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A Rajasthani/Sindhi folktale replete with beautiful princesses, enchanted castle, a brave and ingenious hero, passionate romance, ordeals of separation and edifying tragedy

By Mahlia Lone

Background

The famed Rajasthani folktale is set in Lodhrawa in Jaisalmer district Rajasthan, India, around the mid-14th century. Lodhrawa stood on an ancient trade route through the Thar Desert, which was vulnerable to frequent attacks.

In the Sindhi story, Momal Ji Maari (Momal’s mansion), the heroine’s house was located in Ghotki district, near Sukkur. The story occurred in the times of Hamir Soomro, the King of Amarkot (now Umerkot district in south-east Sindh). The city was named after its Hindu founder Maharaja Amar Singh, belonging to the Sodha clan of Hindu Rajputs, who built the Amarkot Fort to wade off Muslim invadors. During the Mughal Empire, Emperor Akbar was born in Amarkot 1542, his father Humayun having fled from his capital in Delhi after his military defeat at the hands of Sher Shah Suri and the Rajput ruler Rana Prasad giving him refuge.

The story in classical Sindhi literature

The first time the story was written down was by 17th-century classical Sindhi Sufi poet from Nasarpur, Shah Inat Rizvi (circa 1613– 1701). Combining the folklore lyrical poetry of travelling minstrels (singers) with the cultivated spiritual thinking of the Sufi saints, Inat brought in a new style of Sindhi poetry. He combined popular songs commemorating the valour of heroes in wars and wise rule of kings during peace that included elements of fantasy, magic, legend and quasi historical romance with the Sufis’ spiritual ideas. Fond of music since childhood, Inat would raptly listen to professional musicians and itinerant minstrels in village gatherings. Belonging by birth to an orthodox Syed family, he was educated in Muslim spiritual poetry.

The story in 20th century Sindhi literature

Shaikh Ayaz (1923 — 1997) translated Abdul Latif’s magnum opus Shah Jo Risalo to Urdu, establishing him as an authority on the subject. He received the Sitara-i-Imtiaz for his efforts and was regarded as a “revolutionary and romantic poet” in his own right.

Tajal Bewas (1938 — 2008) born near Khairpur, was a classical Sindhi poet who authored 44 books, including the story of Momal Rano.

Inat, hence, forged a new genre of Sindhi literature with his groundbreaking work as a “saint-poet of the people singing about their heroes in war and peace and their traditional tales and romances as well as about the traders, weavers, and monsoon rains on which the prosperity of the people depended. He also dealt with the spiritual themes of love and hope, and composed verses in praise of the saints and selfless devotees in the search of God,” commented an expert of classical Sindhi literature. In addition, Inat experimented with idioms and imagery to make his poems more descriptive, further enrichening Sindhi literature.

Inat’s contribution to classical Sindhi poetry was built on by Shah Abdul Latif (c. 1689 – 1752), a young man in his twenties when the older poet died. According to oral tradition, Abdul Latif met the elderly Inat and they would recite their parallel verses on common themes. Regardless of the veracity of this occurrence, Inat’s form, technique and subject matter greatly influenced Abdul.  The latter used some of the same idioms and expressions more skillfully and with greater insight, to produce his Shah Jo Risalo, the poetry book on the Seven Heroines of Sindh, one of which was the story of Momal Rano.

The Sindhi version of the folktale

Beautiful Princess Momal of Ghotki lived in a luxurious and magical palace named Kak Mahal or Mirpur Mathelo, near Lodhrawa, north-east of Amarkot (now known as Umerkot). Momal oiled, perfumed and draped in exquisite silken ensembles was a beauty beyond compare. She lived with her seven equally indulged sisters and attendants in the seclusion of her grand mahal. Two of her most famous sisters were named Somal, known for her intelligence, and Natir, infamous as a schemer.

Over the vast grounds of the palace, a magnetic field was spread that gave the appearance of a gushing river. Just as in the fairytale of Sleeping Beauty, a thickly wooded forest had sprung up around the castle protecting it. The jungle housed many wild animals, including ferocious man-eating lions and tigers.

Similarities with tales in World mythology

Apart from the more obvious comparisons with the classical fairytale Sleeping Beauty, the story of Momal Rano shares similarities with the Greek mythological enchantresses the Sirens who lived on the island of Anthemoessa and lured sailors with their enchanting songs and made them crash their ships on their island’s rocky shore. Very few heroes were sharp enought to outwit these deadly mermaids. The mythological hero Ulysses stuffed wax in his sailors’ ears so they couldn’t hear the sirens’ singing and had himself tied to the ship’s mast. This story has parallels with Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey when Odysseus does the same. Similarly, in the mythological story of Jason and the Argonauts Orpheus, the legendary musician, plays his lyre, his lilting music drowning out the siren call.

The condition on becoming Princess Momal’s consort was set on a man being brave enough to enter the magical magnetic field and cross the jungle to enter the mahal and being clever enough to solve the puzzles devised by her wily sisters. Many princes hearing about the unmatchable princess tried but failed; they were robbed by the sisters and attendants and lost their way forever in an unsolvable maze of laybrinths and mirages much like in a House of Mirrors attraction at an amusement park. The princes were never heard from or found again. The more unattainable the princess and the more impregnable the castle, the more legendary and enticing became the prize.

Now men by nature love a challenge, want what they cannot have and are egotistical by nature, and kings are great men

The ruler of Amarkot, Hamir Soomro and his three ministers Seenharro Dhamachanni, Daunro Bhatyanni and the youngest Rano Mahendro, all Rajput Sodhas by caste, used to go horseback hunting in far flung areas of the kingdom. Adventurous and intrepid by nature, they would even cross the boundaries of the small state to neighbouring areas. One day, on a hunting trip, the four men encountered a bedraggled looking man to whom they did not disclose their identity. Grateful for their help and for sharing their food and water, the young man told them what had befallen him. He was a Kashmiri prince who, having heard the legend of Momal’s beauty and charm, got so inspired that he travelled all that distance to try his luck. Having finally fought through to the enchanted castle, the prince was so overcome by Momal’s beauty that her seven sisters and attendants successfully played all types of tricks on him, confused him with multiple puzzles and stripped him of his wealth. Finally, he ran for his life.

Now men by nature love a challenge, want what they cannot have and are egotistical by nature, and kings are great men. Hamir badly wanted to succeed where so many men before him had failed. Having extracted the whereabouts of Kak Mahal, he decided to conquer the castle and win the princess’s hand but failed to do so. Then, in turn, his ministers tried as well, and also failed.

The youngest, Rano was an extremely intelligent, courageous and persistent young man; when it was his turn at last to try his luck, he succeeded in cracking the code of the illusion and reaching the palace. Impressed with hi, Momal accepted him as her consort and that night they consummated their marriage. The next morning, Rano left Kak Mahal and returned to Amarkot to continue his day job of working for Hamir Soomro.

Rano kept visiting Momal every night and their feelings for each other kept growing. Though it was quite a distance between the two palaces, his journey was shortened as if by magic. King Hamir felt envious that his young minister had succeeded where he couldn’t—it was a matter of pride for him. So he forbade Rano from meeting Momal and had his guards keep a check on his nocturnal movements.

Being Hamir’s subject, Rano had no choice but to obey his ruler. But try as he would, his passion would not let him rest.  Stealthily, he would slip out at dusk on his camel and return before dawn. He hardly got any sleep, feverishly burning the candle at both ends, gripped by his passion.

Finally, one day the guards caught Rano sneaking off and Hamir had him thrown in the dungeon. After some time, thinking he had learnt his lesson and feeling guilty imprisoning such a loyal and trusty minister, Hamir released him on the condition that he would not meet Momal again. Not being able to resist her pull, Rano snuck off to meet Momal again.

Momal too had started pining for Rano. One night when he was late, thinking he had stood her up, the princess asked her sister Somal to disguise herself in men’s clothing and lie beside her in bed. She wanted to test Rano’s love for her by making him jealous. As was expected, when Rano saw the two sleeping together, he mistook Somal for Momal’s lover. Furious, he left Kak Mahal for Amarkot, leaving behind his cane. Momal woke up, saw the cane and realized what happened. Fearing that he had left her for good under the misapprehension that she had cheated on him, she lit a candle in her window to message to him to return. At last, when there was no sign of Rano, Momal was left with no choice but to set off to Amarkot in search of him. Disguised as a man, she set up residence in Amarkot and Rano recognized his princess.

When the two parted lovers met, Momal pleaded Rano for forgiveness for playing a thoughtless trick on him. But he remained obstinate in his resolve to punish and not forgive her. Out of desperation, Momal jumped in a raging fire to prove her love to him. Rano jumped in after her and both got consumed by the fire, the flames of their mutual passion purifying their bodies and souls.

Moral of the story

The love of Momal and Rano is an allegorical metaphor for the love of the soul and divine. The separation and longing between two lovers parallels the separation of the Divine and the human soul, the longing for the two to merge and dissolve into each other much like Momal and Rano were unified in the burning fire. The human soul longs for Allah, and the beloved renders himself up, caring nothing for the material world in his/her quest to seek union with divinity in the crazed love experienced by Sufis.

The women from this part of the world have, since time immemorial, been strong, out spoken and courageous; they have defied social norms and restrictions to become heroic figures in their own right whose tales have been retold by each generation. Amongst these tragic heroines is the story of Sahiban who openly and intrepidly defied convention and her family in her love for Mirza

By Mahlia Lone

The Bigger Picture

The romance of Mirza Sahiban was first written by the Punjabi Sufi Jat poet Hafiz Barkhudar Ranjha from Tahat Hazara, Sargodha in the latter half of the seventeenth century. Becoming a student in the household of a Hakeem family, he moved to Chitti Sheikhan, Sialkot where his shrine is now located. A few decades after him, the Sindhi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai included the romance in his tragic Seven Queens of Sindh. Hence, the story is shared by Punjabis and Sindhis equally.                  It’s interesting to note that none of these love stories portray the heroine passively pining or quietly accepting her fate while secretly clutching her forbidden love to her bosom as would be accepted culturally of Muslim women. The heroines play a central dynamic role within the story. Their mortal love gained the stature of worship of God as per Sufi tradition. They didn’t die meekly at the altar of love, but rebelled against the conventional norms of society, and sacrificed not only their body but also their soul for love.

The Punjabi Sufi poet Waris Shah wrote:

“Be thankful to God

For making love the root of the world

First he himself loved

Then he made the prophets

His beloved ones.”

Waris Shah, like other Sufi poets, started his poems with an invocation to Allah. Social and moral conventions seem trivial when viewed from the larger perspective of God and creation. The heroines rebelled against society’s double standards and may have been condemned by their friends and families but in the larger context, they were revered in folklore and by Sufi fakirs alike for taking a stand for what they believed in and for holding out for their right given to them by Islam to marry of their own choice.

The Story

Mirza Khan was the son of Chaudhry Wanjhal Khan, the leader of the Kharral tribe in Dhanbad, a village of Jaranwala, near Faisalabad. They belonged to the Jat community, the land owning but non-elitist farmers that originally hailed from the lower Indus valley of Sindh during Mohammed Bin Qasim’s conquest of Sindh in the 8th century and gradually migrated to the Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, etc.

“As Sahiban stepped out with a lungi tied

around her waist,

The nine angels died on

seeing her beauty

And God started counting

his last breath”

—Translated from

Shayer Pillo

Sahiban was the daughter of Sardar Mahni of Khewa, a village in Sial, near Jhang. As it happened, in the village of Khewa, Mahni’s mother had died at the time of his birth. A sympathetic and kindly neighbouring woman, who had recently given birth to a girl, took it upon herself to care for the motherless baby boy and breastfed him along with her daughter. The two children thus grew up as “milk” siblings, as was the custom of the day to call this special relationship.

In time, the girl, named Fateh Bibi, got married to Sardar Wanjal Kharral and moved a day’s journey on horseback away to the village of Dhanbad. The couple had a strong, healthy boy that they named Mirza. Fateh Bibi’s milk brother, Mahni Khan, Sardar of the Sial Jats, also got married and had a lovely daughter named Sahiban.

Mirza was sent as a boy to Khewa to study at his “milk uncle” Mahni’s house who made his daughter and her “cousin” study the Quran together. At first, Mirza didn’t notice how lovely Sahiban was since he was just a regular boy not into girls. But once puberty hit, the two teenagers began to feel attracted to each other.

One day, Mirza took a different path home walking back from school through a bazaar to while away the time.  Sahiban was at the vegetable seller’s stall buying squash. Mirza saw the vegetable seller absent mindedly weigh out extra squash transfixed by the teenage girl’s beauty. Mirza saw his playmate with new eyes and too was struck by her blossoming good looks.

Shayer Pillo described Sahiban’s beauty as such:

“As Sahiban stepped out with a lungi tied around her waist,

The nine angels died on seeing her beauty

And God started counting his last breath…”

Meanwhile, Mirza too was growing up to become a strong and athletic young man, an excellent horseman and highly skilled archer who never missed his target. He rode about the countryside on a powerful steed named Bakki, hunting deer and other animals with his bow and arrow. Sahiban, growing more beautiful each day, became aware of the dashing young man’s physical prime. Love sowed its seeds, which began to sprout and blossom. The two became inseparable, lost in their own world.

Sahiban was no meek miss but had a strong personality and knew how to stand up for herself. Once, upon mispronouncing Arabic, the maulvi (religious cleric) beat her with a chimmak (thin branch used for thrashing that stings). Instead of crying, the young girl admonished the maulvi for his unduly severe chastisement.

The youngsters idyllic days of blissful love were sadly not to last. When Sahiban’s parents found out about the love affair, they promptly sent Mirza back home to his parents, confined their willful, errant daughter to her room and arranged her marriage to Tahir Khan Chadhar who belonged to the same village.

The resourceful heroine sent a taunting message to her lover through Kammu, a Brahmin fakir who was travelling to Dhanbad: “You must come and decorate Sahiban’s hand with the marriage henna. This is the time you have to protect your self-respect and love, keep your promises, and sacrifice your life for truth.”

Her sarcastic words bit and worked their power on the hot blooded youth. Mirza’s sister pleaded with him not to leave for Khewa, as it was her marriage day and she wanted her brother to be present. His entire family beseeched him that the Sial brothers were very violent and he shouldn’t interfere where their family honour was concerned. But Mirza heeded no one. He was determined to rescue Sahiban from the forced marriage.

Before he left, his father told him that if he went, then he must be sure to return with Sahiban or else family “ki naak kat jai gee” (he would bring great dishonor to their family).  It had become a do or die mission. Left with no choice in the matter, Chaudhery Wanjhal grudgingly gave his beloved son his blessings to pursue his love.

“Chal, my Bakki,” (Let’s go) Mirza clicked his trusty steed and thundered towards his lady love in Khewa. He reached her house just as the mehndi ceremony was in full swing and, knowing the lay of the land, managed to steal her away. Pulling her on his horse beside himself, the two lovers galloped off.

When they had left her village far behind, and seeing no one in hot pursuit, Mirza stopped to rest, water and feed his spent horse. Having been riding for over a day now, he too lay down under the shade of a tree to rest for a few moments with his head in Sahiban’s lap and promptly fell asleep in exhaustion with Sahiban watching over him.

Sahiban just knew that her brothers would follow them.  Not wanting her hands to be dyed red with blood instead of henna, she desperately wanted to avoid a bloodbath. Knowing how skillful her lover was with his bow and arrow, she decided that she would be able to convince her brothers not to attack a defenseless Mirza. Thinking she would appeal to their love for her, she hastily broke Mirza’s arrow heads as he slept.

Back at the wedding party, Sahiban’s family couldn’t find her anywhere on the wedding day. Realizing she must have eloped with Mirza, her furious brothers and male cousins, accompanied by her jilted bridegroom, rode off on horseback brandishing swords in their hands. When they finally reached the lovers resting under the tree, they disregarded Sahiban who hadn’t given a jot for their izzat (honour).

Mirza awoke to an arrow whizzing past his throat shot by one of her brothers; he reached for his bow, but then spied all the broken arrows strewn about. Looking up at her in perplexity for an answer to what had transpired, he narrowly ducked as an arrow grazed his chest.

Sahiban threw herself on top of him, protectively covering his body with hers. Pushing her aside, her brothers reached them and ganged up on Mirza.

Though he valiantly tried his best to defend himself and Sahiban, Mirza was easily outnumbered. A blow from a sword on the back of his head ended his fragile life. Seeing her lover drop down dead, Sahiban in anguish picked up the same sword and pierced her body, ending her own life.

“When the sheet tears,

It can be mended with a patch

How can you darn the torn sky?

If the husband dies,

Another one can be found,

But how can one live if one’s lover dies?”

—From a folk song

A Punjabi and Sindhi folk tale

By Mahlia Lone

One of the four timeless tragic Punjabi romances is the story of Sohni Mahiwal set in Gujarat in the 18th century (late Mughal period). The love affair to melt the hearts of countless generations grew between Sohni, potter Tulla’s beautiful and artistic daughter belonging to the Kumhar caste (generational potters) and her Uzbek migrant trader turned buffalo herder, Izzat Baig, nicknamed Mahiwal. Strategically positioned on the River Chenab, Gujarat a the time was an important caravanserai on the trade route between Central Asia and India.

A Sindhi version of the story Sohni Mehar is attributed to the Sindhi Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai and was immortalized in his poetic compendium or collection called Shah Jo Risalo, written in pure Sindhi replete with Sufi symbolism. It’s one of the seven Sindhi tragic romances known as Seven Heroines. In this version, Sohni belonged to the Jat tribe living on the western bank of the Indus River, while Dam, Sohni’s husband lived in Samtia on the river’s eastern bank. During the marriage procession over the river, Mehar gave Sohni a drink of milk and the two fell in the love at first sight.

Let’s return to the Punjabi story popularized in films. Tulla created the most beautiful and sturdy of earthenware pottery painted with lovely designs. As his lovely daughter grew up, she took to painting the pots while her father crafted and baked them. One day, a merchant caravan coming from Bukhara and heading to Delhi stopped en route in Gujarat. A young and rich trader came to inspect Tulla’s famous pottery. There he spotted Sohni with her head bent over a small pot for sweets, using a fine hair brush to paint the patterns meticulously with tiny strokes. Izzat Baig fell in love with her at first sight and desired to buy the pot she was cradling.

Tulla replied that that pot needed to be baked to make it resilient before it could be purchased.  The young man returned the next day for it and kept returning every day after that.  He was so smitten that when the caravan set off for Delhi, he decided to stay behind. Soon his money ran out, and Tulla hired him as a water buffalo herder.  Izzat Baig began to be known as Mahiwal, the buffalo herder.

Deluged with positive attention from the lovesick youth, Sohni too had fallen in love. Whenever he was late, she got depressed but as soon as she would see him coming up the road, she felt elated.  Pining in each other’s even momentary absence, the two lovers began to meet in secret.

As we know, at the time it was strictly forbidden for girls to marry out of their caste. When rumours about Sohni Mahiwal spread in the village, her family hastily arranged her wedding to a well to do pottery merchant who travelled long distances to sell the Gujarati potters’ wares.

On the day of the barat (wedding night), Sohni was piled into a doli (palanquin) and carried off forcibly to her husband’s neighbouring house.

Grief-stricken, Mahiwal wanted to be as close to his lady love as possible and started living in a small mud hut across the river from Sohni’s house. Now that she was married, he still didn’t want to leave for his land and his previous life, believing that the earth under Sohni’s feet was his dargah (shrine). He renounced all worldly life and started to live the ascetic life of a fakir (hermit) just as Sufi fakirs do in their love for Allah.

At night, Sohni would sit by a window  and look at her lover sitting outside his hut across the river.  When her husband left for a long trip to sell pottery, one night she stole out of a house and decided to cross the river. Because she didn’t know how to swim, she turned one of her father’s sturdy garrha (water vessel) upside down to aid her to stay afloat as she crossed the river. Without the pot to keep her afloat as she kicked her feet, she would have gotten swept away by the gushing river.  Seeing her risk her life just to meet him, Mahiwal swam and brought her to his side of the river.

Tomb Of Sohni In Shahdadpur, Sindh

Now swimming makes you hungry. Mahiwal caught a fish and roasted it on an open fire to feed his famished girl. Feeding the soul and the body, their bliss was complete.

Sohni Mahiwal continued to meet like this for many nights. Their love madness was growing exponentially. One night Mahiwal hadn’t been able to catch a fish. In a gruesome act of self-mutilation, he carved out a piece of his thigh, roasted it and fed it to his Sohni. When she consumed his flesh, she could taste that she wasn’t eating fish and spying Mahiwal’s black blood soaked dhoti (he had a wrapped a black one so she wouldn’t see the blood) was struck by how crazy in love with her he was.

That night Sohni’s sister in law who lived in the same house discovered her nocturnal secret. Shocked, she went and told Sohni’s mother and mother in law. Sohni’s mother felt ashamed at her daughter’s scandalous behavior. For a Muslim girl to run out of her husband’s house every night to meet her lover at his house was unthinkable. But the girl had become too headstrong and rebellious to heed her mother’s warning.

Sohni’s sister in law decided to take matters in her own hands. She felt she owed it to her brother to save his honour. She devised a plot to make it impossible for Sohni to cross the river and replaced her garrha with one that hadn’t been baked as yet, figuring that it would crumble as soon as it touched the water. Sohni would not dare to cross the river without the aid of a float.

Unaware of the fate that lay before her, the next night, Sohni took the unbaked garrha and began to wade across the swift river.  When she was a quarter of the way across, the garrha began to disintegrate in the water. She called out to Mahiwal for help. Mahiwal jumped in and swam towards her, but his leg started bleeding. At the halfway point in the river, he reached Sohni whose head was bobbling up and down as she thrashed in the water, her arms and legs flailing desperately. Weakened by the loss of blood, his body wasn’t strong enough to swim with her against the current. While holding on to each other, they both drowned in the Chenab River.

Mere mortals could not tear apart the lovers joined by God who reunited them in death, forever to lie in each other’s arms.

Legend has it that 75 km. from Hyderabad, Sohni Mahiwal’s graves lie in a tomb located at Shahpur Chakar Road, Shahdadpur. The shrine is visited by lovers who pray for their loves to be restored to them.

For a Muslim girl to run out of her husband’s house every night to meet her lover at his house was unthinkable

By Mahlia Lone

You cannot separate the story of Heer Ranjha from that of the author who immortalized their love in Punjabi verse, Waris Shah. The Sayyidzada was an eighteenth century Sufi poet belonging to the Chishti order who settled in Pakpattan where he is buried. Perhaps in part inspired by his youthful unrequited love for a girl, Bhag Bhari, in 1766 he wrote the intricately detailed and lengthy poem replete with realistic and charming depictions of Punjabi village life set within the greater political situation of the day. In addition, the language he used is considered a veritable “treasure-trove of Punjabi phrases, idioms and sayings” passed down to coming generations. Last but not least, Waris Shah elevated the story of romantic love into “a poetic expression of the mystical love and unrelenting quest of the human towards God,” in the Sufi tradition. Like in all fine art and literature, his masterpiece in verse works seamlessly on several different level.

Historical Background

It is widely believed that the real life lovers of Heer Ranjha lived towards the end of the Lodhi dynasty (an Afghan dynasty that ruled the Delhi Sultanate from 1451 to 1526) before Shehnshah Babur supported by Rana Sanga, the Raja of Mewar, and head of the Hindu Rajput Confederacy in Rajputana, defeated Ibrahim Lodi’s 1,000 elephant and 100,000 thousand strong men massive army at the Battle of Panipat, using muskets and artillery never before seen in the Indian Subcontinent.

The story

Born into a wealthy Kharal Jatt family belonging to the Sial tribe in Sial Sharif, Jhang, Heer (named diamond for her astonishingly good looks) grew up to be a beautiful girl. Dheedo, a Jatt of the Ranjha tribe, hailed from the village of Takht Hazara (old name Khajjiyan Wala) by the Chenab River. The youngest of four brothers, he was spoilt and cossetted being his father’s pet. Though his older brothers were kept hard at work toiling on their ancestral agricultural lands, Dheedo led a life of ease. He whiled away his time playing his bansuri (flute).

Trouble began when Dheedo’s father died, leaving his sons to divide up his land at will between them. His brothers resented Dheedo’s idle ways and thought him a fool, so they gave him barren land and their wives refused to give him food. Ranjha tried but failed to work his land, fought with his family and left his village to find his luck elsewhere.

One night, Ranjha took shelter in a masjid (mosque), and started playing his or flute to help him sleep. Soon the villagers gathered round him listening to the melodious music. The maulvi (cleric) admonished him to stop playing his flute, saying he was desecrating the mosque with the haram (not sanctioned by Islam) music. Ranjha, as he began to be known as, replied boldly that his music was not a sin compared to the hypocrisy of the so-called holy men: “You and your kind, with your beards, try to pretend to be saints, but your actions are that of the devil. You run around after women in mosques… you are like curses clinging to the house of God.” The mullah was seething but the villagers refused to back him up, as from in their hearts they agreed with Ranjha. Dumbfounded, the maulvi let him stay the night if he left the next day.

In the morning, Ranjha wandered in the direction of Jhang. Spying a large, verdant field with lush crops and cows grazing, he decided to ask the landlord for work. The owner was Chaudhry Chuchak, chief of the Sayyal clan, who hired Ranjha and housed him in the stables as a hired hand. Heer, the Chaudhry’s fair daughter, had a full moon-shaped face considered pretty at the time, shiny eyes that sparkled like precious gems, jasmine white teeth, ruby red lips and a nose as straight and sharp as Imam Hussain’s sword point. She was delicately built, yet strong and fit.

From Love to Love is a postmodern, subjective short film , available for viewing on YouTube, about a girl who discovers the tale of Heer Ranjha and starts to question what love is as portrayed in contemporary media.

The 1st Century BCE Tilla Jogian Hindu Temple And Monatic Complex
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“As a film director and a woman what pulled me towards the tale was the character of Heer, a girl living in the 16th century challenging traditions of a patriarchal society. Through her love for Ranjha, she stands against capitalism and class system prevalent in Punjab at the time. Even now, Heer is an archetype of a strong, resilient woman who stand against the status quo and epitomizes purity of love, often translated as Sufism. Heer’s tomb in Jhang, is still a symbol of love, devotion and spirituality,” said Sayeda Alina Ali, documentary filmmaker based in Lahore and an MA Graduate in Cultural & Creative Industries from King’s College London. She is an Assistant Professor at the NCA.

Heer checked out Ranjha. He had long hair, not an ounce of fat on him and was musical to boot. She was smitten. Both were at the age when one is ripe for falling in love. Always in proximity with each other and easily meeting up attended or in seclusion, “their love flourished, as did the crops.”

Years went by swiftly, with the two lovers enraptured with each other and no one discovered their feelings for each other, till one fateful day Kaido, Heer’s uncle, spotted them together canoodling. Incensed, that family respect and pride was at stake, he tattled to her parents who confronted their errant daughter. Though seemingly respectful towards them, she was a resolute and strong willed girl; she was determined that she was in love with Ranjha, their hired hand, and only he was the only man for her.

Not knowing what to do, Heer’s parents called the qazi who judged  village issues according to Sharia law. He reminded her that as a righteous Muslim girl it behooved her to respect her parents’ wishes and their honor.

Still Heer was adamant, saying that just as drugs and alcohol cannot be taken away from addicts, Ranjha could not be pried apart from her. Only Allah had that power. Holding up her hand, scarred with an iron burn, she said, “True love is like a mark that a hot iron burns onto the skin or like a spot on a mango. They never go away.”

“Ranjha, Ranjha kardi ve main aape ranjha hoyi

Ranjha, Ranjha saddo ni mainu heer na aakho koy” —A. R. Rahman

(Repeating Ranjha, Ranjha all time I myself have become Ranjha.

No one should call me Heer, call me Dheedho Ranjha.”)

Heer’s parents arranged her marriage to Saida Khairra without consulting their headstrong daughter. At the nikkah ceremony when Heer was asked by the qazi if she accepted this proposal, she defiantly replied in the negative. Frightened by the family dishonor she would bring them, her father went ahead and signed the nikaah papers anyway without his daughter’s consent. Heer declared that she was already married to Ranjha, with the nikaah witnessed by Allah and His prophets. But she was forcibly carried off by her relatives to Saida’s house in another village.

Hearing of this, instead of taking action, Ranjha started wandering aimlessly, distraught because he could not bear to think of Heer in another man’s arms. Reaching a wooded area forested with olive, pine, and Acacia trees, he met the famous Shaiva Jogi (ascetic) Gorakhnath, the founder of the Kanphata (pierced ear) sect of jogis at Tilla Jogian. The was the site of the 1st century BCE Hindu temple, monastic complex and sacred pond created, according to Hindu mythology, from the teardrops of the Hindu god Shiva and was located in the Salt Range near Bhera, Sargodha, in proximity to the Rohtas Fort, and the Katas Raj Temples.

Giving up worldly life, Ranjha too became a jogi and covered his body with ash, had several ear piercings and holding a begging bowl, went from village to village reciting “Allah hoo” and begging for food and alms. One day, he knocked unknowingly on the door of Saida’s house. Sehti, Heer’s sister-in-law, answered the door and saw the handsome, young jogi. Sehti had heard Heer’s entire story and believed that her brother had sinned by marrying an unwilling girl. Performing or participating a nikkah without the ready consent of either party she believed was haram (not sanctioned by Islam). So Sehti took it upon herself to right her brother’s wrong and help Heer escape with Ranjha.

Despite her best intentions, unfortunately, the two lovers were caught escaping by the Raja’s men who took them to their lord. The Raja appointed a qazi to deal with the trangressing lovers and the qazi decided to send Heer back to her husband.

Ranjha cursed the villagers in his fury, warning that Allah would not stand for injustice. Lo and behold the town caught fire. The townspeople and the Raja got scared of the wrath of Allah and allowed Heer Ranjha to get married and leave town together.

Heer’s parents acquiesced to the Raja’s order. But humiliated at their loss of face, Kaidu and his co-conspirators plotted to kill Heer. Ranjha returned to Takht Hazara to fetch his family for his barat (bridegroom’s wedding procession). The Sayals returned to Jhang with Heer to prepare for the wedding.

On the night of Heer Ranjhas marriage, the Sayal clan presented a basket of poisoned laddus (lentil sweetballs) to the newlyweds. Happy that her family had finally relented and had blessed her union with her beloved, just as Heer bit into a laddu, she fell down dead. Realizing what had happened; Ranjha took the half-eaten poisoned laddu from her limp hand and stuffed it into his mouth, dying next to his beloved Heer. The star crossed lovers were buried in Heer’s hometown, Jhang. Their tomb continues to be visited by sad souls seeking to marry their beloved.

The deeper meaning that Waris Shah conveyed in Ranjha’s search for Heer as a jogi was man’s quest to find and understand God. Just when he thought he had finally attained her upon the eve of their marriage, she escapes his hands through death. It signifies that the moment you think you understand Allah, your faith will be tested. It’s an unending journey to a higher self and greater undersanding.

The version with the happy ending popular in India

“According to Professor Indu Banga of the Department of History, Punjab University, in Chandigarh, India” wrote S. Conceicao “the earliest ‘kissa’ (story) in Punjabi was that of Heer-Ranjha, written by Damodar Gulati in 1605 during Akbar’s reign. His work was rewritten by Ahmad Gujjar in the 1680s and then by Shahjahan Muqbil in the second quarter of the 18th century and again by Waris Shah who built upon Muqbil’s work and the status of a classic was accorded to his 1766 composition.”

The following story has been concised by S. Conceicao and is based on folklore, transcribed from an oral rendition of the Jatts from the Patiala State, collected by R.C. Temple and published in the second volume of Legends of the Punjab in the 1880s:

Before she met Ranjha, the strong personality of Heer was illustrated by an incident. Ludan is an old ferryman employed by a landlord named Sardar Noora from the Sambal community to look after his fleet of boats, including his brand new stately river barge. One day without the landlord’s permission Ludan took some men aboard the barge. Noora was furious and publicly upbraided old Ludan who felt wrongfully disgraced after years of faithful service. When the Sardar was away from, in revenge Ludan took the flotilla and “sailed through the night like a vagabond and kept crying, ‘Is there a lord, born of a lady who can take me into his fold?’ The gentlemen heard him; silence was the response as nobody uttered a word. Why to enkindle the fire, why to start fresh feuds! It is inappropriate to do battle and get people killed for this flotilla. Hearing of Noora no one let the sailor drop anchor—.

Heer along with a bevy of girls hears the cry and acts like a mighty gracious queen, ‘cast your anchor along the side of our bank, you will not lack anything here. Who is this monster Noora, the owner of the vessels? No one can shelter you except me, the daughter of Chuchak.’”

Fearless, Heer gave the old man refuge. Sardar Noora was enraged at this incident. Summoning his friends and servants to his aid, he set off to catch and punish Ludan. On refusal of Heer’s father to return the boats and Ludan, Noora conducted a raid and to his utter surprise found females led by Heer ready to confront his party, which proved to be an even bigger disgrace for him.

When Heer’s brothers found out about the incident out they asked her in concern, “If a mishap had befallen you why didn’t you send for us?”

Without batting an eyelid she answered, “What was the need to send for all of you? Emperor Akbar had not attacked us.” This was the strength of character of the indomitable young Heer who acted defiantly in a repressive, patriarchal society.

In the story, having left his home, when Ranjha reached the banks of the River Chenab, the sun had begun to set. He asked Ludan to take him aboard and row him to the city of Jhang on the other side. But Ludan refused, thinking Ranjha was a thief who planned to rob him. Ranjha sat down on the river bank, and started to play a melancholy tune on his flute. Moved to pity, and cajoled by the young man, Ludan’s heart softened and he agreed to ferry him across.

Ranjha boarded and made himself comfortable on a luxurious red and white couch. Ludan admonished him saying the couch belonged to Heer, but Ranjha didn’t pay heed and soon fell sleep on it. The next morning, Heer and her girlfriends arrived at the river like “a hailstorm sweeps over a field.” Noticing Ranjha asleep on her couch, Heer blamed Ludan and threatened to have Ranjha beaten for his insolence. But when Ranjha opened his lovely eyes, Heer changed her mind. They spent the rest of the day together and Ranjha told Heer his life story. By the end of the day, Heer swore to be Ranjha’s forever.

The next day Heer brought Ranjha to her father, Mihr Chuchak, saying “Father, I have found someone to herd the buffaloes.” Her father was skeptical because Ranjha with his beautiful long oiled hair and smooth skin looked more like a rich man’s son than like a common herder. He hired him regardless to please his daughter. Every day, Heer brought Ranjha food that her family ate: Milk, bread, rice and sweets. They would spend as much of the day together alone in the forest as they could. Heer neglected her spinning and other household chores, and hardly saw her girlfriends.

The villagers started speculating about the mysterious buffalo herder who Mihr Chuchak’s daughter took food to and who herself oiled his long hair with a quart of ghee. The gossip reached the ears of Kaidu, Heer’s uncle, who began to lurk in the forest, trying to catch the two together.

One day Kaidu found Ranjha alone in the forest, and came up to him, pretending to be a beggar. Ranjha, remembering his days on the road when he, too, had to beg for food and shelter, gave Kaidu half a pastry, which Heer had made for him. Kaidu took the pastry and brought it before the village elders as proof of Heer’s disobedience and wanton behavior. “I have seen Heer and Ranjha in the forests, and I tell no lies. Ranjha will take away Heer, and there will be shame to the Siyals,” he said showing his proof.

The elders went to Chuchak and told him about Kaidu’s accusation. Believing in his daughter’s innocence and moral rectitude, Chuchak furiously refused to believe his brother in law, “Kaidan is a talebearer and a liar. He chases moths all day.”

Kaidan then went to his sister, Heer’s mother, urging her to use her influence to ward off the scandal. Chuchak finally called Ranjha to him one night after he had returned with the buffaloes dismissed him from his service.

“For twelve years, I have tended your buffalo and now you turn me away without wages!” Ranjha threw his staff down, turned on his heel and left.

They say you can never please everyone. The villagers now started criticizing Chuchak for dismissing Ranjha without even paying him his  wages. Heer was also crying inconsolably. Chuchak relented and took Ranjha back into his service and before 70 Khans and 72 nobles Chuchak betrothed Heer to Ranjha, saying: “As long as thou shalt live, she is thine, and when thou art dead she will not deny it. If anyone tears Heer from thee I will bear witness against him in the Court of God.”

Heer’s mother and uncle were not appeased however and brought Heer before the qazi who reminded her of her duty to respect her family and honour their standing in the village. But Heer refused to give up her buffalo herder, citing, “As wine-bibbers cannot desert the bottle, as opium-eaters cannot be without their drug, so I cannot live without Ranjha.”

The qazi finally told the Siyals that Heer was too stubborn, and to avoid further scandal they should marry her off right away. The Siyals called a clan meeting. Chuchak’s decision to let his daughter be married to the herder was overruled. Even if the buffalo herder was actually a Ranjha of Takht Hazara, he was from too lowly a family to marry a Siyal. Instead, the family decided to marry Heer off to Saida, of the Khera clan.

On the day of the wedding ceremony Heer refused to say, “Kabul hai” (I accept) when asked if she gave her permission for the nikkah to be performed by the maulvi. Instead the bold girl cried out that she had been betrothed to Ranjha and that their union had been blessed by Heaven and the saints. ”Muhammad (PBUH) formed the marriage procession and Brahma set up the posts of the marriage canopy. The angels sang songs of rejoicing and fairies brought the henna. The Panj Pir (Five Saints) performed the ceremony and the Khizar was the witness.”

Not heeding her cries, Heer’s parents signed the marriage papers, and the Kheras took Heer back to Saida’s house in Rangpur.

A heartbroken Ranjha had returned to his native village of Takht Hazara, but couldn’t forget his lady love. So he set off to search for her. On the way, he crossed Tilla Jogian, the temple where the jogi Gorakh Nath lived. Bowing before him, Ranjha asked to become a jogi, but Gorakh Nath doubted that Ranjha had the humble nature and ascetism of a true jogi. Ranjha stole the jogi’s conch with which he called his followers for their evening meal and buried it, committing it to the care of Mother Earth and Khizar. Without the conch, Gorakh Nath couldn’t summon his jogis and feared they would keep waiting for their call and thus starve. To prevent this, Gorakh Nath agreed to let Ranjha become a jogi. Ranjha dug up the conch and blew it, once to the east and once to the west, to summon the jogis to their meal. Gorakh Nath rubbed Ranjha with ashes, shaved his head, pierced his ears, and gave him a begging bowl. He told Ranjha, “Call the young women ‘sister’ and the married women ‘mother.’ Beg throughout the city and bring no shame on the profession of begging.”

Ranjha threw away the begging bowl and earrings and rubbed off the ashes. He didn’t want to call Heer either his mother or his sister.

“I was right about you!” exclaimed the guru.

Ranjha laughed at him, “We Jatts are cunning — we use all means to get what we want. What can I do with a beggar’s bowl, whose heart is set only on plowing? How can I call her ‘mother’ for whose sake I would become a jogi?”

At first, the guru was angry, but soon he realized that Ranjha was deeply and desperately in love. Moved to pity, he blessed him and prayed that he would achieve his heart’s desire.

Gorakh Nath sent his crow to search for Heer. The crow flew from town to town, from house to house, until it arrived in Rangpur and found Heer, wasting away in Saida Khera’s house. The crow talked to Heer and told her of Ranjha’s faithfulness to her. Then the crow returned to Tilla, bringing news of Heer’s whereabouts to Ranjha. He set off for Rangpur, dressed as a jogi, begging at each village. In Rangpur, all the women flocked to the beautiful young jogi and poured out their troubles to him. They complained about their in-laws, husbands, neighbors, etc. Ranjha listened sympathetically and patiently and counseled the women. He also kept looking for Khera’s pretending to be begging for alms. When Heer’s sister-in-law Sehti answered the door, she saw Heer’s and Ranjha’s reactions when they saw each other. Putting two and two together, she agreed to help them if they would help her escape and join her lover, a Balochi camel driver named Murad.

Together the two wily women made a plan. Heer cut her foot as the two women walked in the garden, and pretended that she had been bitten by a snake. Sehti told the family that Ranjha was a wise jogi who could cure her. Saida brought him to their house and Ranjha pretended to cure Heer of her pretend snakebite. The couple planned their escape. Sehti asked to go with them, and begged Ranjha to help her find Murad. Ranjha blew on his conch. The sound reached far and wide. Murad heard it as he slept. He dreamt that Sehti had called him, asking him to come to her. When he woke up, Murad set out at once for Rangpur.

The following Sunday night in June, the three escaped and met Murad who put Sehti on his camel and crossed the River Chenab. Heer and Ranjha fled to Qabula, the city where Raja Adali ruled.

When the next morning their escape was discovered, the Khera men set off to find them. Murad and Sehti had made it safely back to Murad’s Balochi tribe who drove back their Khera pursuers. Heer and Ranjha weren’t so lucky however. The Kheras captured them and beat Ranjha unmercifully. They brought him before Raja Adali, demanding that Ranjha be put to death.

Heer’s uncle Kaidu testified against Ranjha, while her father Chuchak testified on his behalf pleading that he had betrothed Heer to Ranjha, “I tell no lies. Before 70 Khans and 72 nobles I gave Heer to Ranjha. Ranjha grazed my buffaloes for 12 years and took no pay at all from me. My brethren thrust him away, and seizing Heer married her to the Kheras. If there be a lie in this ask Heer: She is in thy Court. If there be a lie in this may I be punished in the Court of God.”

Raja Adali called Heer to the stand. When she walked into the court, unveiled, Adali saw how beautiful she was and said to Ranjha: “Thou too art a liar: Heer was first of all betrothed to me!”

He took Heer to his palace to make her his. Heer prayed to God for protection. When Adali came to her bed that night, he burst into flames. But he managed to save his life by dousing himself with water.

Meanwhile, Ranjha played his flute in supplication to heaven. “The sound of the flute reached Mecca and 70 saints came from there. The sound of the flute reached Multan and the five saints came from there. The sound of the flute also brought the Mother, the Goddess Durga, on her lion to Ranjha. At the sound of the flute came Sakhi Sarwar the Warrior, galloping up on his mare Kakki. At the sound of the flute came Hanuman, the leader, with his army. The army cut down the garden of Adali and left not a tree remaining….All the saints collected took burning logs and set fire to Adali’s city. Burning went Adali into the reservoirs and water was thrown over the people. And when the water reached the fire it blazed forth twofold!”

The Raja’s advisors told him to return Heer to Ranjha and save the city. Raja Adali sent for Ranjha and agreed to marry him to Heer. In gratitude, Ranjha blew on his conch, and the goddess Indra made it rain. Raja Adali himself gave Heer a way to Ranjha, and the entire city attended the wedding.

Ranjha married his Heer because God willed it. Raja Adali stopped taking bribes and became a just ruler. All the people in Adali’s city lived in happiness. The two lovers rode away into the sunrise, and (like Sehti and Murad) lived happily ever after.

You can’t be a South Asian and have missed the massive coverage of Sonam Kapoor’s glitzy wedding held recently in Mumbai that trended on social media as #Sonamkishaadi. You may have already seen the photos and dance clips, but here is a detailed account fo her love story with her husband Anand Ahuja

By Mahlia Lone

It seems the last name of Kapoor is a lucky one to have for Bollywood acting families; it opens studio doors, ensuring success and longevity of career. During Partition, Surinder Kapoor who belonged to a Punjabi Hindu family from Pre Partition Peshawar was invited by his distant cousin the actor Prithviraj Kapoor to migrate to Bombay and join the burgeoning Hindi film industry. Using his family connections, in 1950 Surinder became secretary to film star Geeta Bali who subsequently married Prithviraj’s middle born son Shammi Kapoor in 1955. Geeta kept acting after her marriage unlike most Kapoor bahus (daughters in law) and in her gratitude to her secretary she helped Surinder become a film producer. He got his big break as a producer when Rajesh Khanna who was a superstar of the 70s consented to do his film as a favour. He said, “Rajesh Khanna who played the title-role in Shehzada (which became a hit) was truly of a princely disposition. He started shooting for me without ever discussing the price, saying that we could settle that once the film is made, he said and made the banner S. K. International Films become an acknowledged company.”

In the’80s Surinder produced a string of successful films with his middle son Anil in the lead, such as Hum Paanch, Woh Saat Din, Loafer, Judaai, Sirf Tum, Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai, Pukar, and No Entry. His eldest son Boney learnt the ropes alongside his father and carried on his legacy as a film producer. Boney was famously married to the late South Indian born superstar Sridevi (see Memorable Romance GT March 16th 2018) and has two budding actress daughters, Jhanvi and Khushi and son Arjun Kapoor from a previous marriage. Arjun’s mother and Boney’s first wife, the late Mona Shourie, who died of cancer, was CEO of Future Studios, the largest ready-to-shoot, fully furnished, indoor shooting studio in Mumbai. The youngest of the three brothers, Sanjay is also an actor but never made it big as a lead.

This is the illustrious Bollywood film family that Sonam was born into in 1985 in the refugee neighbourhood of Chembur, Mumbai to Anil and his wife Sunita, a former model, and the daughter of a well off State Bank of India executive. Anil moved his family to the upmarket suburb of Juhu when Sonam was just a month old where the couple had their younger daughter Rhea, now a film producer, and actor son, Harshvardhan. The kids were educated at the Arya Vidya Mandir school in Juhu. This chain of English medium schools was attended by many Bollywood stars such as Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Sonakshi Sinha, etc.

Sonam was a “naughty” and “carefree” girl who would pick on the boys, was sporty, playing rugby and basketball, as well as being a good dancer, training in Kathak, classical music and Latin dance. At 15, she took up a waitressing job that only lasted a week. A heavy teenager, she recalled, “I had every issue related to weight that I could have. I was unhealthy, I had bad skin, and I had hair growing on my face!” Then it was discovered that she is diabetic (she started taking an insulin injection everyday) plus has polycystic ovaries that causes hormonal imbalance because of which pregnancies are recommended at an earlier age.

Raj & Krishan Kapoor With Surinder, His Wife & 4 Year Old Boney Kapoor At A Studio Film Mahurat (auspicious Inauguration Ceremony)

Sonam was sent to Singapore to the United World College of South East Asia to help her get into a Western college. After which she got admission at the average University of East London in Stratford, but dropped out soon after. So it’s safe to assume that Sonam was not at all academically inclined.

In Singapore Sonam met with family friend Rani Mukherji who at the time was working on the film Black (2005) opposite Amitabh Bachchan, a casting coup. Sonam decided she wanted to work as a crew member on the set as she had aspirations to become a writer/director. Anil asked the film’s director Sanjay Leela Bhansali to mentor his daughter so Sonam became his assistant director.

Star kids are a saleable commodity in the Indian film industry drawing crowds to cinemas out of curiosity

Sunita Sunit Star kids are a saleable commodity in the Indian film industry drawing crowds to cinemas out of curiosity. Bhansali offered Sonam the lead in his next film, Saawariya (2007) opposite another star kid,  Ranbir Kapoor, son of Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, on the condition that she lose a lot of weight. At the time, Sonam at 5’ 96” weighed 180 lb. She spent the next two years overhauling her diet and fitness regime and lost a total of 77 lb. by jogging, doing yoga and playing squash. In addition, she studied acting with renowned coaches.

The debut movie of two star kids was hyped up but, despite being the first Bollywood movie to receive a North American release by a Hollywood studio, and having established stars Rani Mukherjee and Salman Khan in supporting roles, the movie, loosely based on Russian literary giant Fyodor Dostoevsky’s short story White Nights, fared badly at the box office. Sonam and Ranbir who were distant cousins had been hanging out during during filming drifted apart. The young hot shot actor started dating another statuesque beauty Deepika, also a new entry in the film world.

On a side note, two more young actors also part of Sonam’s family are: paternal cousin  Mohit Marwah, and last but certainly not least her maternal second cousin, Ranveer Singh who is now engaged to Deepika. As they say, it’s all in the family.

Next, Sonam chose the role of an aspiring singer opposite her idol veteran actress Waheeda Rehman and Abhishek Bachchan in the drama Delhi-6 (2009), another commercial failure. Though she received some positive reviews with critic Rajeev Masand stating that Sonam was “a firecracker, instinctive and uninhibited in what isn’t even a conventional female lead.”

Finally the next year, she had her first hit with I Hate Luv Storys. During filming the actress was briefly dating the movie’s director Punit Malhotra, who is the nephew of famous Indian designer, Manish Malhotra. Despite her limited success as a box office draw, that year, Sonam became the first Indian actress to appear on The Hollywood Reporter’s “Next Generation: Asia Class”, a list of newcomers in film.

Now Sonam is a huge Jane Austen fan. With her younger sister Rhea at the helm as producer, the two sisters decided to remake the Hollywood romcom Clueless in Hindi, a cinematic adaptation of Jane Austen’s comedy of errors novel Emma set in modern day. But the resulting movie Aisha (2010) made under the Anil Kapoor Films Company banner failed to leave much of an impact and couldn’t draw in the masala crowd.

Sonam, however, had quickly emerged as a style icon for younger women and got several ad endorsements, including the lucrative and high profile L’Oreal campaigns. She represented the global brand for the first time at the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival in 2011 and became an instant internationally recognized Bollywood style queen.

After a few more misses, the romantic drama Raanjhanaa (2013) marked a turning point in Sonam’s career. She played the role of a Muslim student pulled into politics after the murder of her Sikh boyfriend. Determined to make her role work, she prepared intensely for her part, by spending time with students, and practising with the Jawaharlal Nehru University theatre club. At this time in her personal life, Sonam was set up with entrepreneur/model Sahir Berry by Rhea on a social media network. The two dated for a few months before breaking up. It seemed she wasn’t clicking with anyone.

Rhea and Anil produced the dramedy Khoobsurat, (2014) in which Sonam, who played a physiotherapist, starred opposite Fawad Khan, who played an Indian prince. The movie was a modest success in India, and did especially well in the international market.

That same year, Sonam was introduced by her stylist Pernia Qureshi to fellow Delhi-ite Anand Ahuja. Pernia became friends with Sonam when she designed costumes for Aisha. Incidentally, Pernia’s mother, Nasreen was born and bred in Lahore and worked as an actress here before moving to New Delhi when she married wealthy Indian Muslim meat exporter, Moin Qureshi.

Back to Anand Ahuja. Anand belongs to a merchant class Khatri Punjabi Sikh family and is third generation wealthy. His grandfather Harish Ahuja is the owner of the country’s largest export house Shahi Exports that exports garment and has an annual turnover of over $450 million or INR3,000 crores. Shahi Exports supplies garments to Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, Esprit, Wal-Mart, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger among others. In 2015, Harish Ahuja bought a 9,000 square feet sprawling bungalow built on a 3,170 square yard plot on Prithviraj Road in central Delhi–where a lot of the top industrialists live–for Rs. 173 crore, which is now worth Rs. 300 crores according to India Times.

Anand was born to Sunil and Beena Ahuja in 1983 in New Delhi and grew up in the family house in the posh Jor Bagh locality of Delhi with his younger brothers, Anant and Amit but since then the family has moved to the exclusive Golf Links gated community.

After doing his high school from the American Embassy School in New Delhi, Anand graduated in economics and international relations from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2010, he went to Wharton to pursue MBA, but did not complete his degree. After interning in Duetsch Bank, he worked as an assistant buyer at a Macy’s Inc. store owned by his uncle, and then as a product manager at Last Sportswear and Amazon.com in Seattle. Getting a good knowledge of the business, he decided to return to India and set up his own clothing brand, backed by his family of course. He set up clothing brand Bhane with a showroom in New Delhi’s upscale Meherchand Market. After he started dating Sonam, the actress and her siblings were spotted wearing the brand at a number of events to help bring it publicity.

Sonam and Anand hit it off almost immediately. Just a month into their relationship, he popped the question to her, which took her a few months’ consideration to answer. But the two lovebirds were not ready to settle down quite as yet. Though she remained tightlipped about her relationship, photos floated about of Anand and Sonam together at public as well as family events and holidays abroad.

The 5’ 9” tall weighing 143 lbs. muscular basketball playing and gym honed guy with the well-built chest and dark brown eyes was well dressed to boot. Escorting her to events, he was content to stay discreetly in the background. Rather than living off her reflected star wattage, he focused on starting India’s first multi-brand sneaker boutique, VegNonVeg that retails international footwear brands, like Nike and Adidas, and lesser known but cult labels like the Japanese Visvim. Meanwhile Sonam was hard at work solidifying her career.

Her next movie Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015) with Salman Khan became one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films of all time. Though she was praised by film critic Rachit Gupta for her credible performance as a royal, she got the dubious honour of winning a Golden Kela Award for Worst Actress. She followed this up by appearing in the British band Coldplay’s music video for Hymn for the Weekend featuring Beyoncé. Her regular Cannes appearances as a fashion forward Indian star were sure making her internationally famous. Top designers the world over started vying to dress the Bollywood actress.

Next Sonam starred in the biographical thriller Neerja (2016) as the eponymous air hostess Neerja Bhanot who died while saving the passengers of the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 in 1986. Again Sonam got into her role by researching the real life events, and met Bhanot’s family. The film became one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films featuring a female protagonist and was critically well received with Sonam’s performance noted to be her best to date. Hindustan Times critic Rohit Vats wrote that “she carries the film entirely on her shoulder. She looks earnest, scared, benevolent and bold, all at the same time. Sonam won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress and National Film Award – Special Mention. Anand was seated next to Sonam and stood up to applaud and cheer his “partner in crime” when she received the award on stage and Instagrammed: “my fave! #everydayphenomenal.”

Soon after, Sonam was asked about her relationship with the entrepreneur by a reporter. She replied cryptically, “There are a lot of other things which make you a whole person besides who you’re dating. My personal life is out there because I’ve always been myself but if you’re talking about personal life as in (context of) boyfriend, then I’ll never talk about it.”

Rhea regularly helps style Sonam at high profile events like the Cannes Film Festival and both sisters are considered stylish and modern. Inspired in part by Anand, they launched their clothing line Rheson in 2017.

“Sonam and Rhea Kapoor have, for years now been considered style icons for young India,” said their brand consultant Anya Rangaswami. “Rheson (RHEa + SONam; pronounced ‘reason’) was conceptualised to be a brand for fashionable young Indian women…at an affordable price…through Shoppers Stop (department store chain and online retailer)…. The first of its kind, the brand aimed to position Indian retail on the global fashion map, building a homegrown brand at a scale never seen before.”

Certainly the Ahuja business acumen and garment industry knowhow was rubbing off.

After a two-year hiatus from films, Sonam came back in a film that addresses important social issues Pad Man (2018) playing a social worker in Arunachalam Muruganantham, who campaigned for menstrual hygiene in rural India. Pad Man is based on a short story in Twinkle Khanna’s book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad and co-stars Twinkle’s husband starring Akshay Kumar. Sonam said she wants to make films with a social message and not just provide entertainment. She, in fact, publicly criticised fellow actress Katrina Kaif for doing “over the top films.”

Most recently, Rhea has produced the romcom Veere Di Wedding, playing in cinemas now, about four girls who embark on a road trip with an ensemble cast co-starring Sonam and her best friends, Kareena Kapoor and Swara Bhasker. When a reporter asked her if it was true that real friends can’t be made in Bollywood, Sonam disagreed, “Completely untrue. Jacqueline, Bebo (Kareena) and Swara are my closest friends.”

A month before their wedding took place, Sonam and Anand decided they had waited long enough and they were ready to formalize their commitment. Within a month, all the preparations were made hastily but expertly.

Mr. and Mrs. Anil Kapoor put up a grand show, hosting a pre-Mehndi party, followed by a Sangeet, the wedding and a grand reception. Sonam’s cousins: Arjun Kapoor, Ranveer Singh and Jahnvi Kapoor prepared dance performances for the Sangeet. All the top Indian actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Alia Bhatt, Ranbir Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, etc. fully participated with fervor. Anand and Sonam tied the knot on 8th May in the 55,000-sq ft. mansion of Sonam’s maternal aunt interior designer Kavita Singh, married to pharmaceutical magnate Jasjit Singh, in Bandra, Mumbai in a traditional Sikh Anand Karaj ceremony.

bWood Style Queen at cannes Film Festival
Actress Sonam Kapoor poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film ‘BlacKkKlansman’ at the 71st international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Monday, May 14, 2018. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock (5684288ci)
Sonam Kapoor
‘Mal de Pierres’ premiere, 69th Cannes Film Festival, France – 15 May 2016

After the wedding, Sonam jetted off to Cannes to fulfill her responsibilities to L’Oreal as one of its Indian ambassadors where she cut a wedding cake and Instagrammed, “Anand Ahuja this was for us!”

The couple will not leave for honeymoon right away but have decided to postpone it till October-November due to work commitments. Neither will they be moving to the Ahujas London house as was reported earlier. Instead Sonam will go back and forth between Mumbai and Delhi for the time being. Bollywood Hungama quoted a close friend of the Kapoors saying that the couple have been hunting for residential properties in Mumbai prior to their wedding, “It is true that the couple was seen checking out some property in Mumbai close to her parents’ home. But they didn’t zero in on anything they like. Honestly Anil Kapoor wants Sonam and her husband to stay in the Kapoor bungalow. Anand’s business and family are in Delhi. Sonam’s home and career are in Mumbai. For some time at least she will be shuttling between the two cities.”

Next up, Sonam will feature in a biopic of the actor Sanjay Dutt, entitled Sanju, plus is filming the romance Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, co-starring her father and Juhi Chawla, releasing later this year. In addition, she has signed on to play the title role in a film adaptation of Anuja Chauhan’s novel The Zoya Factor.

Looks like the actress has no intention of slowing down and Anand has no mind to hold her back. They must have an extremely trusting, supportive and secure relationship. Sonam said, “I need to be thankful for so much.” Sounds like she found her true match.

Once upon a time, when King Arthur reigned in Camelot, there lived a Cornish knight, Sir Tristan, who fell hopelessly in love with his Uncle King Mark’s bride-to-be the Irish Princess Isolde. The beautiful princess too loved her handsome knight who had valiantly slain a dragon and saved her people. Because they had unknowingly ingested a strong love potion, they had a passionate love that could not be denied…

By Mahlia Lone

The popular Celtic legend of Tristan and Isolde was retold by generations of wandering minstrels who sang of the tragic lovers harkening to the 6th century. Celtic mythology scholars believe that the legend originated in Brittany, western France, which had been settled by Britons. The oral legend, known as the “vulgar” version, a representative of story-telling belonging to the Dark Ages, gave the lovers more choice in carrying out their affair.  In the refined High Middle Ages, the 12th century oAnwards the legend stressed the lovers’ honour in keeping with the chivalric and courtly Anglo-Norman literature.

The Story

King Mark of Cornwall ruled in the early 6th century with his seat at Castle Dor, near Fowey. He was the son of King Felix who died after an Irish raid on his castle at Tintagel. According to Arthurian legend, King Mark was violent, treacherous and cowardly by nature. His nephew Sir Tristan, on the other hand, stood for all the virtues of chivalry and was noble, brave and honourable. He also had a poetic soul and was a talented harp player.

King Anguish of Ireland, one of King Arthur’s earlier enemies, was defeated by Arthur in battle and the Irish ruler was forced to accept his supremacy. However, in his later battle with King Mark of Cornwall, King Anguish emerged victorious. When King Mark refused to pay King Anguish seven years back pay for his vassalage, the Irish ruler sent his champion knight Sir Morholt to forcibly extract the payment of tribute.

Sir Tristan and Sir Morholt fought in single combat in a fight to the death. Tristan killed Morholt and a broken piece of his sword remained in the latter’s fatal wound for all to see in the body when it was taken back to Ireland. Tristan too was wounded in the desperate fight. When his wound did not heal, he journeyed to Ireland in disguise so he could be healed by the Irish Princess Isolde, famed for her skill in healing. Isolde was the daughter of King Anguish and Queen Iseult the Elder.

Upon arrival, Tristan discovered that Ireland was being terrorized by a fearsome dragon. A brave and skilled knight, Sir Tristan succeeded in killing the ferocious fire-breathing dragon. In gratitude, Princess Isolde nursed him back to health after the fight. But when she found his broken sword, putting two and two together, she realized that he was the warrior who had killed Morholt, her uncle.

At first she wanted to avenge her uncle’s death, but seeing how grateful her people were to Tristan for killing the dragon that was terrorizing them and destroying their property, Isolde forgave him. Enjoying her company, Tristan lingered on at the Irish court. During his convalescence Tristan played his harp for  Isolde and gave her lessons in the instrument as a pretext to spend more time with her.

On his return to Cornwall, all he could talk about was the Irish princess. Hearing his nephew’s high praises, King Mark decided to marry Isolde himself. Loyal and obedient as a knight is duty bound to his king, Tristan had no choice but to agree to return to Ireland and seek Isolde’s hand in marriage for his uncle the king. Back in Ireland, the matrimonial proposal was accepted as an offering of alliance and Isolde was sent to Cornwall under Tristan’s care.

Tristan and Isolde had already developed feelings for each other but their well-established sense of honour prevented them from expressing themselves freely. To ensure her daughter’s marital happiness, Queen Iseult gave the princess a drink to share with her future husband Mark. It was a magic eternal love potion. During the sea voyage from Ireland to  Cornwall, Isolde and Tristan inadvertently drank the potion, not knowing what it was, and fell deeply in love.

Upon arriving in Cornwall, the royal marriage took place. But the young couple couldn’t help but still love each other. Their passionate love affair continued in secret. Since the noble Arthurian principles didn’t condone adultery, according to the story, the love potion freed Tristan and Iseult from responsibility. Mirroring the dynamics of the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle, Mark-Iseult-Tristan also all loved each other. Tristan honoured, respected, and loved King Mark as his king, mentor and father figure; Isolde owed her husband loyalty, devotion and gratitude (for his kindness to her); and Mark loved his nephew as well as his wife and felt that they were the closest to him.

A series of intrigues, plots and suspense followed. The King’s advisers warned him that Tristan and Isolde were not as innocent as they seemed. But Mark didn’t want to jeopardise the fragile truce between Ireland and Cornwall and endanger his fragile kingdom till he was sure. So King Mark, his advisers and his knights made various attempts to trap the lovers and obtain proof of their guilt.

Every night, each of the three main characters had nightmares about the future. When King Mark finally got his proof positive of the affair, he resolved to punish them as cuckolding a king was grounds for treason. Tristan was sentenced to death by hanging, while  Isolde was to be burnt at the stake. Taking pity on his young and beautiful wife, the king reduced her sentence to being sent to live in a leper colony where she could heal patients.

The dashing blade, Sir Tristan made a daring and exciting escape on his way to the gallows. He made a giant leap from the top of a chapel steeple and rescued Isolde. The lovers managed to escape into the forest of Morrois and took shelter there until they were discovered by Mark’s troops. Left with no choice, Tristan gave up Isolde, and went into exile. The King forgave Isolde.

A depressed and despairing, Tristan left Cornwall by ship for Brittany, sailing across the English Channel. There he met and married  Iseult of the White Hands because she reminded him of his Isolde. His wife was the daughter of King Hoel of Brittany, a late 5th- and early 6th-century member of the ruling dynasty of Cornouaille in northwest Brittany, and a relative and loyal ally of Arthur, who had helped him conquer Gaul (northern France). Her brother was Kahedin, also mentioned in Arthurian legend. Kahedin was also to have a love affair with Brangaine, the handmaiden of Isolde of Ireland.

Tristan did not consummate his marriage to Iseult despite her beauty as he couldn’t bear the thought of betraying his one true love.

Pining, he recklessly endangered his life riding to the aid of Kahedin his brother in arms, fell into ambush and was wounded by a poisoned lance.

There were alternating versions of how Tristan got wounded. In the Prose Tristan and works derived from it, Tristan was mortally wounded by Mark who treacherously stuck him with a poisoned lance while the latter was playing a harp for Isolde before he left for Brittany.   According to Thomas’s poetic version,  Tristan was wounded by a poisoned lance while attempting to rescue a young woman from six knights.

No one could heal Tristan’s festering wound. Much weakened and pale with loss of blood, Tristan sent Kahedin to Cornwall for Isolde as a last resort in hopes that she would be able to cure him. If she agreed to come and was on board, Kahedin would unfurl white sails on his ship, and if she did not agree the sails would be black.

In music

German composer Richard Wagner’s phenomenal opera Tristan und Isolde (1859) by German composer Richard Wagner is considered “a treatise on life rather than a musical experience” and was vastly influential, groundbreaking and revelatory. In 1924, Thomas Hardy collaborated with the British composer Rutland Boughton to adapt Hardy’s play into the opera The Queen of Cornwall (1924).

Upon Kahedin’s voyage back, Iseult, seeing the white sails, got jealous and lied to Tristan, telling him falsely that the sails were black.

Hopeless, Tristan died in misery before Isolde could reach him. Grief stricken, Isolde, swooning over her lover’s corpse, died soon after of a broken heart. Wrenched apart in life, the lovers were reunited in death.

Tristan and Isolde

in Literature

In the second half of the twelfth century, two French speaking Norman poets penned courtly lyrical romances of the popular legend of oral tradition. Thomas of Britain wrote his poem Tristan the earlier part between 11

and 1170 and latter part between 1181 and 1190 in Old French, while the Norman poet wrote his poem also called Tristan, in the Norman French dialect in 1173.

In 1227,  Tristan by Thomas  was translated by Brother Robert at the request of King Haakon Haakonson of Norway who wanted to promote the dominant Angevin-Norman (French)  culture at his court. The Nordic King commissioned the cleric to produce translations of several French Arthurian works into Old Norse, which became very popular.

Another contemporary of Béroul and Thomas, the famous French poetess Marie de France, who lived at the Medieval Norman court of Henry II, wrote a Tristan episode called Chevrefoil in one of her lais (lyrical, narrative poetry) that told the story of Tristan’s clandestine return to Cornwall in which he signaled his presence to his lady love through an inscription on a hazelnut tree branch placed on the road she would travel. The intertwined honeysuckle and hazelnut tree dies when separated, as did the two lovers. Marie’s lais were so widely read that they influenced the subsequent development of the whole romance and heroic literature genre.

Two 12th century poems in the Folies Tristan in Old French related Tristan’s return to Marc’s court disguised as a madman.  But the most important development in French Tristaniana was the Prose Tristan of the 13th and 14th century, shortly after the completion of the Vulgate Cycle (Lancelot-Grail Cycle) in the first quarter of the 13th century.

The twelve volumes long Prose Tristan included the episode of Tristan’s participation in the Quest for the Holy Grail. This had a great influence on later medieval literature, and tied the legend of Tristan and Isolde securely into Arthurian legend.

An abridged translation of the French Prose Tristan in English was Sir Thomas Malory’s The Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones, in Le Morte d’Arthur  (circa 1469), which became a basis for all subsequent retellings of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table stories.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a renaissance or revival of Arthurian literature, mostly written in narrative verse occurred, which included the following: Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem The Last Tournament from Idylls of the King. The poem, set in Camelot, presented an the account of a tournament with the characters of King Arthur, his fool Dragonet and Sir Tristan. Matthew Arnold’s narrative poem Tristram and Iseult was based on romantic and tragic themes. Algernon Charles Swinburne’s long epic poem Tristram of Lyonesse retold the story in a grand style. Thomas Hardy’s one-act play The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall at Tintagel in Lyonnesse was published posthumously in 1923. Even all the way in America, poet Edward Arlington Robinson based his Pulitzer Prize winning poem Tristram on the legend.

French writer and scholar and historian of medieval France, Joseph Bédier in his edition  The Romance of Tristan and Iseult (1900) used several medieval sources to weave seamlessly a retelling of the story eloquently and with dignity. The story of the tragic lovers was also referenced in avant garde Irish writer James Joyce’s literary novel Finnegans Wake (1935).

Reunion In Death Tristan And Isolde (1881) By August Spiess
Reunion In Death Tristan And Isolde (1881) By August Spiess

Best-selling novelist Daphne du Maurier, who is from Fowey in Cornwall, finished Cornish writer Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch’s Castle Dor (1962), set in modern times but based on the original story. Prolific British author Rosalind Miles wrote a trilogy about Tristan and Isolde: The Maid of the White Hands, The Queen of the Western Isle, and The Lady of the Sea. Bengali author Sunil Gangopadhyay also based his novel Sonali Dukkho on the story.

There are many other retellings of the story written by authors in recent times.

In film

Not one, but three French silent films from the early 20th century were based on the story. A controversial Tristan film L’Éternel Retour or The Eternal Return (1943), directed by Jean Delannoy and screenplay written by Jean Cocteau, made in France during the Vichy regime, reflected Nazi ideology. Renowned French director François Truffaut adapted it to modern times in his film La Femme d’à côté or The Woman Next Door (1981). In the Shadow of the Raven (1988) was set in Viking Age Iceland. There is even an animated film version  the Tristan et Iseult (2002).

Bollywood director Subhash Ghai set the story in modern India and the United States in his musical big budget movie Pardes (1997), starring Shahrukh Khan, Mahima Chaudhary and Amrish Puri, which had the hit song I Love My India.

The most recent Tristan film was Tony Scott and Ridley Scott’s Tristan & Isolde (2006) starring James Franco and Sophia Myles.

Tristan & Isolde (c. 1845) By Rogello Egusquiza

The Tristan Stone

A Cornish granite menhir (long stone) called the The Tristan Stone still stands tall at 2.7 m and proud near the site of Castle Dor, in Fowey, Cornwall. The stone has a mid-6th century two line inscription “Here lies Drustanus, the son of Cunomorus.” A now missing third line was transcribed by the 16th century antiquarian John Leland as reading “with the lady Ousilla.” The menhir marks the story of their eternal love for times to come.

By Mahlia Lone

The song Remember is the gist of John Winston Lennon’s childhood. He was born in 1940, at a time when World War II raged on in full force, to an Irish merchant seaman named Alfred who was away at sea for his duties much of the time, including at the birth of his son to his Liverpudlian wife Julia. Both of John’s parents were naturally musical though none of them took it up as a profession. Alf supported his wife and child by regularly sending them his steward’s salary while Julia lived at her father’s house. Things went awry when Alf deserted his post towards the end of the war and became absent without leave for six months.

“Just remember when you were small

How people seemed so tall

Always had their way

Do you remember, your ma and pa

Just wishing for movie stardom

Always, always playing a part

If you ever feel so sad

And the whole world is driving you mad

Remember, remember today”

—John Lennon

John Lennon As A Child

Lennon’s high school reports stated bleakly: “Certainly on the road to failure … hopeless … rather a clown in class … wasting other pupils’ time”

Giving up on him, Julia started to have an affair with a Welsh soldier and got pregnant by him. Her childless older sister Mimi repeatedly complained to Social Services about Julia “living in sin” and she and her dairyman husband George Smith were awarded custody of John. When Alf got back home, he offered to take his wife Julia back but she refused.  She gave up her baby girl for adoption and took up with John Bobby Dykins. The Lennons never divorced and Julia became Bobby’s common law wife, having two daughters with him. Meanwhile, Alf tried to whisk off five year old John to New Zealand but Julia and Bobby followed them to Blackpool.  The Lennons fought over their little boy and Alf asked his son to choose between his father and mother. Conflicted John chose his father twice, but also started crying when his mother walked away and started to follow her. Imagine the little boy’s anguish!

Singer, songwriter and musician John Lennon of the Beatles as a child, with his mother Julia Lennon (1914 – 1958), 1949. To date, this is the only known photograph of John with his mother. It was taken by John’s cousin, Stanley Parkes. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward/Getty Images)

According to Mark Lewisohn, one of the world’s leading authorities on the Beatles, who has penned many books on the band, Alf decided to leave John with Julia and took himself off. Father and son were not to meet again for 20 years. But it was Aunty Mimi and Uncle George who took John in when Julia handed him over to them after only a few weeks. The poor little boy ended up blaming himself saying later, “My mother … couldn’t cope with me.”

The strict childless couple was kind to John, and Mimi was determined to give him a “proper upbringing.” John attended Dovedale Primary School and then Quarry Bank High School (renamed Calderstones School) and was described by his cousin Leila Harvey as a “happy-go-lucky, good-humoured, easy going, lively lad.” His aunt would buy him books of short stories, while his uncle got him a mouth organ and solved crossword puzzles with him. Both instilled the love of words and storytelling in him, which would later help him in his songwriting. Herself musical, Julia taught her son to play the banjo, ukulele and piano accordion. Because Mimi didn’t allow records in her house, so 11 year old John would go over to his mother’s house where they would listen to Elvis Presley records together. Naturally creative and with a sense of humour, he also drew cartoons for his magazine The Daily Howl. However, his school reports stated bleakly: “Certainly on the road to failure … hopeless … rather a clown in class … wasting other pupils’ time.”

Insecure, being a child of a broken home, John would become violently jealousy, slapping, hitting and pushing Cynthia around

At 15, John got into skiffle music (a genre combing jazz, blues and folk music linking it to American popular music). After being pestered by son, Julia bought him his first guitar, an inexpensive Gallotone Champion acoustic on the condition that he keep it in her house, knowing well that her sister would disapprove. When John bragged that he would one day become a famous musician, Aunt Mimi would reply: “The guitar’s all very well, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it.”

The determined teenager formed his own skiffle band called the Quarrymen, named after his high school. By the summer of 1957, the Quarrymen were playing gigs singing “a spirited set of songs” made up of half skiffle and half rock and roll.” John met Paul McCartney at the Quarrymen’s second performance at a Church garden fête and asked the younger lad to join the band.

Tragedy struck the following year when Julia was killed when a car hit her while she was walking home after visiting John. Devastated by the loss of his mother, John failed all his O-level examinations.

Harrison, McCartney, Lennon & Pete Best As The Drummer

Looking back in 1980 John observed about his family life and his rebelliousness: “Part of me would like to be accepted by all facets of society and not be this loudmouthed lunatic poet/musician. But I cannot be what I am not … I was the one who all the other boys’ parents—including Paul’s father—would say, ‘Keep away from him’… The parents instinctively recognised I was a troublemaker, meaning I did not conform and I would influence their children, which I did. I did my best to disrupt every friend’s home … Partly out of envy that I didn’t have this so-called home … but I did… There were five women that were my family. Five strong, intelligent, beautiful women, five sisters. One happened to be my mother. (She) just couldn’t deal with life. She was the youngest and she had a husband who ran away to sea and the war was on and she couldn’t cope with me, and I ended up living with her elder sister. Now those women were fantastic … And that was my first feminist education … I would infiltrate the other boys’ minds. I could say, “Parents are not gods because I don’t live with mine and, therefore, I know.’”

McCartney later said bemused that Aunt Mimi “was very aware that John’s friends were lower class”, and would patronise him when he visited John at home. According to Paul’s brother Mike, their father was also disapproving, predicting that John would get his son “into trouble,” although he later allowed the fledgling band to rehearse in the McCartney family home. During this time, 18-year-old Lennon wrote his first song, Hello Little Girl that was to become UK top 10 hit five years later.

Meanwhile, his aunt’s and headmaster’s intervention stating his case led` to his acceptance to the Liverpool College of Art. He joined the popular youth culture of the 50s, wearing Teddy Boy clothes (tight trousers, long jackets, fancy waistcoats and suede loafers) partly inspired by the styles worn by dandies in the Edwardian period, and became a disruptive influence in the class, often ridiculing teachers. After a college party to celebrate the end of a term, John asked “Cyn” as he called her to “go out” with him. She replied that she was already engaged. Nonplussed, he deadpanned, “I didn’t ask you to marry me, did I?” They went to Ye Cracke pub for their first date.

Insecure, being a child of a broken home, John would become violently jealousy, slapping, hitting and pushing her around. They would break up then get back together. John said later, “I was in sort of a blind rage for two years. I was either drunk or fighting. It had been the same with other girlfriends I’d had. There was something the matter with me.”

John’s friend Tony Bramwell recalled, “Cynthia was beautiful, physically, and on the inside. Although she knew he was apt to find love on the road, she was totally dedicated to his success… and extremely influential. He was insecure and Cynthia was there to pump him up and to buttress, his weak side.”

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Stilling/Evening News/REX (889633a)

With His Son Julian, 1963McCartney recommended that his friend 14 year old George Harrison  become the lead guitarist with his audition taking place rock ‘n roll style on the upper deck of a Liverpool bus. Though Lennon thought Harrison was way too young, he was impressed enough with his guitar playing skills to induct him into the group. Stuart Sutcliffe, Lennon’s friend from art school, joined as bassist. The four became The Beatles in early 1960 and by August they were engaged for a 48-night residency in Hamburg, Germany. Quickly taking on Pete Best as drummer, the band left for Germany much to conservative Aunt Mimi’s horror.

The Beatles ended up accepting three Hamburg residencies over the next couple of years. To keep up their energy during their long, overnight performances playing at clubs, the group started taking the amphetamine Preludin. Meanwhile, Cyn also failed to get her diploma; she rented Lennon’s old room in the Smith house, supported herself by working at a Woolworths store and waited patiently for her boyfriend’s return from Germany. Lennon loved writing many passionate letters to her and on one trip home brought her a suede coat. Aunt Mimi threw a hand-mirror at him for spending so much money on that “gangster’s moll,” perhaps disappointed that her adopted son didn’t bring the expensive gift for her.

The band returned to England minus Sutcliffe who decided to stay behind in Germany to study and live with his fiancée. He was replaced by McCartney on bass and Best was replaced by Ringo Starr on the drums. This was the Beatles lineup we know and love.

In a 1987 interview, McCartney said that the other Beatles idolised John: “He was like our own little Elvis … We all looked up to John. He was older and he was very much the leader; he was the quickest wit and the smartest.”

The upcoming band’s fortunes changed when one day in end ‘61, local record store owner and music columnist, Brian Epstein caught their lunch time performance at The Cavern Club, an underground jazz and rock ‘n roll nightclub in Liverpool.  Epstein said, “I immediately liked what I heard. They were fresh, and they were honest, and they had what I thought was a sort of presence … a star quality.” However, he felt, “They were a scruffy crowd in leather and jeans, and they were not very tidy and not very clean. They smoked as they played and they ate and talked and pretended to hit each other.”

The Beatles Invade America

Yoko Ono belonged to a noble Japanese family, one of the wealthiest in the country. She was class mates with  Prince Akihito, the future Emperor of Japan. But they lost their fortune and begged for food after the Tokyo bombings

Though Epstein had no prior experience of artist management, he had a vision for the band. The Beatles in their turn were impressed that Epstein had the inherent Jewish business savvy, wore expensive suits, and owned a large car. They soon sign with him as their manager though McCartney, Harrison, and Best all under 21, needed the signed consent of their parents first. Epstein had them clean up their act by putting on sharp suits and ties, insisted that they stop swearing, smoking, drinking, or eating on stage, and had them bow at the end of their performances.

Epstein described the process of their style evolution, “I encouraged them, at first, to get out of the leather jackets and jeans, and I wouldn’t allow them to appear in jeans after a short time, and then, after that step, I got them to wear sweaters on stage, and then, very reluctantly, eventually, suits.” Epstein found a suit design he thought would work on the young band mates, “I thought it was an excellent design at the time.”

McCartney was the first to agree with Epstein’s suggestions thinking that they reflected his RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) training and believing that the changes made the group look more professional. He said, “We all went quite happily over the water to Wirral, to Beno Dorn, a little tailor who made mohair suits. That started to change the image.”

Lennon initially resisted wearing suits and ties, but then gave in saying, “I’ll wear a suit; I’ll wear a bloody balloon if somebody’s going to pay me.”

Master Dorn was awarded two Provincial Shields, awarded for excellence in the art of tailoring, due to his fine work for the Beatles. His sharp tailoring became a part of their image.

Cyn told John she was pregnant. “There’s only one thing for it Cyn, we’ll have to get married,” he replied prosaically. He was 21, she was 22. The Lennons were married in the summer of ‘62 at a Marriage Registery office with McCartney and Harrison in attendance. Epstein was the best man and none of the  parents were invited. It was a simple ceremony and very hush hush with no photographs or flowers as Epstein wanted Lennon to appear to be single for the benefit of his growing legion of female fans. The wedding was celebrated afterwards in the same restaurant where John’s parents had celebrated their marriage in 1938—thoughtful Epstein had taken care of it all.  The newlyweds had no honeymoon, as Lennon had to play a gig the same night. During her pregnancy, Epstein lent his flat for the couple to live in. On one occasion, when news of the wedding leaked out, the group denied it pointblank. Cynthia was content to keep a low profile, and let her husband bask in the spotlight, loath to endanger his fledgling career.

On The Ed Sullivan Show

The band’s first single, Love Me Do was released at this time. Their debut album Please Please Me, was recorded in less than 10 hours. Lennon recalled how effortless it was, “We were just writing songs … pop songs with no more thought of them than that—to create a sound. And the words were almost irrelevant.” By early next year, Beatlemania had started with the band’s mainstream success in the U.K. They were the boy band pop sensation not only of their time but of all time.

Lennon was on tour when his first son, John Charles Julian Lennon, was born. The baby boy had been named after John’s deceased mother Julia.  John did not see his son until three days later, remarking, “He’s bloody marvelous, Cyn! … Who’s gonna be a famous rocker like his Dad then?”

Yoko was briefly admitted to a Japanese mental institution after her first marriage collapsed. She was suffering from acute depression

Now comes a twist, according to biographer Philip Norman, the homosexual Epstein was physically attracted to Lennon from the beginning. Right after Julian was born, Lennon inexplicably left for a long weekend holiday to Barcelona alone with Epstein. It led to speculation about their relationship. Lennon admitted, “Well, it was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated. But it was a pretty intense relationship. It was my first experience with a homosexual that I was conscious was homosexual. We used to sit in a café in Torremolinos looking at all the boys and I’d say, ‘Do you like that one? Do you like this one?’ I was rather enjoying the experience, thinking like a writer all the time: I am experiencing this.” But his old anger, insecurity and violent streak returned when at McCartney’s twenty-first birthday party in ’63, Lennon physically attacked Cavern Club Master of ceremonies Bob Wooler for asking slyly “How was your honeymoon, John?”

“He called me a queer so I battered his bloody ribs in,” Lennon justified.

At the end of ’63, the Beatles were invited to the Prince of Wales Theatre in London for the Royal Command Performance in the presence of the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon. (Queen Elizabeth was heavily pregnant with her youngest Prince Edward at the time.) Reporters looking for a story goaded the band mates that they had sold out their young fans by choosing to play at such an “establishment” event. They even asked cheekily if they would lose their Liverpool accents that evening. “No, we don’t all speak like BBC,” McCartney volleyed back. The Beatles were greeted by countless screaming fans, while the royals were greeted decorously and the other celebrities were virtually ignored.

Lennon recalled his feelings, “I was fantastically nervous but I wanted to say something to rebel a bit.” So he deadpanned, “For our next song, I’d like to ask for your help. For the people in the cheaper seats, clap your hands … and the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewellery. We’d like to sing a song called Twist And Shout.

Touché! Lennon with his wit managed to mollify his young, working class fans by poking fun at the royals and aristocrats in the audience who took it in the light vein it was intended. The next day the newspapers were plastered with this headline.

The Beatles’ appearance was a triumph. But they declined all subsequent invitations to reappear on the show. Lennon explained why in his 1970 Anthology: “We managed to refuse all sorts of things that people don’t know about. We did the Royal Variety Show, and we were asked discreetly to do it every year after that, but we always said, ‘Stuff it.’ So every year there was a story in the newspapers: ‘Why no Beatles for the Queen?’ which was pretty funny, because they didn’t know we’d refused. That show’s a bad gig, anyway. Everybody’s very nervous and uptight and nobody performs well.”

The “lost

weekend”

Their next triumph came across the pond. After a year of Beatlemania in the UK, the group made their  US debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in ’64.  The band’s mega stardom reached the stratosphere. For the next two years, the Beatles incessantly toured, made movies and wrote songs for their upcoming albums. Lennon also managed to write two books: In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works that had his cartoons in it. In ‘65 The Beatles were appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1965 Queen’s Birthday Honours for their achievements and for being ambassadors for British culture.

The same year they were honoured, they were also introduced to LSD. A dentist hosting a dinner party attended by Lennon and Harrison accompanied by their wives secretly spiked the guests’ coffee with the drug. When they wanted to leave, their host confessed to what he had done and told them they’d better stay put till the effect wore off. Later that night, in an elevator at a nightclub, they all believed it was on fire: “We were all screaming … hot and hysterical,” Lennon recalled. This was the beginning of their LSD addiction. Lennon spent 1967 almost constantly under its influence.  As his dependence on the drug increased, he drifted further and further away from Cynthia.

One incident that occurred at this time during an interview with Evening Standard reporter Maureen Cleave was to seal his fate. Lennon told her offhand, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink … We’re more popular than Jesus now—I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.” Their Brit fans didn’t bat an eyelid at the comment, but Americans in the super conservative Bible Belt and Deep South are a different breed.  Pandemonium broke out over there with the Ku Klux Klan organising mass burning of Beatles records, and posting death threats against Lennon. Things got so bad that for a while, the Beatles suspended all Stateside tour plans.

Lennon had resumed songwriting prior to his assassination

With his cutting wit, Lennon regularly mocked Epstein calling him a “Queer Jew!” When he heard that Epstein was naming his autobiography, A Cellarful of Noise, Lennon cracked, “More like A Cellarful of Boys.” During the recording of “Baby, You’re a Rich Man (1967), he sang “Baby, you’re a rich fag Jew” just to upset Epstein. None of the other Beatles were as aggressive against their manager who had succeeded in bringing them the promised riches. Was Lennon homophobic perhaps? But then why did he go away on holiday alone with Epstein?

One day, John Lennon met the Japanese-American conceptual artist Yoko Ono, seven years his senior.

Yoko (Ocean Child) was born in Tokyo to wealthy banker Isoko and Eisuke, formerly a classical pianist. Eisuke came from a long line of samurai warrior-scholars and was the daughter of Yasuda Zenjiro who owned the country’s largest financial conglomerate in Japan till it was dissolved at the end of World War II. Belonging to such an upper class family, Yoko was enrolled at Tokyo’s elite Gakushuin (Peers School) founded in 1847 by Emperor Nink? in Kyoto to educate the children of the Imperial nobility and led a blessed life.

Ono was controlling and interfering, and caused friction between the band mates

But following the devastating Tokyo bombings that brought Japan to its knees, even the rich couldn’t stave off starvation. The Ono family too scrounged for food while pushing a wheelchair laden with what was left of their worldly belongings. Ono said this period in her life gave her her “aggressive” attitude.   Her mother managed to bring some of their possessions with them to the countryside,where they were bartered for food, for example Eisuke wisely traded her German-made sewing machine for 60 kilograms of rice with which to feed the family. Isoko had been in Hanoi all this time and was now believed to be a prisoner of war in China. Yoko said in an interview, “He was in French Indochina, which is Vietnam actually…. in Saigon. He was in a concentration camp.”

By April 1946, conditions in the country started slowly improving. The family moved back to Tokyo. Yoko’s school Gakushuin located near the Tokyo Imperial Palace had miraculously remained unscathed and had reopened and she re-enrolled there. Ono became the classmate of Prince Akihito, the future Emperor of Japan, and they graduated in 1951. Yoko was the first woman to enroll into the philosophy program of Gakushuin University but she didn’t graduate from there as she joined her family in the U.S.

Lennon, a hand-on dad, was on his way home from the recording studio when he was shot

After the war ended in 1945, Ono’s family had immigrated to the U.S.  and settled in the affluent town of Scarsdale, New York, half an hour from the City. Ono transferred to Sarah Lawrence College to be with her parents, but she had been living away from them for nine years and had become independent of thought and lifestyle. Ono liked the Bohemian life, meeting artists, poets, and other freethinkers, much to her parent’s shock and disapproval. Inspired by visits to art galleries and seeing avant garde artistes put up installations and do performance art, she dropped out of college, set up a performance art studio in Tribeca, NYC and eloped with Japanese avant garde composer Toshi Ichiyanagi in 1956.  The same age as her, Toshi was the experimental fusion music star in Japan, combing Western instruments with those of his country.  But the marriage was a mistake and, after living apart for several years, they filed for divorce in 1962.

Suffering from acute depression, Ono returned home to live with her parents and was briefly admitted to a mental institution in Japan. Upon her return Stateside, the impulsive young woman married Anthony Cox, an American jazz musician, film producer, and art promoter and they had a daughter Kyoko Chan Cox. Yoko left their daughter in Anthony’s full time care while she pursued her art career single-mindedly. Not surprisingly, the marriage disintegrated but the couple stayed together for the sake of their joint careers as conceptual artists, while Cox also managed Yoko’s publicity.

To cut a long story short, according to Lennon and Ono, in 1966, he went to the Indica Gallery in London, where she was putting up her conceptual art exhibit. They were introduced by gallery owner John Dunbar. Ono’s Hammer A Nail exhibit called from viewers to hammer a nail into a wooden board.  The exhibition had not yet begun, but Lennon wanted to hammer a nail in. When Ono stopped him, Dunbar said to her in disbelief, “Don’t you know who this is? He’s a millionaire! He might buy it.” Ono had supposedly not heard of the Beatles, but said he could if he paid her five shillings. Lennon replied, “I’ll give you an imaginary five shillings and hammer an imaginary nail in.”

Chapman was a born-again Christian who believed Lennon had committed blasphemy

According to McCartney, the year before Ono had been in London compiling original musical scores for John Cage’s book Notations. She asked McCartney first to give her his own manuscripts for the book but he declined and suggesting that Lennon might oblige. When she approached him, he readily gave her the original handwritten lyrics to “The Word.”

Perhaps as the first made a better story as well as promoted Ono’s art, the couple agreed to put out their own version of their first meeting to make better copy.

Julian

In a 2002 interview, Ono admitted, “I was very attracted to him. It was a really strange situation.”

In ’66, the Beatles lost their manager Norman Epstein to a lethal combination of sleeping pills and alcohol.  He died in his bed wearing his pajamas and was discovered by his butler. The rock ‘n roll lifestyle had caught up with him. The Beatles were meditating with the Indian guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the countryside, in Bagnor, Berkshire. Things would never be the same for the band again. Epstein had seemingly effortlessly managed to turn the promising band into one of the biggest acts of the day and left them free to focus on their creative output while he dealt with the business end. He also advised them in their personal lives and provided the balance for their ego-driven rock star personalities. The band mates had no idea how quickly they would drift apart without him.

Meanwhile, Ono was aggressively pursuing her wealthy and world famous would be patron—Lennon. She sent him a slew of letters asking Lennon to sponsor her art show. He too enjoyed corresponding, earlier writing long letters to Cynthia. She even started calling his house. Suspicious, Cyn asked her husband for an explanation but he dismissed it saying she was an artist asking money for her “avant-garde bullshit.” In ‘67, Ono convinced him to sponsor her solo show at Lisson Gallery in London.  Till the spring of 1968, the two remained platonic. When the Beatles made their meditation ashram trip to India, Lennon wrote the song Julia that had the lyrics, “Ocean child calls me.”

Julian Was Named After John’s Later Mother Julia
The Queen Mother Greeting The Beatles At The Royal Variety Command Performance In Nov, ’63

While his wife was on holiday in Greece that summer, Lennon invited Ono over to his Kenwood home one night to record the Two Virgins album after which he said, they “made love at dawn.” When Lennon’s wife returned home she found Ono wearing her bathrobe and drinking tea with Lennon. He looked nonchalantly at Cyn and said, “Oh, hi.” Cynthia walked out of the house to stay with friends. To exact revenge and to apply salve on her bruised ego, Cynthia slept with Alexis Mardas, the Greek electronics engineer who worked with the band.

When Lennon found out, he asked for a divorce on the grounds that she had committed adultery, a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black. He also wanted custody of Julian, even though he didn’t feel especially close to him. Ono had become pregnant and he wanted to be with her. After negotiations, Lennon capitulated and agreed to let Julia divorce him on the same grounds. The case was settled out of court by the end of the year soon after Ono suffered a miscarriage losing her male baby. Lennon was directed by the judge to give Cynthia a lump sum of £100,000, a small annual payment and custody of Julian.

Lennon said that at the time of Julian’s birth, which was unplanned, he was very young and focused on his career. He was never actively involved in bringing up Julian who felt closer to McCartney than to his own father. On a car journey to visit Cynthia and Julian during Lennon’s divorce, McCartney composed the song, Hey Jules, to comfort him that became the Beatles song Hey Jude. Lennon commented, “That’s his (McCartney’s) best song. It started off as a song about my son Julian … he turned it into Hey Jude.” Lennon too wrote the songs, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Good Night for Julian so he did have feelings for his son.

Without Epstein to keep them together, the band mates started pursuing interests independently of each other. Lennon appeared in the anti-war, black comedy How I Won the War (1967). McCartney took it upon himself to give the band mates a point of focus while coming to terms with Epstein’s untimely death so he made himself in charge of their television special, Magical Mystery Tour . The Beatles immersed themselves in making this psychedelic TV film, which did better with American rather than British audiences.

With Epstein no longer around to take care of the business end, the band members took it upon themselves to handle their financial matters.  With that in mind in ‘68 they formed Apple Corps, a multimedia corporation. Lennon described it as “artistic freedom within a business structure.” But they were inexperienced in business matters and the company was soon plagued by problems and sorely in need of professional management. A young receptionist at the company May Pang became Lennon and Ono’s personal assistant.

Lennon spent more and more time with Ono and less with the other Beatles. Knowing that their wedding in 1969 would become a huge global press event, John and Yoko decided to use the publicity to promote world peace. A week long bed-in served as their honeymoon. The couple essentially remained in bed wearing their pajamas and invited the press to the Presidential Suite (Room 702) at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel every day between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.  Signs reading “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace” were pasted above their headboard. The novel event garnered headlines the world over and they repeated their bed-in in Montreal. John stated to the press, “It’s part of our policy not to be taken seriously. Our opposition, whoever they may be, in all manifest forms, doesn’t know how to handle humour. You know, and we are humorous, we are, what are they, Laurel and Hardy. That’s John and Yoko, and we stand a better chance under that guise, because all the serious people, like Martin Luther King, and Kennedy, and Gandhi, got shot.” How prophetic!

But what the world did not find humorous was the breakup of the Beatles, for which they blamed Ono. She maintained that the Beatles broke up themselves without any direct involvement from her and said, “I don’t think I could have tried even to break them up.”

When the group recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in ‘66, there was still a fraternal spirit between them and they wanted to collaborate together as musicians. It was after that trouble started. The break-up of the Beatles was a not due to a single event or factor but a cumulative process throughout the period 1968 to 1970.

Some of the factors leading to the breakup were the cessation of touring in 1966, the death of Epstein and differences in artistic vision with each of the member pursuing his own musical tastes. McCartney was more into pop, Harrison was interested in Indian music, and Lennon’s compositions became more introspective and experiential. To make matters worse, unlike the other wives, Yoko did not leave John’s side for a minute, they were always together even when he was working with the rest of the band in the studio. The band mates had made a tacit agreement not to let the women in their lives into their inner sanctum, their studio. Not only that, but Lennon insisted that she should also have a say and input into the band’s recordings. She would make her opinion known without being asked. Harrison especially found her presence and interference increasingly irritating. After all they had achieved their massive success without her help. Harrison was evolving fast as an artist and wanted more space to write songs and sing lead vocals, but Lennon and McCartney dominated the band.

Disregarding the friction she was causing, Ono became so controlling that when she and Lennon were injured in a car accident in the summer of ‘69, partway through recording Abbey Road, and she was laid up in bed, she had a microphone installed in the studio so she could make artistic comments about the album during their recordings.

Journalist Barry Miles wrote that Ono’s continual presence in the studio put a considerable strain on Lennon’s relationship with the other band members. Harrison was so fed up that when she took one of his chocolate digestive biscuits without asking that he exploded and told her off in a rage. As all these stories leaked to the press, she was called “the woman who broke up the Beatles” and became extremely unpopular with fans.

Ono influenced Lennon to produce more “autobiographical” output and, after recording Beatles single, The Ballad of John and Yoko they formed their own band, the Plastic Ono Band. They came out with their first album Live Peace in Toronto 1969, which was recorded during the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival and for which guitarist Eric Clapton, bass player Klaus Voormann, and drummer Alan White collaborated with them. After the rock first half, Ono performed an avant-garde set screaming on the microphone. Lennon’s heroin use inspired him to record the song Cold Turkey with the Plastic Ono Band. The Beatles had rejected the song for release as a single even though all the band mates had their own personal drug issues.

His fans greeting his independent musical output with ready enthusiasm greatly cemented Lennon’s decision to quit the Beatles in ‘69 on the flight back to London from Toronto after playing at the Rock and Roll Festival. Back in England, at the next band meeting at Apple, he informed McCartney and Starr of his decision (Harrison was not present at the meeting). He said he wanted a “divorce.” But that day the band also signed a lucrative renegotiated recording contract with Capitol Records, guaranteeing them a higher royalty rate, so Lennon was asked to keep his decision private until the release of the Beatles’ Let It Be album and film the following year. Since it was a mutually beneficial contract that they had negotiated together, and the band mates still trusted each other, they kept this crucial information to themselves.

By 1970, knowing which way the wind was blowing, all four band members had begun working on solo projects. At the end of the year, McCartney filed a lawsuit against the other three Beatles Let It Be album and film the following year. Since it was a mutually beneficial contract that they had negotiated together, and the band mates still trusted each other, they kept this crucial information to themselves.

By 1970, knowing which way the wind was blowing, all four band members had begun working on solo projects. At the end of the year, McCartney filed a lawsuit against the other three Beatles in London’s High Court for dissolution of the Beatles’ contractual partnership. The legal process and negotiations were so lengthy and complicated that it took five years for formal dissolution of the partnership to finalise.

Rock stars have groupies throwing themselves at them daily. There is so much temptation and opportunity to stray. Every couple faces eventual boredom in the bedroom no matter how strong their marriage may be. Being intelligent, Ono was faced with a choice, either she orchestrate a set up and give her blessing to Lennon straying or worse he would end up doing to her what he did to his first wife.  In mid ‘73, Ono confided her dilemma to their personal assistant May Pang who had been working for them for three years by now. The 22 year old Chinese-American assistant was neither glamorous nor come from a lofty background.  Best of all, Ono felt she could control her and the situation. She told May, “He likes you a lot” and gave her blessing for them to start a physical relationship.

Despite her reservations about how the sexual relationship would pan out, May Pang started sleeping with Lennon and the two moved to L.A. There he started working on an album with record producer Phil Spector, a frequent collaborator with the Beatles. Their drunken recording sessions became legendary and it is said that every musician in L.A. was desperate for an invite to join in their jam sessions. Lennon soon became out of control and later called this 18 month period his “Lost Weekend.” Pang was just too young and inexperienced to be able to control Lennon who was in his early thirties. Ono had been more of an older mother figure who could stabilize him. Not knowing what to do, after a series of calamitous incidents where he publicly behaved self-destructively , Pang encouraged Lennon to reach out to old band mates, friends and even develop regular contact with Julian, whom he had not seen for two years. Ono had always discouraged his contact with his son since she felt threatened by it. Starr, McCartney, Beatles roadie Mal Evans, and American musician Harry Nilsson all came and spent time with Lennon under his roof in L.A. and things improved for Lennon.

Julian began to see his father more regularly. Christmas of ’73, Lennon bought Julian a Gibson Les Paul guitar and a drum machine, and he himself taught his son some chords. “Dad and I got on a great deal better then. We had a lot of fun, laughed a lot and had a great time in general when he was with May Pang. My memories of that time with Dad and May are very clear—they were the happiest time I can remember with them,” recalled Julian wistfully.

But Lennon’s old violence also resurfaced at this time and one night after a heavy night of drinking he tried to throttle Pang. So summer of ‘74, a sober Lennon and Pang returned to live in NYC so he could  concentrate on recording and adopted two cats which they named Major and Minor. They also had a spare room for Julian when he visited. Lennon was rewarded for his good behavior with the success of his album Walls and Bridges topping  the album charts, and his solo single “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” becoming the number-one US single, the only one in his lifetime.

While visiting Mick Jagger at Andy Warhol’s compound in Montauk, New York, in early ’75, Lennon and Pang saw a Scottish-style cottage they really liked and Lennon told a real estate broker to put in an offer for it. This was too much for Ono. She was still his wife and had no intention of letting him go so easily. Her understanding with Pang didn’t include buying a house together as a couple that meant a commitment.

Yoko With Her Japanese Upperclass Parents Isoko & Eisuke Ono

Ono started her old formula of calling Lennon nonstop. If it worked once, she figured, it would work again. He refused to take her calls as he knew what she was after.  She had also sent him a message via McCartney. Lennon and Pang were planning to visit Paul and Linda McCartney in New Orleans that February where they were recording their Venus and Mars album, but the day before Ono finally reeled Lennon in saying she had a miraculous cure for his smoking habit. After their meeting, Lennon neither returned home nor called Pang. When Pang telephoned the next day, Ono told her that Lennon was unavailable. The married couple’s separation was over, although Ono would allow him to continue seeing Pang as his mistress to give him the illusion of choice.

Privately Lennon kept quiet to maintain peace at home but publicly he was generous enough to give Pang respect telling biographer Larry Kane, “You know Larry, I may have been the happiest I’ve ever been… I loved this woman (Pang), I made some beautiful music and I got so fucked up with booze and shit and whatever.”

Ono knew she had to cement her relationship with a child. She had suffered three miscarriages already in her attempt to have a child with Lennon. When the couple reunited, she became pregnant for the fourth time. Not being the mothering sort, she told Lennon that unless he was willing to be a househusband and take care of the baby like her previous husband had done she would abort. He agreed readily. Sean Taro Ono Lennon was born on Lennon’s 35th birthday and was a heaven sent gift for him. Elton John stood in as the baby’s godfather. True to his word, Lennon took five years off from the music industry to take care of his second son.

Lennon was a dedicated, hands on dad. He declared proudly, “He (Sean) didn’t come out of my belly but, by God, I made his bones, because I’ve attended to every meal, and to how he sleeps, and to the fact that he swims like a fish.” He even hired a photographer take pictures of Sean every day of his first year and himself made drawings for him, who were posthumously published as Real Love: The Drawings for Sean.

All this devotion to his second son did not help relations with his first son. In a Playboy interview shortly before his death, Lennon said honestly, “I’m not going to lie to Julian. Ninety percent of the people on this planet, especially in the West, were born out of a bottle of whiskey on a Saturday night, and there was no intent to have children. So 90 percent of us… that includes everybody… were accidents. I don’t know anybody who was a planned child. All of us were Saturday-night specials. Julian is in the majority, along with me and everybody else. Sean is a planned child, and therein lies the difference. I don’t love Julian any less as a child. He’s still my son, whether he came from a bottle of whiskey or because they didn’t have pills in those days. He’s here, he belongs to me and he always will.” Lennon added he was trying to re-establish a connection with then 17-year-old Julian saying “Julian and I will have a relationship in the future.”

Surprise, surprise, after his death it was revealed that he had left Julian very little in his will. His entire estate after taxes was left to Ono, and Sean will inherit the £220 million fortune after her death as per Lennon’s will.

Even now, the two brothers are not close, though they are cordial. Julian said that he doesn’t feel resentment towards his younger half-brother, “I love Sean to death. He’s a very smart kid. But I do think there are things done without his knowledge. Someone in the camp could be manipulating events,” referring to Ono’s manipulative influence in an interview.

It wasn’t till shortly before his December 1980 murder that Lennon resumed his musical career. There was always a healthy competitiveness between Lennon and McCartney who had both dominated the Beatles with their songwriting and vocal talents.  As long as McCartney was producing what Lennon considered mediocre material, Lennon was relaxed enough to enjoy his musical hiatus, the minute McCartney released Coming Up in 1980, Lennon sat up and took notice.  “It’s driving me crackers!” He remarked that he couldn’t get the tune out of his head and so competitively Lennon started writing songs again.

Yoko Ono, Daughter Kyoko Cox & Second Husband Anthony Cox Who Brought Up Their Daughter Without Yoko’s Help

Remember the offhand remark that Lennon had made thoughtlessly how the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” way back in 1966? Well, there was a deranged Beatles fan from Texas named Mark David Chapman who had gotten obsessed with it. A big Beatles fan, he had idolized Lennon and himself played the guitar trying to be like Lennon. But after he became a born-again Christian, he turned against his idol. Jan Reeves, the sister of Chapman’s best friend Mark, said he “seemed really angry toward John Lennon and he kept saying he could not understand why John Lennon had said it (that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus). There should be nobody more popular than the Lord Jesus Christ. He said it was blasphemy.” When members of his prayer group made a joke in reference to Lennon’s song Imagine chanting  “Imagine, imagine if John Lennon were dead,” the idea of the assassination was born, Chapman’s childhood friend Miles McManushe told interviewers after the event.

Chapman had also been influenced by reading John Lennon: One Day at a Time by Anthony Fawcett detailing Lennon’s rock ‘n roll lifestyle in NYC. Chapman’s wife Gloria stated, “He was angry that Lennon would preach love and peace but yet have millions of dollars.” She quoted him saying, “”I would listen to this music and I would get angry at him, for saying that he didn’t believe in God… and that he didn’t believe in the Beatles….He told us to imagine no possessions and there he was, with millions of dollars and yachts and farms and country estates, laughing at people like me who had believed the lies and bought the records and built a big part of their lives around his music. I just wanted to scream out loud, ‘Who does he think he is, saying these things about God and heaven and the Beatles?’”

So three months prior to the murder, Chapman started planning to kill Lennon.  He admitted he had a whole hit list of people in mind, including David Bowie, Johnny Carson, Marlon Brando, Walter Cronkite, Elizabeth Taylor, George C. Scott and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, but John Lennon was the easiest to find. He was also particularly infatuated by Lennon.

Ono recalled the events of the fateful evening of December 8, 1980 with precision. The couple was thinking about going out for dinner after spending several hours in a recording studio, but decided to return to their apartment first so Lennon could see Sean before he went to bed. Right at the entrance of their Dakota apartment building, Chapman was waiting for them. He fired five times at Lennon at close range, hitting him four times in the back. Lennon died on the spot in Ono’s arms. Chapman calmly sat down to read The Catcher in the Rye until the police arrived and arrested him. He kept repeating to them that the novel was his statement.

Chapman’s legal team wanted to plead not guilty due to insanity in Chapman’s defense. Not only had he killed Lennon who was such vocal proponent of peace and brotherly love, but he had shot him in the back, a cowardly act, and then had waited calmly to be arrested. He had to be insane. His lawyers had expert testimony that he was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed the devil made him kill Lennon. But Chapman insisted that he wanted to plead guilty because he was carrying out the will of God, and denied hearing voices prompting the act; he also said God had visited him in his jail cell and told him to confess. Justice Dennis Edwards allowed the plea change without further psychiatric assessment. Dr. Daniel Schwartz, director of forensic psychiatric services at Kings County Hospital, told the judge in court that he said Chapman actually became John Lennon in his own mind, and decided to destroy the real John Lennon because Lennon was “evil” and “a phony.”

Chapman was sentenced to a prison term of 20-years-to life with psychiatric treatment during his incarceration; he has been imprisoned ever since, having been denied parole nine times since he became eligible in 2000. Each time there is a parole hearing, mandated by law to be every two years, Ono is there in person to lead the campaign against his parole.

Following the murder, a distraught Ono went into complete seclusion for an extended period.

The Bed In At The Amsterdam Hilton Served As The Couple’s Honeymoon In ’69

In the coming years she continued to honour Lennon’s memory. She funded the construction and maintenance of the Strawberry Fields memorial in remembrance of Lennon in Manhattan’s Central Park, directly across from the Dakota Apartments, where she still lives to this day. The memorial was officially opened on Lennon’s 45th birth anniversary. In 1990, Ono collaborated with music consultant Jeff Pollack to honor Lennon’s 50th birth anniversary with 1,000 stations in over 50 countries participating in the simultaneous broadcast of his ’71 peace song Imagine. In 1997, Ono and the BMI Foundation established an annual music competition program for songwriters in honor of John Lennon’s memory. In 2000, she founded the John Lennon Museum in Saitama, Japan. Ono was present as U.K. First Lady Cherie Blair’s unveiling of a 7-foot statue of Lennon in 2002 to mark the renaming of Liverpool airport to Liverpool John Lennon Airport. (Incidentally, Julian and Cynthia Lennon were present at the unveiling of the John Lennon Peace Monument next to ACC Liverpool eight years later.) Ono dedicated a new memorial called the Imagine Peace Tower located on an island near the Reykjavík harbour, Iceland, in 2007 that projects a vertical beam of light high into the sky. And, in 2009, Ono created an exhibit called John Lennon: The New York City Years for the NYC Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex, using music, photographs, and personal items.

John Lennon Vintage Signed Apple Records Publicity
At Sean’s Birth

But toward Lennon’s first born son Julian Ono remained intractable. Because he was completely left out of his own father’s will in favour of his stepmother, Julian had no choice but to take the matter to court. After a legal battle that lasted for years, the matter was finally settled with Julian reportedly getting £20 million, which he denied.

Yoko One hasn’t remarried.

Before his death, Lennon declared, “I still love those guys. The Beatles are over, but John, Paul, George and Ringo go on.”

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people living life in peace, you

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope some day you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope some day you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

By Mahlia Lone

All Bollywood fans mourned Sridevi’s tragic untimely demise this February. The highest earning Indian actress of her time, she was Bollywood’s first female Superstar carrying the movie on her own appeal without relying on a big name hero. Acting in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi language films, she had pan Indian appeal, and was a talented dancer as well as having great comedic timing. In a national poll, Sridevi was voted “India’s Greatest Actress in 100 Years.”

Her death as in her life drew in the crowds with hundreds of thousands of mourners lining Mumbai’s streets crying out “Sridevi Amar Rahe” (long live Sridevi) as her funeral cortege slowly traversed the six km. from Green Acres society where the family lived in an apartment in Lokhandwala Complex to the crematorium in Vile Parle. The funeral procession was headed by a tall, open truck covered in white flowers (her favourite colour) a massive portrait of Sridevi in the back. Her body draped in the national flag and encased Snow White like in a glass casket  was done up with full make-up, wearing a ceremonial gold and maroon coloured Kanjeevaram sari with a large gold necklace and sindoor (vermilion) on her forehead to proclaim her suhaagan (married woman) status. The Kapoor men, Boney, Anil, Sanjay and Arjun travelled in the truck with the body. The Maharashtra government accorded full state honours for the funeral and there was a gun salute before the cremation. Her last rites were performed by her two daughters, Jhanvi and Khushi, as Boney looked on with his head bent mournfully. Sridevi’s ashes are to be scattered at sea.

Let’s take a look back at her life, career and her relationship with her beloved Boney and her lovely girls.

Born Shree Amma Yanger Ayyapan in 1963 in Sivakasi, Madras State, to a Tamil lawyer, Ayyapan, and Rajeshwaramma, belonging to an upper caste Reddy family from Andhra Pradesh, Sridevi had a younger sister Srilatha. The family was strictly vegetarian and, till her marriage, Sridevi was always accompanied by her mother or by her sister on film sets. She started acting in Tamil films at only four years of age in 1967. In 1972, Sridevi made her first Bollywood movie as a child artist and, in 1975, she portrayed the heroine’s youngest sibling in the cult classic Julie.

Hitting puberty, Sridevi starred in her first leading role in a Tamil film at only 13 in 1976. In the following years, she followed it up with a number of films with South Indian Superstars, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth. Fittingly aged 16, Sridevi made her Hindi film debut as a heroine in Solva Sawan in 1979. But her big break in Bollywood came four years later when she stared opposite Jeetendra in Himmatwala, which became one of the biggest blockbusters of the year.  The actress with massive “Thunder Thighs”  became a huge hit with the masses. Her vigorous dance on the catchy song “Nainon Mein Sapna” fully synchronized with Jeetandra made her an overnight sensation, as did her daring, loud outfits and elaborate headgear. The very next year, the two starred in Tohfa, the biggest hit of the year, making Sridevi a bona fide star. She appeared on the cover of Filmfare magazine with the headline, “Unquestionably No.1!” In total, Jeetendra and Sridevi ended up doing 16 films together, including the above two.

In 1986, Sridevi played a woman/snake in Nagina, the second biggest blockbuster of the year. Though many actresses have played this role complete with writhing snake like dance moves, Sridevi’s dexterous climax dance on the song “Main Teri Dushman” became the snake dance to beat for all Indian actresses.

In her personal life, Sridevi’s parents arranged her marriage with Indian-American tennis player Vijay Amritraj who had newly become famous playing on the American tennis circuit. However, she broke off her engagement as she had fallen for Bengali born and raised Bollywood Disco dancing star, Mithun Chakraborty, husband of another actress Yogeeta Bali. Between 1984 and 1989, Mithun and Sridevi starred in four Hindi films together. Their relationship conincided with a spate of second marriages of Hindu Bollywood actors with their actress paramours, such as Dharmendra with Hema Malini and Raj Babbar with Smita Patil. In 1985, Mithun too secretly  wed Sridevi. After three years of waiting in the wings, Sridevi gave up on the relationship after Yogeeta tried to commit suicide and Mithun refused to either publicly acknowledge his second marriage or leave his first wife. A steadfast Yogeeta told a reporter, “I will accept it even if he takes on a second wife.” Sridevi figured Mithun was neither getting divorced like he claimed nor going to in the future, Sridevi got her marriage annulled in 1988. Incidentally,   Mithun went back to Yogeeta, and the couple is still married today and has four children together.

At this point, producer, older brother of star Anil Kapoor and son of Hindi film producer Surinder Kapoor, Boney finally spoke up and made his feelings known to Sridevi. Boney had been smitten with the actress after watching her in a Tamil film,  and once she made her  Bollywood debut, offered her a role in a movie he was planning Mr. India starring brother Anil. Boney admitted later, “I fell in love with Sri after watching her Tamil film during the late 1970s. I even flew to Chennai to meet her but she was shooting in Singapore. A few months later, I watched Sri’s debut Hindi film Solva Sawan (1979) and realised I wanted her to work with me. One day I went to meet her on the sets of a movie. But Sri was an introvert and wouldn’t talk to strangers. She talked to me in half-broken English and Hindi and just said that her mother took care of her projects. When she (her mother) asked for Rs. 10 lakh, I offered her Rs. 11 lakh because I wanted to be close to Sri. Her mother was impressed.”

During the shooting he continued to make an extra effort, “There were no vanity vans at that time but I arranged for a separate make-up room for her (Sridevi). Gradually, she felt comfortable with me,” he said.

In 1983, Boney had an arranged marriage with Mona and had two children, Arjun and Anshula, with her as Sridevi was heavily involved with Mithun. In fact, Mithun had first gained fame in Boney’s 1980 production of the rural set drama Hum Paanch. Mona recalled that Mithun didn’t approve of Sridevi’s close friendship with her producer Boney and to reassure the former she tied a raakhi on the latter and declared him to be like  a brother to her.

When the award winning Shekhar Kapur directed Mr. India, the sci-fi movie about a hero who becomes invisible, became the highest grosser of the year, defying all odds, it . Another of Sridevi’s unique dance numbers on the song “Hawa Hawaii,” her comedic turn as Charlie Chaplin, as well as the villain Amrish Puri’s catchphrase “Mogambo khush hua” (Mogambo is pleased) in the cult classic became super popular with the audience.

Sridevi’s character wearing a blue chiffon sari blowing in the wind sings “Kaate Nahin Kat Te/Yeh Din yeh raat/Lo aaj main kayhtee hun/ I love you” (These days and nights don’t seem to end without you, so I’m telling you today that I love you) to the hero, Boney probably imagined she was singing to him. Filmfare magazine described her as “truly a goddess in a blue sari.”

Speaking about what first attracted him to Sridevi, the  producer observed, “I was impressed from the start by the dignity with which she conducted herself. On the sets when she was shooting she would largely keep to herself. But she was never considered standoffish. There was always warmth towards her. What really endeared me to her was that she was down to earth. Success never went to her head. She was always grounded and continues to be. So commands respect spontaneously. When she enters a room people stand up for her.”

Sridevi recalled their courtship years, “Boney came to me in 1984 to sign me to play Seema, the lead female role for Mr. India. He confessed later, that he fell in love with me outright.” Boney even paid off Sridevi’s mother‘s debts and the grateful actress finally started responding to his advances.

In 1989, Sridevi played a double role portraying fraternal twins separated at birth in ChaalBaaz, a feat she performed with great expertise. Director Pankaj Parashar said “She proved her range with the movie and after that she got lots of offers which saw her in a double role.” She was deemed to have such a wide range that she played double roles in four more movies. The same year saw the release of the uber successful producer Yash Chopra’s romantic comedy Chandni with Sridevi playing the title role and it became the biggest blockbusters of 1989.The Times of India declared it, “one of the most watched films of Indian cinema.” According to the Tribune, “Leena Daru (costume designer) scored a winner again when she created the ‘Chandni Look’ for Sridevi. Every street corner sold the salwar-kameez and dupatta that gave the heroine a refreshingly understated look, rarely seen on the Indian screen.” Additionally, Sridevi’s dance number on “Mere Hathon Mein Nau Nau Choodiyan” was played at every wedding and the audience thirsted for even more of her. Sridevi became the undisputed queen of Bollywood in the 80s. She got Filmfare Best Actress nominations for both the movies, and won the award for ChaalBaaz.

In her private life, stories about Sridevi’s affair with married man Boney gained momentum. But the couple denied the allegation and Sridevi vociferously brushed it aside as idle gossip.

Meanwhile, she continued to work in big budget commercial potboilers. Yash Chopra repeated his formula once again by casting Sridevi opposite Anil in his 1991 film Lamhe. Influential Indian website Rediff.com stated, “Quite easily one of his most definitive films, Chopra surpassed his own findings of romance with the insightful, lovely Lamhe….One of the most remarkable films of her career…often considered a film way ahead of its time.” Though critically acclaimed , the film’s theme of incest did not hit it off with the conservative class and even Sridevi found it to be “too bold” for her personal taste. However, it won five Filmfare trophies including Filmfare Award for Best Film and Sridevi’s second Filmfare Award for Best Actress. The Rajasthani costumes worn by the actress in the film also won designer Neeta Lulla her first National Film Award for Best Costume Design.  This movie too over the years became a cult classic.

The next year, Sridevi starred in the epic Khuda Gawah opposite Bollywood Superstar Amitabh Bachchan. She played a double role as an Afghan warrior Benazir and her daughter. Shot mostly in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, the movie was a huge hit there with BBC reporting that “it ran to packed houses for 10 weeks in Kabul.” The movie remained “in great demand after the re-opening of cinema halls in the country (in 2001)” according to a website.

By now madly in love with his heroine, Boney produced the most expensive Indian films of its time, the action comedy Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja (1993) starring his brother and his ladylove. But the gimmicky movie bombed badly at the box office.

Their love, however, was flourishing. “He did take a few years to sort out his life before formally proposing to me in 1993,” the actress recalled. “I fell in love with him when I got to know the real him. It was difficult, traumatic even and it took me many years to finally accept the fact that I was destined to be with Boney. In hindsight, I only wish that I had realised and accepted his love for me sooner. I always believe in following my heart and I am glad that I did. My parents had passed away by then and my sister was shocked with my decision.”

By now, Sridevi had been acting nonstop for 30 years. Her parents had both passed away from illness and her sister was married. The actress hankered for a family of her own. Judaai (1997) became Sridevi’s last film appearance before she took a 15 years hiatus from film acting. Yet again cast opposite Anil (soon to become her brother in law in real life), she portrayed a greedy, money hungry housewife who “sells” her husband to a rich girl.

Soon after, Sridevi got knocked up and the news of her pregnancy spread like wildfire.

Mona related her side to reporters, “He (Boney) was 10 years older to me. I was 19 when I married him. So I literally grew up with him. Ours was a 13-year-old marriage. So it came as a shock when I realised that my husband was in love with somebody else… There was nothing left in the relationship to give it a chance because Sridevi was already with child. My family, including my father, my mother and sister was the greatest support. The humiliation was painful because I was pitted against a heroine. I was made to feel lesser than her. The industry wives gave me suggestions like, ‘Why don’t you lose weight?’ or ‘Why don’t you join a gym?’ All this made me realise that I had to get up, dust myself and start walking all over again. Also the advice that my friend Meena’s mother gave me became the gospel truth for me. She said, ‘If somebody has no place for you in their lives, then you can have no place for them in yours.’ I understood that I had not failed – my relationship had!’” Their two kids Arjun and Anshula faced a lot of difficulties at school during their father’s affair as the fellow students would mercilessly tease them.

In 1996, Sridevi and Boney tied the knot in a simple temple ceremony a few months before their daughter Jhanvi was born. But Boney did not immediately announce the wedding.

A big humiliating scandal was caused when Mona’s mother, Sattee Shourie publicly verbally abused Sridevi and even tried to physically beat her. In retaliation, the actress banned Boney from meeting  his first family. According to a 1997 Stardust story, the star felt extremely insecure about her marriage: “It rankles her no end that Mona is still Boney’s legally wedded wife, while she herself continues to remain his mistress, a temple wedding notwithstanding.”

On one occasion, Boney met his first wife Mona and took his children, Arjun and Anshula out on a picnic. Sridevi was livid and started shouting, “You b-, you @!#*!#!. How can you do this to me? If you love your kids and wife so much then why don’t you shift back into that house again? You cheat, you liar…” Sridevi didn’t want a repeat of her experience with Mithun who when push came to shove neither left his first wife and children nor publicly acknowledged Sridevi as his wife. She was not even willing to let Boney see his kids. After Jhanvi’s birth, under pressure from Sridevi and her family, Boney divorced his first wife and gave her custody of the kids. This is a major reason that Arjun has no relationship with his step-mother and half-sisters.”

Arjun, now himself an actor, frankly said in an interview, “My relationship with Sridevi would never be normal. She is just my father’s wife and nothing beyond that.”

In 2000, Sridevi gave birth to their younger daughter, Khushi. Their in laws from both sides were supportive of the couple. Sridevi said that Srilatha, “shares a great relationship with my husband and is convinced that he is the best thing that ever happened to me!” Moreover, she declared that she herself shared a very warm bond with the entire Kapoor khandaan (family), “I share a fantastic relationship with them. My mother in law adores me and I always try to pamper her because she loves to be spoilt by me. I can also never forget the support and strength I got from my sister in law Sunita (Anil’s wife and Sonam’s mother) all through and the love I got from Boney’s sister, Reena. The affectionate bond I share with Boney’s youngest brother, Sanjay (also an actor) and his wife Maheep is also a lifeline!” Incidentally, Boney launched both his brothers in films and also managed Anil’s career till the year 2000.

Starting 2004, Sridevi started making special appearances on TV and on the runway; she also started painting too keep herself creatively occupied.

2009 was a good year for Boney; it was the year he produced the second highest grossing action blockbuster of the year Wanted starring Salman Khan in his comeback role. In Pakistan, the movie  shattered records having the highest opening weekend of any Indian movie up till then.

Sridevi too made her comeback with the comedy English Vinglish from debutante director Gauri Shinde. She played a simple, middle class housewife who enrolls in an English-speaking course after her husband and daughters mock her English. The Times of India called it “easily one of the best films of 2012” and Sridevi’s performance “a master class for actors.” While Rajeev Masand of CNN-IBN wrote, “Sridevi delivers a performance that is nothing short of perfect. It’s warm and fuzzy, and leaves you with a big smile on your face.”

Sridevi became the only actress in Bollywood to make a successful comeback as a leading lady after marriage and a long time out because she was smart enough to reinvent herself. Not only did she not pick a project based on a romantic theme, but also she came back slimmer and even more attractive than before despite the passing of years.

To keep slim, svelte and young looking, Sridevi was reputed to have had 29 plastic surgeries, including liposuction, a number of rhinoplasty procedures, lips augmentation, Botox and fillers, a breast lift with implants, etc. After Sridevi’s death that was initially supposed to be due to cardiac arrest, Piyali Ganguli claimed on a social media post that “Sridevi was always under immense pressure to keep her weight down, have a wrinkle-free face, and do everything possible to hide her age.” Piyali said that she met Sridevi five years ago and found her very beautiful but unhappy and that continuously visited clinics in Southern California.

The husband and wife teamed up for their home production for the thriller Mom that marked a career milestone for her—her 300th film. She played a mother avenging her teenage daughter’s (played by Pakistani starlet Sajal Aly) rape, a role she said she empathized with and found it hard to be in a normal state after the rage she felt during filming. The film did well both critically and commercially. The news website Firstpost.com commented hilariously, “Here is a 53-year-old leading actress doing what Amitabh Bachchan once excelled at….Sridevi is a far more a riveting watch than a shirtless Salman Khan with his 6 plus packs or the quintessential middle aged Hindi film hero, who refuses to grow up….Suddenly, Bollywood shines bright with hope for the heroine over 50.”

In an interview, Boney proclaimed that Mom was his gift to his wife, “If I were Shah Jahan I would have built her a Taj Mahal. If I were a painter, I would have made her a beautiful painting. But, I make movies. Hence, I don’t know a better way than the gift of films for her.”

Having shot for her last on-screen appearance, a cameo in upcoming film Zero, Sridevi, Boney and Khushi along with the rest of the Kapoors, including Anil, were in Dubai end February attending nephew Mohit Marwah and Antara Motiwala’s lavish wedding in Dubai. Jhanvi was back in Mumbai shooting for her debut movie Karan Johar’s Dhadak opposite Ishaan Khatter (actor Shahid Kapoor’s brother).

Dressed to the nines in dazzling ensembles matching those of her seventeen year old daughter, Sridevi looked ravishing. She posed for cameras, danced and enjoyed herself thoroughly, blissfully unaware tha t these were her last few days in this world. After the wedding celebrations ended on 20th February, she told Boney who had a meeting in Lucknow on the 22nd to take Khushi and return to India without her as she had to shop for Jhanvi. She was staying in Room No. 2201 at Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel.

Boney related the events of the fateful day to his old friend Komal Nehta: “On the 24th (February 24th ) morning, I spoke to her. When she told me, ‘Papa (that’s how she addressed Boney), I’m missing you’, I also told her that I was missing her (Sridevi) a lot. But I didn’t tell her that I would be joining her in Dubai in the evening (he had decided to pay her a surprise visit). Jhanvi had seconded my idea of going to Dubai because she was scared, her mom, not used to being alone, would misplace her passport or some important document if she was alone.” According to Boney, there had been only two occasions in the last 24 years when they had not travelled together abroad — when Sridevi had travelled for two film appearances. “Although I didn’t accompany her on those two trips, I made sure that my friend’s wife was with her on both the occasions. The Dubai stay was the first time Sridevi was alone for two days — 22nd and 23rd — in a foreign land. I booked a 3.30 p.m. flight to Dubai on February 24th, and reached the hotel where she was staying at around 6.20 p.m. Dubai time.” After reaching the hotel, the couple hugged and kissed, and chatted for around 15 minutes. Boney suggested they go to Zuma for a “romantic dinner”. “I went to the living room while Sridevi went to the master bathroom to bathe and get ready. I channel surfed channels and was watching the South Africa-India cricket match for a few minutes followed by the Pakistan Super League cricket match highlights.” After around 15-20 minutes, he got restless as it was around 8 p.m. then and being a Saturday, he felt restaurants would fill up.

Boney’s impatience made him shout out to his wife from the living room. After calling out to her twice, he lowered the volume of the TV set and bellowed. Still no reply. He then walked to the bathroom and knocked on the door, calling out “Jaan, Jaan.” Again only silence at the other end, so he opened the door. The tub was full of water and a motionless Sridevi was immersed completely, from head to toe, in the water. There were no splashes to be seen on the bathroom floor outside the tubs, so it was clear that she had not flayed or struggled in her last moments. First, Boney called his friend and after he arrived, finally the police at 9 p.m.

To shocked fans all over the world, it was announced that Sridevi died on 24th  February 2018 at 19:00 GMT in Dubai. The initial report of cause of death was a cardiac arrest, but after a couple of days the forensic report released by the Dubai Police indicated that she had died of accidental drowning in the hotel bathtub. Traces of alcohol were found in her body and water in her lungs. On the 27th, the case was closed and her body was flown back to Mumbai accompanied by Boney and stepson Arjun on a private jet, belonging to the Indian industrialist and close friend, Anil Ambani.

Tributes poured in from the world over. The Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi lamented on social media, “Saddened by the untimely demise of noted actor Sridevi. She was a veteran of the film industry, whose long career included diverse roles and memorable performances. My thoughts are with her family and admirers in this hour of grief. May her soul rest in peace.”

In a different vein, a professor at Oxford  University wrote, “Ordinariness, thy name is not Sridevi. In life nor death. For a woman who had everything else, she seemed to crave it, hiding that obscene talent behind Corpulent Kapoor, motherhood, the couture gowns, the plastic surgeries which straightened all the kinks. I mourn you, what you were and what you could have been.”

After the funeral, Boney released a touching statement: “To the world, she was their Chandni, the actor par excellence, their Sridevi, but to me, she was my love, my friend, mother to our girls, my partner. To our daughters, she was their everything, their life. She was the axis around which our family ran.”

All Bollywood fans mourned Sridevi’s tragic untimely demise this February. The highest earning Indian actress of her time, she was Bollywood’s first female Superstar carrying the movie on her own appeal without relying on a big name hero. Acting in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi language films, she had pan Indian appeal, and was a talented dancer as well as having great comedic timing. In a national poll, Sridevi was voted “India’s Greatest Actress in 100 Years.”

Her death as in her life drew in the crowds with hundreds of thousands of mourners lining Mumbai’s streets crying out “Sridevi Amar Rahe” (long live Sridevi) as her funeral cortege slowly traversed the six km. from Green Acres society where the family lived in an apartment in Lokhandwala Complex to the crematorium in Vile Parle. The funeral procession was headed by a tall, open truck covered in white flowers (her favourite colour) a massive portrait of Sridevi in the back. Her body draped in the national flag and encased Snow White like in a glass casket  was done up with full make-up, wearing a ceremonial gold and maroon coloured Kanjeevaram sari with a large gold necklace and sindoor (vermilion) on her forehead to proclaim her suhaagan (married woman) status. The Kapoor men, Boney, Anil, Sanjay and Arjun travelled in the truck with the body. The Maharashtra government accorded full state honours for the funeral and there was a gun salute before the cremation. Her last rites were performed by her two daughters, Jhanvi and Khushi, as Boney looked on with his head bent mournfully. Sridevi’s ashes are to be scattered at sea.

Let’s take a look back at her life, career and her relationship with her beloved Boney and her lovely girls.

Born Shree Amma Yanger Ayyapan in 1963 in Sivakasi, Madras State, to a Tamil lawyer, Ayyapan, and Rajeshwaramma, belonging to an upper caste Reddy family from Andhra Pradesh, Sridevi had a younger sister Srilatha. The family was strictly vegetarian and, till her marriage, Sridevi was always accompanied by her mother or by her sister on film sets. She started acting in Tamil films at only four years of age in 1967. In 1972, Sridevi made her first Bollywood movie as a child artist and, in 1975, she portrayed the heroine’s youngest sibling in the cult classic Julie.

Hitting puberty, Sridevi starred in her first leading role in a Tamil film at only 13 in 1976. In the following years, she followed it up with a number of films with South Indian Superstars, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth. Fittingly aged 16, Sridevi made her Hindi film debut as a heroine in Solva Sawan in 1979. But her big break in Bollywood came four years later when she stared opposite Jeetendra in Himmatwala, which became one of the biggest blockbusters of the year.  The actress with massive “Thunder Thighs”  became a huge hit with the masses. Her vigorous dance on the catchy song “Nainon Mein Sapna” fully synchronized with Jeetandra made her an overnight sensation, as did her daring, loud outfits and elaborate headgear. The very next year, the two starred in Tohfa, the biggest hit of the year, making Sridevi a bona fide star. She appeared on the cover of Filmfare magazine with the headline, “Unquestionably No.1!” In total, Jeetendra and Sridevi ended up doing 16 films together, including the above two.

In 1986, Sridevi played a woman/snake in Nagina, the second biggest blockbuster of the year. Though many actresses have played this role complete with writhing snake like dance moves, Sridevi’s dexterous climax dance on the song “Main Teri Dushman” became the snake dance to beat for all Indian actresses.

In her personal life, Sridevi’s parents arranged her marriage with Indian-American tennis player Vijay Amritraj who had newly become famous playing on the American tennis circuit. However, she broke off her engagement as she had fallen for Bengali born and raised Bollywood Disco dancing star, Mithun Chakraborty, husband of another actress Yogeeta Bali. Between 1984 and 1989, Mithun and Sridevi starred in four Hindi films together. Their relationship conincided with a spate of second marriages of Hindu Bollywood actors with their actress paramours, such as Dharmendra with Hema Malini and Raj Babbar with Smita Patil. In 1985, Mithun too secretly  wed Sridevi. After three years of waiting in the wings, Sridevi gave up on the relationship after Yogeeta tried to commit suicide and Mithun refused to either publicly acknowledge his second marriage or leave his first wife. A steadfast Yogeeta told a reporter, “I will accept it even if he takes on a second wife.” Sridevi figured Mithun was neither getting divorced like he claimed nor going to in the future, Sridevi got her marriage annulled in 1988. Incidentally,   Mithun went back to Yogeeta, and the couple is still married today and has four children together.

At this point, producer, older brother of star Anil Kapoor and son of Hindi film producer Surinder Kapoor, Boney finally spoke up and made his feelings known to Sridevi. Boney had been smitten with the actress after watching her in a Tamil film,  and once she made her  Bollywood debut, offered her a role in a movie he was planning Mr. India starring brother Anil. Boney admitted later, “I fell in love with Sri after watching her Tamil film during the late 1970s. I even flew to Chennai to meet her but she was shooting in Singapore. A few months later, I watched Sri’s debut Hindi film Solva Sawan (1979) and realised I wanted her to work with me. One day I went to meet her on the sets of a movie. But Sri was an introvert and wouldn’t talk to strangers. She talked to me in half-broken English and Hindi and just said that her mother took care of her projects. When she (her mother) asked for Rs. 10 lakh, I offered her Rs. 11 lakh because I wanted to be close to Sri. Her mother was impressed.”

During the shooting he continued to make an extra effort, “There were no vanity vans at that time but I arranged for a separate make-up room for her (Sridevi). Gradually, she felt comfortable with me,” he said.

In 1983, Boney had an arranged marriage with Mona and had two children, Arjun and Anshula, with her as Sridevi was heavily involved with Mithun. In fact, Mithun had first gained fame in Boney’s 1980 production of the rural set drama Hum Paanch. Mona recalled that Mithun didn’t approve of Sridevi’s close friendship with her producer Boney and to reassure the former she tied a raakhi on the latter and declared him to be like  a brother to her.

When the award winning Shekhar Kapur directed Mr. India, the sci-fi movie about a hero who becomes invisible, became the highest grosser of the year, defying all odds, it . Another of Sridevi’s unique dance numbers on the song “Hawa Hawaii,” her comedic turn as Charlie Chaplin, as well as the villain Amrish Puri’s catchphrase “Mogambo khush hua” (Mogambo is pleased) in the cult classic became super popular with the audience.

Sridevi, Boney Kapoor, Jhanvi Kapoor, Khushi Kapoor at Manish MalhotraÂ’s 50th birthday bash hosted by Karan Johar on 5th Dec 2016 shown to user

Sridevi’s character wearing a blue chiffon sari blowing in the wind sings “Kaate Nahin Kat Te/Yeh Din yeh raat/Lo aaj main kayhtee hun/ I love you” (These days and nights don’t seem to end without you, so I’m telling you today that I love you) to the hero, Boney probably imagined she was singing to him. Filmfare magazine described her as “truly a goddess in a blue sari.”

Speaking about what first attracted him to Sridevi, the  producer observed, “I was impressed from the start by the dignity with which she conducted herself. On the sets when she was shooting she would largely keep to herself. But she was never considered standoffish. There was always warmth towards her. What really endeared me to her was that she was down to earth. Success never went to her head. She was always grounded and continues to be. So commands respect spontaneously. When she enters a room people stand up for her.”

Sridevi recalled their courtship years, “Boney came to me in 1984 to sign me to play Seema, the lead female role for Mr. India. He confessed later, that he fell in love with me outright.” Boney even paid off Sridevi’s mother‘s debts and the grateful actress finally started responding to his advances.

In 1989, Sridevi played a double role portraying fraternal twins separated at birth in ChaalBaaz, a feat she performed with great expertise. Director Pankaj Parashar said “She proved her range with the movie and after that she got lots of offers which saw her in a double role.” She was deemed to have such a wide range that she played double roles in four more movies. The same year saw the release of the uber successful producer Yash Chopra’s romantic comedy Chandni with Sridevi playing the title role and it became the biggest blockbusters of 1989.The Times of India declared it, “one of the most watched films of Indian cinema.” According to the Tribune, “Leena Daru (costume designer) scored a winner again when she created the ‘Chandni Look’ for Sridevi. Every street corner sold the salwar-kameez and dupatta that gave the heroine a refreshingly understated look, rarely seen on the Indian screen.” Additionally, Sridevi’s dance number on “Mere Hathon Mein Nau Nau Choodiyan” was played at every wedding and the audience thirsted for even more of her. Sridevi became the undisputed queen of Bollywood in the 80s. She got Filmfare Best Actress nominations for both the movies, and won the award for ChaalBaaz.

In her private life, stories about Sridevi’s affair with married man Boney gained momentum. But the couple denied the allegation and Sridevi vociferously brushed it aside as idle gossip.

Meanwhile, she continued to work in big budget commercial potboilers. Yash Chopra repeated his formula once again by casting Sridevi opposite Anil in his 1991 film Lamhe. Influential Indian website Rediff.com stated, “Quite easily one of his most definitive films, Chopra surpassed his own findings of romance with the insightful, lovely Lamhe….One of the most remarkable films of her career…often considered a film way ahead of its time.” Though critically acclaimed , the film’s theme of incest did not hit it off with the conservative class and even Sridevi found it to be “too bold” for her personal taste. However, it won five Filmfare trophies including Filmfare Award for Best Film and Sridevi’s second Filmfare Award for Best Actress. The Rajasthani costumes worn by the actress in the film also won designer Neeta Lulla her first National Film Award for Best Costume Design.  This movie too over the years became a cult classic.

The next year, Sridevi starred in the epic Khuda Gawah opposite Bollywood Superstar Amitabh Bachchan. She played a double role as an Afghan warrior Benazir and her daughter. Shot mostly in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, the movie was a huge hit there with BBC reporting that “it ran to packed houses for 10 weeks in Kabul.” The movie remained “in great demand after the re-opening of cinema halls in the country (in 2001)” according to a website.

By now madly in love with his heroine, Boney produced the most expensive Indian films of its time, the action comedy Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja (1993) starring his brother and his ladylove. But the gimmicky movie bombed badly at the box office.

Their love, however, was flourishing. “He did take a few years to sort out his life before formally proposing to me in 1993,” the actress recalled. “I fell in love with him when I got to know the real him. It was difficult, traumatic even and it took me many years to finally accept the fact that I was destined to be with Boney. In hindsight, I only wish that I had realised and accepted his love for me sooner. I always believe in following my heart and I am glad that I did. My parents had passed away by then and my sister was shocked with my decision.”

By now, Sridevi had been acting nonstop for 30 years. Her parents had both passed away from illness and her sister was married. The actress hankered for a family of her own. Judaai (1997) became Sridevi’s last film appearance before she took a 15 years hiatus from film acting. Yet again cast opposite Anil (soon to become her brother in law in real life), she portrayed a greedy, money hungry housewife who “sells” her husband to a rich girl.

Soon after, Sridevi got knocked up and the news of her pregnancy spread like wildfire.

Mona related her side to reporters, “He (Boney) was 10 years older to me. I was 19 when I married him. So I literally grew up with him. Ours was a 13-year-old marriage. So it came as a shock when I realised that my husband was in love with somebody else… There was nothing left in the relationship to give it a chance because Sridevi was already with child. My family, including my father, my mother and sister was the greatest support. The humiliation was painful because I was pitted against a heroine. I was made to feel lesser than her. The industry wives gave me suggestions like, ‘Why don’t you lose weight?’ or ‘Why don’t you join a gym?’ All this made me realise that I had to get up, dust myself and start walking all over again. Also the advice that my friend Meena’s mother gave me became the gospel truth for me. She said, ‘If somebody has no place for you in their lives, then you can have no place for them in yours.’ I understood that I had not failed – my relationship had!’” Their two kids Arjun and Anshula faced a lot of difficulties at school during their father’s affair as the fellow students would mercilessly tease them.

In 1996, Sridevi and Boney tied the knot in a simple temple ceremony a few months before their daughter Jhanvi was born. But Boney did not immediately announce the wedding.

A big humiliating scandal was caused when Mona’s mother, Sattee Shourie publicly verbally abused Sridevi and even tried to physically beat her. In retaliation, the actress banned Boney from meeting  his first family. According to a 1997 Stardust story, the star felt extremely insecure about her marriage: “It rankles her no end that Mona is still Boney’s legally wedded wife, while she herself continues to remain his mistress, a temple wedding notwithstanding.”

On one occasion, Boney met his first wife Mona and took his children, Arjun and Anshula out on a picnic. Sridevi was livid and started shouting, “You b-, you @!#*!#!. How can you do this to me? If you love your kids and wife so much then why don’t you shift back into that house again? You cheat, you liar…” Sridevi didn’t want a repeat of her experience with Mithun who when push came to shove neither left his first wife and children nor publicly acknowledged Sridevi as his wife. She was not even willing to let Boney see his kids. After Jhanvi’s birth, under pressure from Sridevi and her family, Boney divorced his first wife and gave her custody of the kids. This is a major reason that Arjun has no relationship with his step-mother and half-sisters.”

Arjun, now himself an actor, frankly said in an interview, “My relationship with Sridevi would never be normal. She is just my father’s wife and nothing beyond that.”

In 2000, Sridevi gave birth to their younger daughter, Khushi. Their in laws from both sides were supportive of the couple. Sridevi said that Srilatha, “shares a great relationship with my husband and is convinced that he is the best thing that ever happened to me!” Moreover, she declared that she herself shared a very warm bond with the entire Kapoor khandaan (family), “I share a fantastic relationship with them. My mother in law adores me and I always try to pamper her because she loves to be spoilt by me. I can also never forget the support and strength I got from my sister in law Sunita (Anil’s wife and Sonam’s mother) all through and the love I got from Boney’s sister, Reena. The affectionate bond I share with Boney’s youngest brother, Sanjay (also an actor) and his wife Maheep is also a lifeline!” Incidentally, Boney launched both his brothers in films and also managed Anil’s career till the year 2000.

Starting 2004, Sridevi started making special appearances on TV and on the runway; she also started painting too keep herself creatively occupied.

2009 was a good year for Boney; it was the year he produced the second highest grossing action blockbuster of the year Wanted starring Salman Khan in his comeback role. In Pakistan, the movie  shattered records having the highest opening weekend of any Indian movie up till then.

Sridevi too made her comeback with the comedy English Vinglish from debutante director Gauri Shinde. She played a simple, middle class housewife who enrolls in an English-speaking course after her husband and daughters mock her English. The Times of India called it “easily one of the best films of 2012” and Sridevi’s performance “a master class for actors.” While Rajeev Masand of CNN-IBN wrote, “Sridevi delivers a performance that is nothing short of perfect. It’s warm and fuzzy, and leaves you with a big smile on your face.”

Sridevi became the only actress in Bollywood to make a successful comeback as a leading lady after marriage and a long time out because she was smart enough to reinvent herself. Not only did she not pick a project based on a romantic theme, but also she came back slimmer and even more attractive than before despite the passing of years.

To keep slim, svelte and young looking, Sridevi was reputed to have had 29 plastic surgeries, including liposuction, a number of rhinoplasty procedures, lips augmentation, Botox and fillers, a breast lift with implants, etc. After Sridevi’s death that was initially supposed to be due to cardiac arrest, Piyali Ganguli claimed on a social media post that “Sridevi was always under immense pressure to keep her weight down, have a wrinkle-free face, and do everything possible to hide her age.” Piyali said that she met Sridevi five years ago and found her very beautiful but unhappy and that continuously visited clinics in Southern California.

The husband and wife teamed up for their home production for the thriller Mom that marked a career milestone for her—her 300th film. She played a mother avenging her teenage daughter’s (played by Pakistani starlet Sajal Aly) rape, a role she said she empathized with and found it hard to be in a normal state after the rage she felt during filming. The film did well both critically and commercially. The news website Firstpost.com commented hilariously, “Here is a 53-year-old leading actress doing what Amitabh Bachchan once excelled at….Sridevi is a far more a riveting watch than a shirtless Salman Khan with his 6 plus packs or the quintessential middle aged Hindi film hero, who refuses to grow up….Suddenly, Bollywood shines bright with hope for the heroine over 50.”

In an interview, Boney proclaimed that Mom was his gift to his wife, “If I were Shah Jahan I would have built her a Taj Mahal. If I were a painter, I would have made her a beautiful painting. But, I make movies. Hence, I don’t know a better way than the gift of films for her.”

Having shot for her last on-screen appearance, a cameo in upcoming film Zero, Sridevi, Boney and Khushi along with the rest of the Kapoors, including Anil, were in Dubai end February attending nephew Mohit Marwah and Antara Motiwala’s lavish wedding in Dubai. Jhanvi was back in Mumbai shooting for her debut movie Karan Johar’s Dhadak opposite Ishaan Khatter (actor Shahid Kapoor’s brother).

Dressed to the nines in dazzling ensembles matching those of her seventeen year old daughter, Sridevi looked ravishing. She posed for cameras, danced and enjoyed herself thoroughly, blissfully unaware tha t these were her last few days in this world. After the wedding celebrations ended on 20th February, she told Boney who had a meeting in Lucknow on the 22nd to take Khushi and return to India without her as she had to shop for Jhanvi. She was staying in Room No. 2201 at Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel.

Boney related the events of the fateful day to his old friend Komal Nehta: “On the 24th (February 24th ) morning, I spoke to her. When she told me, ‘Papa (that’s how she addressed Boney), I’m missing you’, I also told her that I was missing her (Sridevi) a lot. But I didn’t tell her that I would be joining her in Dubai in the evening (he had decided to pay her a surprise visit). Jhanvi had seconded my idea of going to Dubai because she was scared, her mom, not used to being alone, would misplace her passport or some important document if she was alone.” According to Boney, there had been only two occasions in the last 24 years when they had not travelled together abroad — when Sridevi had travelled for two film appearances. “Although I didn’t accompany her on those two trips, I made sure that my friend’s wife was with her on both the occasions. The Dubai stay was the first time Sridevi was alone for two days — 22nd and 23rd — in a foreign land. I booked a 3.30 p.m. flight to Dubai on February 24th, and reached the hotel where she was staying at around 6.20 p.m. Dubai time.” After reaching the hotel, the couple hugged and kissed, and chatted for around 15 minutes. Boney suggested they go to Zuma for a “romantic dinner”. “I went to the living room while Sridevi went to the master bathroom to bathe and get ready. I channel surfed channels and was watching the South Africa-India cricket match for a few minutes followed by the Pakistan Super League cricket match highlights.” After around 15-20 minutes, he got restless as it was around 8 p.m. then and being a Saturday, he felt restaurants would fill up.

Boney’s impatience made him shout out to his wife from the living room. After calling out to her twice, he lowered the volume of the TV set and bellowed. Still no reply. He then walked to the bathroom and knocked on the door, calling out “Jaan, Jaan.” Again only silence at the other end, so he opened the door. The tub was full of water and a motionless Sridevi was immersed completely, from head to toe, in the water. There were no splashes to be seen on the bathroom floor outside the tubs, so it was clear that she had not flayed or struggled in her last moments. First, Boney called his friend and after he arrived, finally the police at 9 p.m.

To shocked fans all over the world, it was announced that Sridevi died on 24th  February 2018 at 19:00 GMT in Dubai. The initial report of cause of death was a cardiac arrest, but after a couple of days the forensic report released by the Dubai Police indicated that she had died of accidental drowning in the hotel bathtub. Traces of alcohol were found in her body and water in her lungs. On the 27th, the case was closed and her body was flown back to Mumbai accompanied by Boney and stepson Arjun on a private jet, belonging to the Indian industrialist and close friend, Anil Ambani.

Tributes poured in from the world over. The Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi lamented on social media, “Saddened by the untimely demise of noted actor Sridevi. She was a veteran of the film industry, whose long career included diverse roles and memorable performances. My thoughts are with her family and admirers in this hour of grief. May her soul rest in peace.”

In a different vein, a professor at Oxford  University wrote, “Ordinariness, thy name is not Sridevi. In life nor death. For a woman who had everything else, she seemed to crave it, hiding that obscene talent behind Corpulent Kapoor, motherhood, the couture gowns, the plastic surgeries which straightened all the kinks. I mourn you, what you were and what you could have been.”

After the funeral, Boney released a touching statement: “To the world, she was their Chandni, the actor par excellence, their Sridevi, but to me, she was my love, my friend, mother to our girls, my partner. To our daughters, she was their everything, their life. She was the axis around which our family ran.”

 

By Mahlia Lone

Grace Patricia Kelly was born in 1929 in Philadelphia and aptly named after her paternal aunt, an aspiring actress who had died only in her early 20s. Her father was an ambitious and driven bricklayer by the name of John B. Kelly who was one of ten children born to extremely poor Irish Catholic immigrants.

A naturally very athletic young man, Kelly started practicing crew or sculling in the river. At the advent of the WWI he joined the US Army as a private and started boxing there but broked his ankle before the championship fight. He left the Army at the end of the war as a lieutenant.

As a civilian, Kelly played some professional football and started his own bricklaying contracting business, which grew to be extremely successful. Full of bright ideas, he would block the  chimneys of houses his company  had been subcontracted with a single glass tile. The homeowners would complain of smoke to the house builders who would have to pay Kelly for his work in full before he would rectify the would send his workers to break the glass tile and rectify the problem. What a bright idea to ensure full and timely payment!

Kelly also branded his business at a time when branding was still a relatively rare concept. Two of his brothers also became notable successes: Walter, a vaudeville and silent film star who worked for MGM and Paramount Pictures, and George, a Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist, screenwriter, and director.

In 1920, Kelly gained renown when he applied to row at the Henley Royal Regatta that takes place on the River Thames in England. He was turned down for having worked as a common labourer according to the snobbish British rules. Americans backed him up and he represented the nation at the Summer Olympics that year at Antwerp, Belgium. With something to prove, Kelly won not one Olympic gold medal but three and was later commemorated in his hometown on Philadelphia with a bronze statue. After his Olympic victory, a cocky Kelly sent his racing cap to King George V with the accompanying note, “Greetings from a bricklayer”, for having been snubbed at Henley.

Equally driven in love, Kelly chased and finally married an aristocratic German-descent former model and the first woman to teach women’s athletics at U Penn. Margaret belonged to a noble German family who had since fallen on hard times and immigrated to the U.S. She converted to Catholicism upon marriage and the couple had three daughters and a son, John Jr. who also became a crew champion. While Kelly was gregarious, sociable and a womaniser, Margaret was controlled, cold looking and seemingly emotionless.  She pretended not to notice or comment upon her husband’s infidelities. Even with her children, she believed in tough love.

During World War II, John Kelly was appointed as National Director of Physical Fitness by President Roosevelt. Afterwards, he narrowly lost the election for Mayor of Philadelphia.

Ambitious Kelly’s favourite child was his eldest daughter, while he groomed his son to become a sculling champion like himself. Grace was the least favourite middle child. While her father and siblings were outgoing and athletic, Grace was short sighted, mousey, and not great at sports and had an annoying habit of sniffing. Her father did not expect much from her. It was not until later that she excelled at swimming and tennis as well as bloomed into her gorgeous looks.

While at a prestigious Catholic girls’ school in Philadelphia, Grace and her good looking mother and sisters modeled at local society events. At Stevens School, a socially prominent private high school, though quiet and shy by nature, she acted in drama and was predicted to be a stage and film star. By then, she had blossomed into quite a beauty. Five foot seven with porcelain skin and clear blue eyes, she had a slim, willowy figure. She started to date, and had several boyfriends including a friend of her brother who tragically died after suffering from multiple sclerosis.

Grace was outwardly polite but inwardly headstrong. Bad at math, her college application was rejected  from the college of her choice. Instead, she decided to pursue her dream of becoming an actress much to the dismay of her father who had a significant standing in the community and viewed an actress being “a slim cut above streetwalker.”

Using her Uncle George’s connections, Grace enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. To appease her disapproving parents, she moved into the strict Barbizon Hotel for Women where men were neither allowed in to the girls’ rooms at all nor even admitted into the building after 10 p.m., and strict dress and behaviour rules were upheld for the female residents. To help support herself as her father had put her on a subsistence allowance to discourage her, Grace worked as a model on the side, soon earning over $400 a week. Beneath her cool, blond, angelic exterior lay the steely determination she had inherited from her father.

She had also inherited his passionate nature though from the outside she looked controlled and icy like her mother. In 1948, 18 year old Grace got embroiled romantically with her 27 year old married Jewish acting teacher Don Richardson despite facing severe parental disapproval. When Grace brought him home to meet her family, her father and brother treated him very badly and her mother snooped through his things, finding his divorce papers and lots of condoms. Her parents forbade her from seeing Richardson and forced her to return home until graduation, commuting from Philly to New York for auditions. But she continued to carry on with him on the sly.

An embittered Don Richardson said to a reporter after the affair ended, “She screwed everybody she came into contact with who was able to do anything good for her.”

While working in summer stock, Grace fell for fellow Irish Catholic descent actor Gene Lyons who was in the process of getting an annulment. She dumped him when she realized her was a hopeless alcoholic.

Once she had left the Academy at 19, Grace started appearing on Broadway and then in sixty live TV dramas.  In 1949, she met the thirty year old Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi at the Waldorf hotel when he was on an official visit. He accompanied her half a dozen times on high profile dates to places like the opera where they would be photographed. Smitten, the Shah presented her with three dazzling pieces of Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery, a brooch of a gold birdcage housing a diamond and sapphire bird, a diamond studded gold vanity case, and a gold, diamond and pearl bracelet. He is said to have proposed to her but was turned down because her heart was set on an acting career plus she didn’t want to be married to a conservative Muslim monarch.

Noticed in Hollywood by the matinee idol Gary Cooper who thought she was different from the other actresses at the time, he had her cast in his award winning Western High Noon (1951). In her biography True Grace: The Life and Times of an American Princess, Wendy Leigh stated that at the age 22 Grace had romances with both the film’s 50 year old star Gary Cooper as well as director Fred Zimmermann.

In fact, she fell hard for the married Cooper. Gina McKinnon in her book What Would Grace Do? speculated that “there might well have been a roll or two in the hay bales,” at the least since Grace’s sister Lizanne admitted that Grace was infatuated with Cooper.

Gary Cooper declared, “She (Grace) looked like a cold dish with a man until you got her pants down, then she’d explode.”

Next Grace was invited to audition for director John Ford directed Mogambo (1952) opposite stars Clark Gable and Ava Gardner and she signed a seven-year contract with MGM on a salary of $850 a week. Ford was impressed with Grace’s “breeding, quality and class” that came across on screen. The movie was shot in the wilds of Kenya. Additionally, Grace also got to visit Rome with Ava where they visited a series of brothels. Apparently, Grace even picked up a bordello waiter and took him back with her to her hotel, only reemergingfrom her room three days later.

In Africa, she had an affair with Clark Gable 30 years her senior, as they mated out in the bush. Ava Gardner went on record to admit that Grace and Clark had eyes only for each other on set. Actor Donald Sinden also recalled accidentally stumbling into Gable’s tent on night and finding the two together. Though on screen she cultivated the image of being an “ice princess” on set she was clearly raunchier.

Grace enjoyed drinking, but couldn’t keep up with her hardened older lovers. After skinny-dipping with Clark Gable in Lake Victoria, the two would sit in his tent demolishing bottles of hard liquor, according to biographer Robert Lacey. Despite these shenanigans, Grace won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the successful movie.

Alfred Hitchcock who had a thing for his good looking blonde leading ladies then cast Grace in three back-to-back thrillers: Dial M for Murder and Rear Window (both 1954 releases) and To Catch a Thief (1955). Hitchcock said that he was attracted to Kelly’s “sexual elegance,” her reserved but secret, smoldering sexuality. In an interview with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock explained how he “deliberately photographed Grace Kelly ice-cold and kept cutting to her profile, looking classical, beautiful, and very distant.” For Hitchcock the most interesting women sexually, were those with exterior reserve rather than overtly sexual women. “Sex should not be advertised,” he said. He cast Grace opposite top male stars James Stewart and Cary Grant.

Grant became another admirer claiming of all the actresses, “I much preferred Grace. She had serenity.”

Grace’s relationship with 47 year old Ray Milland nearly cost her career. On the set of Dial M for Murder, the two stars fell hard for each other. When Milland’s wife Mal found out, she threw him out of the house. Besotted, he was willing to call it quits on his marriage of 22 years for Grace. Tabloids started reporting that Grace was a home wrecker. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper even called her a “nymphomaniac.” The relationship was finally ended by Milland when realized how much it would cost him in a divorce both financially and career wise.

Grace had made a habit of having affairs with anyone who advanced her career. She slept her way through directors, drama coaches, actors, writers, even key grips and cameramen. But to the public she was careful to project an image of wholesomeness. She was the girl next door in whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt. Scandalous silent film star Clara Bow commented in exasperation, “Grace Kelly will get away with having many lovers. Know why? The damn public will never believe it!’

“She had more boyfriends in a month than I had in a lifetime,” mocked Zsa Zsa Gabor. “She went to bed with anyone she fancied at the time.”

Author Gore Vidal, and ex-husband of Jane Fonda commented, “Grace almost always laid the leading man. She was notorious for that in this town.”

Inside Hollywood Grace was seen as a threat by wives and was becoming very unpopular amongst them. The widow of director Henry Hathaway said to a reporter, “I have nothing good to say about her. She had an affair with my best friend’s husband, Ray Milland!” When asked just how many men Grace had seduced, she replied, “Everybody. Yes, she wore white gloves but she was no saint!”

Grace also had a fondness for heavy drinking, stocking champagne in her fridge and consuming entire bottles of it. She was regularly going on and off the wagon.

On a rebound from Milland, Grace had an affair with the charming but again married William Holden while filming The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954). Holden had fallen in love with Audrey Hepburn previously on the set of Sabrina and had been willing to divorce his wife, actress Brenda Marshall. When Audrey discovered that Holden had had a vasectomy after the birth of his second son, wanting children, she broke up with him and married Mel Ferrer. So both heartbroken stars Grace and Bill sought solace in each other’s company.

Meanwhile, Grace’s parents continued to fix her up with “appropriate, non-actor suitors.”

On a career winning streak, Grace fought MGM to lend her to Paramount to do their emotional drama The Country Girl (1954), threatening to quit if they didn’t. She had become a box office draw by then, and the studio made an exception for her.

Her father commented as was his wont  when she was nominated for an Academy Award for the role that he was shocked that Grace was proving to be the one of his children who may take care of him in his old age. Grace felt hurt with the slight.

She had been right to fight for the role. For this film, she won the Oscar for Best Actress at the Academy Awards of ’55, beating Judy Garland in A Star is Born, the hot favourite. Grace had been seeing widower Bing Crosby during this time who got suspicious and visited her hotel room at 3 a.m. “Bing Crosby arrived for a showdown with Grace,” wrote Darwin Porter in his book Hollywood Babylon Strikes Again. “Instead of that, he found a nude Marlon in her bed.” Brando had also just won an Oscar for Best Actor, though she had turned down his movie On the Waterfront. Clearly the two stars were celebrating their respective victories, but Crosby was so incensed since he had lost both the Oscar statuette and his girl to Brando that “fisticuffs” ensued.  It was the end of her affair with Crosby, but Grace’s fling with Brando continued a short while longer.

According to Tony Curtis, he also hooked up with Grace, describing her in very lewd terms. She also had brief flings with married British actor David Niven, then Senator John F Kennedy, Paul Newman and Spencer Tracy.

THE COUNTRY GIRL, Grace Kelly, William Holden, 1954

“Grace’s motivations were inspired by her almost pathological need for her father’s approbation,” wrote James Spada in Grace: the Secret Lives of A Princess. “her ‘father complex’ also left her with an obsessive attraction to older, accomplished, authoritative paternal figures. But her father’s demands for demure obedience backfired and Grace rebelled against the heavy-handed moral strictures forced upon her and became sexually promiscuous. Guilt-ridden about her promiscuity (and reputation in Hollywood) by 1955 Grace “was a restless, dissatisfied and unhappy woman, desperate to win legitimacy in a good marriage.” Additionally, Grace had grown up in her siblings’ shadow and she had realized that her scandalous love life was a way of making her parents pay attention, albeit negative.

Grace was dating the nearly two decade’s older twice married French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, trying to get over the loss of Ray Milland when she met the Russian descent French born fashion designer Oleg Cassini. Cassini met her in a restaurant in New York with Aumont.  Cassini said he was an “accomplished seducer,” sixteen years older than her. He enjoyed chasing her, recalling later, “It was to be the greatest, most exhilarating campaign of my life.” He sent her a dozen red roses to her home for ten days anonymously “from the friendly florist.” On the tenth day after he had piqued her curiosity, he called her saying he was the friendly florist. Laughing, she agreed to go on a date accompanied by her sister. Grace readily confessed to Oleg that she was still in love with Ray Milland. Confident of his own abilities, Cassini predicted that they would be engaged to him within a year. Grace left for shooting in LA the next day, while Cassini was linked by gossip columnists with stunning movie stars such as Pier Angeli and Anita Ekberg. He didn’t want to appear too eager.

When she had finally broken up with Milland for good, “she sent me a postcard asking me to come to the south of France while she filmed To Catch a Thief. ‘Those who love me follow me,’ she wrote,” recounted Cassini. “Well, I let my dress collections go to hell, and I flew to Cannes. She was warm and funny and caring, also very disciplined about her work. She never stayed out past 11 p.m. Up till now our relationship had been platonic, but we had such a wonderful time that she asked me what my intentions were. I told her I wanted to marry her. We became secretly engaged.”

Cassini said he transformed her style. When they met, Grace dressed “like a school teacher, but he encouraged her to put a little sex in her clothes. I put her in elegant, subdued dresses.” Again, Grace had something to gain from the relationship.

The sticking point was again Cassini’s his past. He was divorced, and open about having been with countless women. Margaret considered he would make a bad husband, while her father though he was too foreign who persuaded her not to marry him.

“Do you realise if my mother hadn’t been so difficult about Oleg Cassini, I probably would have married him?” Grace reportedly said.

Cassini lamented: “Her family regarded her as a prize possession… that must be handled, above all invested, wisely.” Her father was self-made and extremely ambitious for all his children.

At this time, Grace headed the American film contingent to the 1955 Cannes Film Festival where she met Prince Rainier III at a photo session for the magazine Paris Match at the Palace of Monaco as a staged publicity stunt for an article, a meeting that was to prove of momentous importance to both the driven and ambitious actress and royal. Exhausted after a hectic schedule, she nearly cancelled but was convinced when the agenda was a leisurely stroll in the palace gardens with the highlight being his menagerie of exotic animals as the couple was followed around by a journalist, photographer and royal handlers in tow recording their polite conversation. The Prince’s Palace of Monaco built as a fortress in 1191 has been occupied by the Grimaldis, who took it over a century later, for 700 years. So the mood was formal rather than personal.

At the meeting, Prince Rainier said he was charmed with Grace’s freshness, maturity, sensitivity and culture. She also thought that the most eligible bachelor in Europe she found to be “charming.”

Cassini continued, “I thought nothing of it. She said Rainier was nice, but that was it. We came back to New York and Grace was becoming a superstar. Neither of her parents liked me. The weekend I spent in Ocean City was the worst of my life. I had my own room, but I had to walk through her parents’ bedroom to get there. She kept seeing me despite her family’s opposition, even suggesting we get married right away. She told me to find a priest who would marry us. I agreed, but then she got sick and rundown. Once she recovered, she had changed her mind. Her parents had talked her out of it. I didn’t see her again until she called to tell me she was engaged to Prince Rainier.”

“Harper”
Paul Newman
1966 Warner Brothers
© 1978 David Sutton

While back in the States, Grace had been playing a princess in the movie The Swan while corresponding with the real life prince. By December, Rainier followed her to the U.S. Asked by a reporter at a press conference “If you were pursuing a wife, what kind would you like?” Rainier smiled and replied: “The best!”

Born Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi in 1923 at the Prince’s Palace in Monaco, to the illegitimate born Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Valentinois, only child of Prince Louis II of Monaco and a cabaret singer. Princess Charlotte was later legitimized through formal adoption and subsequently named heir presumptive to the throne of Monaco.  A new French law stated that if there was no legal heir to Monaco’s throne, France would take over the country. Rainier’s father Count Pierre de Polignac was half-French, half-Mexican who upon their marriage took his wife’s surname, Grimaldi, and was made a Prince of Monaco by Prince Louis, his father-in-law to ensure his daughter’s line of succession and Monaco’s sovereignty. Their first born was a daughter, Princess Antoinette, Baroness of Massy who would try to supersede her younger brother. The couple was later divorced.

Prince Rainier was sent to public school in England, first to now defunct Summerfields in Sussex, and then to the new, modern and popular Stowe in Buckinghamshire. After this, he was moved to the world’s most expensive boarding school and one of the oldest boarding schools in Switzerland, Institut. Le Rosey. For higher education, he attended the French University of Montpellier and finally to the Institut d’études politiques de Paris. He was a thoroughly well-educated modern prince, suitably groomed for his future role.

On his 21st birthday, Rainier’s mother renounced her right to the throne in favour of her son. She moved to Château de Marchais, the Grimaldi estate outside of Paris, with her lover, a French former jewel thief René Girier, nicknamed René la Canne (René the Cane) and turned the estate into a rehabilitation center for ex-convicts, provoking much public scandal.

Meanwhile, it fell to her son to rehabilitate the family name and prestige. In WW II, Prince Rainier joined the French Army only as a second lieutenant, but receiving the French Croix de Guerre and becoming Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor in 1947, he retired as a colonel in 1954.

Louis II died in 1949, leaving a nearly empty treasury. Monaco had been a gambling hub for wealty European aristocrats who lived in reduced circumstances after WW II. The growing middle classes went to cheaper, newer gambling cities. Being a thoroughly modern young man, Prince Rainier decided to bring about profound changes in Monaco. First, he promoted the city state as a tax haven for the rich and famous and boosted its tourism. It attracted a lot of real estate development t for this reason.

Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis heavily invested in and took control of Société des Bains de Mer de Monaco (SBM) during Rainier’s early reign, and was fully involved in deciding the future of the principality. Onassis suggested to Prince Rainier that he improve the image of Monaco by marrying an American film star, as it would increase tourism. Marilyn Monroe toyed with the idea of marrying the prince, telling Onassis, “Give me two days alone with him and of course, he’ll want to marry me.” Though at first she ludicrously thought Monaco was in Africa. Prince Rainier and his royal advisers felt Monroe lacked a sufficiently dignified public image, but the idea of a glamorous Hollywood movie star wife to polish Monaco’s lackluster image stuck in their minds.

The two controllers of Monaco’s destiny fell out when Onassis demanded a monopoly from Prince Rainier in the hotel and property development business. He wanted Monaco to remain exclusive but Rainier wanted the country to maximize its revenue. There was a power struggle between the two. Rainier outmaneuvered the billionaire after Monaco’s boycott by French President Charles de Gaulle and changed the laws to regain control of SBM and his own vision for Monaco in 1964.

As his second modernizing step, Prince Rainier suspended the principality’s autocratic and outdated Constitution in 1959 and replaced it with a new more democratic one in 1962, even though it reduced his own power as the sovereign. Now the power lay with him as well as a National Council of eighteen elected members.

In his personal life, Prince Rainier had been in a long term live in relationship with the French film actress Gisèle Pascal since meeting her as a student at Montpellier University. They lived together at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France, and intended to marry. His sister, Princess Antoinette, wanting the throne for her son, put it out in the press that the actress was low born and barren. When doctors examined her, Gisele was deemed to indeed be infertile and so the prince broke it off with her. She subsequently married a fellow French actor and had a daughter with him so the doctors turned out to be wrong.

Needing to produce an heir, rehabilitate Monaco’s tarnished reputation and build tourism, Prince Rainier remembered Onassis’ sage advice and looked about himself for a wife that would help him achieve his goals. This is when he met the Academy Award winning glamorous Grace Kelly who “projected refinement and poise in person and onscreen…and refused to include her measurements in press kits or overly expose herself on film,” observed Professor Mark Braude of Stanford University in The Making of a Hollywood Princess. “In her eleven films she played a wife or fiancée in more than half, and in the remainder (save for Rear Window) she was chaperoned by a doting relative. ‘With Grace,’ an MGM publicist told the Chicago Tribune in 1957, ‘we put on a high style, a high line campaign.’”

For Grace, marrying a prince not just in name but one who actually wielded power was a bid to finally gain her father’s approval. Even the Oscar she got for The Country Girl had failed to impress him. “If I’d met the Prince two or three years earlier perhaps I wouldn’t have married him,” she said looking back. “But we came together at the right time… I knew that I was going to do it, even if there was a chance that I was making a mistake.”

On both sides, the marriage was a clearly thought out practical decision more than a love match. In fact, it was the Prince’s Irish-American Royal Chaplain Father Francis Tucker who took it upon himself to act as a go between and arrange the match. He had been specifically assigned by the Vatican as a personal advisor and confessor to Prince Rainier because both France and Italy wanted influence over the prince, so not wanting to offend either nation, the Vatican chose an American.

According to People magazine, Father Tucker was an “American priest who was Rainier’s closest aide and chief talent scout for eligible Catholic girls;” he encouraged the correspondence between the prince and the movie star resulting in their marriage. The Father himself wrote to Grace, thanking her “for showing the Prince what an American Catholic girl can be, and for the deep impression this has left on him.” He told her about the Prince’s serious intentions towards her. Once she assented that she too was interested, the priest whose family had roots in Philadelphia arranged the trip to the U.S. for both of them. In time for Christmas, the pair travelled by transatlantic ocean liner to New York, and then by train to Philadelphia to stay with friends of Tucker, the Austins who were family friends with the Kellys. The Kellys had the whole contingent over Christmas for a week so that the decision could be mulled over. It couldn’t have been more orchestrated.

The Times reported that the courtship contained “a good deal of rational appraisal on both sides.”

After she submitted to an examination to prove she was capable of bearing children, the prince presented her with a 12-carat diamond engagement ring on New Year’s Eve in NYC, her favourite city. The press called it a “fairytale of modern times between the golden girl of the silver screen and her charming suitor, Prince Rainier III of Monaco.”

“Rainier’s advisors had planned for the Minister of State to announce the engagement from the Grimaldi Palace in early January 1956, while issuing an American press release that would include a stock image of the couple. The Kelly family, however,  anticipated that American reporters wouldn’t stand for such a paltry offering, and after some firm words from Grace’s father to the Prince, a compromise was reached. The Minister of State did announce the engagement but on the same day, the Kelly family was allowed to hold a morning press conference in their Philadelphia home,” added Braude.

“Grace remained poised throughout the raucous conference, attended by over 100 journalists, but her future husband was visibly upset, as reporters asked the couple how many children they would have, while photographers stood on the family piano to get a better shooting angle. At one point Rainier reportedly muttered: ‘It’s not as if I belong to MGM.’

A reporter asked Grace about her post-marriage career plans. She offered a measured response: ‘I still have a contract with MGM, and I have to do two more pictures. Of course I’m going to continue with my work—I’m never going to stop acting.’

Rainier at that point interjected: ‘I think it would be better if she did not attempt to continue in films…I have to live in Monaco, and she will live there. That wouldn’t work out…She will have enough to do as Princess.’”

This contentious issue was left to be settled after their marriage.

From Hollywood to Monaco the news of the engagement enchanted everyone. It was quite a story and the press reported on every detail of “the wedding of the century.” There was a century old tradition of American heiresses marrying into hard up European nobility, which reached a zenith this union, but from the outside it was portrayed as a love match to play up to the romantic sensibility in the twentieth century.

Fittingly, in her last movie release before she got married, the musical comedy High Society (1956), Grace wore her own engagement ring and sang a duet with Bing Crosby, “True Love.” Not one to pass up on a leading man, Grace slept with the film’s other leading man Frank Sinatra. Even after her marriage, she reconnected with Sinatra   and shacked up with him in the South of France after fulfilling her responsibility to after producing the heir and the spare.

Meanwhile, negotiations over money took place between the Kellys and the prince. Prince Rainier wanted a $2 million dowry to help cover the cost of the wedding.  “We are not impressed with royalty,” John Kelly replied. “My daughter doesn’t have to pay any man to marry her.”

** FILE ** Prince Rainier of Monaco, top, and Grace Kelly, center, pose with their children Princess Caroline, 8, left, Prince Albert, 7, right, and Princess Stephanie on the occasion of the christening of newborn Princess Stephanie in 1965. Rainier, whose marriage to American film star Grace Kelly brought elegance and glamour to one of Europe’s oldest dynasties, died Wednesday, April 6, 2005 at the hospital treating him for heart, kidney and breathing problems. He was 81. (AP Photo/Look)

Finally, Grace consented to give up $1 million from her inheritance so that her brother and two sisters would not be shortchanged and contributed another million from her own finances. This was what was actually taking place behind closed doors as opposed to “the fairytale romance” the press reported on.

The couple wed in Spring of 1956. Grace and her entourage of 70 people sailed to Monaco from New York on the ship S.S. Constitution with 80 pieces of her personal luggage and her poodle, Oliver, in tow. A Boston Globe reporter wrote: “Never have so many women brought so much luggage to such a small country for so few days.” 1,800 photographers and reporters were waiting at the port for her, as was the Prince.

There were not one but two ceremonies, a civil one including a reception attended by 3,000 citizens of Monaco and a Roman Catholic chapel wedding with a 700-person guest list that included Conrad Hilton, Cary Grant, Gloria Swanson and Ava Gardner. “The look and feel of the religious ceremony that provided the climax to this months-long story owed much to the influence of Kelly’s studio, MGM, which had dispatched a crew of experts to help stage-manage the lavish event. As one of Kelly’s bridesmaids recalled, ‘the day, like the bride-to-be herself, was a creation brought to us through the joint production efforts of enormous willpower, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and God.’ “

American and Monégasque flags flew side by side at the Palace,” wrote Braude. “The studio’s technicians oversaw a dress rehearsal days before the ceremony to ensure proper lighting and sound. A team of MGM hair and makeup staff had accompanied Kelly aboard the Constitution. MGM’s cameras were given prime positioning in the Cathedral of Monaco, alongside four newsreel cameras and four live television cameras.”

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the bride to be later confessed to having a fling during her wedding with her bridesmaid Carolyn Reynold’s husband Malcolm.

In contrast, to reporters Princess Grace was quoted as saying, “When I married Prince Rainier, I married the man and not what he represented or what he was. I fell in love with him without giving a thought to anything else.”

“In the outfitting of the bride and groom, aristocratic luxury mixed with Hollywood glamour. MGM lent out the use of one of its top costume designers, Helen Rose. Kelly’s ivory dress, made up of 450 yards of peau de soie, taffeta, silk net, and lace, and with its enormous train, evoked a legacy of fairy-tale princesses; yet Rose used relatively simple lines that were quite fashion-forward for a 1956 wedding dress, offering an updated version of the fairytale wedding gown. Rainier’s bombastic outfit served as counterbalance to Kelly’s modern dress. Heavily laden with medals, a sash, ostrich plumes, and a scepter, Rainier had designed the outfit himself, basing the design on uniforms worn by Napoleon’s marshals. Showing how effortlessly she could move between worlds, Kelly delivered her vows in French. Not a single crowned head attended the ceremony, a collective snubbing that underscored the dynasty’s lowly reputation among its would-be monarchical allies,” wrote Braude.

The couple spent their honeymoon on Prince Rainier’s yacht, cruising around the Mediterranean.

Princess Grace continued to be hounded by paparazzi everywhere she went. While pregnant with Princess Caroline, she would hold her Hermès Sac à Dépêches handbag in front of her baby bump. The handbag became synonymous with her, even appearing on a 1956 cover of Life magazine, and Hermes named it “the Kelly bag” to cash in on its surge of popularity. Similarly, in 1959, the Princess used her silk Hermès scarf as a sling for her injured her arm at an Aristotle Onassis’s yacht party. She became the epitome of European refined style and grace.

But in their private life, Rainier’s flings sent Grace back into the arms of Sinatra and Brando. She once confided to her hairdresser: “I know my husband has affairs with other women. That’s very frustrating to me and makes me very unhappy.”

According to Wendy Leigh in her biography, True Grace, the 60 cigarettes plus cigar-smoking prince began cheating on  as soon as became pregnant during their honeymoon. “Within months, he had taken at least three mistresses. Grace was humiliated and she was extremely unhappy. She was surrounded by decadence and Rainier’s disreputable friends.”

Princess Caroline arrived on cue exactly nine months after the wedding. Prince Albert was born a year later in 1958 and the baby of the family, Princess Stephanie, in 1965. Grace brought an unaccustomed American informality to the royal family. “The nursery doors were open, and the children were very much a part of the fabric of the day,” said Rita Gam to People magazine. But the constraints of palace life were not always easy for Grace.

In 1962 photographer Eve Arnold who came to Monaco to work on a CBS documentary noted “I got the distinct feeling that Grace Kelly felt trapped. It wasn’t the fairy tale one had expected.”

“But blonde, blue-eyed and with a sultry sex appeal that casting directors compared to Marlene Dietrich, Grace herself was hardly an innocent. She plunged back into an affair with Sinatra lasting several years – they even had a love-nest in Cap Ferrat. Her list of alleged lovers extended to American tennis ace Sidney Wood,” pointed out Leigh.

“Some biographers claim Rainier was violent as well as a control freak. During a tennis doubles match, he allegedly aimed a ball straight at Grace’s face. When it hit her, the friend who was his doubles partner defended him, saying he was just ‘desperate to win’.

Prince Rainier and Princess Grace in formal clothing, Jan. 6, 1955. (AP Photo)

To fill her time, Grace devoted herself to charities and cultural affairs, the allowable occupations of crowned heads. But her husband was against her growing wish to resume acting. When Hitchcock offered her the lead in his 1964 film Marnie, the public furor in Monaco was such that Rainier put his foot down. The part went to Tippi Hedren. “They were living in a gilded cage,” sid her onetime fiancé Cassini. “She wanted to be respected as an actress.” Disappointed that she could never resume her acting career, Grace threw herself in her charity work. Under her presidency, the Red Cross Gala and the Rose Ball opening the Monte-Carlo season each year became much more high profile with Hollywood icons such as Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Gregory Peck in attendance.

By the late 1970s, Grace was spending part of each year on her own in Paris. She began to enjoy the company of younger men like Robert Dornhelm, an Austrian film director while Prince Rainier was focused on improving Monaco’s economy. When her daughters, especially the wild child Princess Stephanie started to rock her own scandals, Princess Grace confided to her biographer Gwen Robyns, “How can I bring up my daughters not to have affairs, when I am having affairs with married men all the time?’

Then came the tragic accident on the winding Riviera road perilously hugging the seaside cliff. Grace had told Hedda Hopper, ‘I hate to drive a car…I am not a good driver.’ In September of 1982, she and Stephanie, then 17, were returning from France and were approaching Monaco. On a hairpin curve, the Princess lost control of the car due to a mild stroke. Her Land Rover plunged down a 45-foot embankment, landing on its roof. With severe head injuries, Princess Grace slipped into a coma upon impact; she died the next day of a brain haemorrhage.

Like Princess Diana after her, all of a sudden Princess Grace’s standing in the royal family experienced a shift after her death. As condolence messages poured in from a shocked world, Prince Rainier was genuinely profoundly saddened by the loss of his Princess Consort who had stuck by him and by Monaco through all the issues of her marriage. After Princess Grace’s death, Prince Rainier refused to remarry.

That is not to say that Prince Rainier remained celibate. He had a documented long term relationship with his second cousin, Princess Ira von Fürstenberg, a former actress/jewellery designer/Fiat heiress who is also the former sister-in-law of the famous fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg.

Eventually, the ailing His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III died in 2005 and was buried beside his wife, HSH Princess Grace, at the Saint Nicholas Cathedral, the resting place of previous sovereign princes of Monaco and the place where Prince Rainier and Princess Grace had been married in 1956.

Prince Albert II succeed his father and is now one of the wealthiest royals in the world with assets valued at more than $1 billion so Rainier succeeded in replenishing Monaco’s coffers. Prince Albert finally married former Olympic swimming champion Charlene Whittstock who famously got cold feet and disappeared the day before the wedding and they have twins, a boy and a girl. Albert also has an illegitimate girl and a boy from before his marriage.

Princess Caroline was married three times. Despite being a Roman Catholic, she was divorced from her first husband, for which the Roman Catholic Church issued a special annulment. She then married Italian Stefano Casiraghi, heir to an industrial fortune. They had three good looking children: Andrea Casiraghi married to Columbian descent billionaire socialite Tatiana Santo Domingo with whom he has a boy and a girl; Charlotte Casiraghi who has two children out of wedlock; and Pierre Casiraghi who wed the Italian aristocratic TV personality Beatrice Borromeo and they have one son so far. Tragically, Casiraghi was killed in a speedboat sporting accident aged only 30 as his wife Princess Caroline watched on helplessly. Her third marriage was with Prince Ernst August of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick, a solely honorific title with no duchy. They have one daughter. Princess Caroline, being the eldest, was always considered the sober, mature one who took over her mother’s duties after her death.

Stephanie became the lost princess after her mother’s tragic untimely death. She was profoundly affected by the accident and blamed herself for it. Out of the siblings, she has always been the most scandalous one, even shocking the liberal French. Often photographed topless on the Riviera beaches, after dating a string of actors, Stephanie was in a live in relationship with her bodyguard with whom she had two children. After him, she married a circus elephant trainer and lived with him in his caravan and then a Portuguese acrobat. She is less troubled now. Her son Louis Ducruet recently got engaged to a girl who worked at a checkout counter.

In Monaco, Princess Grace’s legacy lives on with the Princess Grace Foundation that supports young artists. When I visited Monte Carlo, there was a photographic exhibition of the Princess working as a philanthropist put up by Prince Albert at the city’s famed casino. Thus, the image and memory of Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco’s image is still very much a part of the principality thirty five years later.

 “The tale of Khosrow and Shirin is well known

And by Truth, there is no sweeter story than it”

—Nizami Ganjavi

Nizami penned a lyrical love story (circa 1177-1180) of the Persian Sasanian Shahnshah Khosrow II Parviz and the Princess Shirin as part of his Panj Ganj. The Zoroastrian Shahnshah’s courtship of the Armenian Christian Princess followed many twists and turn.

He endured long journeys, both of a physical and spiritual nature, before marrying

Shirin, his true love. But their story ended in tragedy

By Mahlia Lone

The romance written by Nizami Ganjavi was commissioned and dedicated to the Seljuk Sultan Toghril II, the Atabek Muhammad ibn Eldiguz Jahan Pahlavan and his brother Qizil Arslan. The Sultan did not choose the subject, just the genre. Although the story was well known in the region, its romance was heightened by Nizami. Unlike Ferdowsi who focused on the historical aspect, i.e. kingship and battles of Khosrow, Nizami decided to blur the facts a bit and expand its romantic aspect. The following is a summary of the version in Love Stories of Persian Literature, based on the translation by Nazy Kaviani:

Hormizd IV, the Sasanid King of Persian was a good monarch who cared for the welfare of the common people and maintained strict discipline in his army and court. He also did not allow the Zoroastrian priests to persecute the Christian citizens of his realm. Due to these reasons, he was not popular amongst the elite, which led to many executions and confiscations amongst those that opposed his policies.

Hormzid had another worry that made him anxious about the future of his realm. He didn’t have a son. At long last, his queen gave birth to a healthy, cherubic baby boy, Khosrow Parvez. The overjoyed King got the brightest tutors to arm his son with the best education and prepare him for his future role. By age ten, the clever boy became skilled in such manly pursuits as riding, fencing, and archery, essential for a prince in those days. Khosrow’s best friend Shapur excelled at painting and chose it as his vocation.

One night, a young Khosrow feasted and caroused in a farmer’s house, which displeased his father, Hormizd, who didn’t think it suited his dignity as the heir to the throne. A repentant Khosrow apologized to his father who readily forgave him. That night, Khosrow saw his grandfather Khosrow I Anushirvan in a dream who foretold that his grandson would have a wife named Shirin, a steed named Shabdiz (the legendary black stallion and “world’s fastest horse”), a musician named Barbad and a great kingdom, Persia. As it turned out that both the horse and the court musician played significant roles in the love story.

Khosrow recounted the dream to his close friend and a painter, Shapur, who told the Prince about the unmarried Armenian Queen Shamira Mahin Banu who ruled over a vast territory and had no heir other than her beautiful niece, Shirin. He described Shirin’s flawless and unmatched beauty in detail and added that she had an exceptional horse, named Shabdiz, that galloped faster than the wind. The young prince was intrigued and couldn’t stop thinking about the princess who he felt was destined for him. He sent Shapur to Armenia to throw a feeler out to Shirin from the prince’s side. Shapur assured his friend that he would convince Shirin to not take any other husband save Khosrow.

Once in Armenia, Shapur started tracking Shirin’s daily whereabouts. One day, he discovered that Shirin and her companions would be spending the day in a nearby forest. Arriving before the ladies, Shapur hung a portrait he had made of the prince from a tree and left. Knowing that they were safe from prying eyes, Shirin and her friends danced around the trees. Suddenly, Shirin found herself face to face with Khusrow’s picture that hung from a magnificent tree. She swooned at his likeness. Not only was he gorgeous, but he was dressed as a prince.

Shirin couldn’t sleep that night in her restlessness to find out whose likeness it was. She went back to the forest the next morning accompanied by her companions to find out the identity of the mysterious stranger. Shapur appeared and satisfied her curiosity. He told her that Khosrow was no ordinary prince but the heir to the Persian throne and was extremely interested in her.

Background — a Romanticised History

Khosrow  II entitled Parvez  (The Victorious), the last great King of the Sasanian Empire, is prominently featured in such enduring works of Persian literature as the great Abu ’l-Qasim Ferdowsi Tusi’s epic poem The Shahnameh (Book of Kings, circa 940–1020),  as well as Nizami Ganjavi’s Khosrow and Shirin, a romantic and tragic retelling of it. The former is the world’s longest epic poem written by a single poet and the national epic of Greater Iran, while the latter is a fictional version of the Sasanian ruler Khosrow’s life portraying him as heroic king and star crossed lover and Shirin, his faithfulAramean  queen.

The Sixth century patriarch of the Church of the East, Isho‘yahb met all three of the great rulers of his time, the Roman Emperor Heraclius, Sasanid Shahnshah Khosrow II and the second Muslim Caliph Hazrat Umar ibn al-Khattab. It was recorded that “Isho Yahb was treated respectfully throughout his life, by the king himself and his two Christian wives Shirin the Aramean and Mary the Roman.”

Seventh-century Byzantine historiographer, the last historian of Late Antiquity, writing in the time of Emperor Heraclius (c. 630) Theophylact Simocatta argued that Shirin was Roman: “In the following year the Persian King (Khosrow II) proclaimed as Queen Seirem (Shirin) who was of Roman birth and Christian religion, and of an age blossoming for marriage, slept with her…In the third year he entreated Sergius, the most efficacious in Persia, that a child by Seirem be granted to him. Shortly afterwards this came to pass for him.”

But the seventh century Armenian historian Sebeos contradicted Shirin’s Roman (Byzantine) ancestry: “(Xosrov), in accordance with their Magian religion, had numerous wives. He also took Christian wives, and had an extremely beautiful Christian wife from the land of Xuzhastan named Shirin, the Bambish, queen of queens (tiknats’ tikin). She constructed a monastery and a church close to the royal abode, and settled priests and deacons there allotting from the court stipends and money for clothing. She lavished gold and silver (on the monastery). Bravely, with her head held high she preached the gospel of the Kingdom, at court, and none of the grandee mages dared open his mouth to say anything—large or small—about Christians. When, however, days passed and her end approached, many of the mages who had converted to Christianity, were martyred in various places.”

The 12th-century poet Nizami Ganjavi, the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature, responsible for imparting q colloquial and realistic style to the Persian epic, himself was married to a Kipchak slave girl, called Afaq, presented to him by Fakhr al-Din Bahramshah, the ruler of Darband. Afaq was Nezami’s “most beloved” wife of the three that he took over his lifetime. His only son Mohammad who he referred to as the “apple of my eyes” was from this wife. She died after Khosrow and Shirin was completed. Mohammad was seven at the time.

According to Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University, Peter Chelkowski, Nizami’s favorite pastime was reading Firdawsi’s Shahnameh. Nizami based the Shahnameh as a source for his three epics of Haft Paykar, Khosrow and Shirin and Eskandar-nameh (Alexander the Great), part of his Panj Ganj (Five Treasures). The second of his four romances Leyli and Majnun (see GT issue ) is based on a real life Arab couple.

Using his vast knowledge, Nizami was responsible not only linking Persia between Pre and Islamic times and also placed the nation in context of the Ancient World.

The princess was at the age when young people are ripe for falling in love and cajoled Shapur to tell her how she could meet the prince. Shapur told her that she would have to lose her companions to meet Khosrow between her kingdom and his. He gave her a ring Khosrow had sent her and said that if she couldn’t find Khosrow on the way, she should continue towards Madaen, the metropolis where the royal center of Ctesiphon was located. Once there, she should show the ring to the courtiers who would take her to Khosrow.

Farhad And Shirin2

Shirin did as she was told. She got on her trusty steed Shabdiz, which was so fast that nobody could catch up with her. After she had travelled for countless miles, Shirin felt hot and dusty from the hard ride. Both she and her horse were parched. When she came to a pond she dismounted and, seeing nobody around, stripped and stepped into the pond to take a bath.

Meanwhile, Khosrow was galloping fast towards the Armenia. On the way, he too chanced upon the clearing. He dismounted and, walking around, spied the moonlit image of a young, naked woman bathing in the silvery water with her long, thick, lush hair spread around her like a cape. Mesmerized by the image, he stood transfixed.

Feeling his intent gaze upon her, Shirin raised her eyes towards him. Their eyes met for an instant and they made an electric connection. Though she had seen likeness in the portrait, she didn’t recognize Khosrow due to his clever disguise. The prince felt that he was intruding and averted his gaze in respect.

Soon both resumed their journeys in opposite directions intent on their purpose.

Khosrow arrived in Armenia without further incident. The Queen welcomed him to her castle. He told her he had come to meet her niece and ask for her hand in marriage. Overjoyed at the thought of such an illustrious alliance bound in matrimony, the Queen told him that Shirin had set off for Madaen. They sent Shapur to bring her back, but before they could return, Khosrow got the sad news of his father’s demise. There had been a palace coup. The rebel leaders deposed, blinded and killed Hormizd. Appalled at the turn of events, Mahin Bano gave Khosrow a fresh Arabian horse nearly as fast as Shabdiz, named Golgoon, to ride back swiftly to Madaen.

By the time Shirin returned with Shapur, Khosrow had left to claim the throne. Back home, he was crowned Shahanshah Khosrow I only to be overthrown by the powerful and ambitious General Bahram Chobin who seized power and took the throne. The legitimate King fled to Armenia.

This time he and Shirin did finally meet. Their love affair began in earnest when Shirin overheard Barbad singing of the prince’s love for her in an adjoining tent tent to her abode. Khosrow and Shirin spent the days getting to know each other, and falling in love. Swept up in a sea of passion, Khosrow was impatient to consummate their love, but Shirin wanted to wait for their wedding night. As much as Khosrow wanted Shirin, he was now the legitimate King, and taken aback by her reluctance. So the lovers danced the dance of flirtation, two steps forward, and one step back.

Shirin remained resolute and adamant that she would not marry him unless he was not just King in name but in actuality too. Before she would consent to marry him, he had to reclaim his throne back from Bahram Chobin. She wanted him but she wanted to be married to a king more. Moreover, she probably felt that she could only respect him if he were strong and brave enough to punish his enemies. Feeling angered and rejected by Shirin, Khosrow had no choice but to leave. Shirin gave him Shabdiz and bid him a speedy and fruitful journey.

Khosrow needed help with forces and money. So he decided to solicit the help of his father’s erstwhile enemy the Caesar of the Byzantine Empire, Emperoror Maurice. He travelled straight to Constantinople and negotiated a deal with him. In exchange for returning former Byzantine territories under Persian control, Maurice agreed to supply Khosrow with additional forces on two conditions. One that Khosrow marry his eldest daughter Miriam and two that he not get remarried in her lifetime. With no other choice, Khosrow consented.

With the help of Caesar’s army, Khosrow’s forces waged a decisive battle against Bahram Chobin, defeated him and crowned himself Shahanshah of Persia. Having entered a marriage of political convenience, he continued to miss and pine for Shirin, but had a son with his new wife.

Back in Armenia, Shirin’s aunt, Mahin Bano fell ill and died, bequeathing her entire territory to Shirin before she died. Queen Shirin focused on improving the lives of her subjects and released deserving prisoners. Though beloved by her people, in her private thoughts she could neither forget Khosrow nor forgive him for his marriage to Miriam. He was always in her thoughts until one day she decided she could not bear it anymore. Entrusting her kingdom to her trusted advisers, she strode Golgoon and left Armenia for Madaen with a few companions. Upon arrival, she settled in a dark and gloomy castle, far from the royal palace.

Miriam heard about Shirin’s presence at the capital, but was so jealous that she kept Khosrow away from her. Khosrow and Shirin continued to send messages to each other through Shapur. One day Khosrow asked Shapur to tell Shirin to come to a secret meeting place. Shirin was angry at this request. She told Shapur to convey the message to Khosrow that she would not carry on in private with a married man; she wanted more.

Shirin only took milk; she was so upset that she couldn’t eat. Transporting milk to her secluded, far off castle over a rocky mountain was an arduous task for her caretakers to perform every day. She asked Shapur for a solution and he told her about his old schoolmate, an expert engineer/sculpturor named Farhad.

As a solution, Farhad devised an ingenious way of carving a canal through the mountain through which the milk would flow in a stream to where Shirin resided. When he met the Shirin to present her with the plan, he fell in love at first sight.

Farhad’s talent knew no bounds plus he wanted to impress his lady love. He cut the promised canal through sang-e-khara (solid granite) in just a month, ending in a pool by Shirin’s castle. When Shirin saw the completed canal, impressed with Farhad’s art and touched by his love and dedication for her, she removed her earrings and gave them to Farhad in gratitude as a reward and a token of her esteem. Farhad was speechless and overcome; returning the earrings, he took off into the wilderness where he pined for Shirin.

Soon tales of his love for Shirin travelled around town. Farhad, being single, was open about his feelings and would write and recite love poems he had written expressing his feelings. Word travelled to Khosrow who couldn’t brook another rival and, spurred on by jealousy, became determined to keep Shirin and her love for himself. Men thrive on competition. Khosrow had to figure out a way to get Farhad out of Shirin’s life without seeming petty or vengeful. Since he himself was married, so outwardly he couldn’t object to Shirin settling down.

The Palace Of Ardashir Constructed In AD 224, Has Three Large Domes, Which Are Amongst The Oldest Examples Of Such Large Scale Domes In The World

Farhad was not only a gifted artist and highly skilled engineer, but good looking to boot; he posed a real threat to the King. Khosrow called Farhad to his castle to try and bribe him to get him out of Shirin’s life. Nizami penned a dramatic and sensitive scene in which Khosrow and Farhad have a poetic dialogue about Shirin, by the end of which Khosrow knew Farhad would never willingly give up Shirin and winning her heart.

The Royal Standard (vexilloid) Of The Sasanian Empire

Khosrow promised Farhad that if he could cut a passage and a staircase through the mountains outside of his castle, he would let him marry Shirin. Khosrow knew that the project was so arduou, treacherous,  and time-consuming that it would surely take Farhad the rest of his life to complete it. Farhad agreed to this project and started his labor of love.

Farhad diligently started work on carving the Bistoon Mountain. First he engraved a statue of Shirin on the mountainside, which he kissed several times a day to give him the impetus and inspiration to carry out his laborious project. He would climb to the mountaintop every morning without fail from wthere he would proclaim his undying love for Shirin, and then begin work. He worked day and night to complete this Herculean task.

Again the story of Farhad’s astonishing progress in what everyone had thought to be an impossible project soon reached the King’s ears. Everyone was talking about Farhad the wonderful artist/poet/consummate lover who took no rest and hardly slept intent on working a miracle in the mountains. Even Shirin went to visit Farhad, to “observe his progress on the project.” Each time she was more in awe of his dedication and felt closer to Farhad.

Shapur I

Hearing about all this, Khosrow didn’t know what to do. He envied Farhad his dedication and feared losing Shirin to Farhad as the project neared completion. He sought counsel from his advisors who told him he had to eliminate Farhad as a threat completely. Hence, a messenger was dispatched to the mountaintop to tell Farhad of Shirin’s death.Heart broken, inconsolable with grief and feeling utterly hopeless, Farhad did not want to go on living without Shirin; he threw himself off the mountain down to his death.

Shirin was devastated at the news of Farhad’s death. She mourned his death, cried inconsolably and ordered a suitable memorial monument erected at his gravesite. A remorseful Khosrow tried to console Shirin by sending her a remorseful condolence letter. As it happened, at roughly the same time, Miriam conveniently fell ill and died. Shirin replied with a condolence letter to Khosrow. (In Ferdowsi’s version, Shirin secretly poisoned Miriam and she replied to Khosrow’s letter with a sarcastic letter of condolence. The two royals seemed to be evenly matched, each doing away his/her love rival.)

You would think that with no further impediments, the story would come to a happy conclusion. Not to be, further strife was in store for the ill-starred couple. As fate would have it, before Khosrow could propose marriage to Shirin, he started having an affair with a woman called Shekar in Isfahan, which delayed the lovers’ union for another year.

When finally the errant King turned up at Shirin’s castle, he was drunk. Smarting at the slight she had received from him, Shirin allowed Khosrow into the courtyard of her castle as he was the King after all, but would not let him to come into her living quarters. She told him that she wouldn’t let a drunken man into her home, and that if Khosrow was truly interested in her, he would have to respect her as a woman of values and integrity. She told him she had waited for him all these years and deserved to be taken seriously. She held out for marriage despite her loneliness.

Khosrow returned to his palace, feeling sad and rejected. Shapur consoled him; he assured him of Shirin’s love and loyalty. He reiterated that if they truly loved each other, they were meant to be together.

Khosrow finally seriously proposed marriage to Shirin, treating her with all the respect she desired. They had a grand royal wedding; the lovers finally becoming husband and wife began their life together. Shirin was a true queen consort to Khosrow, helping him become a better king, kind and forgiving to his people.

Khosrow’s son, Shirouyeh, from his marriage to Miriam was a wayward, unruly and petulant young man. Since the age of only ten, he had harbored a crush on Shirin. Bitter and resentful, he bided his time and, as soon as he came of age, imprisoned his father, Khosrow, and crowned himself the King. Shirin stood by Khosrow and gave him hope. But this too, Shirouyeh didn’t like and murdered Khosrow while both husband and wife slept. When she woke up and saw Khosrow dead, Shirin was devastated. Shirouyeh sent a messenger to Shirin, telling her that she was allowed to mourn Khosrow for only one week and after that she would have to marry him.

Shirin lovingly and carefully prepared Khosrow’s body for his funeral. She then applied makeup and scent, dressed herself in lavish finery, dressed her hair, and put on her best jewellery and followed her husband’s coffin. Shirin appeared to have reconciled to her husband’s murder and looked like she was ready to move on. She followed Khosrow’s body as it was taken to a mausoleum for burial; she asked everyone for privacy so she could bid him good bye, undid Khosrow’s shroud and kissed his chest where the knife had made a wound. Then, she put a knife to her chest and fell heavily on Khosrow’s body, the knife plunging into her heart. Kissing his lips, holding him in her arms, she put her head on his shoulder and died.

It is interesting to note that this scene is very similar to the one in Romeo and Juliet. Surely, William Shakespeare was familiar with and inspired by Nizami’s poem to pen his own romantic tragedy.

A brief history of the Sasanian or Neo-Persian Empire

Before Islam, the last period of the Persian Empire was ruled by the imperial dynasty of the Zoroastrian practicing House of Sasan, which ruled from 224 to 651 AD.

The Sasanian Empire (official language Aramaic) was one of the world’s leading powers alongside its neighbour, the Roman-Byzantine Empire that consisted of the Western Roman Empire (official language Latin) and the Byzantine Eastern Empire (official language Greek). It was established after the fall of the Parthian Empire.

Radiate Of Valerian On A Coin At The Yorkshire Museum. Byzantine Emperor Valerian Was Defeated By Shapur I

At its largest, the Sasanian Empire included the area of Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Dagestan, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Egypt, Turkey, much of Central Asia, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and even Pakistan.

Ancient Iranian civilization peaked during Late Antiquity’s Sasanian Empire. Sasanian cultural influence permeated as far as Western Europe, Africa, China and India. It not only influenced late Ancient Roman culture as well as European and Asiatic Medieval art, but also Islamic art, architecture, music and literature that came after it.

Relief Of Shapur I, Naqsh I Rustam, Iran

 The Sasani House originated in Pars or as its now known Farz (South Iran, capital Shiraz) by the Governor of that province who had himself appointed Shahnshah.

The important rulers of this dynasty that ruled for 400 years are as following:

Shapur I The Great (240 – 270 AD) expanded his father Ardashir I’s territory and defeated the mighty Romans under Valerian the Elder (253-260 CE) and annexed multiple Roman territories. His second battle against the Romans at Barbalissos (in modern day Syria) was a resounding victory using his superior knowledge of tactics, strategic traps, and troop formations , and “destroying the entirety of 60,000 legionaries.”

Bust Of Shapur II (r. 309 379)

The once unbeatable Roman Army was no match and was besieged at Edessa where Valerian was captured by Shapur who publicly shamed the defeated and imprisoned Emperor until his death.

Shapur’s victory over the Romans was immortalized with rock reliefs carved in Naqsh-e Rustam and Bishapur, as well as a monument inscribed in Persepolis in both Persian and Greek. He advanced into Anatolia (in modern day Turkey) and conquered Antioch but  could not retain the territory and lost his harem to the Romans as revenge humiliation.

Shapur’s other achievements included the construction of the first dam bridge, founding many cities, and allowing Christians to settle lands and practice their faith freely. The Jewish community also enjoyed a fair and equitable status.

However, under pressure from Zoroastrian Magi  some later Shahnshah, like Bahrams I and II, reversed Shapur’s policy of religious tolerance.

Shapur II the Great, the tenth Shahanshah (r. 309 to 379), was the longest-reigning monarch in Iranian history. He reigned since birth to his death 70 years later. His reign marked the start of the first Sasanian golden era with the expansion of the empire’s territorial realm. Though his mother and her advisors ruled in his minority, upon coming of age, Shapur II took the charge.

His small but disciplined army defeated the Arabs in the South and Central Asian tribes in the East all the way to present day Afghanistan.

Sasanians dominated the region of Turkmenistan not only militarily but also through art and culture. Shapur II also established such an effective administrative system that, despite weak and ineffective leaders that followed, the empire continued to function well as a unit.

Bahram V (r. 421–438) or Bahram-e Gur (Gur meaning onager or a wild ass. Nelieve it or not, he was nicknamed for his love of hunting wild asses) was the Shahanshah at the height of the Empire’s golden age during a time of prosperity and flourishing of the arts.  Stories of his valor, hunting prowess, personal beauty, love affairs as well as important victories over the Romans, Turkic tribes, Indians and Africans were sung widely.  Just like the Tudors and the Bourbons, apart from waging successful military campaigns, he indulged himself and his courtiers with elaborate hunting parties, banquets and elaborate courtly rituals. During this time, the best Sasanid literature, music and sports, such as polo, gained royal patronage.

At around this time, the Hephthalites or White Huns that consisted of Central Asian nomadic tribes started their campaign of frequent attacks on Persia inflicting plunder and mayhem. After being driven back repeatedly, the Huns annihilated the army of Peroz I (457–484) and devastated eastern Persia up till Herat. Though they exacted heavy tribute to return, the Empire became shaky and unstable.

Khosrau I (r. 531–579) also known as Anushirvan (with the immortal soul) was the most celebrated Sasanid ruler because he managed to reform the ageing governing body of Sssanids. He worked for the welfare of the people by promulgating a fairer system of taxation based on land survey and increased the national revenue. He changed the system by taking power away from great feudal lords with their own armies and transferring it to the dehqans (knights) that owed their allegiance to the central government and the bureaucracy. These small time landholders were absorbed in the Sasanid provincial administration and tax collection system. In this way, Khosrau centralised control over the army, feudal lords and bureaucracy, a move that would not happen in Europe for more than 1000 years.

Trying to restore the former glory of the Roman Empire, Emperor Justinian I negotiated the “eternal peace” treaty of 532 Khosrow I and paid 440,000 pieces of gold. However, within the decade, in 540, Khosrow broke the treaty and invaded Syria and Antioch.  The Byzantines retaliated by sending ground troops into Sasanid territory by sailing across the Caspian Sea. Khosrow fought back successfully and annexed Armenia.

Thirty years later, the King of Yemen requested Khosrau’s help and military intervention to preserve his monarchy. Wily and far sighted Khosrau I sent a fleet and a small army to present day Aden which successfully took over the occupied capital of San’a’ and enthroned King Saif who allowed the Sasanids to establish a base in southern Arabia to control the sea trade with the East. Another thirty years later, the Sasanids annexed southern Arabia as a province.

In addition to expansion, Khosrau I founded new towns, rebuilt canals, beautified his capital city of Ctesiphon in modern Iraq and aided farmers increase their farm output. He built forts at frontier passes and relocated tribes to act as a buffer against against invaders. Decreeing Zoroastrianism as the official state religion, he remained tolerant of all religions, and even allowed one of his sons to convert to Christianity.

Khosrau II (r. 590–628) was his grandson. After the powerful General Bahram Chobin deposed Khosrau II’s father he declared himself Shahnshah Bahram VI. Khosrau II was forced to flee to Byzantine territory in Syria accompanied by Shirin who was not yet his wife, and beseech the Byzantine Emperor Maurice (582–602) for military assistance against Bahram, in exchange for the western Caucasus.

According to the 12th-century chronicler Michael the Syria, the alliance was bound in the marriage of Khosrau with Maurice’s eldest daughter Miriam or Maria.

The allied forces of the erstwhile rivals the Byzantines and Persians defeated Bahram at the Battle of Blarathon. When Khosrau was restored to power he  handed over the hard won provinces of western Armenia and Caucasian Iberia to the Eastern Roman Emperor. Instead, Khosrau expanded the Sasanid Empire in the East, while Maurice retook control over the Balkans.

After Maurice was overthrown and killed in 602, Khosrau II took advantage of the ensuing civil war and used regicide as a pretext to systematically besiege the heavily fortified Byzantine territories in Mesopotamia and Armenia. In addition, Persian forces invaded Syria and captured Antioch in 611. After  Persian generals repelled a counter-attack led in person by the new Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (r. 610–641)  two years later, there was no turning back and one by one the Byzantine strongholds of Jerusalem, Alexandria in 619 and the rest of Egypt fell to the Persians.

The Sasanids had managed to restore the Neo Persian Empire to its glory and hegemony during the days of the Achaemenid dynasty. The Byzantine Empire, on the other hand, lay in tatters and was on the verge of collapse. This territorial peak translated into a blossoming of Persian art, music, and architecture. However, the Persian army was stretched, treasury empty and the population severely overtaxed.

Not one to give up, Heraclius risked  all mounting a counter-offensive. He fought back in Anatolia and the Caucasus. The top three most powerful Persian generals were so busy competing against each other that Heracules took advantage of the disunity of their forces and won a series of resounding victories.

The two Emperors were locked in an iron grip struggle to the death. Khosrau allied himself with the Avars of the North Caucasus, Slavs and Central Asian tribes and launched a long term siege to  the Byzantine capital of Constantinople in 626, a first by the Sasanids.

However, at home, he had lost power, prestige and the support of the Persian aristocracy. Just two years later, there was a coup. Khosrau II was overthrown, murdered and replaced by his son Kavadh II. Readily bending to the will of those that brought him to power, Kavadh promptly sued for peace by withdrawing from all occupied territories. In 629, Heraclius ceremoniously restored  Christ’s True Cross to Jerusalem that had been in the possession of Khosrau’s Christian wife, Shirin. Kavadh died shortly after and civil war followed.

Maurice By Emilian Stankev. Maurice Was Khosrau II’s Father In Law, According To The Medieval Chronicler Michael The Syria
Heraclius, Emperor Of Byzantium

Five Shahnshahs over four years later, the Sasanid Empire was a shadow of its former glory. The power lay with the generals who kept control over the weakened empire.

In 632, the last Sasanian Shahanshah Yazdegerd III ascended the throne and Muslim Arab tribes started invading Persia.

The Sasanids couldn’t repel the initial Arab armies. Yazdegerd was an inexperienced boy king. The Byzantines too were under pressure from the newly united Arabs. Caliph Hazrat Abu Bakr’s commander Khalid ibn Walid and leader of the Arab army easily captured Mespotamia (Iraq) in 633.

In 637, Caliph Hazrat Umar ibn al-Khattab defeated the much larger Persian force led by General Rostam Farrokhzad and advanced on Ctesiphon, which fell after a prolonged siege. To save his life, Yazdegerd fled the capital eastward, leaving behind the Sasanid’s vast treasury. Though some courageous Sasanid governors joined together to push back the Arabs, there was no strong central authority to take charge and they too were easily defeated at the Battle of Nihaw?nd.

Derafsh Kaviani, the royal standard of the Sasanian Empire, was recovered by Zerar bin Kattab who was paid 30,000 dinars for it. After the jewels were removed, the Caliph Hazrat Umar burned the standard, signifying the end of the Sasanid Empire.

Yazdegerd was assassinated by a miller in 651, while the nobles who had accompanied him settled in Central Asia, spreading Persian culture and language there. Later their descendants returned to Persia and established the first native Iranian Islamic dynasty, the Samanid dynasty combining revived Sasanid traditions with Muslim laws.

The Muslim caliphs did not pressurize the native to convert to Islam, only be law abiding citizens and pay a jizya (tax). To be just and fair, the Caliph Hazrat Umar had a commission regularly survey the taxes and judge if they were more than the land could bear. The Zoroastrians gradually converted to Islam to gain prominent positions later under the Abbasid Caliphate.

Dr. Howard-Johnston, professor of Byzantine Studies at the University of Oxford, in his book Witnesses to a World Crisis, wrote that “The Last Great War of Antiquity” (between Rome and Persia) destroyed the two established great powers at the time of the emergence of a new religion (Islam), which led to the creation of a new world empire by Muslim warriors.

There was only one woman for Shashi Kapoor from the moment, aged only 18, he laid eyes on Jennifer Kendal to his parting breath at 79, despite being lusted after by millions of women. Theirs is a unique love story of true and complete lifelong commitment, one for the ages

 

By Mahlia Lone

Shashi Kapoor was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1938 and named Balbir Prithviraj Kapoor, to Prithviraj, the founder of Prithvi Theatres, and Ramsarni Kapoor. He was the youngest son, with Raj fourteen years older and Shammi seven years older than him. Shashi attended the Catholic boys school Don Bosco High School in Matunga, Mumbai. Meanwhile, he also became a child star,  acting in his eldest brother Raj’s films in the late 40s under the name of Shashiraj, even playing a childhood version of Raj in Aag and Awara. In his late teens, he worked as an assistant stage manager as well as an actor for his father’s theatre group, Prithvi Theatres. When he was 18, he was loaned out to actor-manager Geoffery Kendal’s Shakespearana group in Calcutta in 1956 where he first laid his eyes on Jennifer.

Shashiraj, The Child Star

Four and a half years older than Shashi, Jennifer was born in England in 1935. For the first eight years of her life, she was raised by a relative while her parents, Geoffery and Laura, toured with Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), a group of entertainers that sub-contracted with the military to entertain troops overseas.  Geoffrey Kendal along with his troupe performed in the Far East: Hong Kong, Singapore and the backwaters of Malaya and Borneo, finally arriving in India in 1944. Jennifer resented being left behind and held it against her mother for years. Felicity, 13 years younger than Jennifer and a later a famous British TV star, was born when the couple was back in England.

The Kapoor Boys Prithviraj With Sons Raj, Shammi, Shashi & Grandson Randhir

Shashi and Jennifer’s eldest son Kunal Kapoor recounted in an interview, “My grandfather came to India during the war (World War II) with the British Army. He fell in love with the country and then returned in the 1950s.” Geoffery formed his own repertory company Shakespearana and took it on tour of India in the late 40s early 50s.

This time the couple brought their daughters with them. Because they grew up like nomads with hardly any local friends, shuttling from city to city, the two sisters were incredibly close and became each other’s confidantes despite the age gap. Between the two, Jennifer had a gentler, more compassionate spirit but held no religious conviction and would faint as on cue at church meetings her mother would attend so she would be excused.

“My wife thought I was gay”— Shashi Kapoor

Jennifer was growing up to be quite a beauty and started to play the lead in her father’s theatrical productions. “The ensemble would perform Shakespeare before royalty one day, and in rough rural villages the next where audiences included many schoolchildren,” as penned in Kendal’s life story, The Shakespeare Wallah: the Autobiography of Geoffrey Kendal, co-authored by Clare Colvin.

Jennifer Kendal Before Her Marriage

“My maternal grandfather loved India. He spent half his life in India. You should read Shakespeare Wallah, the book he wrote. You will know how my grandparents travelled the whole of India with their plays,” added Kunal.

According to the “Shakespeare-Wallahs” (as Geoffery was called), Shashi and Jennifer’s romance began in the Empire House in Kolkata. Owing to some confusion, the management company of Empire House allotted the same dates to Shakespearana and to Prithvi Theatres. It was finally decided that both the companies should perform on alternate days. While there Shashi was loaned to Geoffery for five months because the latter was short of actors to stage his plays.

Fairlawn Hotel

The fair 5’11” 18-year-old Shashi spied 23-year-old blonde Jennifer backstage and it was love at first sight. In her autobiography, White Cargo, Felicity Kendal recalled, “Shashi was backstage and happened to look through the curtains; that’s when he caught a glimpse of Jennifer. There she was dressed in a black and white polka-dotted summer dress with a halter neckline—daring—and she was pretty, fanning herself with her programme. Shashi fell instantly in love.”

Shashi worked in several shows along with Jennifer. They finally declared their love to each other when she was playing the character of Miranda in Shakespeare’s The Tempest at the Royal Opera House in Mumbai. Geoffery was not pleased. He didn’t want to lose his leading lady, so he would often insult Shashi for his accent and pick fights over Jennifer. She secretly mentored her Indian boyfriend on the finer points of English drama.

Aseem Chhabra, the author of Shashi Kapoor’s biography – Shashi Kapoor The Householder, The Star, quoted their daughter Sanjana saying , “When they (Shashi and Jennifer) were doing theatre, they were poor. They were sleep deprived and underfed and my father would tell me how they would be tormented by hunger while strolling down the streets—both my parents trying to decide if they could get half a paratha. Then, they would walk past a restaurant and there would be my grandfather, Geoffrey Kendal, having a huge meal with a beer. My father couldn’t walk in. He was his employee and he was also stealing his daughter. So there was no way he could march into the storm.” Despite belonging to different countries and different cultures, Shashi and Jennifer shared an affinity and love for the theatre, both literally had acting in their blood.

Shashi Kapoor With Wife Jennifer, Her Sister Felicity Kendal And Madhur Jaffery At The Berlin Film Festival In 1965

Good friends with Ismail Merchant, Shashi Kapoor starred in many Merchant Ivory films over the span of his career

Shashi recalled in an interview in his later life, “We never discussed theatre when we dated: While a Bengali man would recite Tagore while dating, a North Indian like me will be more obsessed with my fiancée’s beauty. But we were uncomfortable sharing the stage with each other. We expected too much from each other. She was well-read about Hindu philosophy and was more experienced about theatre when I met her.”

Raj was not in on the secret love affair, but Shammi was. Geeta Bali, his wife, was the first member of the Kapoor family to meet Jennifer and gifted her dupatta as a token of her acceptance during a show in Ooty.

Shashi and Jennifer decided to marry and leave her father’s repertory company to start their own theatre acting company. “The two ran off to Singapore and Malaysia to stage a play, but the shows got cancelled and they were broke. They wanted to get married so Raj (Kapoor) Uncle sent them money for their tickets and they came to Mumbai and got married (in 1958),” Kunal recounted the tale decades later. Jennifer’s own family boycotted her wedding.

“It is not true that my maternal grandfather (Geoffrey Kendal) did not want my parents to marry,” Kunal defended. “My grandfather was concerned about losing his leading lady. My mother played all the lead roles in the Shakespeareana theatre company run by my grandfather. It would be hard to find better grandparents than my mother’s parents. They were the most amazing people.”

Shashi said, “I was born in Kolkata: I had taken my wife, Jennifer, to the yellow coloured house in Kalighat where we used to live. I hardly remember my one-year stay in the city then. But my father would often talk about how he would cycle from Hazra Road to New Theatres. Even Raj Kapoor had spent eight to nine years here. He spoke Bangla, played football on the Maidan and was in charge of the first-aid box of injured players. I had also started doing a Bangla film called Sriparna starring Madhabi Mukherjee and Anjana Bhowmick. But the film got stuck. Manikda was a real hero for me: Yet I was petrified of him. He was so tall and had a rich baritone. Sometimes, we would meet at film festivals.

It’s been 10 years since I came to Kolkata: I love chorchori and chingri maach. The Fairlawn Hotel makes me nostalgic. Some of the old members of the staff still call me Shashi Baba. They remember the 18-year-old Shashi Kapoor who met Jennifer in Kolkata.” In fact, the newlyweds spent the initial days of their marriage in Room No 17 of Fairlawn Hotel, on 33-A Sudder Street in Calcutta, which is now known as The Shashi Kapoor Room. Fans check in as a tribute to their idol.

“I first saw her when she came to watch a Prithvi Theatres production in Kolkata. But I was too nervous to converse when we got introduced. Initially, she thought I was gay. It’s customary in India for young men to move around in groups and often hold hands as a gesture of their friendship. However, this simple gesture seems odd to the Westerners. Since she came from an English theatre background, which had a lot of gays, she thought I too had such preferences,” he chuckled.

“After the wedding, Shashi Kapoor continued working in theatre,” wrote Chhabra. “In 1959 Jennifer gave birth to their first child (Kunal) and took a hiatus from acting. Gradually Shashi felt the earning from theatre was not enough to give his family a good life. So he followed in the footsteps of his brothers and joined the Hindi film industry.” They had two more children Karan and daughter, Sanjana.

 “Nanda till date remains my most favourite heroine. She was like a fairy”— Shashi Kapoor

However, it was not as an actor but as an assistant director in the film Post Box 999, the debut film of Sunil Dutt, that Kapoor started his adult career in films. This was followed by assisting Ravindra Dave in Guest House (1959), and movies such as Dulha Dulhan and Shriman Satyawadi, where Raj Kapoor was the lead hero.

Shashi finally made his debut as a leading man in the 1961 film Dharmputra, but his early Hindi films did not fare well commercially. Meeting Ismail Merchant and James Ivory through Jennifer and having an appreciation for meaningful and sensitive cinema, he starred in their third film The Householder (1963)  opposite his sister-in-law Felicity Kendal and followed this up with Shakespeare-Wallah (1965), acting alongside all the Kendals. He was one of the first Indian actors to do crossover films, which have since become classics.

But Indian actresses were wary of being cast opposite this struggling newbie. Then, established actress Nanda gave him a break by signing one after another eight Hindi films opposite him because she believed in his talent. Their first films as a pair were the critically acclaimed romantic film Char Diwari (1961) and Mehndi Lagi Mere Haath (1962). The “good looking, cultured Kapoor,” endeared himself to all his co-stars. And Nanda found him “culturally different” from the other actors at the time. Other romantic films they did together included  Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965), Neend Hamari Khwab Tumhare (1966), Raja Saab (1969) and Rootha Na Karo (1970), etc.

In an interview in the 90s, Kapoor declared that Nanda was his favourite actress and that he regarded her as one of his mentors, “Nanda till date remains my most favourite heroine. Do you know the likes of Sridevi have blatantly imitated her Yeh Shama song sequence from Jab Jab Phool Khile in their films? She was like a fairy in an awesome film industry, which has no respect for genuine talent. Very few could match Nanda in her transparency and emotional abilities.”

Shashi & Jennifer With Their Kids Sanjana, Kunal And Karan

Nanda too stated that Shashi Kapoor was her favorite actor. Theirs was a platonic and professional friendship that was too last the rest of their lives because he was a thorough gentleman who had a strong work ethic, never reporting late on set, nor throwing any starry tantrums. Speaking on the subject of the casting couch in the 60s, he candidly remarked, “You’ve no idea how Dharmendra and Sanjay Khan were blackmailed by senior actresses when they were newcomers. I’m very grateful to Nanda that she was extremely gracious and decent with me.”

Shashi Kapoor said gratefully, “It is Bimalda who taught me how to face the camera and never be conscious of it. In Prem Patra (1962), he asked me to use the silent language of my eyes without speaking. My heroine Sadhana, who was initially hesitant to work with me, complimented me after the shot. Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gulzar, in all fairness, rank nowhere compared to Bimalda.”

“Shashi Kapoor never spoke ill about anybody even if he was hurt,” Amitabh Bachchan wrote after his friend’s death in a tribute.

Based on Noel Coward’s short story, the movie Pretty Polly: A Matter of Innocence (1967) starred popular British actress Hayley Mills opposite Shashi Kapoor and was set in Singapore. Bombay Talkie (1970) another Merchant Ivory film in which he plays against type and stars as an adulterous Indian actor opposite Jennifer who portrays a promiscuous novelist having a fling with him. Despite these international projects, at home Kapoor’s career was facing a lull.

“In the late ‘60s, he did not have any work. We saw a lot of him then,” said Kunal. “That was also the time we discovered Goa. He sold his sports car. Mum also started selling things because we didn’t have money. After Sharmilee (1971), things changed again. There have been many ups and downs, but it never bothered us. My parents were in love with each other; they took care of each other.”

Shashi, Kunal And Jennifer. The Family Loved Relaxing On The Beach

Shashi went on to appear in 116 Hindi films, including 61 films as the solo lead hero and 55 multi star-cast films, 21 films as supporting actor and special appearances in 7 films. He was one of the most popular actor in Bollywood during the 60s, 70s and until the mid-80s and was the second highest paid after Rajesh Khanna, whom he considered a very versatile actor, and tied in the early 70s with Dev Anand and in the late 70s with Sanjeev Kumar and Dharmendra. Playing the part of the handsome, personable and affable romantic hero, Shashi Kapoor formed on screen pairs with all the top actresses of the day: Raakhee, Sharmila Tagore, Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman, Parveen Babi and Moushumi Chatterjee from the late sixties to the mid-eighties.

Family Man Shashi Kapoor With His Daughter, Sanjana

After their first movie together Sharmilee became a blockbuster, Raakhee was frequently paired with him, and they acted in hit films such as Kabhi Kabhie (1976), Baseraa (1981), and the critically acclaimed Trishna (1978) amongst others. He said he enjoyed working with her the most. He starred with Sharmila Tagore in hits like Aamne Samne (1967), Suhana Safar (1970), Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1973) that created a storm with its theme of premarital sex and pregnancy, and the critically acclaimed New Delhi Times (1985), winning him a National Film Award for Best Actor in 1986. With Zeenat Aman, he worked in hit films like Chori Mera Kaam (1975), Deewaangee (1976), Roti Kapda Aur Makan (1974), Heeralal Pannalal (1978), Bhavani Junction (1985), Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978). In SSS, as it was known, Shashi Kapoor portrays an evolved, non-judgmental male unconcerned by his wife’s romantic past and it was thought that his relationship of two equals with Jennifer helped him understand and relate to this character. The songs of most of these films were set in stunning holiday resorts like Kashmir and Simla and the tunes are timeless. When he passed away, fans shared video clips from these songs online to relive their childhood memories of the star.

Because he was so much in love with Jennifer throughout their marriage and because he actually was a romantic gentlemanly non-sleazy guy in real life as well, there was not even a whiff of a rumor about Shashi Kapoor despite working with such beautiful and sexy women on a daily basis and going on location shoots with them. Quite remarkable an achievement!

Kapoor also made a popular pairing with Amitabh Bachchan and the two co-starred in a total of 12 films: Roti Kapda Aur Makaan (1974), Kabhi Kabhie (1976),  Kaala Patthar (1979), Suhaag (1979), Namak Halaal (1982) Silsila (1981), Namak Halaal (1982), and Akayla (1991). He made a great foil for Bachchan’s “Angry Young Man” persona. The two actors are particularly famous for Deewaar (1975), a film written by Salim-Javed about two brothers on opposing sides of the law, with Shashi playing a cop and Amitabh a thug. In the climactic confrontation scene, Shashi spouts the line, “Mere paas maa hai” (I have Mother) so effectively that the phrase became a part of Indian pop culture and his style is still emulated by actors today.

Similarly, in Yash Chopra directed film Silsila the two actors effortlessly play fun-loving brothers having a blast. They had over time developed a perfect understanding of the other’s acting style and timing. Interestingly, due to his boyish looks and effervescent, youthful personality, Kapoor who was six to seven years older always played the younger brother to Bachchan in many of the bromance films they acted in.

Amitabh Bachchan has often said that the reason why he and Shashi could do so many films together was because “Shashiji was absolutely hassle-free as a co-star and was only interested in his work.”

Shashi Kapoor was regularly cast with his real life buddy Sanjeev Kumar also in films like Mukti (1977), Muqaddar (1978), and Pakhandi (1984), etc. He was also close friends with Pran, Dharmendra, Dev Anand, Ismail Merchant and Rajesh Khanna. Though friendly with Bachchan, it was not until they were much older that Shashi and he became close.

“My father was very professional and easy to work with. He had no tantrums, no starry airs, he never misbehaved on the sets, he was punctual and everybody liked working with him,” said Kunal.

Shashi also made time for meanigngful projects, like Conrad Rooks’ directed Siddhartha (1972) based on the novel of the same name by Hermann Hesse. Set in north India, the film relates the story of the young Siddhartha born to a rich family, searching for a meaningful way of life. On his voyage of self-discovery, he goes through a cycle of asceticism, sensual pleasure and material wealth, followed by self-revulsion. Eventually he achieves oneness with a higher self and harmony within himself. Siddhartha learns that the secret of life cannot be learnt from another, but must be achieved through inner experience.

Kunal described their family life as being completely normal and non-starry. “We knew he was an actor. Everybody in my mother and my father’s family were actors. We were aware that going to public places with him in Mumbai was a problem. If we went to the zoo, it would have to be at 6:30 in the morning. And we would have to run away as soon as a crowd gathered. Dad never worked on Sundays. He spent the whole day with the family. We would have all three meals together. He never invited his friends over on Sunday. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he used to work in many films. He used to do six shifts. We would sit for breakfast at 7.30 am. No matter what time he came in the previous night, he would be at the breakfast table at 7.30. Our father was an integral part of our life. He was not strict. Very few fathers in our culture have a close relationship with their children. Fortunately, we had a great one-to-one relationship with him. I am hands on with my kids; I have washed my son’s bottom. I have changed his nappies…that is the kind of relationship I had with my father. My father didn’t have such a relationship with his father.

My father would try and schedule his outdoor shootings to coincide with our school holidays so that we would be together. But we were not taken on the sets of the film. Nowadays, we shoot early in the morning, but in those days, the shooting would start at 9:30 am or 10 am and end by 4 pm, so there was plenty of time to be together. For five or six years we went to Kashmir every summer during the shooting, but we would do our own thing with our mother. At home in Mumbai, we would go swimming; you could say we grew up in the Breach Candy club pool (a well known club in South Mumbai). We would also go to Juhu beach and spend the whole day there.”

Then, Shashi started getting restless. 1978 turned to be a turning point in Shashi’s career. The death of one’s parents brings home one’s own sense of mortality. After he lost his parents, Shashi felt he had to change his life; he wasn’t happy; he complained that he “didn’t quite enjoy running around trees.” Additionally, he felt that the film industry was being run by loan sharks interested in making a quick buck via commercial potboilers or “masala films” rather than meaningful and artistic cinema.

Shashi said about Jennifer, “She was my worst critic too and disliked 75 per cent of my films.” Jennifer wanted more for her husband; she wanted his artistic fulfillment and suggested he should do something he really loved.

British actress Hayley Mills (L) and co-star Shashi Kappor (C) at the lobby of Raffles Hotel, Singapore. They are in SIngapore to shoot a film “Pretty Polly”.

Both husband and wife put their heads together and came up with a well thought out three pronged plan. First, he decided to make and act in films, which he believed in. In 1978, he set up his production house Film Valas, under which he would produce thought provoking but commercially viable movies starting with Junoon.

Next, they decided it was time they returned to their first love: theatre. “My father bought the land and built Prithvi Theatres for plays (in Juhu, north-western Mumbai). He did it in memory of his father Prithviraj Kapoor and his father’s travelling theatre. My father was producing Junoon (1978) and doing six shifts a day, so my mother looked after the theatre completely,” explained Kunal. ”Now it’s being run by Sanjana.”  The Prithvi Theatres also functions as an acting school where Shakespeare is taught to and enjoyed by all those who wish to do so.

Sunday Was Family Day At The Kapoors

With her kids growing up, this was a new beginning for Jennifer too. She was actively involved in all stages of theatre productions, and started acting again in their home produced films. Kapoor roped in avant-garde directors like Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Aparna Sen and Girish Karnad to create such great films as Junoon (1978) and 36 Chowringee Lane (1981), in which Shashi cast Jennifer. For this film, she was nominated for the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Other critically acclaimed films that he produced and starred in versatile roles include Kalyug (1981), Vijeta (1982) and Utsav (1984) based on a Sanskrit drama, in which he is virtually unrecognisable.   Shashi said, “Jennifer felt Utsav was too dark a film. My performance there, she had said, was ‘okay’. But her ‘okay’ meant good!” Her opinion was the most important to him. Although the films were well received by critics and a discerning audience, they were not big hits at the box office. The Kapoors went through a financial crunch but they were happy.

Third, Shashi made more time for British as well as American films, such as starring in another Merchant Ivory classic period movie, Heat and Dust (1982), which co-starred Jennifer and Julie Christie and was set in the Raj.

Tragedy struck the Kapoors’ happy household. “It was 1983. Cannes. Jennifer—who, until then, was thought to be suffering from amoebic dysentery—was diagnosed with cancer. Geoffrey Kendal writes in his autobiography that when he learnt of his daughter’s malady, he could not utter the word ‘cancer’ for the longest time; he called it ‘the illness’ or ‘this thing,’” wrote Chhabra. Jennifer had terminal colon cancer.

“In the meantime, Jennifer, in her own way, slowly came to terms with the diagnosis, and began informing those close to her, including friends like Anil Dharker. ‘She started telling me about how they had tried to brighten up a room with wallpaper at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Bombay,’ Anil says. ‘And I asked, well, why did you go there? And she replied, ‘Anil, don’t you see? I’ve got the Big C.’ That was it. That was how I came to know.’

“Towards the end, Jennifer’s only concern was for her children,” recalled her sister, Felicity.

After her diagnosis, Jennifer had surgery in India and seemed to be recovering. But later, during a trip to London and after more check-ups, it appeared that the cancer had spread. Jennifer spent her last months in the British capital in the hospital and at her parents’ home.”

“My mother died when she was just 50. My dad was 46 then,” Kunal added. “Our mother’s death caused us and our father a lot of grief; we had our own way of dealing with it.”

PKT2938 – 201761
FELICITY KENDAL
1985
Jennifer (right) & Felicity Kendal. Jennifer died last year
She’s bright, beautiful, and talented. She has an adoring husband, a devoted public and a thriving career.
But few who see Felicity Kendal bounce on to the stage of The Aldwych each night as Dotty in the West End hit Jumpers could guess that behind the chirpy facade lies a world of grief and loss.
Last September the golden girl of British theatre lost her elder sister Jennifer – the person she has relied on since she was a small child, the person she laughed with and learned from, until she felt that they were as close as any two people could be.
Jennifer was only 50 when she died of cancer.

Chhabra described Shashi’s heartbreak and subsequent life after Jennifer succumbed to cancer: “The family, as a whole, found itself teetering, without a mainstay. ‘My parents used to spend half the year in India with my sister,’ Felicity states, ‘but when she died, they felt going back was too painful, so they lost their home as well as Jennifer.’ And then, there was Shashi. After Jennifer’s demise, Dev Benegal says that he met Kunal Kapoor at a memorial at Prithvi Theatres: ‘The family had just come back from Goa and Kunal said to me, “Dad took this boat out in the middle of the sea. When he got there, that was the first time he cried. Really, he wept.”’ Like Dev, I’m stunned by the rawness of that moment—of Shashi, alone in the vast open seas, sorrowing. ‘He was really shaken by her death.’

Condolences poured in and there were press reports about Jennifer, the fine actress and grand woman.

Shashi Kapoor continued to work after Jennifer Kendal Kapoor’s passing, and some of his best work emerged during a time of loss. But something inside him did break. ‘I think the death of Jennifer was a big blow to him,’ (British Playwright)  Hanif Kureishi says, who worked with Shashi on Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987) two years after his wife’s demise. ‘It really destroyed him.’

Jennifer had been the love of Shashi’s life, his true anchor. With her death, he became rudderless. Simi Garewal tells me, ‘Jennifer occupied—or Shashi surrendered to her—a large part of his personality. And they merged. With Jennifer gone, Shashi struggled, but couldn’t find himself. That vast area of his personality that was Jennifer—now it lay empty.  A void. I met him in London over dinner with Ismail Merchant and could see that he was floundering. He was different—not himself.’

In a televised interview shortly after her death,

Shashi spoke lovingly about his relationship with

Jennifer from their previous births, which will go on in

the next birth—their “Janam janam ka saath”

Anil Dharker, always a friend, bore witness to Shashi’s emotional collapse. Sometimes, the actor would depend on him—the way he must have, once, on Jennifer—to help him muddle through awkward social situations—such as, when the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting would request him to invite a foreign dignitary to dinner. ‘And then he would ring me up,’ Anil says, ‘and implore: “Look, I have this very boring dinner guest, do you mind keeping me company?” And I would do that. But when the dignitary would leave, Shashi would actually push me out.’

Then, Anil, and those close to Shashi, bore witness to the actor’s physical breakdown. Without the strict discipline Jennifer imposed on his existence, the star began indulging in his two chief weaknesses—food and drink”. Chhabra narrated what Shashi’s Deewaar co-star (who later became a niece-in-law) Neetu Singh Kapoor told him about how Jennifer had taken care of Shashi’s health while she was alive. ‘I would look at his food and say, ‘What’s wrong with you, Shashi Uncle? One orange he would have and thoda sa dahi (a little bit of yogurt).’ That was his lunch. And he would say, ‘My wife will kill me if I eat anything more!’ Neetu had told the biographer. “While Jennifer Kendal Kapoor was alive, she maintained a strict watch over her husband’s diet. This is the reason why, unlike the other Kapoor men, Shashi Kapoor stayed slim for the longest time. It was also why a lot of those around Shashi would feel sorry for him.

After her death Anil remembers dropping by for lunch on occasion, and asking for a glass of beer, only to learn that Shashi had been drinking vodka since the morning. ‘His domestic staff would bring refills as soon as his glass emptied out,’ Anil says. ‘He wouldn’t even have to ask. They knew exactly how long it took him to finish his drink and they would be ready with the next. By the end of lunch, he would be quite sozzled.’

‘I tried, quite often, to talk him out of it,’ Anil continues. ‘In fact, Sanjana and Kunal would say, “Come on, do something, he listens to you!” And I would respond, “This is one area where he doesn’t listen to me at all.” Then, they would say, “Visit more often because when you are here, at least he walks around. Otherwise, he just sits.” So I did.’

As Shashi found himself caught in a loop of grief and consumption, he fell victim to that infamous Kapoor syndrome— of putting on too much weight, too soon.

Gulliver’s Travels (1996) 1
Jinnah

A family friend remembered, “When I asked him, ‘Please tell me about Jennifer aunty.’ He sighed, flashed his legendary toothy smile and said, ‘See how life is static for me without her. Not only was she my inspiration but also my real mentor during good, medium and bad days. She really was the greatest influence on me. As a Hindu I believe in the immortal soul. She is always with me. I sense her presence often. And the house and everything in it is just as it was when she was alive.”

In a televised interview shortly after her death, Shashi spoke lovingly about his relationship with Jennifer from their previous births, which will go on in the next birth— their “Janam janam ka saath.”

Asked about remarrying, he said there was no question of it, as there was no one else like Jennifer, nor would there ever be anyone like her. She was ‘The One” for him and he recognized that the first time he laid eyes on her.

Shashi’s friends rallied around him. Rajesh Khanna gave him his comeback role as character in Alag Alag (1985). Kapoor also starred alongside Pierce Brosnan and Saeed Jaffrey in the period film The Deceivers (1988). Amitabh Bachchan and nephew Rishi Kapoor agreed to star in Kapoor’s directorial debut movie Ajooba (1991), an awful fantasy superhero dud. Kunal said, “My father directed only one film, Ajooba. The film was a big party on the sets. Everybody had a blast. I don’t think he was interested in direction. He is an actor. Likewise, he is not a businessman to produce a film. He made great films because he gave his cast and crew whatever they wanted.” The movie sank without a trace and Shashi decided he couldn’t afford to produce movies anymore.

“His health rapidly deteriorated. He was forced to leave Atlas Apartments and moved to Juhu, where he could be looked after by his son, Kunal. ‘With that, his whole life changed,’ Madhu Jain tells me. ‘He was a South Bombay person,’ and the move, she claims, added to the star’s loneliness, his growing depression. ‘I went to Juhu a few times,’ Anil adds, ‘but really, he stopped saying very much.’ Simi, with characteristic insight, tells me, ‘It’s as though Shashi had given up the inner struggle. He almost became a recluse,’” wrote Chhobra. “It was as if he had lost the will to live.”

Shashi’s lifelong friend Ismail Merchant cast him in In Custody (1993), based on Anita Desai’s 1984 Booker Prize nominated novel that tells the story of a college professor of Hindi who interviews a great Urdu poet (Shashi Kapoor) as a metaphor for “the clash between modernization and tradition.” Kapoor won a National (Special Jury) Award for his stellar and nuanced performance. He followed up this success with playing a grand Raja in the British-American miniseries produced by Jim Henson Productions of the TV adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels (1996). The miniseries had an international ensemble cast led by Ted Danson and won 5 Emmy Awards. In Jinnah (1998), Kapoor was the narrator. His last movie was fittingly a Merchant Ivory one called Side Streets (1998) in which he co-starred with Shabana Azmi. After this, he gracefully retired from acting.

Kapoor had the spotlight on him once again at the Shashi Kapoor Film Festival held in Muscat, Oman (September 2007). At the 55th Annual Filmfare Awards in 2010, Shashi Kapoor received the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2011, he was honoured with the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India for his contributions to Art-Cinema. And, in 2015, he was awarded the 2014 Dadasaheb Phalke Award, becoming the third member of his family to receive the highest award in Indian Cinema after Prithviraj Kapoor and Raj Kapoor.

“Nobody in the Kapoor family except Sanjna, Kunal and I are passionate about theatre now: That may be because Mr Raj Kapoor transferred all his energy to films. Shammi Kapoor used theatre as a springboard for films. I would never have joined films had Prithvi Theatre not closed down,” said Shashi in an interview after receiving  the DP Award.

Shashi remained faithful to Jennifer’s memory till his last breath.

“My father dreamt of having a Prithvi Theatre in every town: That’s why he named his company Prithvi Theatres. It would be a good idea to have a Prithvi Theatre in Kolkata. Wish I can watch some Bangla plays during this visit. I used to watch Shombhu Mitra and Utpal Dutt’s plays. We have a Little Prithvi Player where adults stage productions for children.

I don’t want to act any longer: My five grandchildren are the love of my life. The eldest one, who is a teenager, has already started eyeing girls. Is he following me? Well, my first love was Jennifer. When I was three, I wanted to marry my mother. When I was six, I wanted to marry my aunt and subsequently my cousin too!

Kareena is adorable: I watch her films but she still has to do my favourite film.”

Kapoor’s children, for a short while, became Hindi film actors but their Anglo Saxon looks and accented Hindi prevented them from having successful careers. Kunal married director Ramesh Sippy’s daughter, Sheena and had two children together, Shaira and Zahan, before getting divorced. Nowadays, Kunal has an extremely successful ad film direction company called appropriately Adfilm-Valas that makes big budget commercials. Karan, an accomplished photographer, lives in Chelsea, London, with his British wife, Lorna, and their kids, Aliya and Zach. Sanjana married wildlife conservationist and Tiger crusader Valmik Thapar, has a son named Hamir and runs the Junoon foundation to promote arts, culture and drama.

“My father had a good family, a good life, he made good films, and he doesn’t care about anything now. He has not been well for some time; he has a lot of complications and has dialysis three times a week,” said Kunal last year. By this time, Shashi had suffered a loss of partial memory, a stroke that left him partially paralyzed, and a heart attack and had been rendered virtually immobile. He used a wheelchair for his rare excursions.

Shashi After Receiving The Padma Bhusha Award With Sanjana, Kunal And His Children, Shaira And Zahan
Sanjana & Valmik Thapar With Their Son Himesh

Kapoor was admitted at the Kokilaben Hospital, Versova, Mumbai,  in December 2017 for a chest infection. He died at the age of 79 due to complications from advanced liver cirrhosis. Eldest surviving male relative, nephew Randhir Kapoor told waiting reporters, “Yes, he has passed away. He had kidney problem for several years. He was on dialysis for several years.”

Shashi and Jennifer shared an indelible bond of understanding and complete commitment, even after her death after 26 years of marriage. He remained faithful to her memory till his last breath. He neither remarried nor had an affair or even an emotional friendship because the world began and ended with Jennifer for him. With his charming dimpled smile, infectious mischievous banter and romantic spirit, he made woman swoon and believe in true love. And he embodied that spirit not just on screen but in his real life as well. He was a man who so deeply loved his wife and was so committed to her that he chose to spend the rest of his life cherishing her memory. Just as she had loyal and faithful, so did he love her till his last breath.

The lyrical folk tale of Sassi Punnu does not merely tell the tragic tale of two lovers but also speaks of the lilting romance of the River Indus, the resounding echo of the arid Baluch mountains, the dry, hot, sandy air wafting in the Thar Desert and the pleasing fragrance of the city of Bhambhor as described by Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, the 18th century Sindhi Sufi poet, scholar, mystic and saint in his poetic compilation Shah jo Risalo. The story of Sassi Punnu is the most famous of the seven tragic Sindhi romances that Shah Latif immortalized in his work. In keeping with Sufi tradition, he penned the tales not just as earthly love affairs but as examples of eternal love and divine union. Having lived during the golden age of Sindhi culture, Latif is considered to be the greatest Muslim poet of the Sindhi language. In fact, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University,  called Shah Latif  “(the) direct emanation of (the Persian poet) Rumi’s spirituality in South Asia”

By Mahlia Lone

As with all folk tales, there are many versions of this romance. This version has been adapted from the tale written by Shafi Aqeel in his book Pakistan kee Lok Dastanain (The Folk Tales of Pakistan) by Professor Muhammad Sheeraz Dasti, a lecturer at IIU  in Islamabad and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

During Raja Dilu Rai’s rule in 11th century AD in Sindh, in Brahminabad on the bank of Bhambhor Canal near Gharo district, Thatta lived a Hindu Raja called Tania with his wife Mandhar who were childless. Desperate for a son, they visited temples, presented offerings and supplicated pundits, pujaris, yogis and faqeers for their blessings. Finally, one day the couple was fortunate enough to have a baby girl. Though they had prayed for a son, they rejoiced at the birth of their beautiful baby. As per Brahmin traditions, the parents went to an astrologer to foresee their daughter’s future. The astrologer carefully studied the birth-chart, made planetary calculations, and in a portentous manner declared that their daughter would bring disgrace to their royal house by marrying a Muslim boy.

A Recent Painting Of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai

“Sassi is the prettiest of all girls in the world. Oh Prince, she is absolutely matchless. She is a fairy from Koh Kaaf. Her eyes are deeper than oceans on the earth, her cheeks are brighter than stars in the sky, and her voice is sweeter than the cuckoos in the jungles. Whoever sees her smiling loses his heart to her””

The strict Brahmin couple was devastated. But they couldn’t kill their precious baby. For the sake of family honour and their upper caste status, they made a difficult decision. They put their baby daughter in a wooden box and, early one morning when it was still dark, floated it on to the River Indus, hoping she would be rescued by a kind soul.

By afternoon, the box floated into the dhobi ghaat (riverside laundry) of Bhambhor, a busy trading city. The laundry owner Atta was a prosperous businessman employing more than five hundred washermen serving the entire town. Atta and his wife too were childless and had made pilgrimages to the shrines of saints, dervishes and Sufis, donated charity and fed the hungry in the hopes of being blessed with a child.

The box was fished out of the river and a beautiful baby girl, sucking her right thumb, was found inside. The washerman took it to Atta. As soon as he looked inside the box, the baby smiled at him. Atta was instantaneously smitten; he picked her up, hugged her and took her home to his wife.

“Look, God has given us a daughter, bright and beautiful as the moon,” he announced happily. His wife was equally thrilled. They named their adorable newly adopted daughter, Sassi, the moon.

Sassi was raised in the lap of luxury. Atta spared no expense to bring her up. She was cosseted and petted as the only child of a prosperous dhobi. Sassi grew up to be absolutely beautiful.

Proud of his daughter who had a regal mien, the dhobi built a splendid new mansion teamed with maid servants to do her every bidding. Artisans decorated the interior with colourful tiles imported all the way from Central Asia. In Sassi’s bedroom a mural depicted the legendary Arab tale of Qais and Laila. Hence, she dreamt of love and romance whether sleeping or awake. Horticulturists and landscapers cultivated the garden with fruit trees, both indigenous and exotic as well as colourful fragrant flowers. She daily roamed her garden like the princess she was and distributed alms amongst the needy as a sweet, charitable girl. Soon Sassi’s fame spread far and wide.

Bhambhor lay on the route to various mercantile cities. Caravans from far off areas camped here to sell goods and restock. Atta owned a camping site behind his garden where he welcomed the travelers since the business they brought was welcome to the town. Occasionally, the lucky amongst them enjoyed the relaxing garden and even got to feast their eyes on the nubile Sassi. Tales of her beauty the foreign traders took back with them wherever they went.

One day, a caravan from Kech Makran camped there and some of the travelers chanced upon Sassi roaming blissfully unaware in her garden. On their return to Kech Makran, a mirasi (folk singer) related the tale of “drinking from the flood of (her) beauty.”

“Sassi is the prettiest of all girls in the world. Oh prince, she is absolutely matchless. She is a fairy from Koh Kaaf. Her eyes are deeper than oceans on the earth, her cheeks are brighter than stars in the sky, her voice is sweeter than the cuckoos in the jungles. Whoever sees her smiling loses heart to her,” he described the teenager reverently.

All are enemies, camels, camel men and brother in laws,

Fourth enemy is wind that removed the foot prints of Punhoon,

Fifth enemy is sun which delayed its setting,

Sixth enemy is sky which did not make travel easy,

Seventh enemy is moon which did not shine longer

—Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, as translated by Muhammad Sheeraz Dasti

Punnu became agog to see the famous beauty for himself.  “Think of the best plan to reach the famous beauty of Bhambhor. Let me know of your advice by tomorrow,” he told his advisors to concoct a plan for him to be able to see the beauty for himself.

A Painting Of Sassi From A Private Collection

One advisor devised a plan that the prince could not only see but interact with the well guarded Muslim girl: “A caravan should take a variety of perfumes to Bhambhor and you should go along with it as a musk trader.”

Punnu got permission from his father, the Raja Aari Jam, to travel incognito. He put together a caravan carrying exotic imported perfumes that would tempt a fine lady to acquire. As the caravan of the perfume sellers reached Bhambhor, the whole city was bathed in the fragrance of its wares. Even Sassi heard that a handsome trader called Punnu had arrived from Kech Makran hawking special perfumes.

All the Bhambhor residents and merchants from neighbouring areas flocked to where Punnu’s caravan had set up shop. Leaving the business of selling to the rest of the traders, Punnu kept his eyes peeled towards the entrance of the camp throughout the day waiting for a glimpse of the fair Sassi.

A Company School Watercolour Depicting Dhobis Washing At A River C.1820’s

Finally, in the afternoon, accompanied by her friends, Sassi visited the site on a shopping expedition. As soon as Punnu spotted Sassi amidst her friends, he knew she was The One. She was far more beautiful than his imagination had pictured. In her turn, Sassi as she dealt with the trader, the Prince in disguise also fell in love with him at first sight. “Sassi ran back to home, without having perfumes. Yet perfumed! Her lips dry as desert, her chest thumping as trumpet. She returned without herself and he was left without himself.”

“Back home, Sassi discovered that Punnu was now in her veins. He was everywhere: in the air, on flowers, in the mirror, on her tongue. She could not like anything, experienced a strange restlessness in sitting, discomfort in sleeping, unease in walking. She didn’t know how to describe this self, this no self. Had no idea of how to cure herself, not sure if she really wanted to cure herself of the sweetness of pain. Finally, she sought her best friend’s council. ‘I love the young musk trader. Think of some way that he is mine—mine forever.’”

The Ruin Of Sassi Da Kallara, Kech Makran
Makran, An Arid Desert Of Sand And Rock With A Vast Wilderness Consisting Of Green Areas
Thar Desert

A guileless female always confides tales of her love to her best friend who tries to help her win in the game of love. Likewise Sassi confided to her best friend who went to Punnu to guage his intentions. He readily admitted that that the sole aim of his life was to attain Sassi. Then, she went to convince Sassi’s parents to marry her to the young man. “Sassi is unable to live without him. And I must tell you, Punnu isn’t an ordinary man. He is the prince of his tribe in Kech Makran, and is the handsomest of men,” argued the girl earnestly.

But Atta would have none of it. He replied, “Punnu is a traveler. We know nothing about his caste and family. How can we give our beautiful daughter’s hand to a stranger? She will marry someone from our own fraternity, a dhobi,”

Sassi’s friend thought on her feet, “Actually, I have heard that Punnu too belongs to a tribe of dhobis, they only trade in perfumes. You can ask him to wash some clothes as a test.”

So Atta agreed to invite him to their house. Punnu, a prince in reality, went over pretending to be a laundryman. Atta bid him to wash a sack full of clothes to test his veracity.

At the time, clothes in the Subcontinent were washed by beating them on a stone at the edge of a water body. Prince Punnu beat the clothes against rocks besides the mighty gushing Indus River, hurting his hands and tearing the clothes. When Sassi got to know that he had torn most of the clothes were torn, she told her friend to carry a message:

“Tell Punnu to fold the clothes and place a coin of gold in every torn piece. The people of my town will be happy to see gold and won’t complain to my father.”

Punnu folded gold coins in the folds of the clothes. The townspeople demurred and Atta gave his permission reluctantly. He made Punnu promise that he would not take away his only daughter but would take up residence with them in Bhambhor after his wedding to Sassi. Punnu readily agreed.

Punnu’s brothers and friends came from Kech Makran for the wedding. Atta threw an extravagant and magnificent celebration in honour of his only daughter’s wedding.

Punnu’s Fort, Turbat, Balochistan

While they were enjoying Atta’s gracious hospitality, Punnu’s brothers urged him to return to Kech Makran where their father was waiting for him, but Punnu refused to leave his ladylove’s side. When he wouldn’t budge, they returned home without him.

Upon reaching Kech Makran, brother Chunru told this to their father Aari Jam. Punnu, being his youngest son, was the baby of the family. Their handsome prince abandoning his life in the palace for the life of a dhobi, it was unthinkable! His parents wanted their bewitched son back at all costs.

Aari sent a messenger to tell him to immediately return. The messenger tracked down Punnu washing clothes sitting at the dhobi ghaat with other dhobis. “My Lord, this job is beneath your dignity. You are our prince. Come back to home and lead a life that suits your stature,” he said.

“Go back and tell my father and brothers to forget me. I will never be able to go away from here. My home is where my Sassi lives,” the erstwhile prince replied.

The messenger explained how worried his father was, and how the Prince had lowered himself to the level of an ordinary worker by washing clothes. But when Punnu paid no heed.

A Painting ByTrilok Singh, An Artistof Chitralok Patiala, Illustrating Sassi Running Into The Dessert In Her Wedding Finery

Aari Jam was so upset when he heard his messenger’s account that he felt dizzy and fell unconscious with worry. Seeing their father sicken, Punnu’s brothers, Chunru, Hoti and Noti put their heads together.

“We must do something to save our father from this agony,” said Hoti, the eldest. “I can’t see him suffer anymore.”

“Yes, we must bring Punnu back to Kech Makran, no matter what price we have to pay,” said Noti.

The brothers strode swift camels and rode toward Bhambhor to bring their brother back in any way possible.

Not being aware of their true design, Punnu and Sassi were thrilled that his brothers had finely accepted his marriage and were visiting them.

Nightly they laid out grand feasts and entertainment for them with mehfil (gathering) of singing, dancing and drinking. Hoti, Noti and Chunru bided their time. First they tried to convince  Punnu to return by telling him how their father suffered, how sick he had become pining for him, “If you don’t come back soon, our father will no longer be alive.”

Punnu said categorically that he would never return.

One night, Chunru, Hoti and Noti did not get drunk but let Punnu have his fill and pass out. As Sassi kept waiting for Punnu in their bedroom, she applied henna to her left hand. She eventually fell asleep with the henna stick in her hand. The stick was to be planted in soil in the morning according to the custom in those days.

As soon as Punnu passed out, his brothers picked him up and flung him across a camel’s back. They quickly and quietly left for Kech Makran without disturbing the sleeping household.

In the morning, Sassi woke up to find herself alone in bed. Punnu was nowhere to be found. “My Punnu has been abducted by his brothers. They have deceived me,” she shrieked.

Devastated at her loss, she dashed out without even putting on her shoes, wailing his name. Her parents and the servants ran after her.

“Where is my Punnu?” She kept repeating inconsolably. “I’ll find him. I will find him.”

Threatening to kill herself if they stopped her, Sassi ran towards the jungle outside Bhambhor. Her parents and servants followed her but they lost track of her when twilight fell in the thick jungle. Sassi ran madly crossing the jungle, over the barren land, sandy dessert and craggy mountains. Her feet got cut over the thorns, branches, rocks and hot sand, but she didn’t even notice.

“Punnuuu, Punnuuu!” Her plaintive cry was heard.

Under the beating sun, Sassi’s throat became parched. Hungry, thirsty, wounded in body and spirit, she kept running till she reached the hills of Pub. Her extreme thirst could be denied no longer. She croaked “Punnu, paani, Punnu!” And collapsed on a big hot boulder. Suddenly, as if in answer to her prayer, a spring erupted right next to her. She cupped her hennaed hands and drank her fill. As a tribute, she planted the henna stick she had been carrying absentmindedly in her hand since the night before. In time, the stick flourished into a tall henna tree next to the flowing sweet water spring in Pub, in remembrance of True Love.

After a brief respite, Sassi walked another few miles before her blistered and bleeding feet became too sore and painful to walk on. She had reached the Harho mountain range where she was spotted by a shepherd from a distance. “Where is my Punnu? Have you seen my Punnu?” Sassi asked the uncivilized goatherd.

The lascivious man sought to take advantage. “You are searching for one Punnu? In this world everyone is a Punnu for you. I am Punnu for you. My father, my grandfather, my seven generations are Punnu for you. My sheep, my donkey, all the animals are Punnu for you.” He flung himself on her, desirous of raping her and fulfilling his baser animal urges.

“O merciless man, I am dying of thirst and you assault me. Fear Allah and get me something to drink,” Sassi begged him.

As the shepherd relented enough to get her some milk from his goats, Sassi beseeched Allah to order the ground to open and swallow her up. “O Almighty, the One who listens to the helpless, help me out in this moment of trouble. I am Punnu’s trust. Protect my honor from the wickedness of this shepherd. You and only You can hear me in this barren land!”She moaned with tears streaming down her face.

Her prayer was heard.

Suddenly the ground beneath her shook and split open. The crevice widened to engulf her into its protection and closed over her again, leaving only the border of her duppatta as a trace above ground. The shepherd got so scared to witness this miracle that he fell in a sajda and begged forgiveness:

The Grand Mausoleum Of Bhittai Built By Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro In 1762

“O Lord, I’m sinful. I beg your forgiveness. You are the most Merciful. Have mercy on my poor soul.”

To atone for his sin, he became the caretaker of Sassi’s grave. To mark it, he placed stones around where the spot where she had disappeared into the ground and built a small hut for himself nearby.

Meanwhile, the brothers had reached Kech Makran without incident. Punnu didn’t get a chance to escape because they had tied him to the back of a camel.

Punnu kept protesting, “I won’t go to Makran. Leave me here. I have to go back to my wife, my love. Don’t try to separate us, you can’t do that,” but they were adamant.

Though his old sick father Aari Jam felt so happy to finally see him home, Punnu didn’t care and said, “Release me. Let me go to my Sassi. She would be worried. She will die without me. I have to go to Sassi. I have to go to Sassi. Please release me.”

After failing to convince him, Aari Jam, a wise, thoughtful man, feared Punnu might harm himself if they didn’t relent. Eventually, he sent for his elder sons and told them, “Take him back to Bhambhor and bring both Punnu and Sassi here. He can’t live without his woman, and we can’t see him in this condition.”

Lying to Punnu that they were going to leave him to live with Sassi in Bhambhor, the brothers prepared for their journey.

Aari told them, “Bring Sassi to Kech Makran at any cost, and come back at your earliest possible. We’ll live to see the woman, who thieved a beautiful chamber of our heart.”

“Don’t worry, father. We’ll follow your wish and wisdom,” chorused all three in unison.

Punnu was desperate to get back as soon as possible. “Had he got wings, he would have flown to her. Since the time they had separated him from his Sassi, Punnu behaved like a stranger.”

When they reached the spot where Sassi had been “veiled under the earth,” Punnu’s sixth sense averted him. Pulling the reins of his camel, he looked around to detect her by now tattered dupatta border peeping out from the ground surrounded by stones. What was Sassi’s dupatta doing her and why did he feel her presence? He saw the shepherd squatting down on his haunches at the entrance of a nearby hut and asked him politely “Whose grave is this Sir?” He had an ominous feeling in the pit of his stomach that he already knew the answer to his own question.

The shepherd burst out crying and sobbed, “She is the devoted lover of someone called Punnu. She was running about madly, calling out his name. and took refuge here in this rock.”

His worst fears had come true and Punnu let out an anguished yell: “Sassiii!”

He fell down on his knees and folding his hands together in supplication offered Fateha for his beloved Sassi casting his streaming eyes upwards. “O You the Creator of love and of the lovers, O the Greatest Healer of the injured souls, send me to where Sassi is, to where Love is,” he prayed to God.

All afternoon he repeated his prayer. Finally, in answer, the ground shook again, the rock split open and Punnu hurriedly fell in calling out Sassi’s name. The rock closed behind him, reuniting the lovers that no one again could put asunder.

Punnu’s brothers stood stock still terrified. The shepherd dissolved in tears; he was now the custodian of a single grave of the two lovers, and the tale of their miraculous and divine love. The brothers realized how wrong they had been to try to come between a love sanctioned by Allah; how grave a sin they had committed in their shallow, earthly considerations. After pondering over their grave mistake, they recited a Fateha for the lovers and, with a heavy heart, departed for Kech Makran.

Sassi Punnu’s alleged grave is located near Lasbela, 45 miles away in the Pub range to the west of Karachi. Haji Muhammad, an affluent resident of the area, constructed a simple mausoleum in 1980, which is visited by those from near and far. Ruins of Punnu’s fort are likewise located in Turbat.

By Mahlia Lone

That rockstars have millions of groupies willing to do their bidding is a well known fact. But artists have sensitive souls, which yearn for the unattainable. This is what inspires them to reach inside themselves and create art that serves as a cathartic release for their pent up feelings. Sixties model and London It Girl Pattie Boyd was the love, muse and wife to two rock legends, George Harrison and Eric Clapton. She inspired them to write classic songs that we still listen to today.  During his brief fling with her, Ronnie Woods too wrote a song about her. It wasn’t her beauty, her virtue or her intelligence that won them over and inspired them to create timeless art, it was the fact that they all wanted her and became competitive and relentless in their pursuit. The chase it seems is what really got them going because once each got her, after the initial euphoria, he lost interest and went back to the pursuit of hedonistic pleasures.

Eric Clapton had an unusual childhood. He was born in 1945 in Surrey to 16-year-old Patricia Clapton who had gotten knocked up by a Canadian soldier during the tail end of World War II. The soldier returned to Canada after the armistice without even meeting his newborn son. Clapton grew up believing that his grandparents were his real parents, and that his mother was his older sister.

When his mother got married to another Canadian soldier and moved with him to Germany, Eric stayed behind in England with his grandparents. They say that the patterns you follow in your future relationships are set in your childhood.  Pining for his mother, hence, set the relationship dynamic that he would later follow in his love life.

George Harrison, A Liverpool Working Class Lad In 1961
Eric Clapton In 1969 Outside Olympic Studios, London, After A Recording Session

For his thirteenth birthday, Clapton’s mother sent him an acoustic Hoyer guitar from Germany. He taught himself the instrument, practicing diligently and passionately by playing the guitar along to blues records. He would record his playing on a Grundig tape recorder and compare it to that of professional blues musicians. At the age of 16 in 1961, after finishing school, he started playing guitar in neighbourhood pubs. By 1967, Clapton was recognised as the country’s top blues guitarist.

Pattie Was A Top UK Model In 1964

George Harrison was from Liverpool like his other Beatles band mates. He was born in 1943 to a ship steward father and an Irish Catholic shop assistant mother.  While pregnant with George, according to Harrison’s biographer Joshua Greene, “Every Sunday she tuned in to mystical sounds evoked by sitars and tablas (on the weekly broadcast of Radio India), hoping that the exotic music would bring peace and calm to the baby in the womb.”

The Beatles On The Set Of A Hard Day Night With Pattie Boyd, 1964

The family was working class and lived in council housing. Pattie talked about how supportive George’s mother was to him growing up, “All she wanted for her children is that they should be happy, and she recognized that nothing made George quite as happy as making music.” In 1956, his father bought him a Dutch Egmond flat top acoustic guitar, costing only £3.10 (equivalent to £100 in today’s value terms) on which the young lad learnt to play.

In 19, the four teenagers, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Stuart Sutcliffe (who died in 1962 of a brain aneurysm) formed The Beatles and played gigs in Liverpool and Hamburg clubs. After Ringo Starr joined them as drummer in 1962, they recorded their first UK hit Love Me Do. Beatlemania took off from there.

Patricia Boyd was born in1944, in Somerset. Her family moved to London when she was a teenager and she got a job working as a shampoo girl in Elizabeth Arden’s salon. A client from the fashion industry spotted her and offered her a modeling job that launched her career. She worked the model circuit of fashion weeks in London, New York, and Paris and became a highly sought after top model. Pattie graced the covers of Vogue UK and Italy and was shot by top photographers David Bailey and Terence Donovan, in addition to appearing in TV commercials.

22 Year Old George With His 21 Year Old Bride Pattie In 1966 At A Press Reception In London

In 1964, The Beatles took America by storm when they appeared on the hugely popular The Ed Sullivan Show, and attracted a record audience of 73 million.  They were mobbed by hysterical girls everywhere they went. They had conquered America.

Back in London, Richard Lester was making a movie on the band titled A Hard Day’s Night. Pattie’s agent managed to get her a tiny part in it as a school girl fan. Her only dialogue in the film was: “Prisoners?” But the film changed her life. As soon as she came on set and met Harrison, there was instantaneous mutual chemistry.

Pattie recalled that he was incredibly good looking but rather shy. He spontaneously asked her, “Will you marry me? Well, if you won’t marry me, will you have dinner with me tonight?”

“On first impressions, John seemed more cynical and brash than the others, Ringo the most endearing Paul was cute and George, with velvet-brown eyes and dark chestnut hair, was the best looking man I had ever seen. At a break for lunch I found myself sitting next to him. Being close to him was electrifying,” she said.

The Newlyweds Surrounded By Family And Friends Including The Beatles Manager Brian Epstein Who Had Accompanied Them On Their First Date

Pattie had been in a serious two year relationship with self taught experimental photographer Eric Swayne at the time and, thus, refused Harrison’s invitation. She was booked for another day’s shooting after a few days and this time she came on set having broken up with Swayne who was rather cut up about it since he had been hoping to marry her. When Harrison repeated his invitation to her, she agreed. The couple went to the prestigious Garrick Club, accompanied by the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein. “I was 21, he was 22. I was so happy and so much in love. I thought we would be together and happy forever,” she reminisced.

The Blissful Newlyweds Unaware Of What Life Had In Store For Them

On the arm of a Beatle, the blonde fashion model soon became an It Girl. After two years of dating, Harrison and Pattie married in 1966 with Paul McCartney as their best man.

For a while, they were blissfully happy. His love for his beautiful young wife inspired Harrison to write the song Something in 1968 for The Beatles’ Abbey Road album. In his autobiography, I, Me Mine, he wrote he worked on the melody on a piano at London’s Abbey Road Studios. It became the only song written by him to top the US Billboards Top 100 chart before the band’s break up in April 1970.

“He told me, in a matter-of-fact way, that he had written it (the song) for me. I thought it was beautiful,” wrote Pattie in her autobiography. The song had 150 different cover versions including one by Frank Sinatra who thought that it was the best love song ever written. “My favourite was the one by George Harrison, which he played to me in the kitchen at Kinfauns (their home in Esher, Surrey),” she added, while Harrison preferred James Brown’s, a copy of which he kept at home on his personal jukebox.

Paul McCartney Cosying Up To The Bride & Groom

Clapton and Harrison became close friends in the ‘60s with Eric often dropping by their Surrey home for impromptu jam sessions, music collaborations and even casually for a chat and a meal together. In this relaxed atmosphere, Clapton started to develop a crush on his friend’s wife that burgeoned into a full blown obsession.

Kinfauns, George & Pattie Home From 1964 1970. Here George Is Painting Graffiti On It Himself

“But, in fact, by then our (marital) relationship was in trouble,” recalled Pattie. By the mid-1960s, Harrison was turning increasingly towards Hinduism after experimenting with LSD. In 1966, he travelled to India with Pattie to study sitar with Ravi Shankar. There he made pilgrimages to various mandirs and met several gurus. In 1968, upon Harrison’s suggestion The Beatles travelled to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh, Dheradhun in the Himalayan foothills beside the Ganges River to study yoga and meditation. George’s love for Hinduism and meditation was propelled by his trippy LSD experiences. Harrison said, “For me, it was like a flash. The first time I had acid, it just opened up something in my head that was inside of me, and I realized a lot of things. I didn’t learn them because I already knew them, but that happened to be the key that opened the door to reveal them. From the moment I had that, I wanted to have it all the time – these thoughts about the yogis and the Himalayas, and Ravi’s music.”

“George had become obsessive about meditation, pointed out Pattie. “He was also sometimes withdrawn and depressed. My moods started to mirror his and at times I felt almost suicidal. I don’t think I was ever in any real danger of killing myself but I got as far as working out how I would do it: put on a diaphanous Ossie Clark dress and throw myself off Beachy Head.

And there were other women, which really hurt me. George was fascinated by the god Krishna who was always surrounded by young maidens. He came back from India wanting to be some kind of Krishna figure, a spiritual being with lots of concubines. He actually said so.

No woman was out of bounds. I was friendly with a French girl who was going out with Eric Clapton. When she and Eric broke up, she came to stay with us at our house, Kinfauns, in Esher, Surrey.

She didn’t seem remotely upset about Eric and was uncomfortably close to George. Something was going on between them but when I questioned George he told me my imagination was running away with me, that I was paranoid.

I left to stay with friends and within days George phoned to say the girl had gone. I returned home but I was shocked that he could do such a thing to me. I felt unloved and miserable.”

Eric Clapton Has Been One Of The Top Guitarists In The World For Over Half A Century
Pattie Boyd Vogue

Pattie talked about how present and future husbands became closer. “Eric and George had become close friends, writing and recording music together.

Eric’s guitar playing was held in awe by his fellow musicians. Graffiti declaring ‘Clapton is God’ had been scrawled on the London Underground, and he was an incredibly exciting performer to watch. He looked wonderful on stage, very sexy.

But when I met him he didn’t behave like a rock star – he was surprisingly shy and reticent. I was aware that Eric found me attractive and I enjoyed the attention he paid me.

Something

Something in the way she moves

Attracts me like no other lover

Something in the way she woos me

 

I don’t want to leave her now

You know I believe and how

 

Somewhere in her smile she knows

That I don’t need no other lover

Something in her style that shows me

 

Don’t want to leave her now

You know I believe and how

 

You’re asking me will my love grow

I don’t know, I don’t know

 

You stick around now it may show

I don’t know, I don’t know

 

George Harrison, The Beatles

It was hard not to be flattered when I caught him staring at me or when he chose to sit beside me. He complimented me on what I was wearing and the food I had cooked, and he said things he knew would make me laugh. Those were all things that George no longer did.”

During the time Clapton was continuously hitting on his wife, Harrison was self involved. A hard core Hare Krishna devotee by the late ‘60s, he even became a strict vegetarian at a time when vegan, gluten free, etc diets were not the norm in mainstream western societies. In 1969, he produced the Hare Krishna Mantra as performed by members of the London Radha Krishna Temple. He described their leader A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada “my friend … my master” and “a perfect example of everything he preached.” The good looking pop star turned into a Hare Krishna devotee wearing beads and chanting.

Music wise, in 1968, Harrison came out with his debut solo album Wonderwall Music, the first of many Harrison solo records with Clapton on guitar. However, due to contractual restraints, Clapton wasn’t credited for his work on the albums.

While her husband was committed to finding himself and a meaning for his life as well as establishing himself as a solo artist, the wife, committed to her marriage, was busy rebuffing Clapton’s advances.

The It Couple In 1969
Ravi Shankar & George Harrison

It’s interesting that Harrison had turned for comfort to the same music his mother had listened to soothe the fetus in her womb and Clapton had reverted to his childhood dynamic of pining for his mother married to his stepfather and unavailable to him.

Yearning for an unavailable married woman, Clapton did the next best thing by hooking up with Pattie’s teenage sister. Pattie described their meeting: “One night in December 1969, I took my 17-year-old sister Paula to see Eric play in Liverpool. Paula was very pretty and a bit of a wild child, and that night Eric fell for her. After the show we all went to a restaurant and everyone was quite drunk and raucous. When the rest of us went back to the hotel, we left Eric and Paula dancing.

The next night Eric was playing in Croydon and again Paula and I went to watch, and again there was a wild after-show party, this time at Eric’s Italianate manor house, Hurtwood Edge in Ewhurst, Surrey. Soon after, Paula moved in with Eric.”

Not interested in cultivating a rockstar status, but wanting to be taken as a serious musician, Clapton formed Derek and the Dominos. Desperate in his love for Pattie, he wrote Layla, soulfully singing about his deep feelings and unrequited love for her on their 1970 album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The song was inspired by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi’s The Story of Layla and Majnun, the tragic tale of a young man who fell hopelessly in love with a beautiful, unavailable woman and who went crazy because he could not marry her.

When Paula heard him working on the song in Miami, she realized it was about Pattie and that Clapton was still too hung up about her sister. Finally understanding that to him she would always be second best, Paula left Eric. Pattie said about her younger sister, “She had been seriously in love with Eric, but he destroyed her pride, her self-esteem and her confidence, which were already fragile.”

Pattie described in depth the day Clapton made her listen to the ballad for the first time. “We met secretly at a flat in South Kensington. Eric Clapton had asked me to come because he wanted me to listen to a new number he had written. He switched on the tape machine, turned up the volume and played me the most powerful, moving song I had ever heard. It was Layla, about a man who falls hopelessly in love with a woman who loves him but is unavailable.

Chant Hare Krishna And Be Happy George Harrison

He played it to me two or three times, all the while watching my face intently for my reaction. My first thought was: ‘Oh God, everyone’s going to know this is about me.’

Eric had been making his desire for me clear for months. I felt uncomfortable that he was pushing me in a direction in which I wasn’t certain I wanted to go.

But with the realisation that I had inspired such passion and creativity, the song got the better of me. I could resist no longer.

That evening I was going to the theatre to see Oh! Calcutta! with a friend and then on to a party at the home of pop impresario Robert Stigwood. George didn’t want to go to the show or the party.

After the interval at Oh!Calcutta! I came back to find Eric in the next seat, having persuaded a stranger to swap places with him. Afterwards we went to Robert’s house separately but we were soon together. It was a great party and I felt elated by what had happened earlier in the day but also deeply guilty.

During the early hours, George appeared. He was morose and his mood was not improved by walking into a party that had been going on for several hours and where most of the guests were high on drugs.

He kept asking ‘Where’s Pattie?’ but no one seemed to know. He was about to leave when he spotted me in the garden with Eric. It was just getting light, and very misty. George came over and demanded: ‘What’s going on?’

To my horror, Eric said: ‘I have to tell you, man that I’m in love with your wife.’

I wanted to die. George was furious. He turned to me and said: ‘Well, are you going with him or coming with me?’

Clapton wasn’t satisfied with just bedding Pattie but was desperate to marry her and make her his wife. Pattie faced with the choice of her husband or her lover chose to stay in her marriage and left with George. But after this public episode, Harrison became open in the pursuit of other women.

Hurtwood Edge, Clapton Italiante House In Surrey

But while Clapton was shacked with the younger sister, he didn’t let up on his pursuit of the older sister. “In March 1970, George and I moved into a new house,” wrote Pattie. “Friar Park was a magnificent Victorian Gothic pile near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, with 25 bedrooms, a ballroom, a library, a formal garden of 12 acres and a further 20 acres of land.

One morning shortly after moving in, a letter arrived for me with the words ‘express’ and ‘urgent’ written on the envelope. Inside I found a small piece of paper. In small, immaculate writing, with no capital letters, I read:

‘dearest l,’as you have probably gathered, my own home affairs are a galloping farce, which is rapidly degenerating day by intolerable day . . . it seems like an eternity since i last saw or

spoke to you!’

(He needed to ascertain my feelings: if I still loved my husband or did I

have another lover? More crucially, did I still have feelings in my heart for him? He had to know, and urged me to write.)

Paula Boyd, Pattie Younger Sister & Clapton Live In Girlfriend

The lyrics to this haunting song are:

“What’ll you do when you get lonely

And nobody’s waiting by your side?

You’ve been running and hiding much too long.

You know it’s just your foolish pride.

Layla, you’ve got me on my knees.

Layla, I’m begging, darling please.

Layla, darling won’t you ease my worried mind.

I tried to give you consolation

When your old man had let you down.

Like a fool, I fell in love with you,

Turned my whole world upside down.

Layla, you’ve got me on my knees.

Layla, I’m begging, darling please.

Layla, darling won’t you ease my worried mind.

Let’s make the best of the situation

Before I finally go insane.

Please don’t say I’ll never find a way

And tell me all my love’s in vain.”

 

Eric Clapton, Derek and the Dominos

‘please do this, whatever it may say, my mind will be at rest . . .’all my love, e.’

I assumed it was from some weirdo.

After Beseeching Her Repeatedly And Even Writing The Song Layla For Her, When Clapton Couldn’t Get Pattie To Leave Harrison For Him, He Lost Himself In A Three Year Lon 2

I got fan mail occasionally – when I wasn’t getting hate mail from George’s fans. I showed it to George and others who were at the house. They laughed and dismissed it, as I had.

That evening the phone rang. It was Eric. ‘Did you get my letter?’ he asked.

Clapton Note To Boyd

‘Letter?’ I said. ‘I don’t think so. What letter are you talking about?’

Then the penny dropped. ‘Was that from you? I had no idea you felt that way.’ It was the most passionate letter anyone had ever written to me and it put our relationship on a different footing. It made the flirtation all the more exciting and dangerous. But as far as I was concerned, it was just flirtation.

From time to time during the spring and summer of 1970, Eric and I saw each other. One day, walking down Oxford Street, he asked: ‘Do you like me, then, or are you seeing me because I’m famous?’

‘Oh, I thought you were seeing me because I’m famous,’ I said. We laughed.

He always found it difficult to talk about his feelings, instead pouring them into his music and writing.

Once we met under the clock in Guildford High Street. He had just come back from Miami and had a pair of bell-bottom trousers for me – hence the track Bell Bottom Blues. He was tanned and looked gorgeous and irresistible – but I managed to resist him.

On another occasion I drove to Ewhurst and we met in the woods nearby. Eric was wearing a wolf coat and looked very sexy. We didn’t go to his house because someone would have been there. A lot of people lived at Hurtwood Edge: his band, the Dominos, Paula and Alice Ormsby-Gore, another of Eric’s girlfriends.

The convent girl in me found the situation uncomfortable but strangely exciting, and so it was later that year after Eric had played me Layla in the South Kensington flat that I succumbed to his advances.

After George and Eric’s confrontation at Robert Stigwood’s party, I went home with my husband. Back at the house I went to bed and George disappeared into his recording studio.

The next time I saw Eric, he turned up unexpectedly at Friar Park. George was away – I don’t know whether Eric knew that in advance – and I was on my own. He said he wanted me to go away with him: he was desperately in love with me and couldn’t live without me. I had to leave George right now and be with him.

Friar Park, Harrison Victorian Mansion In Oxfordshire

‘Eric, are you mad?’ I asked. ‘I can’t possibly. I’m married to George.’

He said: ‘No, no, no. I love you. I have to have you in my life.’

‘No,’ I said.

George Harrison At His Grand Country Estate
Friar Park1
Harrison In The Grounds Of His Estate

He produced a small packet from his pocket and held it out towards me.

‘Well, if you’re not going to come away with me, I’m going to take this.’

‘What is it?’

‘Heroin.’

‘Don’t be so stupid.’ I tried to grab it from him but he clenched his fist and hid it in his pocket.

‘If you’re not going to come with me,’ he said, ‘that’s it. I’m off.’

And he went. I hardly saw him for three years.

He did as he threatened. He took the heroin and quickly became addicted. And he took Alice Ormsby-Gore with him.

Eric already did a lot of drugs, the ones we all used – marijuana, uppers, downers and cocaine – and he drank quite heavily too. But his dealer had been insisting recently he bought heroin when he supplied him with cocaine,” she added. “He and Alice retreated into Hurtwood Edge and pulled up the drawbridge. He didn’t leave the house, he didn’t see friends, he didn’t answer the door or the telephone, and the two of them sank into virtual oblivion.”

Pattie didn’t see Clapton again for three years. He immersed himself in heroin, which he snorted like cocaine as he was afraid of needles, to block out his love for Pattie and intent on a self destructive binge.

Meanwhile, Pattie carried on with her domestic life. She recalled, “I turned my attention to my husband and to renovating Friar Park. For a brief period the project united us but the house was so enormous, and there were always so many people living in it, that we never had any intimacy. Most of the time, even when George was in the house, I didn’t know where he was. At meal times, too many other people were at the table for us to have any real conversation. And even though we shared a bed, he was often in his recording studio or meditating half the night in the octagonal room at the top of the house that had become his sanctuary.

I felt more and more alienated. I didn’t feel included in George’s thinking or his plans. I wasn’t his partner in anything any longer. He was surrounded by yes-men. When I challenged him about it he said: ‘Well I’d hate to be surrounded by no-men.’

I heard from Eric again in January 1971, two months after he had walked out vowing to take the heroin. He wrote to me from a cottage in Wales.

Book Copy

On the title page of a copy of Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men, he had written a love note signed with a heart. That one short note stirred up feelings I had spent two months suppressing. I wrote and told him what he wanted to hear.

As soon as I had posted the letter I had terrible doubts and immediately wrote a postcard. It simply said:

‘Hullo, Please forgive and forget my bold suggestion.’Love L’

His reply came by return of post on the dust jacket of a book of Scottish ballads and was written in green ink.

‘it was rather significant that i received both communications on the same morning. something like watching a boomerang in flight.’

He said he understood my situation and didn’t know what to recommend.

‘i love you even though you’re chicken.’

“Nothing came of our fantasies and I didn’t see or speak to him again until August 1971.”

The years apart proved that Clapton and Pattie shared more than a flirtation as she initially thought but a real connection. Moreover, her marriage with Harrison was allowed time to die its own death.

Ronnie And His First Wife Krissy Findlay

But even his rockstar friends were concerned about heroin’s hold on Clapton. They felt they needed to save the great musician from an early, untimely death. “George had persuaded him to come out of Hurtwood Edge briefly to perform at a charity event, Concert For Bangladesh, in New York,” she continued. “Eric was in a bad way but George thought that if he got him on stage, even propped up with drugs, his addiction would become an open secret and maybe he would open the door a little to his friends, who might be able to help….

That day he and I scarcely spoke. He was surrounded by people, then on stage, and he was very out of it; I’m not sure he really saw me. It was a shock to think that he had done this to himself because of me. At first I felt guilty, then my feelings would swing violently the other way and I was angry that he should have asked me to choose between him and my husband.

When the concert was over, Eric and Alice (his girlfriend at the time) went back to the horrors of their self-imposed prison at Hurtwood Edge. Pete Townshend of The Who was the only friend who refused to take no for an answer and went to the house so often that eventually Eric had to see him.

Pete persuaded him to perform at another charity concert, this time at Finsbury Park, North London.

The show in 1973, billed as Eric’s comeback, was a triumph. I was sitting in the audience with George, Ringo, Elton John, Joe Cocker and Jimmy Page. Eric didn’t look well – his addict’s diet of junk food and chocolate had made him put on weight.

As I heard the opening wail of Layla, the first number of the evening, then the lyrics, my blood ran cold. He might have been wrecked for the previous three years but he hadn’t forgotten how to tear at the heart-strings with his guitar.

All the emotion I had felt for him when he disappeared from my life welled up inside me.

The show reminded Eric there was an alternative to his life as an addict and eventually he agreed to accept treatment. He got off the heroin – and went straight on to alcohol.

He became a regular visitor to Friar Park and professed his love for me with increasing vigour. Letters arrived almost daily in which he pleaded with me to leave George and be with him.

Meanwhile, things between George and me were going from bad to worse.

I don’t know what his feelings were about Eric when he reappeared in our lives.

We had been so stoned on the night of Robert Stigwood’s party that he might have forgotten about the confrontation in the mist, but I don’t think so. George never spoke about it but after that night I think he felt he could be as blatant as he liked in his pursuit of other women.

In spring 1973, we were supposed to go on holiday together. The day before we were due to leave, George said he wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t go. He ended up going to Spain, supposedly to see Salvador Dali, with Ronnie Wood’s wife, Krissie.

Ronnie, then bass guitarist with The Faces, and Krissie were friends of ours who often came to stay at Friar Park. I was desperately hurt: another of my friends was sleeping with George.

Pattie & George

When I challenged him he denied it.

I went to the Bahamas instead with my sister Paula, who was battling her own heroin addiction. While there we had a call from Ronnie Wood. He was on tour and said he might come to see us for a few days. He didn’t seem upset that his wife was with George – he just thought it was funny they had gone to see Dali.

Ronnie is the most adorable man, and maybe at that moment some fun, laughter and a pair of comforting arms were what I needed.”

Ronnie Wood, who joined The Rolling Stones as guitarist in 1975, and George Harrison had a “sort of a warped rockstar wife swap” that they later publicly joked about. Ronnie hooked up with Pattie and George with Ronnie’s wife Krissie Findley, as the two musicians collaborated on Ronnie’s solo LP, I’ve Got My Own Album to Do, in 1974. In fact, Ronnie’s song Mystifies Me while he was still a member of the band Faces, and released a year before he joined The Rolling Stones is about Pattie. It goes, “You look so fine and true/no one mystifies me like you do.”

Ringo Starr With His Bride Maureen Cox Who Subsequently Had An Affair With George Harrison That Was The Last Straw For His Wife Pattie

To make it even more incestuous, Wood wrote in his autobiography that he had actually “pinched” Findley from Eric Clapton, and knew very well that Clapton was in love with Pattie when he hooked up with her.

Mystifies Me

Stay a while and work it out of me

We got time and we can cast it true

Just give me a sign, I’ll take your word

I’ll learn anything you want me to

That is all I’m looking to you for

All I’m asking that you simply do

Take it leave it, make things matter

Yeah take all my breath away

Take it all apart and put it back

I am always left there looking at you

You look so fine and true

no one mystifies me like you do

you look so fine and true

no one mystifies me like you do

I would not lie to you

Let me see ya, let me know your dreams

Won’t you please give me a sign?

 

Ronnie Woods

Faced with these unfolding events, Harrison wrote the track So Sad for his 1974 album Dark Horse about his marital problems.

Pattie said about the demise of her marriage with Harrison, “The final straw for George and me was his affair with Ringo’s wife, Maureen. She was the last person I would have expected to stab me in the back. I discovered from some photos that she had been staying in the house with George while I had visited my mother in Devon. He had given her a beautiful necklace, which she wore in front of me.

Then I found them locked in a bedroom at Friar Park. I stood outside banging on the door yelling: ‘What are you doing? Maureen’s in there, isn’t she? I know she is!’ George just laughed.

Eventually he opened the door and said: ‘Oh, she’s just a bit tired so she’s lying down.’

I went straight to the top of the house and lowered the flag bearing the om symbol that George had been flying from the roof and hoisted skull and crossbones instead. That made me feel much better.

Maureen wasn’t even prepared to be subtle. She would turn up at Friar Park at midnight and I would say: ‘What the hell are you doing here?’

GeorgeHarrison EricClapton 845×1024

The final showdown: “Harrison handed Clapton a guitar and amp—as an 18th Century gentleman might have handed his rival a sword — and for two hours, without a word, they dueled. The air was electric and the music exciting,” Pattie remembered the climax.
Guess who won?

I’ve come to listen to George playing in the studio.’

‘Well, I’m going to bed.’

‘Ah, well, I’m going to the studio.’

The next morning, she’d still be there, and I’d say: ‘Have you thought about your children? What are you up to? I don’t like it.’

‘Tough,’ was her response.

Eric & Pattie Together At Last

Ringo didn’t have a clue what was going on until I rang him one day and said: ‘Have you ever thought about why your wife doesn’t come home at night? It’s because she’s here!’ He flew into a rage.

George continued to pretend that nothing was going on and would leave me feeling as though I was becoming paranoid.

I felt undermined and unloved and George was so terribly difficult to talk to. He had become worse in the last year, maybe because Eric kept coming around and making it obvious that he wanted to see me. George must have sensed we were having an affair but he never said so.

One evening the actor John Hurt was with us. Eric was due to come over too and George decided to have it out with him. John wanted to make himself scarce but George insisted he stay.

Pattie & Eric Together At The Funeral Of The Who Drummer, Keith Moon, In 1978John remembers George coming downstairs with two guitars and two small amplifiers, laying them down in the hall, then pacing restlessly until Eric arrived – full of brandy, as usual.

As Eric walked through the door George handed him a guitar and amp – as an 18th Century gentleman might have handed his rival a sword – and for two hours, without a word, they dueled. The air was electric and the music exciting.

At the end, nothing was said but the general feeling was that Eric had won. He hadn’t allowed himself to get riled or to go in for instrumental gymnastics as George had. Even when he was drunk, his guitar-playing was unbeatable.

That whole period was insane. Friar Park was a madhouse. Our lives were fuelled by alcohol and cocaine, and so it was with everyone who came into our sphere. We were all as drunk, stoned and single-minded as each other. Nobody seemed to have appointments, deadlines or anything pressing in their lives, no structure and no responsibilities.

Cocaine is a seductive drug because it makes you feel euphoric and good about yourself. It takes away your inhibitions and makes even the shyest, most insecure person feel confident.

And we had so much energy – everyone would talk nonsense for twice as long and drink twice as much because the cocaine made us feel sober. George used cocaine excessively and I think it changed him. I think cocaine froze George’s emotions and hardened his heart.

On New Year’s Eve in 1973, Ringo held a party at his home. George went ahead of me and when I arrived he said: ‘Let’s have a divorce this year.’

In 1974, George told Ringo that he was in love with his wife. Ringo worked himself up into a terrible state and went about saying: ‘Nothing is real, nothing is real.’

I was furious. I went straight out and dyed my hair red.

In June that year, I returned home one evening to find Eric, Pete Townshend and Graham Bell, another musician, larking around at our house.

Harrison Remained To Hinduism, Yoga & Meditation Till The End
Pattie, Photographed With Rod And Their Dog Freddie On Their Wedding In The Summer Of 2015
Wheelchair Bound Eric Clapton, 71, Looking Frail At LAX

I made them dinner, which we ate amid forced jollity, then Eric took me aside and pleaded with me again to leave George. We were alone together for what felt like hours, and he was so passionate, desperate and compelling that I felt swamped, lost and confused.” That year as Clapton kicked his dependence on heroin, Pattie finally left Harrison and with his knowledge and consent ran into Clapton’s arms.

“I had to make a choice. Would I go to Eric, who had written the most beautiful song for me, who had been to hell and back in the last three years because of me and who had worn me down with his protestations of love?

Or would I choose George, my husband, whom I had loved but who had been cold and indifferent towards me for so long that I could barely remember the last time he’d shown me any affection or told me he loved me?

That night Eric left and went off almost immediately to America on tour. On July 3 I told George I was leaving him. It was late at night and I went into the studio and explained that we were leading a ludicrous and hateful life, and that I was going to America. When he came to bed, I could feel his sadness as he lay beside me. ‘Don’t go,’ he said.

Half of me wanted to stay and to believe him when he said he would make it better, but I was at the end of my tether.The next day, with a great sadness in my heart, I packed some things, said a tearful goodbye to Friar Park and flew to America. What I had felt for George was a great, deep love. What Eric and I had was an intoxicating, overpowering passion.

Wonderful Tonight

It’s late in the evening; she’s wondering what clothes to wear

She puts on her make-up and brushes her long blonde hair

And then she asks me, Do I look all right?

And I say, ‘Yes, you look wonderful tonight

We go to a party and everyone turns to see

This beautiful lady that’s walking around with me

And then she asks me, Do you feel all right?

And I say, “Yes, I feel wonderful tonight.’

I feel wonderful because I see

The love light in your eyes

And the wonder of it all

Is that you just don’t realize how much I love you

It’s time to go home now and I’ve got an aching head

So I give her the car keys and she helps me to bed

And then I tell her, as I turn out the light

I say, ‘My darling, you were wonderful tonight

Oh my darling, you were wonderful tonight.”

 

Eric Clapton

It was so intense, so urgent, so heady, I felt almost out of control. Having made the decision to leave my marriage, I knew I had to be with him, go everywhere with him, do everything he did, keep up with him in every way. Which, on that tour of America in 1974, meant drinking.”

She later said that she had felt “neglected” by Harrison when she left him after eight years of marriage

“It’s one of those inexplicable quirks of human nature and the attitude of society that a smooth sailing romance does not arouse so much interest as a tragic one! When a normally eligible man and woman fall for each other and get married, no one takes particular note. People would like to prove that the course of true love never runs smooth. All means, even physical violence, is resorted to in order to thwart the lovers or destroy them if they do not yield’

—S.P. Sharma,The Art of Loving.

One of the most tragic of love stories of all times is that of the seventh century Arabian overs Layla Mujnun, so close that they were two bodies but one in spirit. When Majnun suffered, Layla bore the signs

By Mahlia Lone

During the Umayyad era in the 7th century, a son was born to Shah Amri, an Arab Bedouin chieftain of the Bani Aamir tribe belonging to the northern Arabian Peninsula. The baby boy was named Qays ibn al-Mullawah ibn Muzahim and astrologers predicted that baby Qays would grow up to spend his hife wandering. How right they were.

The lovely Layla al-Aamiriya was born with a golden spoon in her mouth, a princess in all but name, belonging to an extremely wealthy family of the area. Because she was rich, beautiful, well born and well connected, she was expected to marry a veritable prince and further elevate the family’s social standing. Qays met Layla (meaning intoxicating, night or dark beauty in Arabic) at the maktab (elementary school) they both attended as children. Smitten at a young age, Qays would be moon eyed and pay more attention to Layla than to his studies. When the master would cane him, remarkably Layla would cry out and have the marks on her body instead.

France Museum A Depiction Of What They Really Looked Like

The years passed and Qays’ love deepened and Layla too reciprocated his love. Thoughts of her possessed his mind at all times. Inspired by his love for her, Qays wrote and recited numerous poems, all dedicated to Layla. Daringly, he even mentioned her name in his poems expressing how much he loved and desired his beloved. He didn’t care that his friends made fun of his besotted state. He wanted to marry her and make her his forever. Although he belonged to the same tribe as Layla, Qays did not belong to the same social class nor have near enough money, so he was hesitant. Finally, he mustered up the courage, went to her parents, and asked for Layla’s hand in marriage. But he was a humble poet and they had been dreaming of a prince. To make matters worse, the match would have caused a scandal due to existing strict Arab traditions. Her father promptly turned Qays down. The two lovers were no longer allowed to see each other.

Keshan Azerbaijani

Layla was married off to a noble and wealthy merchant called Ward Althaqafi belonging to the Thaqif tribe in Ta’if. Though older than her in age, he was described as a handsome man with a reddish complexion, which is why he was called Ward (rose in Arabic). It was a good match but the bride was not happy, in her heart she still longed for her lover.

Qays was heartbroken. He fled the tribe camp and wandered in the surrounding desert. Desolate, he shunned the world and all its worldly trapping wanting to be alone in his misery. His old parents would leave food in the wilderness for their son where he would find it. At times, people spotted him wandering in rags, reciting poetry to himself about his beloved, or writing Layla’s name on the sand with a stick. Day and night, he pined for her. All those who saw him claimed he had lost his sanity, driven crazy by his love. Hence, they nicknamed him “Majnun” and even “Majnun Layla” (driven mad by Layla).

Painting Titled, Reality Of Laila Majnu

“I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla
And I kiss this wall and that wall
It’s not Love of the walls that has enraptured my heart
But of the One who dwells within them”
—Qays ibn al-Mulawwah (Majnun)

References to Layla Majnun in pop culture:

Film

  • In pre-Independence India, the first Pashto-language film was an adaptation of this story.
  • Layla and Majnun was a Tajik Soviet film-ballet of 1960 as well as a Soviet Azerbaijani film of 1961.
  • Pakistani film Laila Majnu (1974) starred Waheed Murad, Rani, Shahid and Zammurd, was directed by Hassan Tariq and music was composed by Nisar Bazmi.
  • In Bollywood, H. S. Rawail’s Laila Majnu (1976) starred Rishi Kapoor and Ranjeeta portraying all “the intense pangs of love, the painful obstacles that lie in its path and a soul-stirring performance by its lead actors.” The film was written by Abrar Alvi, a longtime associate of Guru Dutt and its hit music was composed by Madan Mohan and Jaidev with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi. The actors fully overact in true Hindi film style and the music and dialogues are sentimental.
  • The Turks made the cinematic drama Leyla ile Mecnun in 1982.
  • Palestinian filmmaker Susan Youssef filmed Habibi (based on the story) in the Gaza strip in 2011.

Music

The tale and name Layla served as Eric Clapton’s inspiration for the title of the famous Derek and the Dominoes’ album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs and its title track in 1971. The song I Am Yours is a direct quote from a passage in Layla and Majnun.

Modern World Literature

  • Turkish novelist and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, Orhan Pamuk makes frequent reference to Layla Majnun in his novels, The Museum of Innocence and My Name is Red.
  • In his book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Afghan author Khaled Hosseini often  refers to the character Rasheed in Baku (Azerbaijan) represent the epic love story on blue green tiles.

Theatre

Most recently, Laila The Musical was staged by the British theatre production, Rifco Arts in a 2016 tour of England.

Time passed and one day an old man approached him and told him of his parents’ death. He had been sent by Layla because she knew of Majnun’s love for his parents, and wanted him to know about the tragic event. Maybe she was hoping he would return to civilization. But upon hearing the news, Majnun pledged to live out the rest of his days in the wilderness. Now he had nothing left to return to. Overcome with grief and the regret and guilt for having abandoned his parents to bemoan the loss of his love, he was completely shattered.

Like before, Layla could feel in her body whatever Qays felt. She too was shattered in mind, body and spirit, plus had a broken heart. Her husband took her on a long voyage to Iraq with him. Not long afterwards, in 688 AD, she fell ill and died there. When Qays’ friends came to know about Layla’s death, they went looking for him all over to give him the news. But they could not find him. Qays had felt his beloved’s soul departing. He sensed his way to her grave upon which he flung himself bereft crying inconsolably. There he was found in the wilderness near Layla’s grave. On a rock near the grave, he had carved three verses of poetry, which are the last three verses he ever wrote before he finally joined his Layla in death.

A Miniature Of Nizami’s Work. Layla And Majnun Meet For The Last Time Before Their Deaths. Both Have Fainted And Majnun’s Elderly Messenger Attempts To Revive Layla While

In an alternate version, Layla’s brother, Tabrez, would not allow her to bring a scandal upon them and shame the family name by marrying the crazy Majnun. Majnun blamed Tabrez for his proposal getting rejected and quarreled with him. Stricken with madness over the loss of Layla, Majnun murdered Tabrez. Word reached the village and he was arrested. He was sentenced to be stoned to death by the villagers. Layla could not bear it and agreed to marry another man if Majnun would be exiled instead of put to death. Her terms were accepted and she was married, but in her heart she still pined for him. Layla’s husband realized this and was infuriated. He took it as a personal insult to himself. He rode with his men into the desert to find Majnun. Upon finding him, Layla’s husband challenged him to a duel. The instant her husband’s sword pierced Majnun’s heart, Layla collapsed in her home. Layla and Majnun were buried next to each other as her husband and their fathers prayed for their afterlife. Myth has it that Layla and Majnun met again in heaven, where they loved forever. Layla Majnun did not die in vain, they died for love, and that love has immortalized them.

Muhammad Bin Sulayman Known As Fuzûlî

The story of Layla Majnun was well known in Persia as early as the 9th century. Two well known Persian poets, Rudaki and Baba Taher, both mention the lovers. Then, in the twelfth century Persian Muslim poet Nizami Ganjavi wrote five long narrative poems called Panj Ganj (The Five Treasures) of which the third was Layla Majnun. Nizami drew influence from Udhrite love poetry, characterized by erotic abandon and an unquenchable longing for the beloved. He sourced both secular and mystical references about Layla Majnun and portrayed a vivid picture of the famous lovers. His masterpiece inspired many other Persian to write their own versions of the romance. The enduring popularity of the romance influenced countless generation of Sufi writers all over the Muslim world.

This type of love is known as “virgin love” because the lovers never marry each other or consummate their passion. It is a chaste, purely emotional love. Family and society puts up so many roadblocks that they die before they can consummate, hence, the enduring popularity in the conservative Muslim world of such “pure” love stories. This literary motif is common throughout Muslim literature, and is even found in Urdu ghazals.

According to Dr. Rudolf Gelpke, “Many later poets have imitated Nizami’s work, even if they could not equal and certainly not surpass it; Persians, Turks, Indians, to name only the most important ones. The Persian scholar Hekmat has listed no less than forty Persians and thirteen Turkish versions of Layli and Majnun.”

Vahid Dastgerdi agrees, “If one would search all existing libraries, one would probably find more than 1000 versions of Layli and Majnun.”

Uzeyir Hajibeyov Composed The Middle East’s First Opera Based On This Story
Uzeyir Hajibeyov’s Opera

The story of Layla Majnun became very popular in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani adaptation of the story, Dâstân-i Leylî vü Mecnûn (The Epic of Layla and Majnun) was written in the 16th century by Fuzûlî, pseudonym of the poet Muhammad bin Suleyman. In the late 19th century, Ahmed Shawqi wrote a lyrical play based on Fuzuli’s poetry, now considered one of the best in modern Arab poetry. Fuzûlî also inspired the composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov whose opera on the lovers’ tragic life became Middle East’s first opera, which premiered in Baku on 25 January 1908. A scene from Fuzuli’s poem is even depicted on the reverse of the Azerbaijani 100 and 50 manat commemorative coins minted in 1996 for the 500th anniversary of Fuzûlî’s life.

In the early 19th century, Nizami’s epic poem was translated into English by Isaac D’Israeli (the scholarly father of Prime Minister Benjamin Disreali) bringing it to a wider western audience. Lord Byron called Layla Majnun “the Romeo and Juliet of the East.”

Azerbaijani Writer Ahmed Shawqi Wrote A Lyrical Play Based On Fuzuli’s Poetry
Alleged Layla Majnu Mausoleum
Tomb
Jewish Scholar Isaac D’Israeli Who Translated Nizami’s Epic Poem Into English
Layla And Majnun; A Persian Love Story —Edmund Dulacs Picture Book For The French

In India, according to a rural legend, it is believed that Laila Majnu (South Asian spelling) were actually from Sind. They eloped from their village and found refuge just 2 km from the current Indo-Pak border in the village of Binjaur, 12 to 14 km from Anupgarh town in the Sriganganagar district in Rajasthan before they died. The graves of Laila Majnu are believed to be located. Hundreds of newlyweds and lovers regardless of their religion from India and Pakistan make a pilgrimage to the lovers’ graves. The mausoleum is revered equally by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians signifying the secular character of love and an annual fair on June on 15th commemorates their enduring love story.

Were Robin Hood and his ladylove Maid Marian born of a folk of story or did the rebellious Medieval English couple actually exist in reality?

By Mahlia Lone

According to English legal records as early as the 13th century, Robehod or Rabunhod were common epithets for criminals. Robert was a common given name in Medieval England, and Robin (or Robyn) was a common short form of it, especially in the 13th century. Hence, medieval criminal records show a vast number of men called Robert or Robin Hood. An oral traditional of singing the outlaw Robin Hood’s praises started to flourish at this time. While the first literary reference to the “rhymes of Robin Hood” is in the alliterative allegorical narrative poem Piers Plowman, composed circa 1370s by William Langland, considered to be one of the greatest works of English literature of the Middle Ages.

A century later, in the 1400s Catholics, as all Christians were at the time, in England celebrated May Day on the religious holiday of Whitsun featuring a quasi-religious rebel who robbed and murdered government tax collectors and wealthy landowners in plays and games. Agrarian discontent lay at the foundations of the feudal system that was built on the shoulders of toiling peasants. As time went on, the characters of Maid Marian, Friar Tuck and Alan-a-Dale entered May Day rituals as well. Robin Hood was actually shown at this time participating in Mariology, the cult of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Originally Maid Marian (or the French Marion) was a shepherdess associated with the Queen or Lady of May or May Day. Keeping this in mind, “the world’s foremost authority on Robin Hood,” author Jim Lees in The Quest for Robin Hood set forth that the hypothesis that Maid Marian may originally have been the personification of the Virgin Mary and derived from the older French tradition of a shepherdess named Marion and her shepherd lover Robin in Adam de la Halle’s Le Jeu de Robin et Marion, 1283. In fact, Marian’s association with May Day celebrations lasted long after Robin Hood’s  did, as pointed out by Scottish born poet Alexander Barclay in 1500, “some merry fytte of Maid Marian or else of Robin Hood.”

As time progressed, generations of wandering minstrels in the Middle Ages spread stories far and wide in England by singing ballads about the exploits of the violent but heroic yeoman Robin Hood who lived in Sherwood Forest with his merry band of men and clashed with the Sheriff of Nottingham. The popular Hood (lum) was portrayed as a commoner who was a highly skilled archer and swordsman. Dressed in a Lincoln green doublet and hose with a jaunty feather in his cap and with his longbow strapped on his back, he was said to have robbed from the rich to give to the poor. The characters of Little John and Will Scarlet were also added to Robin’s merry crew or outlaw gang by now. The early compilation, A Lyttell Gest of Robyn Hode (written in 1450 but printed after 1492) states that Robin lived during King Edward’s reign and it shows Robin Hood accepting the King’s pardon then giving it up and returning to his outlaw life in Greenwood. Robin’s status  was said to be between a knight and a peasant.

King Richard Pardons Robin And His Men

But John Major wrote an alternative version in his tome, A history of Greater Britain as well England as Scotland (1521): “At this time (the reign of Richard the Lionheart) there flourished the most famous robbers Robin Hood and Little John, who lay in wait in the woods, and robbed those that were wealthy…The feats of Robin are told in song all over Britain. He would allow no woman to suffer injustice, nor would he rob the poor, but rather enriched them from the plunder taken from abbots.”

Major placed the Robin Hood story into the last half of the twelfth century in the more distant time when King Richard was off fighting the Third Crusade with fellow European leaders in an attempt to reconquer the Holy Land from the Muslim ruler of Syria and Egypt Salah ad-Din the Great. Though the Crusaders recaptured some territory, they failed to capture Jerusalem and on his return journey King Richard was ignominiously held for ransom by the Duke of Austria. Back in England his brother King John was his proxy ruler who to the resentment of his people levied heavy taxes to pay for the war.

Richard The Lionheart
King Richard On The Third Crusade
King John Of England

According to Dobson and Taylor in their book The Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw, Major’s “exceptionally influential eulogy” of Robin presents him as a bold but moral hero, only killing in self-defense, a protector of women and the poor. He was not only a humane robber but also a “chief” or dux in Latin imparting aristocratic implications. In this way, the “renaissance Robin Hood” figure of “distressed gentleman” arose. Major established the basis for point of view, moralizing his deeds, elevating his character to the point of gentrification and, most importantly, removing any trace of the earlier hero of Catholicism, since the Anglican Church now held sway in England.

Accompanying the newly “gentrified” Robin Hood was the equally nobly born lady, Maid Marian who was surprisingly not portrayed as chaste and virginal but retained some of the aspects of her “May Day shepherdess” characteristics. In 1592, playwright, satirist and writer of witty erotic poems, Thomas Nashe recorded that her character of later May Games was played lewdly by a male actor as a parody and figure of fun.

Elizabethan playwright Anthony Munday, titled the “poet to the city” (of London), wrote two plays on the life of Robin Hood: The Downfall and The Death of Robert Earl of Huntington, mentioned in the Rose Theatre Kingston records in 1597-8 and published in 1601. Munday ennobled Hood by presenting him as the Earl of Huntingdon since tales of courtly romance and adventure were in vogue at the time. Marian was presented as the daughter of Robert Fitzwalter who fled England due to an assassination attempt on King John (legendarily attributed to King John’s attempts to seduce Matilda) and Robin’s wife who changed her given name Matilda to Marian when she joined him in Greenwood. Her cousin, Elizabeth de Staynton, was the Prioress of Kirklees Priory, near Brighouse in West Yorkshire. In later versions of Robin Hood, Maid Marian is in fact commonly named as “Marian Fitzwalter.”

In their book Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales , Stephen Knight and Thomas H. Ohlgren point out in the introduction to the post-Restoration (after 1660) ballad Robin Hood and Maid Marian (Child Ballad 150, circa 17th century) that it’s the only ballad in which Maid Marian, “a bonny fine maid of a noble degree,” played a significant part. She wass portrayed excelling in beauty both Helen of Troy and Jane Shore, one of the many mistresses of King Edward IV (reign 11461-1470) of England, one of three whom he described as “the merriest, the wiliest, and the holiest harlots” in his realm in beauty.

Friar Tuck
Claude Rains As Prince John
Nickolas Grace As The Sheriff Of Nottingham In Robin Of Sherwood

“The events of the ballad had already been foreshadowed in Munday’s play, where Matilda Fitzwater goes to the forest, becoming Marian in the process, to meet the Earl of Huntington, alias Robin Hood. The popularity of Robin Hood ballads was so great that several of these ‘prequels’ seem to have been produced, as in Robin Hood’s Progress to Nottingham and Robin Hood and Little John.

Structurally the interesting thing about Robin Hood and Maid Marian is that it shows the only credible way to join the outlaw band is to fight a draw with the leader: this is a ‘Robin Hood meets his match’ ballad in a wider sense than usual. Foolish as commentators have found it, the notion of the hero’s fight with his lover is a potent one, whether it testifies to the woman’s possible martial skill, or the enormity of mistreating woman, or both at once. Found in the recent film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), the motif is here taken quite seriously, down to the length of the fight and the sight of blood, however improbable it may be that Marian does not hear Robin’s voice until he asks for respite.”

Another twist in the legend occurred when antiquarian Joseph Hunter in his 1852 pamphlet on Robin Hood identified a Robert Hood from Wakefield, Yorkshire, in the archives preserved in the Exchequer, whose story matched very closely the story of Robin in Robert Munday’s play. Hunter wrote that the real Robin Hood spent a stint at the court of Edward II (reign 1307-1327) and subsequently married a woman named Matilda, who changed her name to Marian when she joined him in exile in Barnsdale Forest (following the Battle of Boroughbridge) in 1322. She too had a cousin named Elizabeth de Staynton who was Prioress of Kirklees Priory. With so many similarities with the famous outlaw, there is a distinct possibility that these real life personages on whom the legend is based.

ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, THE, Olivia de Havilland, 1938

Robin Hood’s sweetheart in Robin Hood’s Birth, Breeding, Valor, and Marriage (Child Ballad 149), is named as “Clorinda the Queen of the Shepherdesses,” Marian’s alias in later stories. It recounted Robin Hood’s adventures hunting and a romance with Clorinda, a heroine who wasn’t able to displace Maid Marian as his sweetheart in the mind and hearts of the public. In his introduction to the ballad, American scholar and folklorist Professor Francis James Child who compiled a collection of English and Scottish ballads now known as the Child Ballads gives its first printing as 1716 in the poet Dryden’s Miscellany and points out the “freedom with which it treats tradition and common sense.” So this version was completely discarded.

In 1765, Thomas Percy, the Bishop of Dromore, published Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, including ballads from the 17th century Percy Folio manuscript, which had not previously been printed, most notably of Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, a late medieval ballad. In it, the fictional Sir Guy was hired to kill Robin Hood but is killed by him. In later depictions, he also became a romantic rival to Robin Hood for Maid Marian’s love.

Disney
Disney

Then in 1795, Joseph Ritson published an enormously influential edition of the Robin Hood ballads Robin Hood: A collection of all the Ancient Poems Songs and Ballads now extant, relative to that celebrated Outlaw, including Robin Hood and the Potter ballad. Ritson’s collection became a source book for future English poets and novelists. Ritson was a staunch egalitarian and a supporter of the principles of the French Revolution and an admirer of Thomas Paine, the English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, revolutionary and one of the Founding Fathers of America whose writings helped shape many of the ideas that marked the Age of Revolution. Ritson wrote that Robin Hood, “a genuinely historical, and genuinely heroic character,” stood up against tyranny in the interests of the common people.

In his preface to the collection, Ritson put together an account of Robin Hood’s life from the various sources available to him, and concluded that Robin Hood was born in 1160 and died on 18th November 1247 at the age of 87 years. His exploits took place in the reign of Richard I. He theorized that Robin was of aristocratic birth with at least “some pretension” to the title of Earl of Huntingdon, that he was born in an unidentified Nottinghamshire village of Locksley and that his original name was Robert Fitzooth. Ritson cited various sources for his methodical research.

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Robin’s Merry Crew

Dobson and Taylor credit Ritson with having “an incalculable effect in promoting the still continuing quest for the man behind the myth,” and note that his work remains an “indispensable handbook to the outlaw legend even now.” So we have Ritson to thank for the modern day story of Robin Hood as we know it.

Sir Walter Scott used his friend Ritson’s anthology collection as a source for his picture of  Robin Hood in Ivanhoe, written in 1818, on which the modern legend of Robin Hood as a high-minded Saxon fighting Norman lords is based. Richard the Lionheart calls him “King of Outlaws and prince of good fellows” in it. French historian Jacques Nicolas Augustin Thierry’s Histoire de la Conquête de l’Angleterre par les Normands (1825) presented a similar figure.

20th century writer-illustrator Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood became a popular version for children and further influenced modern accounts of Robin Hood in the U.S. and the world over. Pyle’s Robin Hood is a yeoman, not an aristocrat, who is a staunch philanthropist, a man who takes from the rich to give to the poor. His adventures are more local than national in scope. While King Richard’s participation in the Crusades is mentioned in passing, Robin takes no stand against Prince John, and plays no part in raising the ransom to free Richard.

Kevin Costner

The 1976 British-American film Robin and Marian, starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, takes up the story after Robin has returned from service with a less than perfect and more realistic Richard the Lionheart in a foreign crusade and Marian has gone into seclusion in a nunnery. Though the film lacked punch, it attempted to flesh out the legend.

Another modern addition to the merry crew in recent times is the diversity factor. Since the 1980s, a Saracen (Muslim or Arab of Turkish extraction) has been shown among the Merry Men.

Robin Hood and Maid Marian

(An English Legend)

There was a time when Robin Hood, the famous outlaw, was not an outlaw at all but a nobleman, Lord of Locksley. He lived near Sherwood Forest, and it was in that forest where, one day, Robin went out hunting and came upon a maiden wearing a dress as green as the springtime leaves.

Robin gazed at her, entranced; her face was the loveliest he had ever seen, and he thought she must be a princess.

But the longer he looked at her, the more he could see that this woman had not even one touch of false pride, and that she held her bow and quiver as if she had been born to hunt. He watched her fierce concentration. She took aim and shot, but Robin did not see what it was she hunted. He was staring at her beautiful hair, as black as ink, and at her gaze, which was wise and open.

There, he knew at once, was the woman he would always love.

Later that day, Robin learned her name was Marian. She was the daughter of the noble Earl of Fitzwalter, who lived in a castle not far from Robin’s home. Soon he introduced himself, and before long he and Marian went out hunting together. They would walk and share stories, and naturally they fell in love. When Marian agreed to marry Robin, he thought he must be the happiest man in the world.

But before they could marry, the sheriff of Nottingham cheated Robin out of his fortune, and with his change of luck, Robin was forced to run away into the forest. From that day on, the green wood was the place he would make his home.

Robin was now poor and without any belongings, but he was wise and crafty. He swore to take revenge on all who stole and lied and cheated other folk, and he knew he could live happily in the forest, protecting those unable to protect themselves. Life would be fine, except for one thing. He could never ask Marian to live with him, for he no longer had a home to share with her.

And so, his heart breaking, he wrote to Marian and broke their engagement.

Robin’s life in the forest as an outlaw began. One by one he gathered his band of Merry Men, and with his trusted right-hand man, Little John, and his friends Will Scarlet, Much the Miller and Friar Tuck, Robin Hood became the man everyone knew about. He was generous and gentle to women and children, to all who worked hard, to worthy knights and gallant squires, to anyone who was helpless. Only those who cheated and harmed others — those who used their power to hurt the less powerful — were the targets of Robin’s wrath, and they would never forget the man once they crossed his path.

Robin Hood. Original artwork for Look and Learn (issue yet to be identified).

Time passed. Robin never spoke to anyone of Marian, but he never stopped thinking of her. Sometimes when he was alone in the forest, he imagined what it might be like to see her again, but most of the time he hoped she had found happiness and peace in her life.

But in truth Marian had never stopped thinking of Robin, and at long last she decided she must find him. Traveling alone was unsafe for any woman, and so Marian disguised herself as a young knight. She tucked her hair beneath her helmet, which hid most of her face, and with a sword for protection, she set out into the forest, determined to find her beloved.

At the same time, Robin was in the forest, but he too wore a disguise. Robin did not like to be recognized, and his costumes were so clever that sometimes even Little John did not recognize his own friend. And so on this bright, springtime day — the sort of day that made Robin sad, for it reminded him of meeting Marian in a time that seemed so long ago — he was hunting and dreaming of his long-ago love.

When Robin happened upon a young man in the forest, he disguised his voice, and called out, “Stop, you there! What is your mission here? What is your name, and where are you going?”

Now this young man, in truth, was Marian, but Robin did not recognize her, and she did not recognize him. In fact, his voice sounded so gruff, a shiver passed down her back, and fearing that he meant to harm her, she drew her sword.

When Robin saw that, he too drew his sword. “Since you do not answer, you must be up to evil, lad.”

The two began to fight.

Robin was taller, and stronger too, but Marian was a master with her sword. She defended herself better than nearly anyone Robin had ever fought. He was amazed at the grace with which his enemy moved, the speed and artistry the young knight employed. Under his breath, Robin whispered, “How I wish this man were part of my band of men.”

The fight lasted for a half-hour, when finally Robin wounded Marian’s arm, and Marian’s sword found its way under the heavy hood Robin wore and scratched his cheek.

“Halt then,” Robin called, for he had begun to feel sorry for the young knight. This time, he forgot to disguise his voice, and the moment Marian heard those words, she dropped her sword. “Robin,” she gasped. “Can it be you?”

Now Robin too recognized the voice. This was Marian, the love of his life.

Robin threw back his hood, and Marian flung down the her helmet, letting her hair fall loose. When they saw each other without their disguises, they laughed, and wept, and embraced. Marian swore she would never again let him leave her. She, too, would live in the green wood.

The two walked together toward the trysting tree, the place where Robin and his Merry Men gathered, and when Robin told the tale to his friend Little John, Little John knelt and took her hand in his.

“Lady Marian,” he said, “you shall be our queen, for Robin is our king. And now, we must celebrate!”

And so it was that in that forest, on that lovely spring day, Robin and his sweetheart and all their friends danced and sang and celebrated love and romance.

Similarly, Maid Marian’s role as a strong female character has been picked up by modern feminist writers, such as Theresa Tomlinson in Forestwife novels (1993–2000) that are told from Marian’s point of view. She portrayed Marian as a high-born Norman girl escaping entrapment in an arranged marriage. With the aid of her nurse, she runs away to Sherwood Forest, where she becomes acquainted with Robin Hood.

And in the latest update to the story, Margot Robbie stars in Marian, a new film set in “an alternate Robin Hood universe.” Screenwriter Pete Barry depicts “Marian picking up the cause to lead her people into a pivotal war after the love of her life, Robin Hood, dies. She comes to power, charging into a battle that will not only decide the fate of the kingdom, but also see her don the mantle of the man she loved.” Sounds like a fun ride!

Little John’s Alleged Grave In St Michael’s Church Graveyard, Hathersage, Derbyshire
Robin Hood

There seems to be some truth to the fact that the real Robin Hood and Maid Marian did exist. However, it is also clear that the details of the story have changed over time. Regardless, if you are interested in the legend, and happen to be in West Yorkshire, do pay a visit to the alleged grave of Robin Hood at Kirklees Priory, behind the Three Nuns pub in Mirfield. The headstone bears an inscription of the fifteenth-century ballad relating that before he died, Robin told Little John where to bury him. According to this, as an octogenarian when he became ill, Robin went with Little John to be nursed by his aunt, the Prioress. But Sir Roger de Doncaster persuaded her to murder her nephew and the Prioress slowly bled Robin to death. With the last of his strength, he blew his horn and Little John propped him up by the window placing his trusty bow and arrow in his hands. Before drawing his last breath, Robin shot an arrow and instructed Little John to bury him where the arrow landed. The inscription on the grave still hauntingly reads:

Hear underneath dis laitl stean

Laz robert earl of Huntingtun

Ne’er arcir ver as hie sa geud

An pipl kauld im robin heud

Sick [such] utlawz as he an iz men

Vil england nivr si agen

Obiit 24 kal: Dekembris, 1247

We are all familiar with the passionate but doomed 2000 year old love story of the Egyptian Queen of the Nile Cleopatra and the Roman General Marcus Antonius who committed tragic double suicide. The story has been passed down by generations of story tellers from Plutarch in Parallel Lives to early Muslim historians, and from Shakespeare in his play Antony and Cleopatra to Hollywood in one of the most expensive epic films of all times Cleopatra (1963) starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison. Here is their intensely dramatic true story based on not just a sensual love but cold, hard and pragmatic politics

By Mahlia Lone

Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator (Cleopatra the Father-Loving Goddess), born in Egypt in 69 BC,  belonged to the Ptolemy dynasty founded by one of Alexander the Great’s Macedonian generals,  Ptolemy I Soter, who took over the reign of Egypt after Alexander’s death in 323 BC. The dynasty of Greek-speaking rulers lasted for nearly three centuries and incestuous marriages became the rule to preserve the purity of their Macedonian bloodline. Many of Cleopatra’s ancestors married their cousins or worse, siblings. Her own parents were probably brother and sister. Despite this interbreeding, long before Cleopatra was born, the Ptolemy’s Greek blood had become mixed with Egyptian.

Her father Ptolemy XII Auletes (player of pipes) was an alcoholic music lover whose reign was marred by a great rebellion during which the royal family had to go into exile. The Ptolemy dynasty was in the last days of a long decline when she inherited the throne upon his death in 51 bc with her younger brother/husband/co-regent Ptolemy XIII (reign 51–47 BC). Ten years older than her brother/husband, eighteen year old Cleopatra became the dominant ruler of the two, embraced many of her country’s ancient customs and was the first member of the Ptolemaic rulers to learn Egyptian.

Cleopatra was renowned more for her intellect, charm, conversation and political acumen than her physical appearance. She spoke as many as a dozen languages and was educated in mathematics, philosophy, oratory and astronomy, and was a ruler “who elevated the ranks of scholars and enjoyed their company.” Muslim scholars dating from after the Arab conquest of Egypt in 640 AD recorded that Cleopatra had been a first rate scholar, scientist, chemist and gifted philosopher, in direct contrast to the history penned by her enemies, the Romans who portrayed her as a scheming seductress who used men to further her own ends.

In fact, strong evidence suggests that Cleopatra was not beautiful at all. Ancient Greek biographer Plutarch who lived just a century after her death wrote that Cleopatra’s beauty was “not altogether incomparable,” and that it was instead her mellifluous speaking voice and “irresistible charm” that made her so desirable.

Egyptian coins with her portrait from her era display a lively countenance with a sensitive mouth, firm chin, liquid eyes, broad forehead, and prominent nose. Some historians argue that Cleopatra managed her  public image just as celebrities do today changing her image to suit her political need. Her manly features, father’s strong jaw and large, hooked nose on the coins were a display of strength and emphasized her inherited right to rule. At ceremonial events, she would appear dressed as the goddess Isis, showing that she too was semi-divine.

The murder of immediate family members and power plots were rife in the Ptolemaic royal house. In 50 BC, her brother/husband/co-regent Ptolemy’s name preceded Cleopatra’s and soon after he forced his sister/wife who was trying to take sole possession of the throne to flee Egypt for Syria. Not to be daunted by a younger sibling, she raised an army and in 48 BC returned to face her brother in a civil war.

The arrival of Roman Consul and General Julius Caesar brought a temporary peace between the warring siblings. Cleopatra realized that she needed Caesar’s support, if she were to regain her throne. In his turn, Caesar wanted repayment of the massive loan incurred by Cleopatra’s father, Auletes, which he had taken on to fight against rebel forces and regain his throne.

Knowing Ptolemy XIII’s forces would thwart her attempts to meet with the powerful Caesar, Cleopatra had herself famously wrapped in a carpet and smuggled into his personal quarters. Dazzled by her audaciousness and originality, the two soon struck up a bargain that was sealed in love.

The exotic Egyptian female pharaoh with her infamous femme fatale reputation, elaborate hairdo and makeup as well as fabulous pearl studded gold jewellery made the Roman women swoon and scramble to emulate her glamorous style. Cleopatra had the most powerful man in Rome wrapped around her little finger. Who wouldn’t want that? According to the historian Joann Fletcher, “so many Roman women adopted the ‘Cleopatra look’” thereby setting off a fashion trend.

Caesar and Cleopatra spent that winter holed up together in besieged Alexandria till Roman reinforcements arrived the following spring and defeated Ptolemy XIII’s forces. After his defeat, the Egyptian Pharoah drowned in the Nile. Cleopatra married her youngest brother Ptolemy XIV (later also murdered by her order) and regained the throne.

In June 47 BC, Cleopatra gave birth to Ptolemy Caesar (known as Caesarion, or Little Caesar). This was Julius Caesar’s only son, though he had been married three times, including to his current wife the honourable Calpurnia. The most powerful Roman had produced an Egyptian heir named after him. Powerful Romans sat up and took notice.

When Caesar returned to Rome, in 46 bc, he celebrated a four-day triumph, his victory over a foreign enemy, in which Arsinoe, Cleopatra’s younger  sister who had sided with her brother Ptolemy was paraded in chains, a fate that she bore with such dignity that she impressed the watching Romans. Cleopatra had her killed too.

Julius came back full of plans to change Rome. He not only made plans to distribute land to about 15,000 war veterans that had aided his campaigns and were loyal to him, but also replaced the traditional Roman calendar regulated by the movement of the moon (like the Muslim calendar) with the Egyptian calendar regulated by the sun with 365.25 days, same as the modern western calendar today.

To add insult to injury, Caesar’s foreign mistress Cleopatra accompanied by their son and her latest co-regent, youngest brother and new husband Ptolemy XIV visited him in Rome in 46 BC and stayed at his private villa beyond the Tiber River. In honour of his royal mistress, Caesar erected a golden statue in Cleopatra’s likeness in the temple of Venus Genetrix, his Julian family ancestress.

Having made himself the most powerful man in Rome with the Army, Senate, Roman citizens and even foreign powers behind him, Julius Caesar had himself proclaimed dictator for a year. Afraid that he would make himself a ruler for life and then pass on his throne to his Egyptian born son, 60 Senators led by Brutus and Cassius successfully plotted and assassinated the great Caesar who thought himself untouchable in 44 BC in the Senate building on the Ides of March.

Cleopatra was in fact in Rome at the time and fearing for her and her son’s lives she disguised her group and escaped in secrecy to the safety of Alexandria. Soon after, Ptolemy XIV died prematurely under mysterious circumstances., perhaps having been killed at the order of his sister. Cleopatra now ruled with her infant son, Ptolemy XV Caesar.

Marcus Antonius was born in 83 BC, nine years after Cleopatra’s birth, to a noble Roman family. Plutarch wrote that Antony gave brilliant promise in his youth until his friendship with the wastrel Curio fell upon him like a pest. Curio himself was aimless and unrestrained in his pleasures, encouraging Antony in drinking bouts, with women, and incurring extravagant expenditures. His carousing involved Antony in a heavy debt before he turned twenty of two hundred and fifty talents (the equivalent of five million dollars today).

Deep in gambling debt and pursued by creditors, Antony fled to Greece in 58 BC and took part as a cavalry officer in military campaigns in Judea (called Syria Palaestina by the Romans), where he performed exceptionally well. He was sent to Gaul and was promoted to the personal staff of Julius Caesar. Antony played a key figure in helping bring the province under Rome’s control. Though a brilliant commander, his appetite for indolence, drink and sexual excesses marred his military discipline much to the dislike of Caesar and the other officers. The common soldiers all naturally rallied to Antony’s side though and followed his lead. As a reward for his military conquests, Antony was appointed tribune back in Rome and represented the interests of the people. His popularity with the common man helped him gain support for Caesar, whose imperiousness was being challenged in the Roman Senate.

Plutarch wrote: “What might seem to some very insupportable, his vaunting, his raillery, his drinking in public, sitting down by the men as they were taking their food, and eating, as he stood, off the common soldiers’ tables, made him the delight and pleasure of the army. In love affairs, also, he was very agreeable: he gained many friends by the assistance he gave them in theirs, and took other people’s raillery upon his own with good-humour. And his generous ways, his open and lavish hand in gifts and favours to his friends and fellow-soldiers, did a great deal for him in his first advance to power.”

With further victories under his belt, his growing popularity and his unquestionable loyalty to Caesar, Antony was appointed his second in command.

“In spite of his (Antony’s) hedonism,” Plutarch added, “After taking Rome without a fight, when Caesar turned his attention to Pompey’s forces in Spain, he left Antony in charge of the city. Though an effective military leader, Antony had little skill as a politician. He was too lazy to pay attention to the complaints of persons who were injured; he listened impatiently to petitions; and he had an ill name for familiarity with other people’s wives.” A not too competent administrator, Antony managed keep the all important supply lines open to Caesar’s forces and to send reinforcements in a timely fashion.

In 45 BC, Antony with his ear to the ground heard rumors of a plot against Caesar but was unable to warn his mentor in time. On the Ides of March (notable for the Romans as a deadline for settling debts) when Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in a very public assassination, Antony fled Rome dressed as a slave. He returned with soldiers and took charge of Caesar’s will, handed over to him by Calpurnia, gave a stirring eulogy for the fallen leader, turning the tide of popular opinion against the conspirators, and drove them from Rome.

In his will, Caesar had bequeathed his wealth and title to his nephew and teenage posthumously  adopted son Gaius Octavius Thurinus (Octavian) who promptly appeared to claim his inheritance. But Antony was reluctant to hand over the reins of power to a “boy” as he often referred to him. He felt as Caesar’s second in command he was the natural successor. As Mark Antony pursued Caesar’s killers in Gaul, army legions supporting Octavian’s claim to the leadership scored a series of victories against Antony, forcing him to retreat to southern Gaul. Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassis, were preparing to descend on Rome with their troops when Octavian, Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (a Roman patrician statesman and close ally of Julius) hastily called a truce and formed the Second Triumvirate, jointly defeating the traitors in the battle of Philippi in October 42 BC.

Penn Libraries call number: Inc B-720

The three victors divided Rome’s territories between them. Lepidus got Africa to rule, Octavian the west, and Antony the east. In 41 BC, Antony firmly in charge in the east summoned Cleopatra to appear before him on a charge of sedition against Rome. He planned on fining her a substantial sum in gold to help pay his army. She received several letters, both from Antony and from his friends, to summon her, but she took no account of these orders only setting sail when she was good and ready. She set out for Tarsus in Asia Minor loaded with gifts. By this time, Antony was agog with curiosity to see her. She stage managed her entrance, fashionably late of course, in such a way that Antony was instantly spell bound and smitten.

Plutarch described the scene as: “And at last, as if in mockery of them, she came sailing up the river Cydnus, in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were dressed like sea nymphs and graces, some steering at the rudder, some working at the ropes….On her arrival, Antony sent to invite her to supper. She thought it fitter he should come to her; so, willing to show his good-humour and courtesy, he complied, and went. He found the preparations to receive him magnificent beyond expression, but nothing so admirable as the great number of lights; for on a sudden there was let down altogether so great a number of branches with lights in them so ingeniously disposed, some in squares, and some in circles, that the whole thing was a spectacle that has seldom been equaled for beauty.”

Cleopatra had promised Antony the most expensive feast he had ever attended and when Antony took in the entire splendor he said, he had seen never seen anything to equal it, but doubted that it was the world’s most expensive feast. Cleopatra, always one to create dramatic moments, took off one of her earrings with a huge dangling pearl and dropped the pearl in a gold goblet of wine. The pearl rapidly dissolved in the liquid, she downed the glass and said that now it was certainly the most lavish banquet ever. Antony was stunned.

Antony liked to think of himself as an embodiment of Dionysus (the god of wine, festivity and fertility) so when Cleopatra appeared before him dressed as Venus (the goddess of (love, beauty, desire, procreation and prosperity), they seemed to be the ideal fit for each other. Instantly forgetting his faithful wife Fulvia who in Italy was working hard to maintain her husband’s affairs against young Octavian, Antony returned to Alexandria with Cleopatra, treating her not as a “protected” ruler but as an independent sovereign.

Cleopatra needed Antony to help her maintain her crown and Egypt’s sovereignty, while Antony needed to access Egypt’s riches and resources to maintain the precarious balance of power in Rome.

Cleverly, Cleopatra studied the general’s likes and dislikes and participated in all his excesses, not leaving his side for a minute, even when he participated in military exercises she would stand by and watch. They spent a raucous winter together in 41-40 BC steeped in hedonism even by Ancient Egyptian and Roman royal standards. They formed their own bacchanalian drinking society known as the “Inimitable Livers.” The group engaged in nightly feasts and wine-binges, and its members participated in elaborate games and contests, such as wandering the streets of Alexandria in disguise and playing pranks on its residents. The citizens would recognize Cleopatra and Antony but wisely forbore any comment and patiently played along.

Plutarch described: (Antony was) “…carried away by her (Cleopatra) to Alexandria, there to keep holiday, like a boy, in play and diversion, squandering and fooling away in enjoyment that most costly of all valuables, time….She had faith in her own attractions, which, having formerly recommended her to Caesar and the young Pompey, she did not doubt might prove yet more successful with Antony. Their acquaintance was with her when a girl, young, and ignorant of the world, but she was to meet Antony in the time of life when women’s beauty is most splendid, and their intellects are in full maturity. She made great preparations for her journey, of money, gifts, and ornaments of value, such as so wealthy a kingdom might afford, but she brought with her surest hopes in her own magic arts and charms.

…she came sailing up the river Cydnus in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along, under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were dressed like Sea Nymphs and Graces, some steering at the rudder, some working at the ropes.

…perfumes diffused themselves from the vessel to the shore, which was covered with multitudes, part following the galley up the river on either bank, part running out of the city to see the sight. The market place was quite emptied, and Antony at last was left alone sitting upon the tribunal; while the word went .through all the multitude, that Venus was come to feast with Bacchus for the common good of Asia.

On her arrival, Antony sent to invite her to supper. She thought it fitter he should come to her; so, willing to show his good humor and courtesy, he complied, and went. He found the preparations to receive him magnificent beyond expression, but nothing so admirable as the great number of lights; for on a sudden there was let down altogether so great a number of branches with lights in them so ingeniously disposed, some in squares, and some in circles, that the whole thing was a spectacle that has seldom been equaled for beauty.

The next day, Antony invited her to supper, and was very desirous to outdo her as well in magnificence as contrivance; but he found he was altogether beaten in both, and was so well convinced of it, that he was himself the first to jest and mock at his poverty of wit, and his rustic awkwardness. She, perceiving that his raillery was broad and gross, and savored more of the soldier than the courtier, rejoined in the same taste, and fell into it at once, without any sort of reluctance or reserve.

For her actual beauty, it is said, was not in itself so remarkable that none could be compared with her, or that no one could see her without being struck by it, but the contact of her presence, if you lived with her, was irresistible; the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation, and the character that attended all she said or did, was something bewitching. It was a pleasure merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another; so that there were few of the barbarian nations that she answered by an interpreter.

Antony was so captivated by her, that while Fulvia his wife maintained his quarrels in Rome against Caesar by actual force of arms, and the Parthian troops…were assembled in Mesopotamia, and ready to enter Syria, he could yet suffer himself to be carried away by her to Alexandria, there to keep holiday, like a boy, in play and diversion, squandering and fooling away in enjoyment that most costly, as Antiphon says, of all valuables, time.

Were Antony serious or disposed to mirth, she had at any moment some new delight or charm to meet his wishes; at every turn she was upon him, and let him escape her neither by day nor by night. She played at dice with him, drank with him, hunted with him; and when he exercised in arms, she was there to see.

At night she would go rambling with him to disturb and torment people at their doors and windows, dressed like a servant woman for Antony also went in servant’s disguise, and from these expeditions he often came home very scurvily answered, and sometimes even beaten severely, though most people guessed who it was. However, the Alexandrians in general liked it all well enough, and joined good humouredly and kindly in his frolic and play, saying they were much obliged to Antony for acting his tragic parts at Rome, and keeping his comedy for them.”

In 40 bc, Cleopatra gave birth to twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, fathered by the general. During her pregnancy, Antony had already left Alexandria to return to Rome to conclude a temporary settlement with Octavian. As Fulvia had passed away, he sealed the deal by marrying Octavian’s sister, Octavia. For three years, Antony tried to make his marriage and the settlement work but was finally convinced beyond a doubt that he and Octavian could never come to terms.

Discarding Octavia, he returned to waiting Cleopatra’s arms. Once again, Antony needed Cleopatra’s financial support for his Parthian campaign, while in her turn she requested the return of Egypt’s former eastern empire of Syria, Lebanon and the rich balsam groves of Jericho (Palestine).

Regardless, due to political expediency, the Triumvirate was renewed in 37 BC. Meanwhile, Antony fathered another son with Cleopatra, Ptolemy Philadelphus. The couple became bolder and made their relationship more official, participating in deification ceremonies where they took the roles of the Greco-Egyptian gods Dionysus-Osiris and Venus-Isis. More crucially, their three children along with Caesarion were shown off publicly in Alexandria as legitimate royal heirs. But in Rome laws barred the acknowledgment of marriage with outsiders or foreign heirs.

To make matters worse, the Parthian campaign was a costly failure. In 34 BC, egotistical Antony celebrated a triumphal return to Alexandria despite this. “The Donations of Alexandria” was a public ceremony held in the city’s Gymnasium in which Cleopatra and Antony were seated on grand golden thrones on a silver platform with their children perched on lower thrones beside them. They may have even gotten married in an Egyptian ceremony. Antony proclaimed Caesarion to be Caesar’s son, foolhardily proclaiming Octavian to be the illegitimate heir. Doubtless he was encouraged by the wily Cleopatra in this. She had Caesarion, represented on the temple wall at Dendera alongside her, as sharing her rule. She herself was hailed as queen of kings, Caesarion as king of kings. Alexander Helios was awarded Armenia and modern day Iraq, the infant Ptolemy the lands to the west of the Euphrates. Cleopatra Selene was bequeathed Cyrene (Libya).

Octavian watched from Rome as Antony thumbed his nose at him, parceling off Roman territories. A clever tactician, Octavian tried to turn the common man’s bias away from the more popular Antony by taking his will (or a forgery) from the temple of the Vestal Virgins and revealing to the Romans that not only had Antony bestowed Roman possessions on a foreign woman but intended to be buried beside her in Egypt. A rumour spread like wild fire that Antony had abandoned his own people and intended to transfer the capital from Rome to Alexandria. Antony was seen as a traitor duped by a scheming seductress.

William Shakespeare ‘s play ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ (Act III, Scene 11). ‘Antony: ‘Fall not a tear, I say; one of them rates. All that is won and lost: give me a kiss; Even this repays me.’ Painted by Frank Dicksee, engraved by G. Goldberg. WS:l. English poet and playwright baptised 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

Antony reacted by divorcing Octavia, a public disgrace for her brother. Meanwhile Octavian strengthened his grip on power in Rome by eliminating Lepidus from the triumvirate on a pretext of rebellion. While Antony and Cleopatra wintered in Greece in 32–31 BC, as a result of Octavian’s intense propaganda campaign, the Roman Senate deprived Antony of his prospective consulate the following year, and declared war against Cleopatra, but not Antony who still had support back home.

Much of the fighting took place in western Greece, where Antony had a large force. However, Octavian’s general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, who later became his brother in law as well as son in law, outmaneuvered Antony’s men in a series of brilliant naval attacks. The conflict reached its climax in the naval battle at Actium on 2nd September, 31 BC. Cleopatra personally led dozens of heavily armed Egyptian warships alongside Antony’s fleet, but they were no match for Octavian’s navy. Cleopatra and Antony’s remaining ships were forced to flee to Egypt, pursued by Agrippa.

Cleopatra retreated to her mausoleum as Antony took a last stand. It was do or die for him. Octavian’s forces had followed them to Alexandria.

While fighting a losing battle, Antony received word that Cleopatra had died. All was lost to him and he threw himself on his sword, piercing himself in the stomach. A mortally wounded Antony had himself carried to Cleopatra’s retreat and there died in her arms, after bidding her to make her peace with Octavian and save herself and her children. But Cleopatra did not want to be paraded in the streets of Rome as her sister before her had been. She knew hers would be an ignominious life of lifelong imprisonment, degradation and humiliation.

After burying Antony, Cleopatra famously committed suicide by means of an asp, a symbol of divine royalty, probably a viper or Egyptian cobra that bit her on her arm. An alternative theory is that she pricked herself with a pin dipped in snake venom that she carried on her person at all times. According to Plutarch, we shall never know for sure as the suicide occurred behind locked doors in her mausoleum. At the time of death, the legendary queen aged only 39 had ruled Egypt for 22 years and had been Antony’s partner for 11. She had her priests bury her besides her lover as per their joint wish.

Egypt was finally annexed by Rome in 30 BC. Octavian had to make do with parading the effigies of Antony and Cleopatra through the streets of Rome instead. All the honours Antony had been rewarded in his lifetime for his bravery and service to Rome were revoked and his statues were destroyed. His rival in the Senate, Cicero went so far as to decree that no one in the dead general’s family would ever bear the name Marcus Antonius again.

There was a seismic shift in the civilized world three years later when Octavian was crowned as the Roman Emperor Augustus, rendering Rome no longer a Republic. In fact, when Augustus was given the choice of naming a month in his honour, instead of choosing his birth month September, he chose the eighth month in which Cleopatra and Antony died to create a yearly reminder of their defeat.

To consolidate his position, Augustus lured teenage Caesarion back with promises of power, but had him put to death upon arrival. Augustus expertly ruled Rome as Emperor for the next four decades, becoming one of Rome’s more successful emperors. Octavia rescued Antony’s children by Cleopatra, the twins aged 10 and Ptolemy six, and brought them up in her own household in Rome. In time, Cleopatra Selene was married to King Juba of Mauretania (Algeria and Morocco) and had a son, also named Ptolemy, named for his Egyptian heritage. Cleopatra’s only known grandchild, he was killed in adulthood by order of the Roman emperor Caligula.

In Egypt, the dynastic rule ended and hieroglyphic script was slowly lost, buried under Egypt’s shifting sands of time. But, to this day, the legendary love story of Antony and Cleopatra lives on.

Many of you remember Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem from their unforgettable movie roles—Penelope for her beauty and Javier for his formidable acting prowess. As we know, love does not always bloom at first sight. Penelope met her current husband Javier on the set of her first movie Jamon, Jamon (1992) when she was just a teenager. Fifteen years later, on the set of Vicky Christina Barcelona (2007) they reconnected and Bardem decided she’s The One for him. By then, each had the maturity to fully comprehend what it was they were looking for in a spouse. This is their story

By Maliha lone

Javier Ángel Encinas Bardem, now 48, comes from a long line of actors and filmmakers, some of whom helped establish the Spanish film industry. Born in 1969 in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, Spain, he is the son of Pilar Bardem, an actress, and the late, José Carlos Encinas Doussinague, an eco businessman. Javier’s parents split up shortly after his birth and he was raised solely by his mother. From his maternal side, he is a grandson of actors Rafael and Matilde Muñoz Sampedro, and nephew of screenwriter and director Juan Antonio Bardem who was imprisoned by General Franco for his anti-fascist films.  Both his older brother and sister, Carlos and Mónica, are also actors.

Bardem Worked As Actor From The Age Of Six
Javier Played rugby for The Junior Spanish National Team

Javier spent his childhood at theatres and on film sets, making his film debut at only six years old in Fernando Fernán Gómez’s El Pícaro (The Scoundrel). Javier told The Guardian about his childhood in Spain, “It was a very troubled time, to the point that to have the surname Bardem in those times was not good; you were pursued and put in jail. I was too little, but I saw things. People being arrested, my mother crying because colleagues of hers and people she loved were imprisoned or disappeared. The streets were violent….My mother is an actress; my grandfather and grandmother were actors. The parents of my grandparents were actors, in a time when actors were not allowed to be buried on sacred land. Terrible. My uncle is an actor, my brother is an actor and a writer, my sister used to be an actress. My cousins are actors. I’ve seen since I was born all that you can imagine in an actor’s life. So I don’t buy anything. I don’t buy success. I don’t buy failure. I only buy commitment.”

However, the boy was ambitious to become not an actor as you would imagine but a painter. He studied painting for four years at Madrid’s Escuela de Artes y Oficios and took on acting jobs only to pay the bills. Perhaps this was due to the fact that he was well aware of the non glamorous aspect of the showbiz world. In addition, the sporty, well built youth played rugby for the junior Spanish National Team. In time, not having enough talent or skill to make it as an artist, Javier wisely decided to pursue acting seriously. Struggling to make it, he even worked as a stripper for a day to subsidize his income between acting jobs. He nearly threw in the towel though when in 1989 after donning a Superman costume for a comedic sketch for the Spanish comedy show El Día Por Delante (The Day Ahead), he questioned this choice of career as well.

Penelope Studied classical Ballet for Nine Years at Spain’s National Conservatory

Then, at 20, Javier got a small but what proved to be a breakout role in a film his mother was in called The Ages of Lulu. Pilar Bardem Bigas Luna, the director, was so impressed by his promise that he gave him the leading male role in his next film, Jamón Jamón opposite teenage ingénue Penelope Cruz. A young buff Bardem played an underwear model and bullfighter in the film hired to seduce Penelope’s character. The entertaining movie became a big critical and box office hit, making stars of its young leads.

Penélope & Her Sister Monica Cruz
With Sister Monica & Brother Eduardo

As it happened, the year they started filming, Javier had already started dating his English teacher Christina Pales, a relationship that was to last nearly fifteen years. He was in love and committed and he didn’t have eyes for his ambitious nubile costar. He said at the time, “I’m in love with my English teacher. We have many of our lessons in bed.”

Penélope Cruz Sánchez, 45, had been born in the working-class neighbourhood of Alcobendas, Madrid, to Encarna Sánchez, a hairdresser and the late Eduardo Cruz, a car mechanic. She has two younger siblings, Mónica, also an actress/designer who resembles her sister, and a brother Eduardo who dated the now happily married Desperate Housewives alum Eva Longoria.

With Her First Serious Boyfriend (bf) Musician And Record Producer Nacho Cano

Penelope had a happy childhood and spent long hours at her grandmother’s apartment. She remembers “playing with some friends and being aware that I was acting as I was playing with them. I would think of a character and pretend to be someone else.” But, like Bardem, she initially focused on pursuing a different career and studied classical ballet for nine years at Spain’s National Conservatory. She said that ballet instilled in her discipline that helped in her future acting career.

With Ex Bf Czech Filmmaker Thomas Obermaier

Aged 10, she became interested in movies and her father bought her a Betamax VCR to watch films on, a rare thing to own in her neighborhood. After watching Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s film, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) she wanted try her hand at acting. She started doing casting calls for an agent but was rejected multiple times because the agent felt that she was too young. Cruz said in an interview, “I was very extroverted as a kid….I was studying when I was in high school at night, I was in ballet and I was doing castings. I looked for an agent and she sent me away three times because I was a little girl but I kept coming back. I’m still with her after all these years.” Finally, after she won an audition at a talent agency beating over 300 other girls, she was signed by a talent agent Katrina Bayonas at age 15 and made her acting debut at 16 on TV hosting TV channel Telecinco’s talk show for teenagers.

In The Hi Lo Country With Billy Crudup

Katrina Bayonas recalled her audition, “She was absolutely magic. It was obvious there was something very impressive about this kid…. She was very green, but there was a presence. There was just something coming from within.”

With Ex Bf Matt Damon

Desperate to make it, Penelope appeared nude in the Elle et lui episode of an erotic French TV series called Série rose in 1991. She was 18 and also dating musician and record producer Nacho Cano. The same year, she made her feature film debut as the lead female role in Jamón, Jamón, a comedy drama art house film. Her character Silvia is a young woman expecting her first child with a man whose mother does not approve of the relationship and attempts to sabotage it by paying Javier Bardem’s character to seduce her. For her performance, she was nominated for a Goya Award for Best Actress. Additionally, according to People magazine, Cruz’s topless scene made her “a major sex symbol.”

Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother

In an interview given to the Los Angeles Daily News in 1999, Cruz said that “it was a great part, but…I wasn’t really ready for the nudity….But I have no regrets because I wanted to start working and it changed my life.”

Charlie Rose announced on 60 Minutes that Cruz “became an overnight sensation as much for her nude scenes as for her talent.”

With the success of this film, the director cast Javier for a third time in his next film Luna as well, while Penelope starred in the Academy-Award-winning period romance drama Belle Epoque playing a very different character that of a virginal young girl.

With Tom Cruise & Cameron Diaz

Scenes From Vanilla Sky

From 1993 to 1996, Cruz appeared in ten Spanish and Italian films. At 20, she went to live in New York to study ballet, theatre at Cristina Rota’s New York school and English between films. She said sheorized the dialogue for casting calls and learnt English “kind of late,” getting by on only saying, “How are you?” and “Thank you.”

Bardem Collateral

Actor John Malkovich impressed by Bardem’s acting talent offered the 27-year-old Spaniard a role in his English film in 1997, but despite the lessons with his girlfriend Javier felt his English was still poor. Instead he chose to do director Álex de la Iglesia’s bilingual (released in Spanish and English) action crime horror film Perdita Durango (Dance with the Devil), in which Bardem and Hispanic American actress Rosie Perez play a psychotic criminal couple.

HOLLYWOOD – FEBRUARY 24: Actor Javier Bardem poses in the press room during the 80th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre on February 24, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

When he had approximately two dozen Spanish films under his belt, Bardem finally gained widespread international recognition when he portrayed homosexual Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas who was persecuted by Fidel Castro in Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls (2000). For his sensitive portrayal, his idol Al Pacino left an appreciative message on his answering machine, something he considers one of the most beautiful gifts he has ever received. Bardem received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, a first for a Spaniard.

2007 Love In The Time Of Cholera 035

Having broken up with her Spanish long distance boyfriend, Cruz started dating Czech filmmaker Tomas Obermaier and appeared in her first American film as Billy Crudup’s down to earth Mexican girlfriend in Stephen Frears’ Western, The Hi-Lo Country (1999). She reported that she still had difficulties understanding people speaking English while filming. The movie which starred Woody Harrelson and Patricia Arquette bombed. Cruz followed this up with Almodóvar’s well received All About My Mother, playing a pregnant nun with AIDS. She went from strength to strength starring in the delightful Hollywood rom-com Woman on Top in the lead female role playing a sexy world class chef. Variety magazine ran a story saying that Penelope “burst off the screen”, and had a charming accent. The curvaceous and pretty actress came to be known as the “Spanish enchantress.”

Saharaa

With Ex Bfco Star McConaughey Both Off & On The Screen

Another review in Box Office magazine stated, “Cruz is stunning in the role—innocent and vulnerable yet possessing a mature grace and determined strength, all while sizzling with unchecked sensuality.”

In 2000, she was cast as A-lister Matt Damon’s love interest in Billy Bob Thornton’s film adaptation of the Western bestselling novel, All the Pretty Horses. Claiming that her career ambitions were responsible for her breakup with Obermaier, Penelope started seeing Damon. Though they never confirmed their onscreen romance, they both made a promotional appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show together. On the show, Cruz said: “Matt’s a very special man, he’s funny and he’s one of the most generous people I’ve met in my life. He has no defects.”

On Set Of Vicky Cristina Barcelona With Scarlett Johansson & Woody Allen

Damon blushed and replied: “That’s the most amazing thing to say.”

When Spanish sci-fi blockbuster film Open Your Eyes (1997) was being remade by Hollywood heavy weight director Cameron Crowe as Vanilla Sky (2001) Cruz was asked to reprise her role opposite mega star Tom Cruise. The movie also starred Cameron Diaz in a supporting role who came across blond, bland and insipid next to Penelope’s more exotic dark looks. This was a huge budget movie that grossed $200 million worldwide and marked the turning point in her career. After the movie premiered, when Tom Cruise was in the midst of divorcing Nicole Kidman due to her infidelity, he took up with Penelope in a high profile relationship that lasted till 2004. We don’t know if it was a publicity stunt/cover up relationship but it managed to generate Cruz countless tabloid headlines that made her a household name Stateside, and gave him a beautiful actress on his arms while his ex-wife engaged in a series of public hookups.

With Ex Bf Orlando Bloom
She Had A Summer Fling With Josh Hartnett

The same year, Cruz next starred opposite Johnny Depp in the biographical crime film Blow about the American cocaine smuggler George Jung, adapted from Bruce Porter’s 1993 book Blow: How a Small Town Boy Made $100 million with the Medellín Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All. It was her second big hit of the year, grossing $80 million worldwide. Her third film of 2001 was the epic World War II love saga Captain Corelli’s Mandolin starring Nicholas Cage, also an adaptation of a novel of the same name. They sweeping lyrical movie did well with women and made $62 million worldwide. Three huge movies with three huge movie stars—it was a great year for Cruz that made her an A-list star despite her heavily accented English.

Penelope Won An Academy Award For Best Supporting Actress For Vicky Christina Barcelona
Mandatory Credit: Photo by GUILLAUME COLLET/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock (9044676d)
Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz
‘Loving Pablo’ photocall, 74th Venice Film Festival, Italy – 06 Sep 2017

In an ironic twist, Bardem made his Hollywood debut in a small but significant role as a crime lord who summons Tom Cruise’s (Penelope’s boyfriend at the time) hit man in the action crime thriller Collateral (2004). Then, he starred in Miloš Forman’s film Goya’s Ghosts (2006) opposite Natalie Portman, in which he played a twisted monk during the Spanish Inquisition.

The two mega successful and talented Spanish Stars fell for each other on set of Vicky Christina Barcelona. Bardem later told GQ that he initially Had reservations regarding Penelope’s on set Passion, which both drew him to her and also Made him worried for their future. He said that She shares the same fiery personality as her onscreen Character in the movie, “Oh, boy. She has That feistiness. There are those scenes where we Are arguing, she’s throwing plates and so on. I Had to wonder, ‘Do I really want this?’ She has What I call the loving blood. Passion for everything.” But Javier in the end fell for her after Deciding that Penelope’s passionate personality Is what makes her both beautiful and sexy. ‘That’s what I find attractive. There is beauty And there is being sexy. Penelope has both.’”

In 2007, Bardem acted in two film adaptations: the violent Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men in which he played a sociopathic assassin and the adaptation of the romantic and soulful Colombian novel Love in the Time of Cholera by Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez.

VENICE, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 06: (L-R) Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem walk the red carpet ahead of the ‘Loving Pablo’ screening during the 74th Venice Film Festival at Sala Grande on September 6, 2017 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

In No Country for Old Men, his character is a sociopathic assassin. He did such a fantastic job as a cold blooded killer that he was awarded an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, becoming the first Spaniard to win, as well as won a Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award, the Critics’ Choice Award and British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award. This was his star making turn that not only catapulted him to the position of a globally recognizable star but the character he played also went down as one of the most vile villains in cinematic history. Because of his broken nose that was the result of a bar fight in his youth, Bardem had a face that could look very menacing. He didn’t need to shout or overact, rather underplayed his villains, so that they realistically appear like emotionless, cold psychopaths. Though after the horrible bar fight he said he struggles to watch violence play out on screen, “From that moment on, I couldn’t stand violence. I still can’t even watch it. I can’t bear it. So if I hate violence so much why did I do No Country For Old Men, right? I know, I know.”

Bardem mixed it up by playing a love lorne character that pines all his life for his married childhood crush only to finally attain her at a ripe old age in Love in the Time of Cholera, a move that displayed his range. This too was an unforgettable film.

With so much to thank for, the couple with a conscious signed an open letter during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict denouncing Israel’s actions as a “genocide.” They didn’t care that their move was criticized by some in Hollywood and could potentially cost them jobs

“Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” Premiere 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival

Francis Ford Coppola named Bardem as an heir to such greats as Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro, and lauded him being ambitious, hungry, unwilling to rest on his laurels and always “excited to do something good.”

At her end, Penelope started seeing yet another costar, this time the sexy Texan at the time wild child Matthew McConaughey during the film of their box office dud Sahara, but the relationship fizzled out within a year. Next she starred in another Western, this time a female bonding summer comedy movie alongside her good friend Salma Hayek in the Bandidas (2006) in which they play “lusty dream team” of bank robbers.

With Daniel Craig In Skyfall

In fall, just in time to be nominated for the Oscars, Cruz gave a serious turn in her mentor Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver (2006). A review in The Los Angeles Times stated, “Cruz, who has remarked that in Hollywood she’s rarely allowed to be anything more than pretty, instills her with an awesome resoluteness and strength of character.” It was quite a gripping performance for which she tapped in to her working class roots. For her uninhibited fearless acting, Cruz shared a Best Actress award at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival with five of her co-stars, as well as receiving a Goya Award and European Film Award, and was nominated for the Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA, and Academy Award for Best Actress in a leading role. She was the first Spanish actress to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. She also briefly dated Orlando Bloom during this year, another feather in her cap.

Penelope stars in an all star ensemble cast of agatha christie’s murder on the orient express directed by kenneth brannagh to be released in november

Woody Allen is actually indirectly responsible for finally bringing the two top Spanish stars together when he cast them in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), which also starred Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall. Both the Spanish stars were single simultaneously during the filming. Javier played a painter and Penelope his tempestuous ex-wife. Pe (her nickname) arrived on set after a brief summer fling with actor Josh Hartnett with whom she had vacationed win Turks and Caicos. Clearly, her Hollywood relationships were not working out and getting shorter each time. Javier had broken up his long term romance with his serious girlfriend in 2005. He probably had rebounded with hookups, but they didn’t leave a dent.

On The Set Of Everybody Knows

Cruz’s masterful and energetic performance won her a Goya Award and her first Academy Award and BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress. Cruz was the first Spanish actress to ever be awarded an Academy Award in that category and the sixth Hispanic person to ever receive the award.

Keeping their burgeoning relationship under the radar, the couple tied the knot in July 2010 in the Bahamas in a private ceremony. Penelope was three months pregnant at the time. Both had been raised as Roman Catholics by their respective grandmothers, so not finding any reason to wait, they probably wanted to make their relationship official as soon as they discovered the pregnancy. Bardem is  an atheist now, but he probably wanted to seal the deal with his hot girlfriend and felt it was time he settled down for good. Their son Leonarodo was born in January in the new year in Los Angeles. That year Bardem was awarded Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in Biutiful directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, who had written the film with Bardem in mind, quite an honour.    He became the first all Spanish-language Best Actor nominee at the 2011 Oscars and won his 5th Goya Award, which he touchingly dedicated to his wife and newborn son. However, generally the couple maintains a low public profile, seldom discussing their personal lives.

Completely unlike his onscreen persona, Bardem is a gentle, one-woman man who likes intense, lasting monogamous relationships. A telling example of how different he is in real life to the randy thugs he usually plays, he doesn’t even know how to drive a car in real life whereas in films he is seen racing cars at breakneck speeds in car chase scenes. In his downtime, Bardem unwinds by listening to heavy metal, his favourite band being AC/DC, while Pe devotes her time to philanthropic pursuits and advocates breastfeeding.

The biggest hit of Penelope’s career to date grossing more than a billion dollars she filmed when she was pregnant. This summer blockbuster is Rob Marshall’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth installment in the film series, starring Johnny Depp. Cruz was the only actress considered for the role, as she fit Marshall’s description. He invited her for the role as they wrapped the production of Nine, a musical with an ensemble all female cast, which she dominated with her superbly sensual dancing.

The actress spent two months working out and learning fencing for  her role in the pirate flick. During filming, she discovered she was pregnant with her first born. The costume department obligingly redesigned her wardrobe to be more elastic, and the producers got her sister Mónica Cruz to double for her in risky scenes. That year, Penelope got her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, becoming the first Spanish actress to receive the honour.

Bardem also turned in a remarkable villainous portrayal of defaced rogue agent Raoul Silva ranked among the greatest villains in the James Bond series in the Daniel Craig starrer Skyfall (2012). He too received his Hollywood Walk of Fame star.

Both such bankable stars with worldwide fame, Academy and other prestigious industry awards and tens of millions of Euros in their bank accounts, they were soon to be blessed with a baby girl named Luna born in Madrid in 2013, completing their family.

In the next installment of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017), it was Bardem’s turn to star as the main antagonist. This year, he also has the recently  released Darren Aronofsky horror film Mother! with Jennifer Lawrence, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Ed Harris that is not doing too well either commercially or critically.

Yet another recent release is the Spanish film Loving Pablo in which the two spouses play the corpulent Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his journalist mistress Virginia Vallejo. In an interview, Javier revealed they were careful not to bring the dark subject material home with them after a day on set: “One of the joys, and the fun of what we do, is to create. We were very careful (during shooting) to make sure we kept that joy and that we keep being able to create and use our imagination.’

A critic wrote in The Guardian, “the heat really rises when their fiery attitudes mix and threaten to combust; though the script is in (Colombian accented) English for what Bardem has confirmed were wrangling-a-budget reasons, their spats spark with such passion that a viewer can nearly hear the Spanish behind it.”

The couple is currently busy having a blast creating what is expected to be another film masterpiece by Oscar winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi called Everybody Knows. Bardem commented on Farhadi in a recent interview: “He sees everything. He may not understand a word, but he knows what you’re saying. He only wants honesty to its deepest level so you are really obliged to take the mask off and go there completely naked. I believe in giving it all, but the hands have to be sensitive, caring, nice — that’s why you give it to him. You trust him. And, he’s super funny.”

Sounds like a movie to watch out for!

Before the War of Independence in 1857, after which India became part of the British Empire, many British men working for the East India Company, who had come to India to make their fortune, got married to local women and settled down to raise families. William Dalrymple documents this lesser known fact in his entertaining history book The White Mughals; he tells the tale of the romance between James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the British Resident at the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad and his Muslim wife Khair-u-Nissa Begum for whom he converted to Islam and with whom he had two children. Because he had “gone native,” the British mistrusted him and thought he was a double agent

By Mahlia Lone

James Achilles Kirkpatrick was a bit of a hybrid Brit, born at Fort St. George, Madras in 1764 but sent back to Britain where he attended Eton College. To make his name and his fortune, the ambitious young man returned as a “cocky young imperialist intending to conquer India” by working for the British East India Company and became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Company’s Army. His colourful and unusual story is told by William Dalrymple in his entertaining history book The White Mughals, which many of you may have read.

To understand the context of the story, it’s important to look at the geopolitical situation of the time.

Panoramic view of the Chaumohalla Palace at Hyderabad, photographed by Deen Dayal in the 1880s

Nizam-ul-Mulk Nawab Mir Nizam Ali Khan Siddiqi Bayafandi Bahadur Asaf Jah II reigned Hyderabad from 1762 to 1803; he belonged to the Asaf Jah dynasty founded by Mir Qamar-ud-Din Siddiq, a Mughal appointed Viceroy of the Deccan. When Mughal control collapsed after Shehnshah Aurungzeb’s death in 1707, Asaf Jah declared himself independent and in control of Hyderabad in 1724.

Following the decline of the great Mughal Empire, the Hindu Maratha Empire rose in the Deccan. Maratha warrior Baji Rao I expanded his empire by defeating the Mughals in Delhi and Asaf Jah’s forces in Hyderabad. The Nizam lost all the major battles that he fought against the fierce Marathas. After the conquest of Deccan by Bajirao I and the imposition of chauth (tribute tax) by him on Hyderabad, the Nizam essentially became a tributary of the Marathas.

Chowmahalla Palace

The East India Company meanwhile was fighting against Hyder Ali and later his son Tipu Sultan in Mysore who were supported by the French. Four Anglo-Mysore Wars were fought to establish the Company’s control over this region.

The grand interior

During the First Anglo-Mysore War (1767–69) the British convinced the Nizam to attack Hyder Ali, but the Nizam changed sides at the last moment and supported the Sultan. When Hyder Ali attacked Madras, the British convinced the Nizam to sign a new treaty with them in 1768 to maintain the balance of power: the British, Marathas and Hyderabadis on one side and Mysore on the other.

Nawab Mir Nizam Ali Khan Asaf Jah II, the Nizam of Hyderabad

James was initially appointed as the translator at the Nizam’s court during his elder brother William Kirkpatrick’s tenure as the Company’s Resident (ambassador) in Hyderabad. In 1795, savvy and skilled at diplomacy, at only 33 years of age, he replaced his brother as the Resident. Said to be a good looking and charming young diplomat, he was responsible as the East India Company’s Resident in Hyderabad for nurturing relations with the State’s rulers and keep them on the side of the British.

Taking his diplomatic tasks very seriously, he fluently conversed in Persian, Hindustani, Tamil and Telegu and immersed himself in Hyderabadi Indo-Persian culture.

India, Osmania University College for Women
2002
©WMF/Mark Weber
original – slide

One his first tasks was to build a stately Residency at Hyderabad. The Palladian style house was designed by Lt Samuel Russell of the Madras Engineers, the son of the Royal Academician John Russell.

The plan was submitted for approval to the Nizam since he would be granting the 60 acres land plus paying for the construction. Not used to western scale plans, the Nizam at first refused to sanction such a huge building. It seemed to him that the Resident was trying to appropriate a vast area of the Nizamate under the pretext of building a house. Wily Kirkpatrick cleverly had the identical plan redrawn on a much smaller scale as a tiny as a postage stamp, and the Nizam fell for the deception. The finished house bore a resemblance to Gov General Wellesley’s then newly finished Government House in Calcutta. The architecture and scale of the house impressed the viewer with the power and control of the East India Company in India.

The British Residency at Hyderabad engraving by William Miller

In 1799, James was depicted in “Hindostanny dress,” draped with long ropes of pearls, and with khussas on his feet. James smoked hukkahs, chewed paan, attended mujras and even had a zenana, living the life of a veritable White Mughal. He fathered many children with various local women that he kept there, just like the Hyderabadi elite. “Thanks partly to these women,” wrote a contemporary Hyderabadi historian, “he was always very cheerful.”

Living like a Hyderabadi out of choice, Kirkpatrick related to them and understood their point of view, which he would present to his superiors. The Nizam awarded him with titles like Mutamin ul Mulk (Safeguard of the kingdom), Hushmat Jung (Valiant in battle) and Nawab Fakhr-ud-Dowlah Bahadur (Governor, pride of the state, and hero).

James Kirkpatrick in a Mughal angarkha

In 1798, Lord Richard Wellesley, Earl of Mornington, later Marquess Wellesley, had been appointed as Governor-General of India. After Great Britain lost her American colonies, the British government under Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, Earl of Chatham, turned its attention fully towards India with the ostensible aim of limiting the East India Company’s corruption but actually with the conscious design of extending British power by acquiring a great empire in India.

Britain’s main rival was France.  Mornington came to India with the express design of annihilating French influence in the Subcontinent. Soon after his landing, he learned of the alliance between Tipu Sultan and the French Republic that was seen as a direct threat to British interests in India. Mornington immediately ordered preparations for war and disbanded the Nizam’s French troops. This time the Nizam would have no choice but to stick to his alliance with the British. “Wellesley was an imperialist determined to reduce the Nizam to subservience,” wrote one historian.

During the Fourth and final Anglo-Mysore War, Mysore was attacked on all sides. Tipu Sultan’s forces were outnumbered by 4:1 and the Army chose as his adversary, Mornington’s younger brother, Colonel Arthur Wellesley who later became Field Marshal, 1st Duke of Wellington, responsible for defeating Napoleon. The war concluded with the death of Tipu Sultan and his kingdom being carved up by the three allies. This was the geopolitical situation at the time, precarious with alliances betrayed, espionage, and backdoor diplomacy.

After his experience in the Deccan, Colonel Arthur Wellesley warned authorities in Calcutta that Kirkpatrick seemed to be so solidly “under the influence” of the Hyderabadis that “it was to be expected that he would attend more to the objects of the Nizam’s court than those of his own government.” The Company officers took heed of the victor of the hour who had succeeded in finally taming “The Tiger of Mysore,” and started to keep a closer eye on Kirkpatrick.

Hyder Ali, a steel engraving from the 1790’s

While all this mayhem was going on and the fate of nations being decided, James had other matters on his mind when in 1800 he met the fourteen year old granddaughter of the Vizier of Hyderabad, Nawab Mahmood Ali Khan. Though Khair-un-Nissa (the incomparably beautiful) was kept in strict purdah (veil) during the betrothal ceremonies for her elder sister, she saw Kirkpatrick in the court and fell in love. She somehow managed to leave the confines of the zenana (ladies’ quarter) one evening, presented herself before Kirkpatrick and pleaded her love. In a letter to his elder brother William, Military Secretary to the Governor General at Calcutta, James Kirkpatrick justified h

A rendition of the Anglo-Mysore War

imself: “I, who was but ill-qualified for this task, attempted to argue this romantic creature out of a passion which I could not, I confess, help feeling myself something more than pity for. She declared to me again and again that her affections had been irretrievably fixed on me for a series of time, hat her fate was linked to mine.”

Tipu Sultan

Not only did Khair-u-Nissa belong to the ruling family, but she was also a Sayyida, a descendant of the Prophet, and of Persian descent. If he wanted to be with her, he would have to marry her and for that he would have to first convert and become a Shia Muslim.

India, Osmania University College for Women
2002
©WMF/Mark Weber
original – slide

Kirkpatrick met all the conditions plus the Nizam made him his adopted son. The couple was duly married in a nikkah ceremony. Kirkpatrick was elevated to the ranks of Hyderabadi nobility. The couple became known in Hyderabadi circles as Sahib Begum and Sahib Allum (The Little Lord of the World, and the Lady of High Lineage).

Governor General of India,
Lord Richard Wellesley, Earl of Mornington

James built a separate zenana in the Residency compound for Khair-u-Nissa who still observed purdah.  The couple lived “in an enchanted world of scented gardens (scent was believed to be the ‘food of the soul’), luscious fruits, cooing pigeons (the sound of which was thought to stimulate the mind), sparkling jewels, veils fluttering in the balmy evening breeze,” wrote Kate Chisholm poetically in The Telegraph.

Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Living in his own world, immune to the changing world around him, James nearly completely eschewed wearing English clothes for all but the most formal of occasions, and now “habitually swanned around the British Residency in what one surprised visitor had described as ‘a Musselman’s dress of the finest texture.’” Another noted that he had hennaed his hands and even had Indian “mustachios.”

Khair became renowned for her fair complexioned, delicate featured beauty. Her portrait was said at the time to do no justice to her good looks.

William Dalrymple

The good looking couple had two children:  a son, Mir Ghulam Ali Sahib Allum, and a daughter, Noor-un-Nissa Sahib Begum. The leading artist of the British community in India, George Chinnery, painted a portrait of the siblings in Madras in 1805 that is regarded as one of the masterpieces of British paintings in India.

Shortly after the marriage in as early 1801, a major scandal broke out in Calcutta over the nature of Kirkpatrick’s role at the Hyderabad court. His reputation had become iffy of late but it was not unheard of British officers to dress and even live like the natives. However, in James’ case his loyalty was questioned.

Rumours started to float about Kirkpatrick’s interracial liaison. There was a steady stream of reports that he had “connected himself with a female” of one of Hyderabad’s leading noble families. The girl had become pregnant and given birth to his child. The girl’s grandfather was understandably livid and had ‘expressed an indignation approaching to frenzy at the indignity offered to the honour of his family by such proceedings, and had declared his intention of proceeding to the Mecca Masjid (the principal mosque of the city)” where he threatened to raise the Muslims of the Deccan against the British. Worse, Kirkpatrick had formally married the girl, by converting not just in name but in deed and had become a practising Shi’a Muslim.

Governor General Wellesley was not kindly disposed to Kirkpatrick’s relationship with the Nizam. Wellesley was responsible for welding British India into an integral entity and the process necessarily involved gaining ascendancy and control over the Indian Kingdoms, or Princely States as the British had begun to dismissively referring to them. Wellesley, having decided to dismiss Kirkpatrick, summoned him to Calcutta.

The authorities in Bengal started questioning Kirkpatrick to determine whether his political loyalties could still be depended on or had he in fact become a double-agent.

Upon questioning, James at first denied his marriage with Khair un-Nissa, but upon the Company’s further investigation into the matter he confessed that he had married her in an Islamic ceremony. He was summarily dismissed and as a punishment for his religious conversion it was decided that his two Anglo-Indian children would be taken away from the parents and sent to Britain to be raised as Christians.

The same year, following the British victory in the Second Anglo-Maratha War, the Nizam of Hyderabad had come under the protection of the British East India Company. Though he was the premier Prince of India, Hyderabad being the largest and most prosperous state of all princely states, the Nizam’s kingdom was now a protectorate. Moreover, Hyderabadi citizens were 85 per cent Hindu so their ruler could easily be replaced. The Nizam was shrewd enough to keep quiet about Kirkpatrick’s fate.

A tearful Khair-un-Nissa had secured a settlement of £10,000 each on five year old William and three year old Kitty, a substantial sum at the time. When they were taken from their parents, the children spoke little or no English only Urdu, the language of their mother.

James, perhaps already perhaps terminally ill, died of a fever in 1805 in Calcutta shortly after his kids were shipped off. “He had lasted longer than the proverbial two monsoons allowed to the British in the India of those days but still died young, aged 41,” wrote Sudarshan in a blog.

Khair-u-Nissa heard of his death 18 days later. In his will, Kirkpatrick stated: “the excellent and respectable Mother of my two children for whom I feel unbounded love and affection and esteem.”

Dalrymple describes George Chinnery’s painting of the Anglo-Indian Kirpatrick siblings: “Two of them in their Hyderabadi court dress, standing at the top of a flight of steps…. Sahib Allum – an exceptionally beautiful, poised, dark-eyed child – wears a scarlet jama trimmed with gilt brocade, and a matching gilt cummerbund; he has a glittering topi on his head and crescent-toed slippers. Round his neck hangs a string of enormous pearls. His little sister, who is standing one step from Sahib Alum, and has her arm around her big brother’s shoulders, is discernibly fairer-skinned, and below her topi is a hint of the red hair that would be much admired in the years to come. Yet while Sahib Alum looks directly at the viewer with an almost precocious confidence and assurance, Sahib Begum looks down with an expression of infinite sadness and vulnerability on her face, her little eyes dark and swollen with crying.”

The two children were transported under the care of a Mrs Ure and a retinue of “black” servants. Their baggage included shawls, jewellery and valuables worth £2000 and Captain George Elers, a fellow passenger, bribed the customs officials at Portsmouth twenty guineas to clear their baggage unopened.

Without her children and her husband, Khair-un-Nissa turned for protection to Kirkpatrick’s assistant Henry Russell who replaced him as the Resident in Hyderabad. After spending a few years with the widow, Russell tired of her and married a younger half-Portuguese heiress he had met in Madras. Hyderabad aristocracy hadn’t approved of  Khair-un-Nissa’s suspected liaison and banished to the coastal town of Masulipatam for a while. She died heartbroken at the young age of 27 in 1813.

Our story doesn’t end there. We follow the children to England where they had been sent to live with their grandfather Colonel James Kirkpatrick at his London residence and country estate in Keston, Kent. Upon arriving in London, they were baptised at St. Mary’s Church, Marylebone Road, and christened as William George Kirkpatrick and Katherine Aurora “Kitty” Kirkpatrick. Henceforth, they became Evangelical Christians and never again saw India or any members of their maternal family.

Calcutta harbour

Tragically, William fell into a copper of boiling water seven years later. His burns were so bad that doctors had to amputate his arm and he became a recluse. He graduated from Oxford in 1820, married and had three daughters, before dying in 1828 aged only 27.

Kitty’s story is more interesting. She was educated privately with the aid of a governess, like most girls of her social class, and brought up to be a typical Christian Victorian lady. After the death of her brother, grandfather and other close relations, Kitty became an heiress with £50,000, a huge sum in those days. Like most mixed race children and with such good looking parents, Kitty was extremely fetching.

After the death of her grandfather, Kirkpatrick lived with several of her aunts and married cousins all of whom were well connected. She lived in the homes of Clementina, Lady Louis, the wife of a naval hero and baronet; Julia, the wife of Edward Strachey (grandfather of the writer Sir Lytton Strachey) and Barbara Isabella, the wife of an M.P.

St. Mary’s Church, Marylebone Road in London where the Anglo-Indian Kirkpatrick children were baptised

In 1822, while staying with her Strachey cousins at Shooters’ Hill, near London, she fell in with the children’s Scottish tutor, Thomas Carlyle who went on to become a famous philosopher, satirical writer, social commentator, author and historian. After Kitty travelled with the family to Paris in 1824, Carlyle seems to have fallen head over heels in love on the trip.

Watercolour sketch of Thomas Carlyle

The romance was encouraged by Kitty’s cousin Julia Carlyle but the rest of the family didn’t think the impoverished writer was a suitable match for the wealthy, beautiful and well-connected girl despite her mixed blood. At that time, if an Anglo-Indian was fair and looked English, they didn’t have a problem being accepted. Those that were born darker, however, were left behind in India.

Bitter after being rejected, Carlyle later immortalized Kitty in his 1836 novel Sartor Resartus (The Tailor Retailored), posthumously published in 1887, as the Calypso-like Rose Goddess Blumine. In Greek mythology, Calypso is a nymph who lived on the island of Ogygia where she kept Odysseus captive for several years to make him her immortal husband.

Carlyle immortalised Kitty as “fairest of Orient Light bringers,” “many-tinted, radiant aurora,” and “a strangley complexioned young lady with soft brown eyes and floods of bronze-red hair, really a pretty looking and amiable, though most foreign bit of magnificence …. that answers to the name of ‘Dear Kitty’.” He described her as lovely but suspicious due to her mixed-race ancestry:

It was a blessing in disguise for Kitty that she didn’t marry Carlyle because he developed ulcers and became a cranky, argumentative, and angry man . His cantankerous personality was reflected in his prose. In 1826, he married fellow irascible intellectual Jane Baillie Welsh.

In 1829, the famous beauty and considerable heiress, Kitty married James Winslowe Phillipps, a dashing army officer in the 7th Hussars Regiment. They were well matched. Phillipps, a member of the Kennaway family of the west country, too had Indian connections.

The Kennaway Baronetcy of Hyderabad was created in 1791 for John Kennaway, British Resident at the Court of Nizam Ali Khan, Asaf Jah II, Nizam of Hyderabad, in recognition of his services in the negotiation of the 1790 alliance between the Nizam and the East India Company against Tipu Sultan.

Kitty’s father in law had thus been the British Resident at the Nizam of Hyderabad’s court before her uncle and father, although his stint was vastly more successful than theirs.

With so much in common, their union was a happy one and blessed with seven children. The four who survived to adulthood were Mary Augusta, John James, Emily Georgina, and Bertha Elizabeth.

Kitty wrote in a letter to her grandmother Sharaf-u-Nissa in Hyderabad:
“My dear Grandmother, I received many years ago, your kind letter of condolence with me on the death of my beloved brother. I was very grateful to you for it, tho’ by my not answering it, I am afraid that you may have thought that I little regarded it. But indeed I did, & the more so, because I felt that you too mourned for him I loved so well & that you too were connected with him by the binding of blood ties.
Two years after his death I was married to a nephew of Sir John Kennaway’s. My husband is of my age & is Captain in the English army.
I have 4 children living, my eldest daughter is 11 years old. She is exactly like my husband. I have a boy of 8 years & a half, then another girl of 7 and a half who is exactly like my mother’s picture & one darling infant of 19 months. I have had 7 living children – 1 sweet boy and two sweet girls are gone, but I am blest in those that survive. My boy is so striking an image of my father that a picture that was drawn of my father as a little boy is always taken for my boy. They have a good intellect & are blest with fair skin. I live in a nice pretty house in the midst of a garden on the seacoast. My dear husband is very kind to me & I love him greatly.
I always think of you and remember you and my dear mother. I often dream that I am with you in India and that I see you both in the room you used to sit in. No day of my life has ever passed without my thinking of my dear mother. I can remember the verandah and the place where the tailors worked and a place on the housetop where my mother used to let me sit down and slide.
When I dream of my mother I am in such joy to have found her again that I awake, or else am pained in finding that she cannot understand the English I speak. I can well recollect her cries when we left her and I can now see the place where we sat when we parted, and her tearing her long hair – what worlds would I give to possess one lock of that beautiful and much loved hair! How dreadful to think that so many, many years have passed when it would have done my heart such good to think that you loved me & when I longed to write to you& tell you these feelings that I was never able to express, a letter which I am sure would have been detained& now how wonderful it is that after 35 years that I am able for the first time to hear that you think of me. And love me, and have perhaps wondered why I did not write to you, and that you have thought of me cold and insensible to such near dear ties; I thank God that he has opened for me a way of making the feelings of my heart known to you.
Will this reach you & will you care for the letter of your grand child? My own heart tells me you will. May God bless you my own dear Grandmother.”
And in other she wrote:
“I often think of you and remember you and my dear mother. I often dream that I am with you in India and that I see you both in the room you used to sit in. No day of my life has ever passed without my thinking of my dear mother. I can remember the verandah and the place where the tailors worked and a place on the house top where my mother used to let me sit down and slide. When I dream of my mother I am in such joy to have found her again that I awake, or else am pained in finding that she cannot understand the English I speak. I can well recollect her cries when we left her and I can now see the place where she sat when we parted, and her tearing her long hair. What worlds would I give to possess one lock of that beautiful and much loved hair! How dreadful to think that so many, many years have passed when it would have done my heart such good to think that you loved me & when I longed to write to you & tell you these feelings that I was never able to express, a letter which I was sure would have been detained & now how wonderful it is that after 35 years I am able for the first time to hear that you think of me, and love me, and have perhaps wondered why I did not write to you, and that you have thought me cold and insensible to such near dear ties.”

A portrait of the beautiful heiress Katherine Kirkpatrick, ca. 1830

Back in India, the Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817–1818) and the final and decisive conflict between the British East India Company (EIC) and the Maratha Empire had left the Company in control of most of India. The British government’s aim of fully colonizing India was coming to fruition. They were now nearly fully in charge. Only Maharaja Ranjit Singh still held out in the Punjab.

With the rise of the Victorian Evangelical movement in the 1830s and 40s not only mixed race unions but also intermingling of Indian and British ideas, religions and ways of life became increasingly frowned upon.

Mixed race unions were on the decline. Wills left by East India Company officers show that while one-in-three wills between 1780 and 1785 were made in favour of an Indian wife and Anglo-Indian children, these shrunk to one-in-four between 1805 and 1810, one-in-six by 1830, and all but disappeared by the middle of the century.

After the War of Independence, the British executed the entire top rank of the Mughal elite and fully imposed the British way of life on India as a means of stamping out Indian national identity.

For these reasons, Kitty too had been forbidden by her grandfather from maintaining any contact with her family in India. Decades after leaving India, in 1830 with the help of her father’s former assistant and mother’s reputed lover, Henry Russell, Kitty began a correspondence with her maternal grandmother Sharaf-u-Nissa in Hyderabad. Although they never met in person, they wrote each other emotional letters for six years till the old lady’s death. Although Kitty was only a toddler when she left India, she has still retained vivid memories of her childhood.

In 1846, Kitty, now Mrs Phillips, made a chance visit to Swallowfield, the home of Sir Henry Russell and and spotted the Chinnery portrait of her and her brother. The painting had come into his possession and, at his retirement, he had brought it back with him and hung in his country home, Swallowfield, in Berkshire.  Moved at the memory of her brother (who had died in 1828) and of her grand, but barely remembered, mansion in Hyderabad, Kitty started bawling inconsolably. This moved Sir Henry to bequeath the painting to her after his death.

Till the end, Kitty had a special place in Carlyle’s heart who wrote of her in his Reminisces published in 1881, “ Amiable, affectionate, graceful, might be called attractive (not slim enough for ‘pretty’, not tall enough for ‘beautiful’); had something low-voiced, languidly harmonious, placid, sensuous, loved perfumes & c; a half-Begum in short; interesting specimen of the Semi-Oriental Englishwoman. Still lives, near Exeter (the prize of some idle ex-Captain of Sepoys), with many children, whom she looks after with a passionate interest”.

Kitty went on to live a happy, full life and died at her home, the Villa Sorrento, in the charming seaside town of Torquay, Devon, in 1889, having outlived her husband by 20 years.

Four years after her death in 1893, Sir Edward Strachey, the son of Kitty’s cousin Julia, wrote an article in Blackwood’s Magazine under the exotic title, The Romantic Marriage of James Achilles Kirkpatrick Sometime British Resident at the Court of Hyderabad. He recounted the romantic, but ultimately tragic story of James Kirkpatrick and Khair-u-Nissa.

Strachey described her, “She (Kitty) was ten years my elder, but I remember her from girlhood to old age as the most fascinating of women.”

Telling her story, Strachey added poignantly, “in after years the daughter told her own children how long she and her brother had pined for the father and mother they remembered, and longed to get away from the cold of England to Hyderabad, and were sad at hearing that they were not to go there again, which was all they could understand of their father’s death”.

The sensational story created a stir in the late-Victorian era, a time when the British Empire with its clear demarcation between the white master and brown colonist was at its height and Indian born and bred Englishman Rudyard Kipling wrote, “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

According to Dalrymple, “James was among the last of the English officials in India who found it possible to truly cross cultures.”

By Mahlia Lone

Suleyman was the only son of Sultan Selim I the Resolute responsible for increasing the Ottoman Empire in size by 70 per cent during his reign (1512-1520) by conquering the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and the Middle Eastern heartlands. Selim I became the guardian of the pilgrimage routes to Mecca and Medina and is generally remembered as the first legitimate Ottoman Caliph. Sixteenth-century Italian historian Paolo Giovio who compiled a book on Turkish history wrote it was inconceivable to expect that “the dauntless lion would leave his throne to mansuetto angelo (a timid lamb).”

Another European historian of the Ottoman rulers called Selim and Suleiman: “Patris fortis filius fortior,” (a courageous father of an even more courageous son).

In September 1520, twenty-six years old Suleyman’s carefree life as governor in the Manisa province came suddenly to an end when he was called back to Constantinople after the accidental death of the Sultan; he succeeded his father and subsequently established the classical Ottoman state and society; he made important new conquests in the East and West, including Belgrade, Rhodes and much of Hungary all the way up to Vienna; he overhauled the legal system; he also patronised artists and writers at his court so the arts and culture scene flourished. Thus, with his reign began  the golden age of Ottoman history.

Sixteenth century Venetian chronicler, Marino Sanuto in Tome XXXV of his historical chronicles quoted a report of the Venetian ambassador: “His not being prone, in contrast to his father and many other Sultans, to pederasty (homosexuality) made his majestic dignity and nobility of character shine even brighter.” Rather in his case, it turned out to be the love of a fair Ukrainian slave girl that was to enslave this Sultan for life.

Hafsa Valide Sultan
Sultan Selim I the Resolute
Expansion of Ottoman Empire by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566)
Ottoman dignitaries on horseback during a march
Battle Of Mohács Depiction

Intelligent, benevolent and erudite but also a sound military tactician, Suleyman, in contrast to his father who expanded his Empire to include other Muslim realms, began his rule with campaigns against the Christian kingdoms in Central Europe and the Mediterranean, starting with Belgrade in 1521 that led to a large-scale advance north of the Danube. The Island of Rhodes ruled by the Knights of St. John was conquered in 1522.  In 1526, Suleyman defeated the combined Hungarian-Croatian-Czech forces and took over Hungary. Hungarian King Louis II drowned ignominiously in a bog during the battle. A Turkish historian wrote at the time that “there has never been a battle like this since ancient times.” Turkish soldiers piled 2,000 heads of their enemies (eight heads belonging to bishops) in a heap close to the Sultan’s tent as a tribute to the victor. Suleyman drove the Habsburgs from all of Hungary and besieged Vienna in 1529, but could not sustain the siege. Facing problems with supply, transport, and military organization, the Sultan wisely realized he had reached the limit of possible Ottoman expansion in the West.

Though Ukraine was never conquered by the Ottomans, it became a steady source of white slaves for the Ottoman Empire. Back then just as now, Ukrainian women were highly prized for their fair skin and delicate bone structure. Muslims, it was argued, were barred by the Quran for capturing fellow Muslims as slaves, but non Muslims were fair game.  The Crimean Tartars flourished in this lucrative trade of supplying white Christian slaves. Mykhailo Lytvyn, a Ukrainian diplomat in the service of the Lithuanian government, wrote in his memoirs (1548–1551) that the krymchaky (Crimean Tartars) engaged only in two trades: cattle-breeding and capturing Ukrainians to be sold to the Ottomans as slaves. “The ships that often come to their ports from across the sea, bring weapons, clothes and horses, which are exchanged for slaves who are loaded onto these ships. And all the Ottoman bazaars are full of these slaves who are sold and bought to be used in the households, to be resold, to be given as presents….There was one Jew, amazed at the great numbers of these slaves to be seen at the slave markets who asked whether there were any people left in the land where these slaves are brought from.”

Holy Roman Empire’s Charles V Versus Ottoman Empire’s Suleyman I

From among the countless virgins captured during military raids and auctioned at the slave markets, the rare gem of a girl was handpicked for the Sultan’s harem. One such was the adolescent daughter of a Ruthnian (Russian) Orthodox priest. According to the Polish poet Samuel Twardowski who visited Turkey in the sixteenth century, Roxolana, the girl from Roxolania or Ruthenia, was born in the town of Rohatyn, 68 km southeast of Lviv, a major city of the Ruthenian Voivodeship in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland (today in western Ukraine). Reportedly named either Aleksandra or Anastasia Lisowska,  she was captured by Crimean Tatars during a regular raid who transported her to the Crimean city of Kaffa, a major centre of the slave trade. Then the little slave girl was shipped to Constantinople, where she was selected by Valide Sultan Hasfa Sultan as a gift for her son Süleyman and taken to his harem in the old palace in Beyazit, 2 kilometers away from Topkapi.

The heir apparent’s room

Imperial Room
Stained glass window

The Sultan’s harem was strictly cloistered, guarded by eunuchs and ruled by harem hierarchy and full to the brim with nubile beauties that had “dark burning eyes like black olives, big sensuous lips, and ample, zaftig, curvaceous and voluptuous figures.” The newly acquired slave girls were first taken to the hamam where they were inspected for diseases and flaws, and then deloused, scrubbed, polished, massaged, oiled and clothed. Then, their extensive grooming and training process started. Looks were not enough to ensure success at the harem as there were countless virginal beauties on display. Under the supervision of the kagia-kadin, the top female attendant in charge of the harem, the virgins were trained in housekeeping, gardening, sewing, embroidering, dancing, singing, playing musical instruments, manipulating puppets, reciting fairy tales; they were also taught the basics of Islam, literature and philosophy; last but not least, they were given pointers on the essential the art of erotic love. The trainees had to pass through several stages in mastering these skills before they could take part in the final selection: the adjemi (novice), jariye, shagird, gedikli and usta. At this final stage, the Sultan’s mother, the Valide Sultan would carefully pick only the best to offer up to her son at the Topkapi Palace.

Unlike the West where royals married into other royal houses to make strategic alliances, Ottoman Sultans used slaves for procreation so that there would not be any other family to gain prominence or aspire for power in the empire. Moreover, the established imperial harem principle of “one concubine mother — one son” was designed to prevent both the mother’s undue influence over the Sultan and the feuds of the blood brothers for the throne. Once the Sultan’s son reached maturity at 16-17, he was sent to a far off province as governor with his mother and could only return on his ascension to the throne after the death of his father. There was no formally designated heir. Once the new Sultan’s ceremony of girding the sword had taken place, his half brothers were killed. This seemingly cold system ensured the longevity and stability of the Ottoman realm.

Concubines from the imperial harem not chosen for the Sultan were given as gifts to his favourites or high ranking government officials. Some got married to these men and became the head of their own household. Those that had been “promoted” to the imperial harem were given separate rooms and servants. The haseki lucky enough to bear the Sultan sons were clothed expensively in silks, brocades and furs, allowed to publicly kiss the Sultan’s as a mark of high status and received the title bash-kadin. The girls in the harem were ranked as Gözde (the Favourite), Ikbal (the Fortunate), Kad?n (the Woman/Wife) and Valide Sultan (Queen mother). As can be expected, there was intense rivalry between the women of the harem. Additionally, there were strict rules to be followed. For example, if a harem wife was walking from one part of the seraglio to another, heard the click of the Sultan’s silver-studded shoes, she would have to quickly get out of the way and hide as unsanctioned meetings with the Sultan were considered a gross violation of the harem rules and offense to the Sultan. Offenses or violations of the harem hierarchy were punished severely, even by death.

Portrait of Hurrem Sultan titled Rossa Solymanni Vxor, c. 18th century (Topkapi Palace Museum)

Modern reproductions of Hurrem Sultan’s jewellery
Roxolena & the Sultan (1780) by Anton Hickel

After being educated and trained according to palace etiquette, Roxolana was renamed Hürrem, meaning the cheerful or joyful one in Middle Persian, due to her smiling face and good-humored personality. Süleyman met fifteen year old Hürrem the same year that he succeeded to the throne and hit it off with her nearly immediately. She was pretty, but not beautiful and on the short side. “Giovane ma non bella” (young but not beautiful) , “graceful and short of stature,” a Venetian ambassador was told in 1526.

Since her arrival, she had voraciously gathered as much knowledge as she could in Ottoman language, mathematics, astronomy, geography, diplomacy, literature, and history. She was even interested in alchemy. During recent excavations in the Edirne Palace, some of her tools for the preparation of perfumes were discovered. Additionally, the Ottoman Empire’s economy was largely based on textile production and trade of carpets, silks and cottons mainly with Europe to which women confined to their homes contributed by spinning cloth and embroidering. The finest, most intricate embroidery in the empire came from the imperial harem and other harems of high officials. Hurrem’s embroideries, or partly done under her supervision, that was gifted in 1547 to Tahmasp I, the Shah of Iran, and in 1549 to King Sigismund II Augustus have survived to this day and can be viewed at the Topkapi Palace.

La Sultana Rossa (c. 1550s) by Titian
Hurrem Sultan holding court in the harem
Letter from Hürrem to Sigismond Auguste complimenting
him upon his acsension to the Polish throne (1549)

The clever girl with the strong survival instinct transformed herself into a fit companion for the Sultan. It only took a few months from the day that she first met Sultan Suleyman to the moment when she became the most important consort in the harem. This strengthened her position in the Palace so much that she initiated a new order in the harem.

The next year she gave birth to their first son, Sehzade Mehmed. As per tradition, the harem girls who became mothers to Shehzade (a sultan’s son) were given the title haseki (mother of a prince), meaning has gelin (the royal bride). Hürrem too was now called Hürrem Haseki. Loath to part from her, Hürrem was exempted from the rule of one haseki one son and was allowed to give birth to more than one son. Soon after their only daughter Mihrimah Sultan, Sehzade Abdullah, Sultan Selim II and Sehzade Bayezid followed in quick succession. Their last child Sehzade Cihangir was born later and had a hunchback. Mehmed became Süleyman’s favourite child but he died at a young age after contracting an infectious disease. In his memory, Süleyman built the Sehzade Mosque in Istanbul.

One day Suleiman’s jealous former favourite, Mahidevran, also called Gülbahar (Rose of Spring) got into a fight with her chief rival Hürrem and beat her badly. To punish her, Suleiman banished Mahidevran to the provincial capital of Manisa with their son and the heir apparent, Mustafa. Officially, it was not called and exile but was portrayed as the traditional training of heir apparent, Sancak Beyli?i. After this, Hürrem became Suleiman’s unrivalled favourite haseki.

Hurrem was hardly the odd Slav out at court. Due to the expansion, an ever increasing number of Slavs had become integrated into Ottoman life not just as part of the Janissaries (armed forces) and harems but even the ruling elite. Serbian language could be heard spoken from bazaars to the Sultan’s court and was used in official documents in addition to Turkish.  The Polish traveler Strijkowskij wrote that when he was in Istanbul he heard with his own ears kobzari (bards) singing songs in Serbian in the streets and in the taverns about victories of valiant Muslims over the Christians.

Gulbahar
Sehzade Mustafa, her son with Suleyman and the heir apparent who was later assassinated

Giovio wrote: “At the court (of Suleyman The Magnificent) several languages are spoken. Turkish is the language of the ruler; Arabic is the language of the Muslim Law, Koran; Slavic (Sclavonica) is mostly used by the Janissaries, and Greek is the language of the populace of the capital and other cities of Greece.”

Bassano, an Italian visitor to Suleyman’s court, claimed that “he (the Sultan) respected and highly valued his wife (Roxolana) and understood her native language to some extent.” One of the Sultan’s viziers was Rustem Pasha, a Croat.

Oleksiy Pyvovarenko, head of the Lviv Club of Socionics in his article about the psychological portrait of the couple Suleyman-Roxolana, wrote that they were “duals,” two persons who ideally matched each other in character. The Sultan became faithful to Hurrem whose main asset was her mind. She was able both to entertain the Sultan with clever and witty talk and give good and sound advice. Due to her excellent education, she also became Suleiman’s chief adviser on matters of state and had a considerable influence upon foreign affairs and international politics. For example, she took care of maintaining the peaceful relations between the Ottoman Empire and Polish state with a Polish-Ottoman alliance. Two of her letters to King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland have been preserved and survive to this day. According to Crimean historians, she also intervened to control Crimean Tatar slave-raiding.

Suleyman & Hurrem’s
daughter Mihrimah Sultan
Their Croat born son in law, Grand Vizier Rustem Pasha

During their 200 year long dynasty, on the rare occasion the Sultan married, his legal wife would belong to a foreign royal house or a distinguished Ottoman family. Suleiman was about to break with that tradition, carefully manipulated by Hurrem who did not outright ask him to marry her. In 1533, she confessed to him her growing love for Islam and how badly she wanted to convert to the true faith. He was thrilled and readily consented. After converting to Islam, Hurrem did not allow the Sultan to come to her bed, citing that now it was against the teachings of the Quran. After three days of being kept at a distance, the Sultan capitulated and married his concubine in a magnificent formal ceremony. She received the title Haseki Sultan (Empress) becoming the first consort to hold this title. An Ottoman Sultan had married a haseki for the first time in history. The title of Haseki Sultan was used for the next century and reflected the great power of imperial consorts (most of them former slaves) in the Ottoman court, elevating their status higher than Ottoman princesses. In this case, Süleyman not only broke the old custom, but created a new tradition. With Hurrem’s new title came a stipend of 2,000 aspers a day, making her one of the highest paid hasekis. Sultan started to be viewed by his people as being dominated and controlled by his foreign wife.

A fawning love letter penned
by Hurrem for her Sultan:
After I put my head on the ground and kiss the soil that your blessed feet step upon, my nation’s sun and wealth my sultan, if you ask about me, your servant who has caught fire from the zeal of missing you, I am like the one whose liver (in this case, meaning heart) has been broiled; whose chest has been ruined; whose eyes are filled with tears, who cannot distinguish anymore between night and day; who has fallen into the sea of yearning; desperate, mad with your love; in a worse situation than Ferhat and Majnun, this passionate love of yours, your slave, is burning because I have been separated from you. Like a nightingale, whose sighs and cries for help do not cease, I am in such a state due to being away from you. I would pray to Allah to not afflict this pain even upon your enemies. My dearest sultan! As it has been one-and-a-half months since I last heard from you, Allah knows that I have been crying night and day waiting for you to come back home. While I was crying without knowing what to do, the one and only Allah allowed me to receive good news from you. Once I heard the news, Allah knows, I came to life once more since I had died while waiting for you. My dearest sultan! If you ask about Istanbul, the city still suffers from the plague; however, it is not like the previous one. God willing, it will go away as soon as you return to the city. Our ancestors said that the plague goes away once the trees shed their leaves in autumn. My dearest Sultan! I am begging Allah for you to send me your blessed letters. Believe me when I say this: if I cannot hear a word from you for more than two weeks, the world collapses. There will be rumors about your well-being around the city. Please do not think that I want to hear from you just for my own sake.”

After becoming the legal wife of the Sultan, Hurrem Sultan was exempted from harem rules. She became the first woman to remain in the Sultan’s court for the duration of her life. In the Ottoman imperial family tradition, a sultan’s consort only remained in the harem until her son the Sehzade came of age and following the practice of Sanjak Beyligi, both mother and son would leave for a faraway province. The Sultan kept Hürrem close to him at Topkapi Palace, even after three of their sons were sent off.

“The current wife of the Turkish Sultan who loves her dearly is a woman who was captured somewhere in our lands,” wrote Mykhailo Lytvyn, ambassador of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the Crimean Khanate.

The complex of Haseki Hurrem Kulliyesi, the first in the Ottoman Empire named after
a woman, designed by Mimar Sinan Aga (1539), also included darussifah (hospital),
imaret (soup kitchen), mosque and hamam
The Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamam

The Venetian ambassador, Navagero, also reported in 1533, “There has never been a woman in the Ottoman palace that had more power than she.”

When Hafsa Valide, Süleyman’s mother and the daughter of the Khan of Crimea died, Hürrem became the sole female power in the Topkapi Palace.

Traditionally, to avoid rebellions and civil unrest, it was the prevailing Ottoman custom called kardes katliami that when a new Sultan gained the throne, all of his brothers were killed in order to ensure the stability of the empire. This is why one haseki was only allowed to bear one son. Mahidevran’s son Mustafa was the eldest of the Sultan’s sons and preceded Hürrem’s children in the order of succession. To avoid the eventual execution of her sons, Hürrem used her considerable influence on the Sultan to eliminate those in power, like Süleyman’s Grand Vizier Pargali Ibrahim Pasha who supported Sehrezade Mustafa’s accession to the throne; she flexed her muscle to push for his 1936 execution after he had made some tactical blunders. Later, 1544 onwards, the post of Grand Vizier was held by Suleyman and Hurrem’s wily Croatian born son in law Rustem Pasha who was in cahoots with his mother in law.

Mausoleum of Sultan Suleyman in the Süleymaniye Complex

Iznik tiles decorating Hurrem’s tomb
Inside Hurrem Sultan’s mausoleum
Selim II
Selim The Sot

When the Sultan left for military campaigns through which he annexed Persia, Mesopotamia, Central Asia, Yemen and Abyssinia (in total he spent 10 years out of 46 year reign away from court on military campaigns) Hurrem Sultan was left in charge by him to oversee palace order, head state affairs, deal with foreign emissaries and even be his eyes and ears gathering intelligence for him. She apprised the Sultan of the latest news through her constant stream of neat, grammatical letters, interspersed with sentimental poems. One such read: “My lord, Your absence has kindled a fire in me that cannot be put out. Take pity of my