Forever Upward: Sandy Irvine’s Summit

Known to the Nepalese people for centuries as Sagarmāthā, commonly translated as ‘Goddess of the Sky,’ Peak XV or Mount Everest as it was renamed in 1865, after Colonel Sir George Everest, the Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843, has come to symbolise the earth’s stubborn refusal to submit to the will of mankind.

Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scientific and technological advancements shook the notion that scaling Everest was an insurmountable task. Furthermore, as Captain John Noel, who took part in the 1924 British expedition remembered, the bloody four-year conflict that left Britain and much of the globe scarred during the opening years of the latter killed many of the youth of our country,’ and was ‘a terrible loss to our country. The young men under Kitchener’s army had been massacred.’ For a number of Englishmen who had seen active service and survived, conquering Mount Everest became a means by which to restore national pride and reassert the indomitability of the human spirit.

One such Englishman was George Mallory, who, as John Noel believed was absolutely obsessed with the idea of climbing Mount Everest. He set his heart on it. He talked about nothing else at all.’ Following two unsuccessful attempts, in 1921 and 1922, Mallory decided to try one last time, telling his wife Ruth, ‘It is almost unthinkable…that I shan’t get to the top; I can’t see myself coming down defeated.’ Aboard the SS California in February 1924, as he made his way to the Himalayas, Mallory, a 37 year-old teacher from Cheshire, who had mingled with the Bloomsbury Group during his time at Cambridge, became acquainted with Andrew Irvine, known as Sandy, a fellow member of the British expedition. Continue reading

Pure: Meena Kumari’s Sorrow

One of the biggest Bollywood stars of all time, Mahjabeen Bano was born into a poor family in the Indian city of Bombay (now Mumbai) on 1st August 1932. Her father, Ali Bakhsh, a Muslim who worked as an actor and musician, and her Hindu mother Iqbal Begum, a dancer, were already struggling to provide for their older daughters Khursheed and Madhu, and in desperation left the infant at outside an orphanage. They returned to collect her only hours later.

Ali Bakhsh pushed his youngest child to follow in his footsteps and go into acting, rather than pursuing her education.  At the age of 7, she landed her first minor role in the 1939 swashbuckler Farzande Watan. Other successes followed, including Pooja (1940) and Bahen (1941). For the latter, the studio changed her name to ‘Baby Meena.’ Regular film appearances throughout the 1940s meant that Meena was able to financially support her entire family.

In 1952, by then using the full name Meena Kumari, she was cast as the lead actress in the renowned producer and director Vijay Bhatt’s Baiju Bawra. It was a massive hit with movie-goers across the country and propelled Meena into nationwide superstardom.  Loosely based on a legend from the Mughal Empire, Bashu, a musician, seeks revenge upon the man who killed his father, but almost forgets his vow when he becomes enchanted by the beguiling Gauri, played by Meena. So powerful was her performance as the heartbroken Gauri who sacrifices herself so that Bashu might realise his ambitions, Meena received the moniker the ‘Tragedy Queen’ from her rapidly growing legion of fans, and won the first ever Filmfare Best Actress Award in 1954. On the other hand, her memorable portrayal of the anguished Gauri meant that Meena began to be typecast, largely being offered the parts of unfortunate and often victimised women in films like Do Bigha Zamin (1953) and Bandish (1955).

Above: Meena Kumari in Baiju Bawra (1952) Continue reading