Today is the birthday of Meena Kumari – legendary movie star, actor, poet and queer icon.
From Pakeezah to Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi to Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, she gave love-pain a luminous, queen-sized portrayal. Her work affirmed the emotional experience of so many of those who were not part of the mainstream story of acceptable love as encased in heterosexual, married coupledom. In films she played women who dared to love differently, and love persistently, sometimes with self-destruction that bordered on assertion- a role mostly allowed to Devdas and Pyaasa type male lovers. In life, these figures spoke for all those whose love, families, social structures and gender or sexual identities, did not accommodate.
This was an experience present in her poems as well – an appetite for ishq and desire which was an appetite to be oneself to live a big life, sieved and relished through loss and pain. The impossibility of love here though was not about defeatism but really, a kind of social commentary.
Here is a small taste of her poems.
Yeh Tulsi kaisi shan’t hai
Aur Kashmir ki jheele’n
Kis kis tarah uthal-puthal ho jati hain
Dil ko kaise samjhayen ki ra’t guarzarne wali hai
Bas ra’t ki ba’t hi sari hai aur ra’t guzarne wali hai
Ukje di ke beganon’n mein
Dil bhatka-bhatka rahta hai
Chundhiane wali raushni jab
Is sha’m ko bhi sawla degi
Dhundhke ankh churaye jab
Tab ra’t ka narm andhera bhi
Ik aas sanbhal ke baithega
Lautega dil jo thaka hara
Waise hi akela bechara
Is ek akele dil ko ham phir kaise-kaise bahlayen
Ki ra’t ki baat hi sari hai
Aur ra’t guzarne wali hai
Bas ra’t guzarne wali hai
Tukde- tukde din beeta, dhajji- dhajji daat mili
Jiska jitna aanchal tha utni hi saugat mili
Rimjhim-rimjhim boondon mein, zahar bhi hai, amrit bhi,
Ankhen hansdi, dil roya, yeh acchi barasaat mili
Jab chaha dil ko samjhe, hasane ki awaz suni
Jaise koi kahta ho, le phir ujhko maat mili.
Maate’n kaisi ghate kya, chalt’e rahna aath pahar
Dil-sa sathi jab paya, bechaini bhi sath mili
Honton tak aate aate, jane kitne’e roop bhare
Jalti-bujhti ankhon mein, saada si jo baat mili
You can listen to Meena Kumari recite this poem in her own voice in this video
Ye dil ke dharakn ki a’waz – yeh san’nata
Yeh ra’t, yeh tanhai
Yeh doobte taro’n ki
Khamosh ghazal khani
Yeh waqt ki palkon par
Soti hui veerani.
Yeh a’khri angrai
Bajti hui har janib
Yeh maut ki shehnai
Sab tumko bulate hain
Pal bhar ko tum aa jao
Band hoti hui meri a’nkhon mein
Muhabbat ka ek khwab saja jao.
You can read more of her poems in Meena Kumari the Poet: A Life Beyond Cinema by Noorul Hasan
You can read more about her in Meena Kumari: The Classic Biography by Vinod Mehta