the river!

Now another train journey comes to my mind. This one was several years later. I had just been offered my first leading role.

Those days I had no car and I used to travel by train accompanied by my mother. That morning the compartment was so crowded that we got separated.

Mother managed to get a seat and I was left standing at the door. After a while, mother asked the people near her to make room for me and called aloud: “Munni (little one), go and sit there.”

The passengers expected to see a child but when they saw a big girl approaching there were amused titters all round.

I felt so embarrassed I couldn’t control my tears. My dark glasses couldn’t hide them when they started trickling down my face.

In the opposite seat, I noticed a fierce-looking man who was completely bald and had a big bushy mustache. He looked like a screen villain and I was afraid of him.

He kept staring at me and this made me more nervous. As the train was coming to a halt at the next station, he got up and bending towards me said, ” You look lost, my child. Don’t cry. Tell me where you live and I will take you home.”

  • meena kumari with flowers

His manner was kind and his voice comforting. I didn’t know what to say. in my confusion, I cried out for mummy. In moments of despair, it is always my mother I turned to.

She was my constant companion, my guide, philosopher, and above all, my idol. I have always wanted to be like my mother and I imitate her in most things.

I could never sleep if she was still busy with some household chores. As a child, I did her shopping for her. I can still see myself as a girl of ten or eleven walking along Tilak Bridge on one of those errands.

One day, during the communal disturbances of 1947, I was shooting at the Ranjit Studios. Suddenly there was a commotion outside and everyone rushed out of the premises.

I too joined the crowd and got into a lorry that has been engaged to take studio workers to their homes. After a long drive, I was one of the two people left in the lorry.

We were heading towards my house when a bullet smashed the windscreen. I was shocked to see glass pieces all round me but I escaped unhurt.

Another bullet incident occurred on the sets of a film I worked in. The sequence had a police officer chasing the heroine. When she tries to escape, he shoots with his revolver. The heroine is hurt.

I was playing the heroine and as the shot was being taken I heard an unexpected sound. A live bullet had whizzed past, missing me by inches. I shudder as I write about those narrow escapes.

Kamal Sahib laughs when I tell him of my experiences of the spirit world. The day after my mother’s death, I was alone in a room.

Feeling completely helpless, I couldn’t even think of the future when I heard a rustling sound and felt a hand on my forehead.

Then a gentle voice told me: “Have courage, don’t be afraid.” I got up and ran to my father. Two years ago there was another incident.

My only childhood friend was Rajju, a cheerful, carefree, girl. She was poor but proud.

One afternoon, during a breather whole working at Mehboob Studios in Kohinoor, I was reading a book in the make-up room.

I heard someone call me by my name. So I said, “come in”. But the door did not open and I heard my name again this time a whisper.

I opened the door. The corridor was deserted. Frightened, I cried for help: “Rosie… Beurtha..” Everyone rushed towards me.

I told Rosie my ayah that I had heard a voice which was very much like that of my friend Rajju. The next morning I learned that Rajju had died the previous afternoon, about the same time as I heard my name being called.

I often think of my mother. She had the beauty of thousand virtues. She had but one weakness- she was too simple-hearted.

She never complained even when anyone hurt her and she never hurt a soul. She was incapable of hurting anyone. She always wore white.

After her death, I too took to wearing white but I didn’t copy her intentionally. A notable similarity between us is that she was my father’s second wife and I am the second wife of my husband.

Life takes strange courses. Sometimes the journey is colorful and lively, sometimes desolate and barren.

  • meena kumari portrait

Still, one is impelled to go further and further on life’s journey, for there is always the hope that at the next crossroads there may be something worthwhile.

At one such crossroads, I met a man. He did not so much as look at me when he greeted me. “What a proud man!” I said to myself.

He just passed me and sat on the edge of a table instead of on a chair. I was on the sets of Tamasha and he had come to see something about his film Mehbooba. It was Kamal Sahib.

I lay ill at the Sassoon Hospital in Poona and longed to see the man with the scholarly look. He did come to see me, then he came every day.

One evening with a throbbing heart, I asked him: “Are you married?” “Yes,” said Kamal Sahib. His frankness impressed me and it led to the marriage bond. That day will always remain in my mind.

Dressed simply in a white cotton sari, I stood opposite to him with dreamy eyes at the ceremony.

Rajju’s gift consisted of green and red bangles, a blouse trimmed with pearls, and a sari. I had no occasion to use them and parted with them under strange circumstances.

Just before Id one year, a young man and his wife from U.P. came to our house asking for shelter. They were to get a house shortly, so we put them up in the terrace apartment. The girl was beautiful and her husband looked smart.

On the Id morning, I got the smell of cloth burning. Then one of the servants told me that the couple upstairs were quarreling. I went up and found the young man still muttering angrily.

The girl, who was weeping in a corner, said: “I burnt my clothes because he had nothing to wear today.”

I felt sorry for them and gave a set of Kamal Sahib’s clothes to the husband and Rajju’s gift to the girl. However, memories do not part from us with parted gifts.

There was a time when I did not know any of Kamal Sahib’s relatives. One night a taxi stopped at our house and Kamal Sahib was called out.

  • meena kumari thinking

On coming back he told that his father was ill and had come to Bombay for treatment and would stay at a hotel.

Rushing down immediately, I greeted Kamal Sahib’s father reverently and asked him to come and live with us. He agreed.

After some days he said, ” When I am all right, I will take you to my house in Amroha.”

I was deeply moved by his words but, when he went away, he was not in a fit state even to remember his promise. He died during the journey.

One day Kamal Sahib’s second son Tajdar, came to Bombay. I recognized him as soon as I set eyes on him and that very moment the latent sense of responsibility came to the surface. I am his Chhoti Ammi.

Tajdar is my first son, and he is very dear to me. But Ijjat is the elder of the two brothers. Whenever Tajdar accompanies us on our journeys, he collects flowers from the dak bungalow and makes a bouquet for me.

Once when we were going to Kodaikanal, he collected wild lotus flowers and tied a bunch to the bonnet of the car. There was a mist and suddenly the car stopped because a man was standing in the middle of the road.

In a flash, the man removed the bunch of flowers from the bonnet, kissed it, crossed the road, and disappeared. Small incidents these but they fill the journey- the journey of life too.

I am contented with my lot. There is my home and the security it offers. There are my children, my responsibilities, my career.

As I go further on life’s journey, I wonder what I shall find at the next turning. – 1961

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