Meena Kumari talks about her holiday in the north first in many years.

I had been looking forward to the trip, it was the first real holiday I had ever had. One morning we left, a small, compact group traveling in two vehicles, a car, and a station wagon.

We passed the first milestone of our journey of a thousand miles. Those miles and miles of winding highway which shone in my imagination like a line of silver receded beneath the speeding wheels of our car.

And the dust which was churned up behind us carried with it my physical and mental fatigue.

As we went further from Bombay, I began to feel fresh and invigorated. A new interest in life seized me, and I looked forward to seeing new faces, meeting new people, regaining a proper perspective of life.

We made innumerable stops at so many little villages, towns, and cities but I shall dwell on only some of them in this narrative.

  • meena amrohi

Our first stop was at Igatpuri, about ninety miles from Bombay where, sitting outside a dilapidated little tea shop, we drank tea from broken cups.

Children were flying kites and Chandan (my husband, Kamaal Saheb) joined them. In a moment I too was fascinated by this pastime and for the first time in my life, I flew a kite.

I was so happy when it was high and firm in the skies and I felt as though my spirit too was flying high with it.

Our first night halt was Nardana, a village beyond Igatpuri. We went to the Dark Bungalow, but only one room was available so we let our friends have it, and Chandan and I slept in the station wagon.

We stopped at jalwania to have a look at the village bazaar. People gathered to see the curious sight of city folk patronizing their stalls.

While we were inspecting some handloom woven material, an old Kathiawari told the shopkeeper: “You must charge them four rupees for goods worth a rupee!” I was surprised.

“Why do you say that?” I asked. “Are we thieves that we should be robbed like this?” “These shopkeepers loot us every day, “came the unexpected reply.

“Today, if you satisfy his greed for money, perhaps he will spare us.” Looking at the coarse cloth we were examining, he remarked: “Are you going to wear clothes made of this?

What will we poor people wear then?” “We are all alike- human beings,” I told him. He seemed to take quite a liking to me. Before we left, he recited few verses from Kabir to us.

Our car had hardly gone a few yards when, turning round, I noticed a group of women shouting & gesticulating wildly. Telling the driver to stop, I got out & found a little boy clinging to a rear mud.

He obviously wanted to accompany us! The women came running breathlessly, spanked & scolded the boy, and took him home to his mother.

On the road to Ujjain, we were delayed at Sipra lake because the bridge was under repair and we spent the night at Badhnagar.

Next morning, before leaving, I bought a pair of pretty shoes and the shopper told us: “You must go to Mandu. You will see the palaces of Roopmati and Baaz Bahadur.”

We decided to go because both Chandan and I love to visit historic spots and we were determined to see as many as possible on this trip.

So, instead of going on to Chittor, we took the road to Mandu. Nearing Dhar, we saw an imposing fort in the distance. We drove up and at its gate, the sentry smartly saluted us.

This pleased us, and we went in confidently- only to be asked politely to turn back a few minutes later!

A man ca,e and smilingly told us: “I am sorry, but this is one place where we cannot have you. You see you have committed no crime!”

It was the Dhar Central jail we had blithely walked into and the sentry had allowed us in thinking we were relatives of the jailor.

We arrived at Mandu in the afternoon. in an area of about forty-five square miles are to be found the ruins of many historic palaces.

They are still beautiful. I felt the atmosphere of the tragic love story of Roopmati and Baaz bahadur lingered there.

That night two elderly people came to our camp with shenai and jaltarang and sang the love songs of those legendary lovers.

Even today the women of mandu sing songs about Roopmati. The next morning, we inspected the historic records of Mandu at Mr. Sharma’s house. He is a lecturer in archaeology and told us many interesting things about Mandu.

He told us that snatches of whispered conversation were heard among the ruins at night and that an inhabitant had seen a glittering durbar, with a handsome man and a beautiful woman seated on thrones.

Mr. Sharma went on to say that the man told everyone of what he saw then disappeared never to be seen again.

Here we also visited Echo point and Ashrafi (gold coin) Mahal. Ashrafi mahal got its name from a visit of Jehangir and Nurjehan.

It was so high that Jehangir did not want Nurjehan to go up, but she did. And at each step she took, he sprinkled gold coins over her head.

The coins were gathered and distributed among the people of Mandu. In the grounds of the palace of Roopmati and Baaz Bahadur is a lotus-studded lake.

It looks beautiful from the top of the palace but it is very difficult to find one’s way there. “Whoever finds the way and gets to the top first, “Mr. Sharma said,” wins ten rupees from me!”

immediately all of us set out. Chandan got there first and won the ten rupees! on the road to Chittor night fell, and we were in the middle of a jungle.

In the bright headlight of the car, we saw a number of animals ahead of us. Tajdaar and Shandaar, Chandan’s children were very sleepy.

Taj had fallen asleep, but woke up with a start when Shandaar and I shouted: “Tiger! Tiger!”

We said the tiger had come close to our car but ran away before he woke up. This annoyed him, as he was very anxious to see a tiger.

We passed a number of small rivers. When it grew dark, we saw women in gaily-colored finery clustered on the bank of a river.

They were putting tiny lighted lamps in the river and from a distance, the zigzag chain of lights floating down looked very beautiful.

We stopped. I asked a woman: “Are you celebrating any festival?” “Tonight is ‘poonam ki raat’ (night of full moon), ” the woman explained.

“It is our custom to worship the moon in this manner.” We arrived at Chittor at 11:30 pm. There was no hotel there, so we went to the Dak Bungalow- only to be told that it had been reserved for a Minister.

We then went to the railway station, but the retiring rooms were full. We came back to the Dak Bungalow, deciding to camp in the compound for the night.

Someone had already put up a tent there. A bright light was burning, and a man was relaxing in an armchair outside the tent, listening to the radio.

We joined him and spent an hour or so chatting with him. He was from Lucknow and was very hospitable. After dinner, Chandan produced his hookah.

“You appear to be a nawab: remarked our new friend. He did not discover my identity, nor did I think it necessary to tell him.

Here, I met the first person who recognized me on this trip. We were going to see the Tower of Victory when we came across a ninety-year-old woman, weak and thin, her voice quivering as much as her body.

“You are Meena Kumari,” she said, looking at me. I was shocked. “Don’t be surprised,” she continued. “I have been a licensed guide in these parts for the last forty years. I know English too.”

  • meena kumari with a villager

I sat down, barely able to control my laughter at this spectacle of improbability! The old woman told us many fascinating tales.

How hungry and sleepy one feels as soon as one gets out of Bombay! It was peaceful here. The calm and serenity took possession of me and I began to absorb the loveliness of Nature.

At Udaipur, I saw a curious sight. On the doors of some houses, two animal figures had painted- on one side an elephant, on the other a horse.

I could not understand their significance until our guide told me that it meant that a wedding had taken place in the house recently.

The figures would adorn the doors for six months after the marriage. We fished in the waters of Jai Samand, a big lake about thirty-two miles from Udaipur.

Then we passed through a lovely little “basti” called Nathdwara. Ahead of us was a small marriage procession. The bride was riding a camel and walking behind it was the bridegroom, a garland around his neck.

Seeing our car, the bride shyly lowered the ghoongat over her face. Then we lost our way and came to a place which had the peculiar name of Char Bhuja Marg.

A bullock cart was passing and we asked its driver: “Where is Jodhpur Road?” “In Jodhpur!” he said laconically, and drive away.

We went on not knowing where we were going. Hours later we reached a village named Bali. At the police chowki, we asked if there was a Dak Bungalow.

An escort took us to the Dak Bungalow which was set in the middle of an abandoned graveyard! On our way to Jodhpur Fort, we saw a strange sight- a large rock-hewn in the shape of a boat and a house built on it.

We were told that long ago a prince had lived there. He had died under mysterious circumstances and it is believed that his spirit still inhabits the house.

The lanes in the bazaar area were so narrow that we parked our car outside and tool a tonga. At the colorful stalls and shops, we bought Jodhpuri shoes, ghagras, chunris and kurtis.

While returning from the famous “dargah” of Ajmer we saw two twin brothers about three years old, standing hand in hand by the roadside.

They made such a pretty picture that we stopped. Chandan wanted to photograph them. But as soon as he approached them, they took to their heels!

Chandan followed them into a lane and then to a house where he found them clinging frightened to their grandmother.

Chandan spoke reassuringly to the old woman and gave a little money to the children. They joined their hands in namaskar and as soon as they did that he photographed them!

At Jaipur, we stayed at the Rajasthan State Hotel where we met the technicians and artists of Kohinoor who were location shooting.

We visited the Sheesh Mahal. The most interesting room was the one in which was a large collection of ancient weapons of war.

Among them was Raja Man Singh’s sword. On the various doors of Sheesh Mahal were written the initials of different princes. On one I saw “M.K”.!

Four miles from the village of Tonk we came to the Banas river. The water was so clear with the sun shining on it, that from the road w could see fish just beneath the surface.

I was excited and ran down to the edge of the water and having nothing else handy threw in my dopatta. All I could get were some tiny fish.

  • meena amrohi capturing fish

Thirty miles from Shivpuri, on the road to Agra, we ran out of petrol and were stranded in a jungle. Seeing our plight, a passerby told us there was a town nearby where we get petrol.

A member of our party went out to buy the petrol. Meanwhile, people on their way home stopped for a chat. They told us that Amritlal the Daku was notorious in those parts.

Our friend returned with the petrol but he was accompanied by a man who told us that the Thanedar wanted us to see him.

Surprised, we accompanied the man to the police station. We had to go through many narrow lanes. The thana itself looked a ghostly place.

We knocked but nobody answered. Then a man in plainclothes came out and addressing Chandan said that he must go in. By now we were all very frightened thinking that this may be a trap set by Amritlal the daku!

We turned to go when the Thanedar himself came out and asked us all sorts of rude and irrelevant questions.

We went on to Gwalior, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. In Delhi, we ate Dahi-wada’s on the steps of a bank building. We also suffered from food poisoning, which kept up in the capital longer than we intended to say.

Then Shimla and Chandigarh. Chandigarh was so neat and clean that I felt it should have been named “Chaandigarh”.

We also visited the Bhakra Nangal Dam. At Shimla, we bought Ladakh caps, Kashmir jerseys, fur shoes, and other garments. We gave up the idea of going to Kulu Valley.

  • meena kumari thinking

Passing through Meerut, I remembered my grandfather used to live there. I thought I would like to find his house but couldn’t.

We visited Lucknow, then went to Banaras, before turning back. People had read of our tour in the papers. At Banaras, we stopped at a busy shopping center.

Whiles Chandan was making some purchases, I sat in the car. It was soon surrounded by a number of students. They looked curiously at me.

“Are you Meena Kumari, the film star?” one of them asked. “We’ve heard that she is on a tour of these parts.”

“No”, I said. “We’re from Meerut, come to buy things for a marriage.” in the month and a half we had been away from Bombay I had many interesting experiences.

I felt like a human being again. It was a good feeling to have. When we turned back, my heart was heavy. Back to the huge, machine city, I thought, back to what we are, cogs in the mighty machinery of city life and work.

During the trip, many people had asked me about Bombay. They wanted so much to see it. They were fascinated. It will always be so to those who do not live in it. But to me……

As our car sped towards Bombay, my mind went forward to some future day when I will be able to visit other places, telling strange and true tales of this city to people who would like to hear about it. – Filmfare 1958

One thought on “Meena Kumari: “When we turned back my heart was heavy”

  1. Rida Khan says:

    Just awesome!! What a sharp memory she had and the way she narrated each n every detail shows the beautiful aspects of her personality ❣️❣️ I’m just loving it ❤️ ❤️

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