For the last several days I have been reading all possible details of Shabnam Ali – the woman from Uttar Pradesh's Amroha who is to be hanged by the State. In fact, as news reports go, she would be the first woman to be hanged, post -independence.
And last evening as I saw videos in circulation — focusing on Shabnam Ali and her young son, Mohammad Taj, and her former college junior, Usman Saifi, who has adopted her son Taj, and has also commented very positively on Shabnam's student days — I have been left wondering aloud: Is it okay for the State to hang a prisoner, overlooking the basic crux that it is barbaric to kill a human form? Is it okay to hang this woman prisoner, Shabnam Ali, who denies the charges of the mass murders, so much so, that in one of the videos, Usman Saifi details she'd told him that she was beaten by a particular cop, Mr Gupta, to admit to the mass murders? Is it okay to leave dents on the child's psyche, by hanging to death his mother? What will this state- hanging achieve; anyway, she sits imprisoned for the last several years and will remain in prison till her dying day; stitching garments all day long? Isn't there something called state pardon? Isn't there that human aspect, whereby every effort should be made to lessen the pain for her son; not to be overlooked the fact that he was only two months old when his mother was jailed and he spent the first six formative years in prison with his mother till he was adopted by Usman Saifi. Also, stands out the fact that till date this boy visits his mother in jail and feels relieved that his mother is alive. Her hanging would damage his psyche, leave him all too bruised and wounded for times to come.
It's time the state turns compassionate and pardons this woman and with that lessen the trauma for her young son. It's about time to halt the barbaric practice of state hangings! In fact, one of those most disturbing and traumatic sights is to see humans hanged! After all, we can call ourselves developed and civilized only and only and only if we save human lives.
If the state can't give birth, it has little right to end life!
Come March.. Remembering Meena Kumari
Come March, thoughts do drift towards Meena Kumari. She had passed away on 31 March, 1972… Born on 1 August 1933, passing away on 31 March 1972, dying rather young, leaving behind a heap of unanswered queries to the melancholy that hovered around her.
Several queries found adequate answers when I interviewed her stepdaughter, Kamal Amrohi's daughter Rukhsar-e-Zehra. When I'd asked her about the family's initial reaction, after they heard that Kamal sahib was re-marrying, and that she'd detailed, "No doubt my father was a romantic person. Much before his crush on Meena Kumari, he was involved with Madhubala, the then top star. They were about to get married, but one sentence from her – 'Kamal sahib, leave your wife and kids and I will give them four lakh rupees' – finished it all! My father, whom I called baba jaani, told Madhubala he does not buy or sell relationships. And severed all ties with her…Later, during the shooting of Mahal, my mother fell ill. Her already-strained nerves could take it no longer, and I recall how baba jaani told us to go to our hometown Amroha for a change.
It was while we were in Amroha that publications/magazines carried details of his wedding to Meena Kumari….I also recall how the children of the locality used to whisper if I was the daughter of Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi! But somehow, I was never upset, because the way my mother explained it all to me didn't make it appear like he'd done anything wrong. My mother adored him and would say with immense pride, 'Main Kamal sahib ki begum hoon.' Of course, people wondered how she could tolerate a 'co-wife', but all those talks didn't really bother her, and that's why we children didn't carry any bitterness towards him, nor were we affected by his second marriage. My mother had realised that my mother's marriage was an ill-matched or mismatched marriage and it took place only on the ground that the elders wanted these two cousins to marry… She had very calmly explained to us, about baba jaani's re- marriage. All she said was, 'Don't worry. Now you will have another ammi, chhoti ammi, to look after you.' With such an introduction, how could I be angry with either my father or Meena Kumari?"
Zehra had told me that she was comfortable with her step mother, Meena Kumari. "When I was 13, I went to live with chhoti ammi and baba jaani and she wasn't the stereotypical stepmother. Initially, I wasn't very comfortable with her, but she would tell me, 'Jo kuch chahiye mujhe batlao, jaise tum abba jaan se kehti ho (If you need anything, let me know the same way you would let your father know)…She would leave for her shoots early after instructing the servants that I had to be looked after properly. On her return, if she wasn't tired, we would sit and play carom or just talk. Though her spoken English was rather poor, she had picked up few words to speak with me. She respected my father's sentiments of never encouraging me to join films. I grew rather fond of her as time went by. For, besides caring for me and my two brothers, (who initially stayed with her and were later sent to hostel) whenever my mother visited Bombay, she was treated with respect. Meena Kumari would tell her, 'Apa jaan, yeh ghar aap ka hai' (Dear sister, this is your home). No, I never saw any clash or arguments between her and my mother. On the contrary, if my mother stitched ghararas, it would always be six – two for me, two for herself and two for chhoti ammi…"
I'd also asked asked Zehra, what had gone wrong with Kamal Amrohi and Meena Kumari's marriage. And this is what Zehra had to say - "The first time a major fight took place between the two was over the abortion issue. Baba had gone out, and without his knowledge, she'd decided to abort the baby. Months after that, she went in for a second abortion. There was a severe showdown that time, too. My father was very keen on having children with her, but she wasn't keen on it. The deterioration in their relationship started with that. Then she took to the bottle and started having flings…As far as I can remember, she started taking brandy as a cure for insomnia, but knowing that my father disliked any sort of alcohol, she'd have it kept in Dettol bottles and sip it on the sly in the toilet. As to why she left the home, I don't know the exact details. That day, on returning from school, I learnt from the servants that she'd left. My father went out to try and get her back (she had gone to actor Mehmood's house), but she was determined never to return."
Zehra had also detailed that Kamal Amrohi loved Meena Kumari right till his end. "My father really loved her. Several years later, when I asked him if he still loved her, he said, 'Yes.' "