Though I was too young to be able to keep a diary at the time, my recollections and reminiscences go back quite a long way, to the age of three in fact. I shall start from there.

We had all gone from Bombay, where we lived to Punjab, to my father’s home my mother is from Lucknow.

I remember clearly the lovely rural atmosphere, the small village house, the fields, the arid areas beyond, and best of all the exquisite jingling of bellend animals as they were driven and led to their tasks in the early morning. And the camels, of course, I will never forget.

It was a brief visit, but those memories of it are still delightfully alive in my recollection.

Back in Bombay, I was just four years old when I was offered my first film assignment.

I remember my father was against it, but my mother was more practical and accepted the assignment on my behalf in order to eke out the meagre family budget.

The first day I was taken to Prakash Studios, and I was happily amazed at everything the car I rode in, big studio and fine clothes I was given to wear. Everything was lovely in the garden!

But it wasn’t long before trouble reared its head. In one scene I had to rush onto the set and remonstrate with a dacoit who was maltreating and threatening my “mother”. The dacoit had to “shoot” me and I had to “drop dead”.

I refused point-blank, indignant at the idea of dropping to the dusty floor for no reason that I could see.

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The entire unit was in a quandary. They coaxed and cajoled, pleaded, and begged. But I was adamant, with the single-minded determination of four.

Finally, my mother, knowing my weakness, promised to buy me some cream cakes, which I adored, if I did as they wanted.

I accepted the bribe graciously, but stipulated that I would not dirty my hair, of which I was very proud and very, very careful, on the dusty floor!

For the “take” I did exactly as I had done at the preceding rehearsals, I held my hair solicitously and “dropped dead” very carefully!

They must have got the scene somewhat to their satisfaction because at the end of the day one of the many people there put twenty-five rupees into my head. I gave the money on the spot to my mother, who used it to pay the rent.

I was very shy and thin at the time and suffered from a self-consciousness which remained with me for years.

I remember my grandmother, my mother’s mother used to call me “Chini.” With my thin face, high cheekbones, and eyes which slanted upwards at the corners, I must have looked it.

This irritated me intensely and gave me a profound feeling of peculiarity. After some time, as my appearance remained the same, the wretched word almost became a nickname. Thank God for that “almost”.

I had enough to contend with without such a nickname, my self-consciousness having developed by now into a fair-sized inferiority complex.

When I was six, my younger sister Madhuri also started working in films. Since nobody called her “Chini” either in the family circle or outside it, my inferiority complex continued to live with me, though I cannot vouch for its growth in size.

It probably grew, because whenever anyone asked me which of us three sisters worked the best I used to say, “Madhuri”.

I lost both ways I recollect because that question was usually followed by another: “Who is the most beautiful?” And, prodded by my faithful complex, I would answer, “Khurshid”.

Khurshid is my elder sister. In course of time, not a very long time either, my abhorred nickname fell into disuse and eventually into oblivion.

Somewhere in between, I managed to acquire a sense of responsibility towards my household.

The fact that I was an earning member of the family gave me a real puff in that direction, and buoyed me up during the many little depressions and doldrums which I imagined, created, and lived with from time to time.

One thing I wanted terribly and achingly was to go to school and to study. This was probably because I felt I had to work while other children of my age, and older than I was, were going to school. It never struck me that they envied me.

My mother’s father, Shakir Meeruti, was a famous writer and translated many classics. Though her parents were sufficiently well to do, my mother was an independent and a very capable woman.

She believed in looking after herself and her own as far as she could and she never asked for help from anybody.

Among the many things my grandfather did the most important one to me was that he edited three publications for children.

He used to send them all to us. I was thoroughly enchanted and learned to read those delightful publications with my father’s tuition and help.

Later, I began to demand to be sent to school. Reading fascinated me, and I also began to loathe my work and everything connected with it, with all the intensity of a pint-sized moppet, but to no avail.

After a little while, I became more clever cute as a basketful of kittens, in fact. I took to feigning such ailments as I knew of to escape going to work.

My mother, being a mother and therefore a natural child psychologist, knew immediately where the root of the trouble lay, and managed, with what I now realize must have been superman’s effort and a brilliant genius for economics, to engage a tutor for me. I was radiantly happy and responded by working without a demur.

It was years later, in 1947, that we were sufficiently well off to buy a house of our own, a bungalow big enough to accommodate a happy, contented, laughing, affectionate family. We named our home “Iqbal” after mother.

It didn’t seem possible that anyone or any group of people could be more happy. Everything combined to make one perfect whole.

But life goes on and death comes inevitably to end it. Nothing ever really stays the way it is. After a year of unforgettable happiness in our new home, mother died.

I was heartbroken. I felt alone again, as I had done when I used to go to work and other children went to school.

My inferiority complex returned, fed by my loneliness and by my desperate longing for understanding and love. My mother had been my confidante, friend, guide, and solace.

I turned again to the reading and to writing. I had developed the latter hobby through the years into what I now think of frankly as a graceful asset.

The family, too, had broken up as my sisters got married and settled down in homes of their own.

Towards the end of 1949, I happened to be reading a magazine and I was sufficiently struck by a vivid portrait study of a man to turn back to the page. Underneath the portrait was the caption: Kamaal.

At the time I was working in the Bombay Talkies production “Tamaasha”. One day while on the set I noticed a slight flurry around the studio entrance and after some more of the same thing, Ashok Kumar, who had a stake in the studio, came in with Kamaal.

I knew, of course, who he was, what he did. I knew everything it was possible to learn about him. I had found out.

My heart was in my mouth, and I waited, barely breathing, while the introductions were made.

He merely acknowledged them with a courteous gesture of salutation, neither raising his head nor his eyes. He never even looked at me!

I seethed till I sizzled, and I sizzled till I boiled. Then I boiled over!

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One evening in 1950 at 10 p.m. I learned that Kamaal Amrohi wanted me to play the title role in a film he was about to make “Anarkali”.

The people concerned, including Kamaal, came over and met father. Terms were discussed and agreed upon, and the contract was signed.

I had a strong feeling that something excitingly lovely was going to happen. I did, but not in the nice, quiet way I had hoped it would.

What actually happened was violent for me, at any rate, because our next meeting occurred when I was in the hospital recovering from a motor car accident.

Incidentally, and for the record, let me mention here that I am terrified of traveling in cars, planes, ships, I even dread cycles. I am also afraid of almost anything you can name from a moth to an elephant.

To get back to the point, I met with a serious accident while motoring from Mahableshwar to Bombay, and I was taken to a hospital in Poona.

Many film people and hosts of producers visited me there. All except Kamaal Amrohi.

On the fourth day, four whole days of gross neglect, I must say he came to see me along with the producers of “Anarkali”.

The latter left the room after a little while to see father, but Kamaal stayed with me.

There we were, neither of us uttering a word, while with every second that passed I grew more conscious of the bandages in which I was swathed like a cocoon.

My glance fell on a glass of fruit juice, perched on the bedside table beside me. I suddenly thought, “If he picks up the glass and feeds me…”

My feeling grew more intense with each word. Then, moving up to the table, Kamaal did just that!

It felt as if I had found the answer to everything, and everything wonderful was mine to have and to hold.

It was a wonderful moment, so round and golden and sun-kissed and glorious. It was a lifetime.

My life, such as it is and it is breathtakingly lovely completed a full circle in 1953 when Kamaal and I were married, and my emotions, actions, and hopes were fused in a perfectly rounded circle of tightly ringed happiness.

Happiness is the only word I can use for it because the way I feel is so rich and full it is impossible to get ecstatic perfection is ample in itself. – Filmfare 1957

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