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Art is not a luxury, but a necessity.


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By Ali Peter John

My God, how you make time fly! I can not believe that it is exactly 50 years ago on this day that I heard my neighbour, Z.D. Lari who was a writer struggling to make it , announced the death of Meena Kumari . It was Good Friday, a day Christians all over the world observed to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ .There were preparations being made for the service in Church and my brother who was an agnostic ever since he was eight or ten was getting ready to go for a picnic with his friends and I was making preparations to go to Church .But, what Lari said had disturbed the entire atmosphere in Latif compound , the place where I had spent the first twenty-eight years of my life and where I had learnt my first lessons in what the world was to know as secularism and communal harmony years later .
Lari gave us all a running commentary on what Meena Kumari was all about and got ready to go to her funeral. He had once worked as one of the assistant director of Kamal Amrohi , the husband of who was now to be known as the late actress Meena Kumari who had many stories about her.And I have my own story about her.
I first saw her in a place called “Devool Talaav”, a lake near the ruins of a an eight -hundred year old Church named after St.John , the Baptist , said to be a cousin of Jesus Christ . Outside the Church was a lake and it was next to this late that I first saw Meena Kumari, sitting under a huge umbrella, dressed in a spotless white sari and matching blouse , sitting all alone, with her eyes giving me a young man then a feeling that she must have been a very sad woman. I wanted to bring her back in time and ask her any number of questions , but all I could do then was stand and stare with my mind full of questions I could never ask and now I never will. It is one thing in my life I will always regret , but as I said ,I have my own stories about her .
Years after I first saw her , I came to know that the land on which Kamalistan Studio built once belonged to Meena Kumari.
From that village where I saw her I moved to Yari Road and my stories about Meena Kumari moved with me .
I saw Kamal Amrohi getting out of a taxi and going up to a building called Sagar Sameer .I was told that he lived in the building where he lived with someone I was told was the woman he had married after Meena Kumari died .
It was outside this building that I sat in an old tea shop that I listened to stories about Meena Kumari from a group of men I had never seen before .
They talked about how Meena Kumari was abused and ill -treated by “Kamal Sahab “. They soon talked about how this same Kamal Sahab used to even get her beaten up by a man called Baakar ,who was the manager of Kamal Sahab’s film making company and later of Kamalistan Studio . Meena Kumari being abused and ill-treated ? I asked the men If what they said was the truth and they said they were witnesses to the sordid drama.They had many other stories , but I would certainly not like to hurt even the memory of the legendary actress who I admired when I was young and still do.
There were others who talked about her drinking and how some leading names of today , including a senior actor and at least two writers who were also poets and filmmakers who had taken advantage of her weakness and even got inspired” by her poetry written in Urdu and singing sad songs about her lonely , longing for someone she loved and couldn’t find love from and her sad life.
I was at the
St.Elizabeth hospital in Grant Road where I heard some old nurses talking about Meena Kumari .This was the hospital where Meena Kumari died on March 31,1972 .
Just ten days ago , a another legend Nimmi died and she was buried at the same Muslim Kabristan where Meena Kumari were buried fifty years ago .
Her grave is still there and so her some of the trees . And her work as a tragedienne par excellence will always be remembered as long as memory lives .
I have met an lived with some of the greatest legends .
How I wish I could talk about Meena Kumari like I talk about the other legend I had the good fortune of knowing !
How I also wish I could stop and talk to Meena Kumari outside that old Church in my village .

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