Woke up today morning to read the sad news of the passing of singer Meena Kapoor. Her voice has been ringing in my ears since and the mind goes into a slow flashback....
The year was 2006, I was in India for a short assignment and we burst upon the idea of organizing a centenary show for SD Burman, whose hundredth birthday fell that year. Organizing a show of this kind was a once in a lifetime experience. As we went about our business of putting together the show and finding people who were associated with our grand old man of music, I met many celebrities and artists including my biggest love of all time - Dev Anand. But it is Meenadi who I remember with the deepest fondness and respect.
The first time we navigated our way through the narrow bylanes of Lajpat Nagar to her place, we did not know what to expect. She lived in this cosy house where she moved after Anil Biswas’s death. As we rung the door bell and gazed at her nameplate - MK Biswas, I felt a little nervous. I really did not know how we were going to go through the meeting. I was counting on Sangeeta Didi with her characteristic journalist chutzpah to carry the evening through.
We were ushered into a small living room by a servant girl and after a bit she swept into the room. For a minute we were a little taken aback. Her eyes were heavily made up and she looked a little odd. As we started chatting, the conversation was stilted. I don’t remember now what really happened but I do remember that we went for 30 minutes and sat for two hours. She was delighted to have musical company and we were floored by her warmth.
After that I met her many times. We interviewed her on her association with Burmanda and talked about everything under the sun. I would carry my laptop full of rare songs and play them for her. Show her internet websites on musical personalities. She would talk about her days in Bombay and let me in on her likes and dislikes and sometime pop out cute tidbits like - did you know only me and Mona Anand(Dev Anand’s wife) would wear light colored lipsticks in the industry. She was very classy too. Totally arbitrary, but she delighted me on this insider info.
She would look forward to my coming and one day she told me conspiratorially - I told my philistine neighbours not to bother me because you were coming. They bore me to death with their daal-roti and neighborhood gossip conversations. She gave me a dazzling smile. I realized she missed the vibrant musical atmosphere that obviously existed when Anilda was alive. Getting into the same mode for the show was bringing her alive again.
Meenadi was very childlike. She was much younger than Anilda and she remained a little girl always. Very pure at heart. One of the afternoons I popped in, she mentioned she was writing an article on Geeta Dutt and had to get it typed at the store. I offered to type it up for her on my laptop and email to the magazine that wanted it. As we went through the article, she reminisced her association with Geeta. She quietly confided - the editors like the first draft of the article but they are pushing for more information(spicy gossip) on her life. “I heard things about her in the later years that could fill and book, but I cherish her as a childhood friend. I don’t feel like going there”, she said. She was obviously under pressure. “If you me ask Meenadi,”, I responded, “I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that myself if I were in your place. I would be curious as a music fan, but I understand your loyalty as a friend”, She finally did make a decision, despite the pressure, not to provide even a hint of masala on Geeta Dutt’s sad life. I held her in higher respect for that restraint and class.
The little time I spent with her made me hold her very dear to me. I would feel protective when someone made fun of her makeup and dress sense. I saw the lovely human being behind it.
As mentioned, I met so many artists and celebrities during that time and I found most of them to be self centered. It was always about themselves. I lost all my hero worship. My motto after that was ‘Revere the art not the artist’. But Meenadi stood out like a pure unsullied soul. Genuine in her affection, modest and self-effacing.
At some point we both discovered we share a sun-sign, we are both Virgos. At a birthday party held for her at someone’s house and I was so touched to know she remembered me. She bought me a gift. I still cherish the saree she bought me and remember her everytime I wear it.
Meenadi was almost sad to hear I was going back to the US. The SD Burman show had really energized her life and she was looking forward to more shows and someone making a website on her too. I wanted to, but never could get down to it. The next year I went back I spoke to her on the phone but couldn’t meet her as she had guests from Calcutta. After that the next time I knew she had moved to Calcutta. I thought of her often but never really connected with her after that. Hearing the news today I sadly realize never again will I see her and feel guilty for not making effort.
Farewell Meenadi, thank you for all your love and affection. I will cherish those memories forever.