A human being’s life is like an impressionist painting made from a series of photographic images. The first impact of an experience has the brilliance and clarity of a photograph taken at high noon.

With the passage of time, the memory of the experience becomes diffused, but it is still embedded in the subconscious mind. It becomes part of one’s personality.

Our personalities are molded by the unforgettable moments in our lives by our experiences the people we meet, the books we read the blossoms which delight our eyes.

Big things and things apparently small inexplicably imprint themselves on the human heart the passing faces on a railway platform or a melody heard from afar can be as memorable as the emotional storms which sweep over us.

Why? If we were to find out why life would perhaps lose all its savor. So when you exclaim: I’ll never forget that! Do not pause to ask why. I’ll never forget how as a child I nearly got lost in one of the nameless villages of Punjab.

I had accompanied my father to Punjab to spend a few months there. We were staying in a little village where everyone knew (almost) everyone else. One day there was a wedding in the village, and I was its most interested spectator.

Fascinated by the music the revelry and festivities mark a village wedding. I sat entranced, watching the ceremony. It seemed to me there was no difference between the bride whose face was hidden beneath a veil and myself.

Then it was time for the bride to get into her “doli” to be taken to the village of her bridegroom. The plaintive wall of the shehnais rose and fell as the bride weeping profusely was escorted to the doli.

I was so fascinated by the bride that unnoticed by anybody I crept up to the doli from the back lifted the curtain and got in. in a little while the bride got in too, the veil still over her face.

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I felt the doli being lifted and off we went rocking gently to the steady jog-trot of the bearers. Whining the narrow confines of the curtained doli I watched the bride. Why is she still crying?

I wondered naively when there is nobody to see that she is crying? Hours later the jog-trot stopped and the doli was lowered to the ground. When the bridegroom’s relatives helped the bride out how surprised they were to find another passenger in it!

None of them knew me not even the bride. An old woman came and asked: where are you from? My name is mahjabeen, I replied beginning to sob because I realized I was in a strange place where I knew no one.

Fortunately, the old woman called the bearers. One of them recognized me and took me back to our village. Mahjabeen was not lost to her parents nor to the world. What is in a name? they say.

A rose by any other name smells as sweet! Apparently, that is not the case in our film industry, judging by the number of stars who change their names and with them perhaps their personalities too. I was a little girl when I went to report for work at Prakash studios.

They asked me: what is your name? Mahjabeen, I said shyly. Mahjabeen! They laughed scornfully. Sounds as though you are a stout matronly begum Sahiba! Let’s change your name! So they set about picking a screen name for me and came up with three suggestions.

We have selected three names, they said. Prabha, Kamla, and Meena. Which do you prefer? I liked Meena so Meena I became. In due course, I grew up to tag on the kumari to Meena.

So Meena kumari was born in a suburban studio. I’ll never forget the early days of struggle and how much an assignment meant to me, not only financially but also because it meant work and work meant progress.

I was working in a stunt picture called Ek hi bhool which was being made at Prakash studio. Trick photography had to be used in the film and in those days it was not as advanced in our country as it is today.

I was playing the part of the little daughter of a scientist who could become invisible. One day the scientist comes home to visit his family and while playing with his child lifts her in his arms and places her on the sofa.

How was I going to be photographed while being lifted in invisible arms and placed on the sofa? A wire mesh was tied around my body and over it, I wore my clothes.

Then they attached two long cords to the wires and gave the ends to a man perched high above the sound stage. The cameraman lit the set in such a way that the cords were not noticed. They were now ready to take the shot.

As soon as the camera started to roll the man on the high ledge pulled the cords and as though my backbone was being pulled apart. The pair was excruciating as if several knives had pierced me.

But I did not cry for fear I would spoil the shot for fear I would lose my chance in this picture. I did not utter a sound until I was placed on the sofa and the shot was completed. Then I collapsed sobbing.

They took me home. My mother massaged my back and attended to my bruises because we could not afford to have a doctor. Days passed and I was no better. I was worse. A lump was forming on my back.

I was taken to a free hospital, where the doctors told my mother that I must be put in a tight jacket and kept in it for six months flat on my back. It seemed to me that the end had come.

Arrangements were made for the jacket and I was taken to the hospital again. This time the first surgeon happened to look me over. The girl doesn’t need the jacket, he said. What she needs is electric treatment.

She has a displaced vertebra. I had to undergo the electric treatment for two full years. Even today I have a weak back a bitter reminder of the time when no physical injury was as frightful as the thought of being without work.

I have had several brushes with death in the course of my screen work. While playing the heroine in madhosh. I had to be shot at with a revolver in one scene.

The bullet whizzed close past my ear and the report was deafening. A blank should not sound so bad, I though puzzled and asked the director why the report was so loud.

He examined the used cartilage and sure enough, it was a live one, not a blank. If the artist who had shot at me had been a better marksman, I would have been a dead heroine!

A few years ago I again faced a similar danger. It was at Coimbatore when I was working in the film azaad. We were shooting the famous sequence in which Dilip Kumar disguised as azaad the bandit and I escape by a ropeway.

The ropeway connecting two high peaks consisted of a pair of strong cables to each of which was attached a trolley. At that time passenger service on the ropeway had been discontinued and it was used only to transport goods.

For our scene, both trolleys were attached to one cable. Dilip and I occupied one trolley and in the other following us were the cameraman and his assistant.

At a signal from the director, the operator of the ropeway set the trolleys in motion. In a very little while, I saw that cameraman was in a panic, waving his arms wildly and shouting help help.

The combined weights of the trolleys had made the cable bend very low and our trolley was heading straight into the top of a hill. We faced certain destruction. I lost my head and screamed. Fortunately, the operator saw we were in danger and stopped the trolleys in the nick of time.

When the trolleys stopped ours was only a few feet from that hill. I’ll never forget my first meeting with the great Saigal. It was in 1945 and I was playing the heroine for the first time in bacchon ka khel.

That morning I accompanied the unit on location to vihar lake. We had done about half the distance when we noticed that the road was very bad and just ahead of our station wagon was a car. There’s Saigal! Someone exclaimed pointing to the car.

Saigal was taking his family for an outing. His car went much ahead of ours and then It got stuck in a big pothole. Saigal got down and had just pushed his car out when our station wagon turned the bend in the road and also got stuck!

He came over and helped to push our station wagon out of the pothole. I watched him closely. The fabulous singer was a thin, weak, and tired-looking man dressed in plain white clothes. He went back to his car and drove away.

I retained a vivid picture of him in my mind. Two years later when my father was very ill somebody said to me: Saigal has a mantra which will cure your father. I tried to contact him but couldn’t.

A few days later, while I was shooting at Ranjit studios I heard the sad news of Saigal’s death. I wept bitterly. In 1955 when the film biography of the great singer, Amar Saigal was premiered in Bombay, I was asked during the interval to garland a large portrait of Saigal on the stage.

As I did so, I saw before me the picture of a thin weak, and tired-looking man dressed in plain white clothes pushing s station wagon out of a pothole! Some years ago Kamaal saheb and I went on a sightseeing tour.

We came to Fatehpur Sikri near Agra. Among its ruins, we saw the naubathkhana where during Moghul times a big drum was beaten to announce the arrival of the emperor. As we inspected the naubathkhana, I felt transported to the days of the Moghuls.

I heard soft voices snatches of a conversation the rustle of silk garments the soft footsteps of delicate women and the footfalls of mysterious men. And I heard the drum!

That night I heard the drum again. It was a monotonous sound. The naubathkhana was in ruins. There is no drum there. But I heard it all night. At four o’clock I awoke Kamaal saheb.

He too had been hearing the drum. In the morning we told the people around there about it thinking they would be able to explain this strange phenomenon. But they told us they too hear the drum at night.

It was an unforgettable experience. Finally, I’ll never forget the death of my mother. It occurred under strange circumstances for which I have never been able to find a rational explanation.

My mother was very fond of birds and she had many cages big small ones filled with a large variety of birds. My sisters too were fond of birds. I was the only one who did not like them.

When I came home after a hard day’s work at the studio, their chirping disturbed me. I wanted quiet. One evening I came home in a bad mood and went to bed early.

I awoke suddenly from a deep sleep at three o’clock in the morning. It was still. There was not a sound anywhere. Then I heard footsteps outside my room. They sounded like going to the bathroom.

I heard the bathroom door being opened and the light switched on. I heard the footsteps again. The tap was turned on. I heard the rapid flow of water.

Then the water stopped flowing the light went out the door closed. Fear was mounting within me. I had a sick feeling. I heard the footsteps coming towards my door. I heard the door open.

For a moment I could not utter a sound. Then I screamed and screamed and fainted. When I regained consciousness I found all the members of the household around me. They had revived me.

What happened? They asked. I told them, none of them had heard anything. I went to sleep again. At six o’clock I was again awakened. This time it was my mother shouting furiously.

I hurried out to see what it was about. The doors of the cages were wide open and all the birds had flown away. Who has done this? My mother demanded again and again.

The servants my sisters and everybody said they did not know anything about it. Then someone had a bright idea. Perhaps it was mahjabeen. She always disliked the birds! Indignantly I said I had done nothing of the sort.

Who then was it? And whose were mysterious footsteps I had heard in the night? I could not forget this queer experience. My mother was quite the same after that.

On the evening of the third day, she was lying on a divan near the window. Suddenly she sat up as though replying to somebody said, yes I am coming! Who is calling me? I was sitting beside her. I got up and went to the window.

There’s nobody outside mother, I said. There must be, she asserted, irritably. I distinctly heard someone calling me. It was a woman’s voice.

Three days later my mother died. Her last words were: who is that? Who is calling me outside? I never found out who had been calling her, but I knew that my mother had followed that call.

Our lives are a strange mixture of the rational and irrational the explicable and inexplicable the natural and the supernatural.

But which of us really knows where lies the dividing line between the rational and irrational the explicable and the inexplicable the natural and the supernatural?

And is there a diving line? I don’t know. That is the mystery of human life, that you never understand what you can never forget. – Filmfare 1957

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