When she raised her arm in defiance and lip-synced parda nahi jab koi khhuda se to Lata Mangeshkar’s voice in Mughale-Azam, the entire nation heaved. Scores timed hours for a mere glimpse of her ethereal beauty. She never aged; death saw to it. Madhubala’s mortal remains lie today at the Santa Cruz Muslim cemetery. But not for her the peace of sleep. She is too famous for that.
Last month, the marble slab from her grave was moved from her resting place. Bits and pieces of the marble have been stacked away in the backyard of the cemetery. Madhubala’s sister did protest to the Muslim Majlis of the cemetery that her father Amanullah Khan had purchased the right to the grave but could not back up her claim with documents.
Cemetery authorities have their own reasons. “We simply do not have the space. Madubala’s marble tombstone was taking up a lot of place. Since 1984, we do not allow any concrete tombstones,” candidly admits Ashgar Ali, president of the Mulsim Majlis.
In one distant corner of the same cemetery, a small mound of mud covers the remains of another gorgeous woman, Parveen Babi. As lonely as she was in her troubled last years. Very few visit the graves of lyricists Majrooh Sultanpuri and Sahir Ludhianvi, buried in the same ground.
The grave of singer Mohamed Rafi though has escaped such rudeness. It has regular visitors throughout the year. “Aspiring singers, lyricists and established singers such as Shabbir Kumar come here and pay their respect to Mohamed Rafi. They pray for success and come back when their songs do well,” says Ashgar Ali.
Furhter south, at Marine Lines at Badakabarastan, is the place where actors Nargis and Suraiya lie. Suraiya’s grave rarely gets visitors though Nargis’ is visited by her family, especially son Sanjay Dutt who prefers to visit his mother in the dead of the night to avoid being mobbed by the living. In this huge cemetery, two adjoining graves are hard to miss. They are adorned by sudden greenery and Urdu words say good things about the occupants. These are the graves of Allahaj Sheikh Mohammed Ibrahim Kaskar and Haji Mohammed Sabir. They are the father and brother of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar. The Kaskar family members do visit the grave, though erratically.
A few kilometres towards central Mumbai is a cemetery meant for Khoja Muslims. Here, a tombstone rises in self importance. Four carved Italian marble pillars border the grave. The epitaph simply reads “Ratanbai Mahomed Ali Jinnah, 20th February 1900-20th February 1929”. The estranged second wife of Jinnah was 29 when she had died in Bombay, beautiful but melancholic. Recently, thieves plundered her grave and stole the beautiful brass railings enclosing the grave.
Ratanbai or Ruttie Jinnah rarely has any visitors, although it recently had some Parsi visitors, says caretaker Amin. “They cleaned up the weeds and spoke of constructing a garden. That was some time back. I have not heard from them later,” he says.
Historians say that by 1927, Ruttie and Mohamed Ali Jinnah had separated and the shifting of the Muslim League’s office to Delhi dealt the final blow to their relationship. When she died, Jinnah sat like a statue throughout the funeral but when her body was being lowered into the grave, and he as the closest relative was asked to sprinkle the earth on the grave first, he broke down.
Later, Justice Chagla said that was the only time he saw Jinnah betray human weakness. “It’s not a well publicised fact that as a young student in England, it had been one of Jinnah’s dreams to play Romeo at The Globe. It is a strange twist of fate that a love story that started like a fairy tale ended as a haunting tragedy to rival any of Shakespeare’s dramas,” Chagla recorded for posterity.