• Image Courtesy: Roli Books

Here is TBIP’s pick of five Urdu poems by the actress Meena Kumari, with an introductory note from their translator Noorul Hasan. 


Meena Kumari needs no introduction. As a matinee idol and diva of the mid-twentieth century, and despite her untimely death in 1972, at the age of thirty-nine, she remains a legendary heroine of what is known as the golden age of Hindi cinema. It’s not for me to elaborate that point.

However, not many know that she had a way of her own with the pen as well. Soon after her death, Gulzar sahib arranged for Hind Pocket Books to publish a collection of her poems. I chanced upon this slim paperback volume at the Howrah Railway station the same year and have had the pleasure of dipping into that now more than moth-eaten prize paperback for over three decades.

What struck me most about the poems was their amazing immediacy, their power to take you in without any fuss and bother. Plain as conversation Meena Kumari’s poems strike an uncanny intimacy or rapport with the reader. Her imagination hovers over a wide range of subjects from the very personal and idiosyncratic to the more objective though equally heartrending, as expressed in poems like ‘The Dumb Child’ or the ‘Empty Shop’. Hers is an art without artfulness. The sheer audacity of her statements is the raison d’être of her poetry. Her unadorned, screaming verse reminds me of snatches of Donne, Firaq, Wordsworth, and Ghalib. This is not to say that she is anywhere near the dizzying heights scaled by that august fraternity. Her poetry is slight, casual, a kind of intermittent adventure or a holiday she allowed herself from her self-consuming stardom.

As a poet she resembles her screen persona, coming across as a wayward, sensuous, sacrificial lamb kind of woman. Her imagery is soaked in the immemorial customs and traditions of an ageless India. Her voice is very often the tremulous, quavering voice of an invincible Indian woman in the direst of straits. She writes the poetry of ‘some natural sorrow, loss or pain/that has been and may be again’, of ‘some old, unhappy, (not) so far off things’, if you know what I mean. The overwhelming impression one is left with after reading this poetry is, in Firaq’s unforgettable words, ‘Maine is aawaz ko mar mar ke pala hai…’. She is a poet because she has an inimitable personal voice.

I never planned to translate her into a language she would have thought so far removed from her field of light. I used to see the odd poem of hers translated into English in lifestyle magazines or poetry journals. Initially I translated some as an experiment and after several readings I began to feel that there was something of the cadence and clarity of the original in those random translations. So I decided to translate as many as I could. It was very kind of the poet Jayanta Mahapatrara to have published a number of these translations in his journal Chandrabhaga (12/2005) with the kind permission of Gulzar sahib. It’s a strange coincidence that translations of some of Gulzar’s own lyrics appeared in the same issue of Chandrabhaga as well.

In trying to put these translated poems together in a volume I hope to contribute to conveying another image of Meena Kumari which deserves as universal an acknowledgement as her immortal image as the queen of the Bollywood firmament of yesteryears. Her flirtations with the pen are as seductive as her universally celebrated femininity and resourcefulness as an iconic Indian woman actor in film after unforgettable film for nearly three decades during which she could slip with ease and spontaneity from the role of a skittish Miss Mary to that of the soulful and haunting Pakeezah.

A chameleon actor she is, equally spontaneously, a ‘chameleon’ poet.

Noorul Hasan


Ma’zi aur Ha’l

Har masar’rat

Ek barba’d shuda gham hai

Har gham

Ek barba’d shuda masar’rat

Aur har tariki ek tabah shuda raushni hai

Aur har raushni ek tabah shuda tariki

Isi tarah

Har ‘ha’l’

Ek fana shuda-ma’zi hai

Aur har ‘ma’zi’,

Ek fana shuda ha’l


Past & Present

Each happiness

Is a devastated grief

Each grief

A devastated happiness.

And each darkness is a raped light

And each light a raped darkness.


Each present

Is an annihilated past

And each past

An annihilated present.


Aaj ka Insan

‘Ideal insan’ kitabo’n ki

Zakheem jildo’n ke waqt khurda safhat ki

Mahdood dunia mein muqaimad hai


Bahar ki dunia mein qadam nahin rakh sakta


Apne boseeda workon ke jharokhe se

Tumhen dekhta hai

Ishar’e karta hai


Tumhen aziat mein jhonk deta hai


Man Today

The “ideal man” is imprisoned

In the closed world

Of the time-torn pages

Inside the hard covers

Of books.

He does not step out

Into the world


Peers at you

From the cracks

In his tattered pages

And says

“Go to Hell”.


Suhani Khamoshi

Kabhi aise pursukoon lamhat bhi ayenge


Mai’n bhi usi tarah so jaungi

Woh khamoshi

Kitni suhani hogi

Maut ke ba’d

Agarche mahaz khala hai

Sirf tariki hai magar

Woh tariki

Is karb – angez ujale se

Yaqeenan behtar hogi



Un zindagion mein si hun jinhen

Har subah nihayat qaleel si raushni milti hai

Um’meed ki itni – si kiran ki

Sirf din bhar zinda rah saken

Aur jis din

Yeh raushni bhi na mil saki to – ?


Enchanted Silence

There will be a day

Of such tranquility

I shall instantly go to sleep

That stillness

Will be so enchanting

Even though

There is just a void

After death

Nothing but darkness

But that darkness

Should still be better

Than this precarious light


Mine is one of those lives

Lit by a measly light

Each morning

Barely enough

To last the day

And the day

Even this light plays truant




Tukr’e-tukr’e din beeta, dhaj’ji-dhaj’ji ra’t mili

Jiska jitna anchal tha, utni hi saugat mili

Rimjhim-rimjhim boondo’n mein, zahr bhi hai aur amrit bhi

A’nkhe’n han’s di dil roya, yeh ach’chi barsat mili

Jab chaha dil ko samjhe’n, han’sn’e ki a’waaz suni

Jais’e koi kahta ho, lo phir tum ko ma’t mili

Mate’n kaisi ghate’n kya, chalt’e rahna aath pahar

Dil-sa sathi jab paya, bechaini bhi sath mili

Honto’n tak aate-aate, jan’e kitn’e roop bhar’e

Jalti-bujhti a’nkho’n mein, sadi si jo ba’t mili.



The day passed in fragments, followed by a tattered night

As far as you can spread your cloth, that’s your share of light.

The pattering raindrops are honey too, are poison

What a monsoon! My eyes were smiling, my heart cried

Whenever I try to hear my heart, there comes a mocking laugh

As though someone were saying: look, you’ve been defied.

Despite defeats and betrayals, I press on undeterred

When your heart is your companion, agony is your right

It took so many different forms before it could be spoken

The utterly simply thing in your cold yet smouldering eyes.



Chalo kahin chale’n

Ghoomti hui sarak ke kinare

Kisi mor par

Raushni ke kisi khambhe ke neeche baith kar

Bate’n karen

Chalo, kahin chalen

Apne-apne mazi ke

Nuche ghute gharaudon se doo’r

Kisi sookhe nal’e ki pulia par baith kar

Bate’n karen

Chalo, kahin chalen

Darawne jangal ki andheri pagdandion par

Ratjaga manayen

Zindagi ke har marhale par bahas karen


Dher sari bate’n karen

Chalo kahin chalen

Chalo kahin chalen



Let’s Go

Let’s go somewhere

To some edge of the revolving road

And sitting

Under the shade of some

Pillar of light

Let’s talk

Let’s just go somewhere

Far from the ravaged shanties

Of our past

Just sit on the culvert

Of some dry canal

And talk

Just let’s venture out

And sitting on the pathways

Of the forests of the night

Let’s spend the entire night

Discussing all the imponderables of life


Talk our hearts out

Just let’s go somewhere

Come on! Be a sport

Let’s go.


Excerpted from Meena Kumari the Poet: A Life Beyond Cinema, courtesy of Roli Books. You can buy the book here.

Also read Inhi Logon Ne, on Meena Kumari and all that was lost with her here.

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The Song in Her Heart

July 2014