Readers of a certain age will surely remember the song, Abhi to main jawan hoon
. It was hugely popular and was from one of the first films to be made in Pakistan, Qaatil
. The singer was Malika Pukhraj. She has written a disarmingly frank memoir. She grew up in a mud hut in Jammu with a good-for-nothing father who ran a gambling den and stole from her piggy bank. She caught the eye of Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir. She sang and danced in his court, accompanied him on hunting trips and, with encouragement from her mother, became his rakhel
for nine years.
She escaped to Lahore, fearing for her life, when Hindu fanatics accused her of trying to poison the Maharaja. The accusation was false. She loved the man. It was the lecherous Maharaja of Patiala she hated. We’re also told that the Maharaja of Alwar had a thing for hijras and there were strange goings-on in the Rampur household. It’s all there in a wonderful translation by Saleem Kidwai. But why does he insist on calling her Malka when she’s always been known as Malika?
She had a robust...