South Asian Art

Meena Kumari, the poet

30 October 2014

After my earlier article on the life of Meena Kumari, I explored the iconic actor’s prowess in an entirely different area of personal expression – poetry

Meena KumariMeena Kumari

My heart wonders incessantly
If this is life, what is it that they call death?
Love was a dream?
Ask not about the fate of this dream?
Ask not about the punishment
I received for the crime of loyalty.
(This is Life)

 

Meena Kumari, the iconic actor, will perhaps be better remembered by posterity as a poet of unique sensibility. For three decades she ruled Indian cinema – now referred to as Bollywood; and even after her tragic death due to alcoholism in 1972 her film Pakeezah continued to fascinate cinegoers. In a relatively short life, Meena achieved a place on the silver screen that few can match. Unlike the current trend of actors staying in business beyond their welcome, Meena died at her peak when she was barely thirty nine years old.

A few months ago I had reviewed Vinod Mehta’s biography of Meena Kumari authored in the 1970s (Meena Kumari: The Classic Biography) and wondered why her poetry had not been widely published. Within a few weeks, I was delighted to receive a copy of Meena Kumari the Poet: A Life Beyond Cinema – a collection of her poems translated by Noorul Hasan, a competent translator and a former Professor of English. The book has a thought provoking introduction by Philip Bounds and Daisy Hasan and a few other gems that have been rescued from the anonymity of film journalism.

Meena Kumari2

Meena Kumari3

Meena Kumari’s lasting friendship with the poet Gulzar is well known. In fact, Gulzar was even present in the hospital when Meena struggled for her life and finally gave up. It was Gulzar who published her poems after her death. In Pakistan, pirated copies of this orginal publication were available everywhere during my childhood. At railway junctions with small bookstalls, on the pavements where old books were sold and all other places where popular literature was bought and sold. However, this collection gradually faded into oblivion and today the English readers in India and Pakistan may not even know about the poetry of Meena Kumari, which by all standards is formidable. Hasan, the translator tells us in the preface: (more…)

Elusive freedom – a painting by Anwar Saeed (’92)

20 July 2010

Elusive Freedom

A new painting by Mehboob Ali

25 June 2010

The golden voice of Asha Bhosle (2008 concert in LA, USA)

20 March 2010

NPR has featured Asha Bhosle (12,000 songs and the greatest of Bollywood divas) and her fabulous voice – this is what the text has to say (full article here and recording at Los Angeles on Ashaji’s 75th birthday)

Asha sang naughty songs, and she had somewhat of a naughty personality, and she had a personal life that also had some naughtiness in it — the fact that she had run away from home and divorces and marriage and all of that.”

Bhosle made the vamp her specialty, and “Dum Maro Dum” is one of her most famous songs in that persona. It was written by composer R.D. Burman, who not only worked extensively with Asha Bhosle, but also married her. Burman took advantage of Bhosle’s vocal versatility and created songs for her that brought Western musical influences to Bollywood — combining, say, congas with tablas, or finding some of the grooviest psychedelic rock sounds. If anything cemented her reputation as a bad girl or turned people on, it was this song, writer Lavanya Shah says. (more…)

Emperor Jahangir receiving his two sons, c1605-06

16 March 2010

Succession intrigues:Emperor Jahangir receiving his two sons; an album painting in gouache on paper, c1605-06.

Read the related story here: Power, then as now, brings its own price. Neither life nor death was kind to this unfortunate son of Jehangir. AROON RAMAN recounts one of the most tragic yet inspiring stories to come out of Mughal India…

A red card for the Secular Indian Muslim

14 March 2010
I am posting a brilliant piece (published by Indian Express) by my dear friend Rakhshanda Jalil - she is a bold yet sensitive writer based in Delhi. All power to her pen.

The controversy regarding the conferment of Qatari nationality upon M.F. Husain — and his acceptance of it — has given us the opportunity to revisit an old but neglected debate. The debate on being an Indian Muslim or a Muslim Indian is old hat; but the one concerning the “secular Indian Muslim” — the SIM? — needs our urgent attention. Those who doubt the existence of such a breed and view it as a contradiction in terms would do well to remember the legacy of a long line of distinguished people, from Mirza Ghalib, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Dr M.A. Ansari, Maulana Azad, Dr Zakir Husain to M.F. Husain, to name just a few. Then there are the nameless millions — doctors, lawyers, writers, journalists, teachers, wage earners who are living proof of Indian secularism. Husain is simply another link in this ganga-jamuni chain. He needs to neither establish his credentials nor protest his innocence; his work speaks for him.
Having established the credentials of this breed, let us set out the contours of its present dilemma: one, it exists in sufficiently large numbers to have escaped our notice yet, oddly enough, has never managed to establish a public profile for itself; nor has it, given its numbers, translated into a sufficiently large, and therefore woo-able, vote bank. Two, despite its largish presence (I imagine roughly half the population of Muslims in India), the breed is under severe threat.
One is not interested in establishing the presence of the SIM, for that one takes as a given. It has always existed in the weft of the Indian tapestry as the warp that runs alongside. In fact, what ought to concern us is the threat to its existence. That this threat is (more…)

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Man Kunto Maula

10 March 2010

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