Noor Bano

Standing there she was looking at the procession following the leading lady of the new movie that had been released. The people were going berserk, and jostling to spot her, to catch a glimpse of her, as if it were a matter of life or death. She was standing on the footpath across the road that divided her and the other side next to the mall, which was chock-a-bloc of people.
Her memory flashed back to the time several years ago, when she was entering the Minolta Theater that stood across the road at the same spot that this mall now was. She was being mobbed. People were falling over each other to see her make a turn, clearly demonstrating a sense of fanaticism not seen since the riots that had happened two years ago. She waved her hand, and men swooned around her posse of security that seemed to be facing the gravest threats of breach. Her beautiful chiffon saree was pink in colour, and flowed like water in the eyes of the fans, as the slight breeze that night played around with the pallu.
She had been named Noor Bano by her first director, her mentor in the film industry. Noor Bano was the rising star of the industry. She was called the next Madhubala, and people would murmur as she would give her shots with élan, silencing directors and producers into amazement. How could someone be so professional at the tender age of 16? She was there on time, and would be done with her shots. She rarely talked with the flirtatious, sometimes vulgar co-stars who would pass her chits full of lewd messages. And yet she had maintained her stoic calm, and would get her work done, though refusing to entertain their fancy ideas about her and them. Work to home, home to work – that was her life. She would rarely give any interviews not because they did not want to. She was afraid of the press – God knows what they would write about her. She would certainly greet them all, but interviews were a strict no-no from her. Much of this led to an aura being created about her, which fed on rumours that her family members and the secretary would spread around. She was the centre of gossip in nearly every film magazine, and page 3 would be incomplete without a reference to her secret life.
She had her fair share of letters and proposals for marriage, though she was often insulted within the family. Acting in movies, according to her family, was worse than prostitution. And yet, they all siphoned off her hard earned money, gnawing her to the very bones. They were greedy alright – greedy for the money they had. And yet, when she needed them the most, she was thrown away like garbage- no one came to her help. They all pretended that she was dead - that there never was a Noor Bano. She still remembered the storm that had brewed up at home when she secretly got engaged to the superstar of the day, Anand. How could she, they all stormed angrily into her room, heckling her. She had no right to decide who she was to marry. As it is, prostitutes cannot have control of their destiny. And that too marrying into another religion – oh the shame it would bring to the family! They rebuked her endlessly, threatened her about killing her, and shifting the threat on him when she refused to budge. Noor still remembered how she tearfully separated from Anand, who was bitter with the experience, and decided to never work with her. Perhaps he did not really love her after all. He was still there today, hailed as a doyen of filmmaking. And here she was, anonymous, poor, hungry and destitute.
Then one day, all of it disappeared. Her family refused to see the signs, even as she struggled to hold back the defeats. All their interference ensured that filmmakers would not turn up at her house to offer roles. Less talented contemporaries got golden opportunities thanks to her family’s interference over money matters. Work evaporated even before she realized. Her secretary was going to places, only to come back from doors slammed shut and choicest abuses for her and her family. If she was so important, they said, she did not need them to retain her rising stardom. And yet, all of them kept things to themselves. Anand was not there to support her – no one was. Those lewd co-actors still sought favours from her, making hollow promises of offering her roles into movies. Her family pushed her, and before long, she was secretly escorting those very actors to Kashmir and Shimla. Yet those offers never materialized.
One day, her family turned her out of the very house she had bought for her family. All her earnings were taken away from her, and she was left to struggle for herself. She had nowhere to go, as she struggled to meet people within the fraternity seeking help. The directors laughed at her, while junior artists wondered silently her downfall. Those co-actors, who pretended to be stars, those who sought excuses to satiate their lust, would find excuses to not meet her. Not even a scene was there as an extra from the directors. It was as if the whole world had conspired against her. No one wanted to see her but pretended they were busy.
Her beauty vaporized in her struggle for daily life. There was nothing that she could do. Slowly, she started to lose her voice, and to manage ends, she started to beg at the circle near Minolta Theater. No one recognized her – not even those who would be sitting in cars and humming her hit songs. She was lost to them; they were oblivious of her identity in this new unkempt, dirty and ragged version. She would fight to prevent herself from being raped every night. She saw the new faces replacing the old on the boards, and often spotted those ‘stars’ and ‘superstars’ walk past, unable to recognize her. Some of them would throw some money at her, as she would be lying in the heat of the day, sores all over her body. The police came around often, picked her up on charges of prostitution, only to realize that she could do nothing of that sort.
She still remembered the day when walking around Mumbai she came over to her own bungalow. Ironic as it was, the security’s dogs bit her on the leg. The resulting infection nearly killed her, but God had other plans for her. She survived, only to be crippled for life at a stage in life where there was little dignity left in living. But dignity was an alien word for her. She had forgotten it long back – they had forced her to forget it. There was no help available. Life decided to play the cruel hand to the hilt, and how.
All of a sudden, her eyes riveted again towards the mall. It was Anand. She knew that it was Anand, even at this age. She was happy to see him with his wife. At least she prevented him from her misfortune, she thought, as she stared at the poster. It had Anand’s name written as director on it. Anand had gone on to become a successful movie maker. Thank God he did not have to search for the next meal like her. Tears welled up in Noor’s eyes as she stared at his silhouette. He was hale and hearty, and certainly looked happy.  May God bless him with happiness always, she thought, as she kept looking at that illusion of which she had once been a part. The scene was surreal for her. A few decades ago, she had been the centre of attention at the same spot where that young girl was today. And yet, what is fame but a fleeting moment, much like the snow she had seen in Kashmir? It looks beautiful from a distance, but melts away all of a sudden.
All of a sudden there was some commotion. Anand turned around, looking towards her. She hid her face with her ragged dupatta, but Anand had spotted her. Panicked, she started to limp quickly, hoping that she could outpace everyone. But Anand was right behind her. He dashed across the road, followed by a puzzled army of media men and security guards. Running towards the other side of the road, he caught up with Noor and pulled off the dupatta. Flashlights blinded Noor, who suddenly collapsed on the ground, only to be caught by Anand.
“Noor?” he asked, a plethora of emotions on his face, as he looked at the disheveled, shriveled up face.
“Its Noor Bano. She’s alive,” shouted a cameraman, as a cacophony of surprise and horror welled up all around her.
“How are you ma’am?”
“Where have you been hiding all these years ma’am?”
“What happened to you?”
“Who is responsible for this?”
Both of them were oblivious to the cacophony though. In that moment, they had spun a cocoon that insulated them from the vagaries of the world. They kept looking into each other’s eyes, and Noor saw that love she had so desperately needed all her life once again.
Anand was tearing up. Clearly, he recognized now that he had seen her face so many times, only to ignore it. A sense of guilt welled up in his throat, as tears rolled down his eyes looking at the love of his life.
“It’s okay Noor,” he said, hugging her close to his heart. “Everything will be alright. I am there for you.”
Noor smiled. Tears were rolling down her eyes, as she looked at Anand.
“If only death do us apart,” saying thus, she turned limp into his hands, while the cameramen kept blinding each other with the bright lights and their incessant flashes.


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