On February 1, 2003, seven NASA astronauts perished over Texas as Space Shuttle Columbia STS-107 disintegrated while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. One of those killed in the disaster was Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian-origin woman in space.
A role model for countless Indian women, Kalpana was an ordinary girl from Karnal whose lofty dreams and indomitable courage took her to space. Here’s the little known story of her childhood in India.
Originally from Multan district of West Punjab (now Pakistan), Kalpana’s parents came to Karnal in Haryana during partition. Her father Banarasi Lal Chawla took up several petty jobs (working as a street hawker, a cloth seller and even a metal fabricator) to provide for his family. He eventually set up a tyre manufacturing business while his wife Sanyogita managed the household.
Born on March 17, 1962, Kalpana grew up in an environment where hard work was encouraged. The youngest of four siblings, Kalpana was a precocious child. Her natural curiosity, independent nature and delight in discovering how things worked were encouraged by her mother, a supportive and liberal woman who ensured that all her daughters went to school at a time when education was considered an unnecessary luxury for girls.
A confident, outgoing girl, Kalpana even selected her own name. It so happened that Kalpana had not been formally named at a proper ceremony and was called by her nickname “Monto” at home. During her admission in a nearby school, Tagore Bal Niketan, the principal asked the student’s name.
Kalpana’s aunt replied that they had three names in mind – Kalpana, Jyotsna and Sunaina – but they hadn’t decided yet. So the principal asked the little girl which name she liked best. And she replied firmly, “Kalpana. Because it means imagination.”
Just like the name she chose, Kalpana was a highly creative and imaginative child. On sultry summer days, while her family slept on the roof of their small house, the little girl would stay awake for hours to watch the twinkling stars in the night sky. Such was her fascination with stars that once when her classmates built a geographical map of India on the floor of their classroom, she covered the ceiling completely with stars – little sparkling dots on black chartpapers!
Another thing that caught young Kalpana’s fancy were aeroplanes. Back then, Karnal was one of the few Indian towns with a flying club called Karnal Aviation Club. As her house was just a few kilometres away from the club, she would often clamber up to the roof and watch them go roaring over her head, waving her hand at the pilot if the plane flew low over the house.
In an interview she gave before the Columbia mission, Kalpana recalled how she and her brother would be on their bicycles, trying to see where the aeroplanes were headed. She said: “We’d ask my dad if we could get a ride in one of those planes. And he did get us a ride on the Pushpak and a glider. I think that’s really my closest link to aerospace engineering. Also, growing up, we knew of J.R.D. Tata, who flew some of the first mail flights in India, one of which now hangs in an aerodrome out there. Seeing this aeroplane and just knowing what this person has done during those years definitely captivated my imagination.”
In school, while her friends drew mountains, forests and rivers on being asked to draw scenery, Kalpana would draw colourful aeroplanes flying amidst clouds. She also loved making aeroplane models in her craft classes. One of Kalpana’s school teachers remembers the question the inquisitive and sensitive girl had once asked her: “How can people be divided into classes, sects and religions, when they all look alike from the sky?”
Hard-working and focused, Kalpana was a good student who enjoyed subjects like English, Hindi and Geography. However, her favourite subject was science. Other than dancing, she also enjoyed cycling, running and playing badminton. A complete tomboy, she kept her hair short, never put on any make-up and rarely paid attention to fashion. During her elder sister’s marriage, she insisted on wearing the same dress for three days, saying that it was wasteful and unnecessary to do otherwise!
After her class 10 board examinations, she got admission in DAV college for her higher studies. It was here that an interesting (almost prescient) incident took place.
During a mathematics class, Kalpana’s teacher was explaining the concept of null set (empty set in algebra). To give an example, she said that a set of Indian women astronauts was a classic example of null set as till date no Indian woman had become an astronaut. To everybody’s surprise, Kalpana quipped, “Who knows, Ma’am, one day this set may not be empty!” At that time, no one in the classroom could imagine, let alone know, that the girl who had spoken these lines would herself go on to fill the set!
After completing her class 12 board exams with flying colours, Kalpana decided to pursue her dream of an engineering career. Her father was not in favour of Kalpana doing engineering as he believed that it was not a suitable career option for girls. He advised her to become a doctor or a school teacher but Kalpana was determined to become a flight engineer and for that, an engineering degree was essential.
Kalpana had her mother’s unconditional support and her father finally gave in when he realised that her mind was made up. So Kalpana left for Chandigarh where she took admission in Punjab Engineering College. During counseling for the selection of various engineering courses, she chose aeronautical engineering, the only girl to do so.
The surprised counselors tried their best to dissuade her from joining aeronautical engineering as it had limited job opportunities in the country but Kalpana refused to budge. When they asked her what was her second option, she replied that she had none.
She was determined to become a flight engineer, and nothing on earth could convince her to choose another stream.
In college, Kalpana put her heart and soul into her studies. As there was no girl’s hostel, she lived alone in a tiny room over a garage, cycling to college everyday. In her free time, she devoted herself to learning karate (she became a black belt) and reading books by her favourite authors (Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Ayn Rand, Oriana Fallaci and Richard Bach).
She enjoyed listening to classic rock, especially of the 1970s British band Deep Purple, and sufi music (Columbia’s debris included CDs of Abida Parveen, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ravi Shankar and Hariprasad Chaurasia). Kalpana also loved collecting magazines and books on aviation and would read them from cover to cover. She became a student editor at her college magazine and the joint secretary of the college’s Aero Club and Astro Society.
Always enthusiastic about working on new projects, she surprised her professors and seniors by presenting a paper on ‘Time-Lapse in Space’ (a topic that dealt with Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity) at the college’s annual conference in her first year itself!
In 1982, Kalpana secured the third rank in her batch to become the first woman aeronautical engineer to pass out from her college. This was, however, just a stepping stone to much greater heights that she would achieve in the years ahead.
A good academic record and active involvement in the PEC’s Aero and Astro Society assured Kalpana easy admission into the Master’s course in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas in USA. She had a tough time persuading her family to allow her to go abroad for higher studies and as a result, she joined the session several months late.
It was during this time that Kalpana met and fell in love with Jean Pierre Harrison, a flying instructor and an aviation author. She married him in 1983 and it was from him that she learned how to fly a plane – Kalpana was licensed to fly single and multi-engine land aeroplanes, single-engine seaplanes and was also a certified flight instructor.
In 1988, Kalpana completed her doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder. The same year she began working at NASA’s Ames Research Center, working on power-lift computational fluid dynamics in the same year.
Despite her busy schedule, she kept in touch with her school and college in India. Thanks to her efforts, every year two students from Tagore Bal Niketan were given the opportunity to visit NASA. The students would stay with their ‘Kalpana didi’ who would make Indian meals especially for them.
In December 1994, Kalpana Chawla reported to the Johnson Space Center in March 1995 as an astronaut candidate in the 15th Group of Astronauts. The rest, as they say, is history. In November 1996, she was assigned as mission specialist and prime robotic arm operator on space shuttle STS-87 (November 19 to December 5, 1997).
As part of her first mission, Kalpana traveled 6.5 million miles in 252 orbits of the Earth and logged 376 hours and 34 minutes in space, becoming the first Indian-origin woman to got to space. Less than five years later, she was cleared by NASA to fly aboard Columbia for a second time.
In her last email to the students of Punjab Engineering College, Kalpana wrote: “The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get onto it, and the perseverance to follow it.”
Also Read: This Couple’s Stunning Documentaries Are Taking Space Dreams to Rural Kids in India
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A lover of all things creative and happy, Sanchari is a biotech engineer who fell in love with writing and decided to make it her profession. She is also a die-hard foodie, a pet-crazy human, a passionate history buff and an ardent lover of books. When she is not busy at The Better India, she can usually be found reading, laughing at silly cat videos and binge-watching TV seasons.
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More From: Famous Personalities
|Malika-e-Tarranum (Queen of Melody) |
Suraiya in the film Gajre (1948)
|Native name||Suraiya Jamaal Sheikh|
|Born||(1929-06-15)15 June 1929|
Gujranwala, Punjab, British India
(now in Punjab, Pakistan)
|Died||31 January 2004(2004-01-31) (aged 74)|
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
|Burial place||Bara Kabristan, Marine Lines, Mumbai|
|Residence||Krishna Mahal, Marine Drive, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India|
|Other names||Baby Suraiya (early films)|
|Alma mater||J.B. Petit High School for Girls, Fort, Mumbai|
|Occupation||Actress and playback singer in her own films (in Bollywood)|
|Era||pre-Golden era and Golden era of Bollywood music and films|
|Known for||Bollywood films and songs|
|Notable work||Films like Dillagi, Pyar Ki Jeet, Badi Behan, Dastan, Mirza Ghalib, Waris and multiple songs, which were hits in their times.|
|Style||Acting - Romantic, tragic, heroine oriented films; Dancing - Indian classical, Western, Mughal style; Singing - ghazal, light romantic, sad with pathos.|
|Height||5 ft 4 in (1.63 m)|
|Weight||about 55 kg(1950)|
|Awards||(1) Gold Medal for film Kajal(1948) (2) President's Gold Medal for film Mirza Ghalib (1955) (3) Screen Videocon Lifetime Achievement Award (1996) (4) Urdu Academy (Delhi) and Sahitya Academy Award (1998) for perpetuating Mirza Ghalib's memory (5) Bimal Roy Memorial Trophy (1999) (6) Dadasaheb Phalke Award (2003) (7) Voted as the Best on screen beauty with the most ethnic look in 100 years sponsored by the Indian Film Academy (2013) (posthumously) (8) 'Suraiya' stamp of Rs. 5/- issued by India Post in her name (2013) (posthumously)|
Love interest - Dev Anand (They fell in love in 1948, while shooting for the film Vidya. Dev Anand proposed to her in 1950, during the shooting of the film Afsar, yet she did not marry him because of her family's resistance. In 1951 she told Dev Anand to forget her. She remained a lifelong spinster.)
Suraiya Jamaal Sheikh (15 June 1929 – 31 January 2004), popularly known as Suraiya, was an Indian Punjabi MuslimHindi/Hindustani film actress and playback singer in Bollywood from the 1940s to the early 1960s, who remained unmarried throughout her life, after her love affair with actor Dev Anand was aborted by her maternal grandmother. She was the most popular singing star of the Indian sub-continent of her generation. Until 1943, as a child singer, Suraiya did playback singing for one actress, namely Mehtab, in three films, and also in some of her own films for her roles as a child artiste. After this, she only sang for her own films as an actress, and acted as a heroine from 1946 until the end of her career in 1963. From 1948 to 1951, she became the singing superstar of Bollywood, earning more for her performances than each the performing actors of the times, male or female, including Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Nargis and Madhubala. She received 1.5–2 lakhs rupees for her role per film, when top male actors were getting fifty thousand to one lakh rupees. For a song, she commanded rupees 1000, while Lata Mangeshkar was getting rupees 100–200 per song. She was the only child of her parents. She had a natural talent for singing, acting and dancing from childhood. She received basic training in music when her mother used to take her to a Hindustani music teacher or masterji for training. She first sang for a children's program for All India Radio in 1937. Later on Naushad gave her on the job training, while recording. She went on to become one of the most successful singing film stars of Bollywood. She had received training in dancing from Mumtaz Ali, dancer-actor and father of the famous comedian Mehmood. She was also known for her North Indian Muslim feudal style acting or adakari in many of her films (Mirza Ghalib, Phool, Afsar, Shayar, Jeet, Anmol Ghadi and Dastan). This style "endowed modernity with an aura of tradition" and brought nostalgic feudal tinge to the scenes. Her performance "expertly integrated gestures, music and speech." Suraiya in her heyday was known as Malika-e-Husn (queen of beauty), Malika-e-Tarannum (queen of melody) and Malika-e-Adakaari (queen of acting), all rolled into one. In a career spanning from 1936 till 1963, Suraiya sang 338 songs in films (which were mostly her own films) and 2 in addition were non-film songs, namely, "tum rahe kahan ko piya" and "hum tum karenge pyar". She acted in 67 movies, which do not include the incomplete films such as Jaanwar (with Dilip Kumar), Paagal Khaana with Bharat Bhushan and an Indo-British film on Wajid Ali Shah (1953) being directed by British director, Herbert Marshall, with Ashok Kumar in the role of Wajid Ali Shah.
Suraiya was born in Gujranwala, Punjab (British India) (now in Pakistan) in a Muslim family to Mumtaz Begum and Aziz Jamaal Sheikh, who owned a furniture shop in Gujranwala. Soon, her father moved to Lahore, and Suraiya was taken by her mother, Mumtaz Begum, and maternal grandmother, Badshah Begum to Bombay in the early 1930s, when she was one year old. Her maternal uncle, named Zahoor (also known as M. Zahoor) also came to Bombay and became a well known villain in films. Suraiya's father later came to live with her and he died on the day of 'Holi' in March 1963. She attended New High School, now known as J.B. Petit High School for Girls in Fort, Mumbai. Later, from 1942 onwards, when she started singing for films as a 12 year old, her school principal Miss P.F. Patuck told her father not to let her be absent from school during school days. She sang for Mehtab in three films in 1942–43 and also acted and sang in a few films as a child artist. In her childhood, Raju Bharatan (a few years younger to her who later became a famous music and sports writer, critic and correspondent), actor Raj Kapoor and composer Madan Mohan (both a few years older) were her neighbourhood friends. Raj Kapoor and Madan Mohan both used to sing with her on A.I.R.(All India Radio), when she was a six-year-old girl. In fact, Madan Mohan first introduced her to A.I.R.(All India Radio) as a child singer. Later in life, Raju Bharatan wrote extensively about Suraiya in his books, while Raj Kapoor was her hero in one of her films; Dastan (1950), and Madan Mohan composed music for her film Khubsoorat (1952).
As an actress
Suraiya made her debut as a child artist in Madam Fashion in 1936 as Miss Suraiya, along with Nargis as Baby Rani. The film was directed by Jaddan Bai, mother of Nargis, with Jaddan Bai herself as heroine, and the music and songs were also written and sung by her. Later, she got a prominent role as a child artist with the help of her uncle M. Zahoor, who was then a popular villain in films. During a holiday from school in 1941, she accompanied him to Bombay's Mohan Studios to see the shooting of the film Taj Mahal (1941 film), which was being directed by Nanubhai Vakil. Vakil noticed the charm and innocence of young Suraiya and selected her to play the role of young Mumtaz Mahal.
While she was singing for children's programs for All India Radio, Mumbai, as a six year old, Raj Kapoor and Madan Mohan, who were her playmates in her neighbourhood and were 5 to 6 years older than her, used to be her co-artists. In fact, they first introduced her to A.I.R. Raj Kapoor later attained fame as an actor and a filmmaker, while Madan Mohan became a well-known music director. Both were associated with her later as an adult, as her hero and as her music director respectively in films. At A.I.R., Zulfiqar Ali Bukhari was at that time the station director at the Bombay radio station. As soon as music director Naushad Ali heard Suraiya's voice, he chose her to sing (at age 13) for Mehtab in Abdul Rashid Kardar's film Sharda (1942). He became Suraiya's mentor and she sang some of the best songs of her career under his baton. Later, he gave hit after hit when Suraiya became a full-fledged singing star in Anmol Ghadi (1946), Dard (1947), Dillagi (1949) and Dastaan (1950). Naushad Ali composed approximately 51 songs for Suraiya, coming in at second place after Husnlal Bhagatram for composing the highest number of songs for Suraiya (58 excluding 6 repeat songs for the film Kanchan (1955) from Amar Kahani (1949)).
As a child artist, she acted and also sang in Tamanna (1942), Station Master (1942), and Hamari Baat (1943). Devika Rani, who headed production company 'Bombay talkies' seeing her blooming brilliance as an actress and as a singer signed her on a five-year contract at Rs. 500 per month with her role in 'Hamari Baat' (1943). In the film she had a duet dance and her song with Arun Kumar, " Bistar bicha diya hai tere ghar ke samne' became very popular and is even remembered to this day by the elder generation. ( 'Star Profile' in Filmfare, July 11, 1952)
This five-year contract was revoked by Devika Rani on Suraiya's request, when K. Asif offered Suraiya Rs. 40,000 for his film 'Phool'. (Article in G-Star, 15 April 1997). As an adult, Suraiya initially played as Prithviraj's sister in K. Asif's Phool as Shama, with Prithviraj Kapoor as hero. Suraiya was catapulted to stardom overnight with J.K. Nanda's directed debut film 'Ishara' in 1943. Her big films followed thereafter.
She acted as a heroine in the film Tadbir (1945) on the recommendation of K. L. Saigal, who liked her voice during a rehearsal of a song for Jayant Desai's film Samrat Chandragupt (1945) in which she was acting. He recommended her to Desai, opposite himself in Tadbir (1945). She went on to co-star with K. L. Saigal in Omar Khayyam (1946) and Parwana. Although by then she had a few hit songs, the four solo songs which she sang in Parwana for music director Khwaja Khurshid Anwar made her a genuine singer-film star. She had high regards for Khwaja Khurshid Anwar, for whom she sang thirteen songs during the period 1943 to 1949.
She acted as a co-star in Mehboob Khan's Anmol Ghadi (1946) with Noor Jehan as the lead actress and in Dard (1947) with Munawwar Sultana as the lead actress.
After departure of Noor Jehan and Khursheed to Pakistan, Suraiya became the reigning queen of Bollywood. As an actress, Suraiya had an edge over her contemporaries Kamini Kaushal and Nargis, because she could sing her own songs. After three hits; Pyar Ki Jeet (1948), Bari Behen (1949) and Dillagi (1949), she became the highest paid film star, earning 1-2 lakhs rupees per film, when male actors got much less. When Pyar Ki Jeet was released, it caused large crowds outside Suraiya's house that had to be controlled by posting an inspector and four constables. During the premiere of Bari Behen, there was a very large crowd outside the cinema hall and the police had to baton-charge when Suraiya was walking into the hall. People even pulled at her clothes, so that after that, Suraiya stopped going to the premieres of her films. But her reign at the very top was till 1952, after which she reduced her assignments. She made a comeback in Waaris and Mirza Ghalib (1954). Rustom Sohrab (1963) was the last film of her career.
In the late 1940s, she worked with Dev Anand. While shooting the film Vidya (1948), she became romantically involved with him. The two of them were paired in seven films together; Vidya (1948), Jeet (1949), Shair (1949), Afsar (1950), Nili (1950), Do Sitare (1951) and Sanam (1951), all of which were successful at the box office. In these films, Suraiya always had top billing in the credits, indicating that she was a bigger star than Dev Anand. She fell in love with him during the shooting of the song 'Kinare Kinare Chale Jaayenge' in the film Vidya in 1948. While shooting the scene in the river, the boat they were in capsized, and Dev Anand saved Suraiya from drowning. From 1948 to 1951, their love affair was the talk of the tinsel world. During the shooting of the film Afsar, Dev Anand proposed to her and gave her a diamond ring worth rs. 3000, a huge sum in those days. Suraiya was glad to be proposed to, but soon her grandmother found out about her engagement and threw her ring into the sea. Her maternal grandmother opposed the relationship, mainly because they were Muslims and Dev Anand was a Hindu. Suraiya and Dev Anand were stopped from acting together after their last film in 1951 by her grandmother. Thereafter, Suraiya remained unmarried by her own choice for the rest of her life.
From the late forties to the early fifties, she remained the highest paid, as well as the most popular star of the Indian cinema.
Her reign at the top was from 1947 to 1952, during which period she acted in 38 films. Her contract with A. R. Kardar ended with Deewana, after which she reduced her assignments in films. She made national news with Sohrab Modi's film Mirza Ghalib (1954), which won a national award, the President's Gold Medal for the Best Feature Film. In the film, she made vivid the role of the married Ghalib's lover. Along with an emotionally fluid performance where her expressions of love, expectation and hurt just seemed to merge into one another, the queen of cadence also recorded songs, which are still regarded by many as the definitive Ghalib renditions and the standard by which Ghalib's gazal singing is measured. No less a personality than Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru praised her singing and acting by saying: Tumne Mirza Ghalib ki rooh ko zinda kar diya, (You have brought Mirza Ghalib's soul to life).
After Mirza Ghalib, she acted in movies such as Bilwamangal (1954), Waris (1954), Shama Parwana (1954), Kanchan (1955) (which was released in 1949 as Amar Kahani and re-released as Kanchan), Inam (1955), Mr. Lambu (1956), Trolly Driver (1958), Miss 1958 (1958), Maalik (1958) and Shama (1961). In the mid-fifties, Suraiya told Lata Mangeshkar once that she would soon be cutting down on her films. Lata told her not to do so.Rustom Sohrab (1963) was her last film. The song 'Yeh kaisi ajab daastan ho gayi hai' from the film, which was one of her finest songs, was also her last, as with this song Suraiya also said "adieu" to her singing career, along with her film career. Suraiya in an interview said that during the shooting of the film, she suffered from low blood pressure, which was the reason for her giving up her acting career.
As a heroine, Suraiya acted with the following actors as heroes in her films; Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, K.L. Saigal, Ashok Kumar, Ajit, Kamal Kapoor, Rehman, Surendra, Shyam (Chopra), Amar Nath, Karan Dewan, Jairaj, Mukesh, C.H. Atma, Talat Mehmood, Sheikh Mukhtar, Naseer Khan (Dilip Kumar's brother), Vijay Dutt (Guru Dutt's brother), Prem Nath, Bharat Bhushan, Suresh, Wasti, Moti Lal, Jayant and Nusrat.
Her film Jaanwar in the early 1950s with Dilip Kumar as hero (and K. Asif as director), was left incomplete by her, as she refused to act in the film, because of rough behaviour by Dilip Kumar during the shooting of the film, when he tore her blouse and bruised her back so badly that it took a month to heal. Later, director-producer K. Asif wanted a kissing scene. Suraiya knew that censors would not pass it. When she asked Asif how he would get it through the censors, he could not satisfy her and she withdrew from the film. There was another story also, that Dilip Kumar and K.Asif were hand in glove to exploit and humiliate Suraiya, because Suraiya had earlier ignored Dilip Kumar's plea to act with her. So they did some torrid scene and kept on repeating it for four days. Fed up with this ghastly behaviour of the two, Suraiya refused to act for them and withdrew from the film. In 1953, she refused the film Anarkali as heroine, a role which went to Bina Rai.
As a singer
Suraiya had love for music from her childhood. She never aspired to be an actress, but a singer. She hummed songs throughout the day in her childhood. "I never wanted to be a star, I wanted to be a playback singer", Suraiya confessed to the writer in Filmfare, 11 July 1952 issue.
Suraiya had a very sweet voice from childhood. She could sing all types of songs with ease, whether sad, with pathos in her voice, or romantic with amorous love, or comic with playful zest. Suraiya was initially not a classically trained singer in Hindustani music, knowing the 'grammar' or theory of Hindustani music, yet she was a practical singer by nature. She became the most outstanding singing star of her times from 1945 to 1963 and reached dizzying heights during 1947–1950 in her popularity as an actress.
Suraiya, ideals in her childhood were singer actresses Khursheed, Ramola and Devika Rani. She used to sing Khursheed's song from the film Pardesi in AIR, Bombay in children's program. The song was 'Pahle jo mohabbat se inkar kiya hota'. Other songs she loved and sang in AIR were Sitara Devi's song from the film "Watan", "Kyon hame dil diya", and a song from film Aurat, namely, "Kahe karta der barati" composed by Anil Biswas. Another song she loved and sang was Ramdulari's song from the film Chitralekha, "Mera haal jo ho so ho, tu yuyn hi muskurai ja". (reference article "Ai shama tu bata, mera parwana kaun hai" in Hindi Filmfare January 1989).
Suraiya's first song as a child-singer was "Boot karun main polish babu" (as a playback singer) in the film Nai Duniya (1942), composed by Naushad. She went on to sing playback for actress Mehtab for Sharda (1942), Kanoon (1943) and Sanjog (1942–43) for Naushad and A.R. Kardar (director-producer), when her principal, Miss P.F. Puttack, took a strong view of her truancy from school, and her 'adventure' came to an abrupt halt. When Mehtab first saw baby Suraiya, she was hesitant to have her as her playback singer, but on hearing her, she wanted Suraiya to sing all her songs in her films.
Even in later years, in 1946, Mehtab was so attached to Suraiya's singing, that she requested Suraiya to record disc versions of her songs in her film Shama (1946), produced by Sohrab Modi, when Suraiya had become a busy heroine and had left singing playback in films for Mehtab. Suraiya then sang for Mehtab, in her own disc versions, available on YouTube, which were recorded by Shamshad Begum in the film.
Suraiya debuted with Manna Dey in his first Hindi film song, and their only duet 'Jago ayee usha' in Tamanna in 1942, was directed by his uncle, the famous K. C. Dey. Again in 1942, Suraiya paired with Rajkumari in Station Master ( w. music director Naushad) for the song 'Sajan ghar aye'. Suraiya acted in both these films.
Suraiya's first hit song was a duet with Arun Kumar in the film Hamari Baat in 1943, sung by her and Raj Kapoor on the screen. The music director was Anil Biswas. The song 'Bistar bicha liya hai tere dar ke samne ghar hum ne le liya hai tere ghar ke samne' was a super-hit. 
A few years later, the great singer-actor, K.L. Saigal was so impressed by the singing of the youthful 16-year-old Suraiya, that he readily agreed to have her opposite him in the film Tadbir as a heroine and a singer in 1945. The music was directed by Lal Mohammad in the film. 'Rani khol de dawar milne ka din aa gaya' is a memorable song from the film, she sang it with Saigal. Saigal again opted for Suraiya as his heroine and a singer in the films Omar Khayyam (1946) (w music director Lal Mohammad) and Parwana (1947) (w music director Khurshid Anwar). Parwana was Saigal's last film and was released after his death.
Later, Suraiya continued to work with music director Naushad in a few films, and in 1946, she appeared with actress Noor Jehan in Anmol Ghadi as a co-star, with Naushad as the music director. She sang three songs in the film which became popular, of which 'Man leta hai angdai' went viral throughout the country. The musical film Dillagi (1949), under Kardar's direction, with Naushad's music, became a silver jubilee hit, with Suraiya becoming a national rage with her songs and acting. In a span of 22 years, she gave a number of hits. In her honey-rich voice, songs like 'Woh paas rahein, ya door rahein', 'Tere naino ne chori kiya', 'Tu mera chaand, main teri chandni', "Yaad karun tori batiya" and the rare classical number 'Man mor hua matwala' created hysteria in the country.
Khurshid Anwar was the music director in three films of Suraiya, viz. Ishara (1943), Parwana (1947) and Singaar (1949). Suraiya sang 13 songs in these films. Some outstanding songs of Parwana are "Jab tumhi nahin apne", "Mere munderey na bol", and "Papi papiha re".
With the music director duo, Husnlal Bhagatram, Suraiya sang in 10 films and recorded the most songs (58, excuding 6 repeat songs for the film Kanchan) for any music director from 1948 to 1958. The films were Pyar Ji Jeet (1948), Aaj Ki Raat (1948), Naach (1949), Balam (1949), Bari Behen(1949), Amar Kahani(1949), Sanam (1951), Shama Parwana(1954), Kanchan (1955) and Trolley Driver (1955). Her song 'O, door janewale, wada na bhul jana' in Pyar Ki Jeet in 1948 became a hit all over India.
Suraiya did only three films with music composer Sachin Dev Burman, viz. Vidya(1948) (with Dev Anand), Afsar (1949) (with Dev Anand) and Lal Kunwar (1952)), as she was associated with other composers, and SD Burman came late into the scene in Bombay. Yet, most of their songs are memorable. 'Man mor hua Matwala'  (in Afsar), 'Nain Deewane' 'Layi khushi ki dunia' (with Mukesh in 'Vidya') and 'Preet sataye teri yaad na' in Lal Kunwar being some of them.
All of Suraiya's songs from her film Mirza Ghalib (1954) (music director: Ghulam Mohammed) have become classical songs and have enhanced the beauty of Ghalib's ghazals for the connoisseur and the layman alike. The songs 'Yeh na thi hamari kismat', 'Nukta- cheen hai gam-e-dil', 'Dil-e-nadan tujhe hua kya hai', 'Aah Ko Chahiye', and 'Rahiye ab aisi jagha' are among the finest examples of ghazal singing.
Another movie of Suraiya which has evergreen songs is Shama (1961). The lyrics were written by the stalwart lyricist Kaifi Azmi and the music composer was another 'Great'; Ghulam Mohammed. The memorable songs sung by Suraiya are 'Mast aankhon mein shararat', 'Dhadakte Dil Ki Tamanna ho', and 'Aap se pyaar hua jata hai'.
Suraiya was the only singing actress who also worked as a heroine and co-star with many other singing-stars of her times, including Noor Jehan (in Anmol Ghadi), C. H. Atma (in Bilwamangal), Talat Mahmood (in Maalik and Waris), Mukesh (in Mashuqa), K.L. Saigal (in Tadbeer, Omar Khaiyyam and Parwana) and Surendra (in 1857 and Anmol Ghadi). Her last film as a singing actress was Rustom Sohrab, with the song "Yeh kaisi ajab dastan ho gayi hai", being her last, yet one of the most remembered songs.
Other notable directors who composed music for her songs include K. Dutta (in films Rang Mehal and partly Yateem), Krishen Dayal (in the film Lekh- songs such as 'Dil ka qarar lut gaya' and 'Badra ki chaon tale'), S.Mohinder (in Nilli), Sardul Kwatra (in Goonj), Madan Mahan (in Khubsoorat), Roshan (in Mashuqa- songs such as 'Mera bachpan wapas aya'), S.N.Tripahi (in Inaam), O.P.Nayyar (in Mr. Lamboo) and N. Dutta (in Miss 58). The music for her film Main kya karoon (1945) was composed by Nino Mujamdar, for Shakti by Ram Parshad /Azim Beg and for Amar Kahani by Baij Sharma. Her songs in Hunsraj Behl's Khilari (such as 'Chahat ka bhulana mushkil hai' and 'Dile nashad na ro'), in 'Shaan' (such as 'Tarap ae dil'), in Rajput, Moti Mehal and Resham are still remembered by music lovers. Her music director in the film Shokian (songs such as 'Ratoon ki neend chen li') was Jamal Sen; and Bilo C. Rani directed in Bilwamangal (songs such as 'Parwano se preet sekh le').
Suraiya was recognized as the first 'Queen of Melody ' of the sub-continent and was the first singer to be given the honorific title "Malika-e-Tarannum" (Queen of Melody) for her singing talent before partition, ahead of any other singer.
Suraiya could sing in all octaves, though she mostly sang her songs in lower octaves, as many of them were 'ghazals' and 'geets'. An example of her higher octave songs is from the film Tadbir (1945), viz. 'Jaag ae sonewale', with music by Lal Mohammad, who composed music in just four films, but was masterful in each one of them.
Suraiya's style and voice changed over the years. Till 1949, she sang in a bass voice, usually in the old (then current) slow style of singing. From 1950, her style of singing changed to a faster rhythmic tempo of singing (of the fifties and later style) in a treble voice, a style, which is most common till now.
Anil Biswas, playing on radio, Suraiya's earliest song, 'panchi ja', composed by Naushad from the film 'Sharda' (1942), said her voice was sweet and unique in 1942 and remained the same thereafter. Such uniqueness was rarely to be found amongst singers in later years, when Anil Biswas was playing her song.
Suraiya sang her duets with the following singers for films, namely Manna De, Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Shyam Kumar, G.M. Durrani, Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt, Mukesh, C.H. Atma, Talat Mehmood, Surendra, K.L. Saigal, Surinder Kaur, Noor Jehan, Uma Devi, S. D. Batish, Arun Kumar, Nirmala Devi, Shankar Dasgupta, Raj Kumari, Amar, Meena Kapoor, Noor Mohammed Charlie, Indrabadan Bhatt and Hamida Banu.
Suraiya's songs, as a tribute to her, are played every year on her birth anniversary on 15 June and her death anniversary on 31 January by Radio Sri Lanka (Hindi music) and are posted on YouTube by eraksoldies.
Craze for Suraiya
In the late 1940s and early 50s, craze for Suraiya amongst her fans was at its peak. Her house at Marine Drive was always mobbed by her fans and suitors when her car used to come out or enter the gates. Most of her fans were obsessed with her. Cinema-goers threw coins at the screen when she appeared to sing in her films and would demand a repeat of her songs. "She was a screen goddess and a mellifluous singer, who had the world at her feet."(Tribune). Even one of them, Shahzada Ifteqar (actress Veena's brother) fell in love with Suraiya during the shooting of film 'Phool', when he used to accompany Veena to the sets and got friendly with 15 years old Suraiya. He thought Suraiya loved her because she would not mind talking to Ifteqar. After the film was over, he started sending love letters to Suraiya. Kamal Amrohi, K. Asif and Dilip Kumar, who were friendly with Ifteqar fooled him in believing that Suraiya loved him back and even helped him in drafting his love letters. Ifteqar went on a fast outside her house, after his love letters had no effect on her, so that she would acquiesce and marry him. V. Shantaram intervened and asked Nargis's mother Jaddan Bai to talk to Suraiya, who asked her to bring the love lorn Ifteqar to her. Suraiya asked him to end his fast if he really loved her and explained to him that it was only his one sided love for her. Yet Ifteqar's love letters to Suraiya continued, even after he left for Pakistan. ( ' Hindi Film magazine 'G-Star' 15 April 1997)
Another crazy fan, Feroz Din came with a 'barat'(wedding party) and dowry from Lahore, when Suraiya was staying at her house in Worli. Suraiya's father had to call police to disperse his 'barat'. Even later, he would enquire from film personalities, like Nur Jehan about Suraiya's welfare when they came to India. ( ' Hindi Film magazine 'G-Star' 15 April 1997)
Yet another kept a photograph of her in the 'Puja' (temple at home) and would not eat without worshipping her. Even street singers would make money singing songs from her film Pyar ki Jeet. At the other extreme, even Kanti Desai, son of the Chief Minister of the then Bombay State, Morarji Desai (later Prime Minister of India), invited her to a private party, but she refused politely. It is said that Kanti Desai tried hard, even threatening her, but to no consequence. Actor Dharmendra was a great fan of Suraiya. He is said to have seen her film Dillagi (1949) forty times in his teens, walking miles from his hometown, Sahnewal in Punjab, to watch her movies.
Suraiya's glamour statement and fashion
Suraiya was known for her glamour, dresses and jewellery in films such as Mirza Ghalib, Pyar Ki Jeet, Dillagi, Sanam, Dastan, Diwana and Shama Parwana, while many of her films had simple, non-glamorous roles. In real life, Suraiya was known for her love for ethnic dresses and jewellery. At functions, she wore her jewellery to her maximum advantage and wore make-up. She kept the image of actress Suraiya alive in her viewers minds till her later life. Journalist Suresh Kohli reported in the Deccan Herald in 2011, that during the 1977 Filmfare Awards function, a hush descended on the scene, when the heavily be-jewelled Suraiya, dressed in green brocade saree and sporting a 'bindi' and escorted by Filmfare editor B.K. Karanjia, walked towards Dev Anand, her favourite hero, former lover, marriage proposer and friend, whom she could not marry because of her family's pressure. She had a special love for golden 'bindi' and would often be seen in public functions wearing it, even as late 2003, when she was honoured by an award by Dadasaheb Phalke Academy, Mumbai.
Even now in India, jewellery, clothing, etc. is sold by Suraiya's name by many online companies, because of the styles popularized by her in her films and by her adornments, such as 'Suraiya' earrings, 'Suraiya' bangles, 'Suraiya' burkas and 'Suraiya' mugs.
Personal life and love affair with Dev Anand
In the late 1940s, Dev Anand used to enact Gregory Peck's mannerisms to please Suraiya, as she was a fan of Gregory Peck and she often expressed this to Dev Anand. Their love-affair continued for four years from 1948 to 1951. Dev Anand nicknamed Suraiya "Nosey", while to Suraiya, Dev Anand was "Steve", a name chosen from a book Dev Anand had given her. Suraiya also called Dev Anand "Devina" and Dev Anand called Suraiya "Suraiyana", while faking an Italian accent. (Later on Dev Anand named his daughter 'Devina', as told to Suraiya, according to Star & Style, February 1987). Suraiya was so much in love with Dev Anand that she let Lata sing some of the songs picturized on her in her films, in order to get more time to be with Dev Anand. Her love for Dev Anand was so intense that she was ready to forgo her singing star career for Dev, who was even more passionate about her. "All I could then think of was my love for Dev - Suraiya as a singing star and her career be damned!"(in 'A Journey Down Memory Lane' by Raju Bharatan). During the shooting of director Rana Pratap's film Jeet, both Dev Anand and Suraiya, with the help of the film cast and crew, namely Durga Khote (actress), Dwarka Divecha (cinematographer) and others, had made plans for marriage in a temple, and elopement, but at the last minute, an assistant director, jealous of their marriage, informed Suraiya's grandmother, who dragged her home from the scene. Speaking to journalist Sheila Vesuna, Suraiya said: "Eventually, my grandmother succeeded in separating us. Dev was deeply hurt and offended by my lack of courage. But I was afraid for him. In retrospect, I don't think anything would have happened if I'd been bold enough. But I was terrified of my grandmother. And was heartbroken. But time is the greatest healer." Suraiya's grandmother, Badshah Begum, who controlled the family, was fiercely opposed to Suraiya marrying Dev Anand. She was also supported by Suraiya's maternal uncle Zahoor and some film persons, viz. composer Naushad, director-producer A.R. Kardar, lyricist Naqshab (Nadira's first husband) and director M. Sadiq. During the shooting of Dev Anand's own production Afsar (1950), under the banner of 'Navketan', Suraiya's grandmother started to oppose their romance openly and started interfering even in the shooting of their love scenes.
Kamini Kaushal, who worked with Suraiya and Dev Anand in Shair (1949), said in an interview to Filmfare in January 2014, that Suraiya would pass on her letters to her be delivered to Dev Anand, when her grandmother started keeping an eye on their love-affair. She said that Dev Anand was non-aggressive, not someone to put his foot down and say, "I'll marry her". Actually, Kamini Kaushal said in 2007 to rediff.com that in the early days "Dev was very shy and introverted. We acted together in Ziddi, which was his second film and my fourth. He is still a shy person, but puts on an act of flambuoyance. And let me tell you, it's a perfect act. I know him very well."  Dev Anand in a TV interview with Simi; "Rendezvous with Simi Garewal", after Suraiya's death in January 2004, revealed that Suraiya, who had gladly accepted his ring at first, never told him the reason for her later refusal of the marriage proposal, and that she was coerced to say "no" to him by her grandmother. In an interview with 'Stardust', June 1972, Suraiya revealed that she lacked the courage to resist her family and that Dev Anand truly loved her. Dev Anand wanted her to be bold and get married to him in a civil court. But Suraiya refused. "When I refused to marry Dev Anand, he called me a coward. Maybe I was one. I admit I didn't have the courage to take a step I was not absolutely sure of. Perhaps, it was a folly, perhaps a mistake, or perhaps destiny". Dev Anand in the interview with Simi, a few years after Suraiya's death, said that after she had said "no" to him, much later, she probably regretted it. But by then, he had gone much ahead. Dev Anand was resentful that Suraiya did not marry him, even after she died. He said, "Youth is arrogant and at the moment you hold your head high. You are the queen of the world. One does not realize then. You realize much later." But he also said, " Maybe in her death she was probably released of her sorrows. Dev Anand was not the only one. Probaby she had many other sorrows as well"  In the interview to Stardust, Suraiya said that there were many reasons for her refusal not to rebel against the family and marry him. "Though I was sure of Dev's love, I was unsure of myself. I was confused."
The principal reason for the opposition from her grandmother and her advisers was that Dev Anand was of a different religion, and the covert one was that Suraiya was the only earning member of the family. Naqshab even brought a copy of the Koran to make her swear that she would not marry Dev Anand (February 1987, 'Star and Style' interview of both Dev Anand and Suraiya by Sheila Vesuna). The film people had also their own professional and personal interests in opposing an early marriage of their popular singing star. Also, director M. Sadiq, who was a married man, himself wanted to marry her. Suraiya's parents wanted her to marry Dev Anand, but being a mellow couple, their voice was ignored by the grandmother. In the 'Star and Style' interview, Suraiya said that she gave in only when both her grandmother and her maternal uncle threatened to get Dev Anand killed. Suraiya told during this interview, that during the shooting of the film Neeli, when she told Dev Anand that she did not want her to be the cause of his death, he slapped her across the face and called her a "coward". She did not mind Dev Anand slapping her, because she knew how much he loved her. Dev Anand later kept on apologising for days about his behaviour.
The painful experience with Dev Anand left her bruised emotionally, a phase from which many said she never recovered. She deliberately cut down her assignments after 1952. A retreat from the public atmosphere was followed by a return in films such as Mirza Ghalib (1954), for which she received praise even from the Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, but she never attained the dizzy public popularity she had attained earlier on. Suraiya refused to marry anyone in future, in spite of efforts by her family to persuade her to marry certain film directors and businessmen of their community. M. Sadiq, film director and actor Rehman were some of the film persons who were interested in marrying Suraiya. Dev Anand, who was very depressed on her reluctant refusal to marry him, was counselled by his brother Chetan Anand to recover and stand up from the break up, and he went on to marry Kalpana Kartik four years later in 1954 in a hurried simple marriage, but as he said in his auto-biography, Suraiya was his first true love. Elsewhere, he has said to Shekhar Hattangadi that in spite of his marriage to Kalpana Kartik after his failed love affair that "Suraiya was the love and passion of his life and that I will always cherish her memory". While Suraiya was alive in October 2003, Dev Anand accepted the fact that "Suraiya was my first and only real love. I wanted to marry her and she was willing. But her Muslim family objected to me, being a Hindu, and created a big row over the communal issue. Remember, she was already a big singing star when we first met, and I was a nobody. Fans mobbed her, her songs were on the air, and her star image added to the attraction." In an interview to A. Ganesh Nadar of rediff.com, reminiscing about Suraiya in his autobiography, Dev Anand said: "The book would not be honest without mentioning her. Parting with her was painful. I met her for the last time on the terrace of her building on Marine Drive (in south Mumbai). That was the saddest day of my life."
A limerick ('latka'), “chhayi bahar hai, jiya beqarar hai, aaja mere Dev Anand, Suraiya bemar hai” was often heard in the 1950s, to cajole Dev Anand to woo Suraiya once again.
Suraiya never regretted that she loved Dev Anand. To the interviewer of 'Stardust' in June 1972, she said "...one forgets only what one regrets. I do not regret for a moment that I loved Dev Anand. Why should I deliberately bury my past, which holds my most precious memories?"
It was reported by film magazines in the 1950s, after Suraiya had reluctantly turned down Dev Anand's marriage proposal, that he sent Suraiya red roses on her birthday every year. This was refuted by Dev Anand in his autobiography in 2007.
In 1979, in a chat with Raju Bharatan for his later book A journey down melody lane (2010), Suraiya regretted that she was completely under her grandmother's thumb and could not oppose her in marrying Dev Anand, even when she was in intense love with him, who as a gentleman, never exceeded his limits, unlike many other actors, who had tried to be fresh with her. "I would have wed my Dev and would have been perfectly happy with him to this day. I say this since I found Dev to be a perfect gentleman compared to .... At all times by contrast, Dev was scrupulously correct in his romantic approach. Even the first kiss upon me, he planted only when I looked up, offering my lips. I tell you, I should have stood up to my granny then and there. Gone ahead and wed my Dev. But I was too much under Granny's thumb and the moment was gone."
Suraiya and Dev Anand later met as friends on a few occasions in parties in Mumbai. Suraiya gave up her professional career as an actress and singer in 1963, and even later refused to sing for music directors, such as Naushad and for music companies like HMV and Polydor, despite several requests by them. She went on to live life away from the media glare and public eye thereafter, except for appearing on a very few public occasions, such as during Noor Jehan's visit to India in 1982. She did give a few interviews for magazines and some media people from India and Pakistan in the 1970s and 80s. Only later in life in the 1990s and thereafter, did she accept awards and mementos and appeared on a few public occasions.
Gregory Peck visits Suraiya at her home.
Suraiya was an ardent fan of the Hollywood star Gregory Peck, who paid her a surprise visit along with actor, Al Naseer, (who once stayed in Suraiya's mother's home and whom she called, 'uncle') at midnight from the hotel Ambassador near her house on 5 January 1954. Gregory Peck had come to Bombay for presenting the first Filmfare Awards, but was late because of a flight delay from Ceylon, where he was acting in the film The Purple Plain. In 1952, Suraiya had given Frank Capra a signed photograph of her to be delivered to her idol, Gregory Peck, when Capra came to India for 20 days to attend the International Film Festival. Suraiya said that "he found my photograph which I sent him through Mr. Capra so beautiful that he had it on the wall of his bedroom! He did, and he actually asked me to act with him in a picture."
Actors in love with Suraiya
Besides the well known love affair of Dev Anand and Suraiya, a number of her co-actors fell for the attraction of Suraiya, though these were one sided affairs, not reciprocated by Suraiya.
Rehman, who starred as her hero with Suraiya in her Silver Jubilee hits, 'Badi Behan' and 'Pyar ki Jeet, had a one sided love affair with her. When Dev Anand and Suraiya fell in one another's love, Rehman would tell Dev Anand after a drink, '' You may gain publicity in magazines with your love affair, ultimately I will marry Suraiya. " ( Article on Suraiya in film magazine 'G-Star' dated 15 April 1997.)
M. Sadiq, who was her director in Suraiya's four films, 'Dak Bangla', ' Kajal', 'Jagbiti' and 'Char Din' was also madly in love with Suraiya. On release of each film, Sadiq would spend lavishly on publicity. He would display huge cut-outs of Suraiya before each film. Suraiya's name would be the first in the cast. He would bring out Suraiya's calendars during festivals and distribute to people. In spite of all his efforts, he could not win her heart.
Actor Suresh, who was her hero in three films, 'Rangmahal', 'Goonj' and 'Diwana' was also deeply enamoured with her, yet he failed to leave any impression on Suraiya's heart. Dev Anand was her sole love interest in her life.
Dilip Kumar also tried to win her heart, but in a wrong manner. He asked his friend K. Asif to produce a film ('Janwar') with Suraiya, In the film, because of love antics of Dilip in the film in cahoot with director, K. Asif, Suraiya abandoned the film.
Amongst female actors, Madhubala, who was her co actor in 'Singaar' was deeply in live with her and would always be around her and would embrace her when ever any opportunity arose.
Later life and last days
Suraiya's maternal grandmother, Badshah Begum, who played a major part in her career and even her personal life, later went to Pakistan to live with her brother and his son, and she was left alone with her mother, Mumtaz Begum. The time with her mother were her happy years, when her mother took care of her daily needs and she would occasionally go to her film world friends. She had a few friends like old-timers Jairaj, Nimmi, Nirupa Roy and Tabassum, with whom she met occasionally.
Upon the publication of a special article, 'Suraiya Yesterday and Today', in the new series 'Weekly Special' of 'The Illustrated Weekly of India', (25 November 1979), an interview by Raju Bhartan, conducted at the insistence of the magazine's new editor, M. V. Kamath, who was an avid Suraiya fan, Suraiya became the talk of the town once again. Many Bollywood celebrities, associated with her earlier, called her up to reminisce and congratulate her. Bharat Bhushan and Shammi Kapoor, her film heroes and Dharmendra, who was an ardent Suraiya fan, were the first to call, followed by Naushad, her music director of many a jubilee hit and her heroes and co-singers Mukesh, C.H. Atma and Talat Mahmood. Suraya's mother was very happy and Suraiya invited Raju Bhartan for high tea at her house.
After her mother's death in 1987, Suraiya started feeling lonely in her (rented) apartment (owned by Aswin Shah) in Krishna Mahal, Marine Drive in Mumbai, where she lived from the early 1940s until her death in 2004 at the age of 74. She possessed several apartments in Worli, Mumbai and a house and an orchard in Lonavala, near Pune.
Suraiya met Asha Bhonsle on 10 December 1993 at Raju Bharatan's daughter Shilpa's wedding reception at Bombay's Vile Parle, where Raju Bharatan asked Suraiya in a chat along with Asha, whether the two had sung a song together, to which Suraiya said, "regrettably no", forgetting that the two had sung a duet together in 1954 in 'Shama Parwana', titled 'Jake lage naina, wo paiye nahi chaina'.
In December 1998, Suraiya then over 68 years old, while in New Delhi to receive the Sahitya Academy Award during Mirza Ghalib's bi-centenanry celebrations, talked in a low voice and declined to sing, saying she had left “mosiqui (music) years ago”. When a reporter mentioned Dev Anand, she avoided the comment, and chose to change the subject by saying that it was getting late and she had to go back.
Tabassum, who worked with Suraiya in 'Bari Behen' and 'Moti Mahal' as her younger sister, met her often at her home, or rang Suraiya from home. During Suraiya's last few months of her life, Tabassum said "It's sad that she had shut her doors to the world in her last days. Sometimes when I visited her, I’d find papers and milk collected at her door. She never opened the door. But she’d talk comfortably with me on the phone. I remember our last conversation. I asked her: "Aapa kaisi hain?" (Elder sister, how are you?") She replied in verse: "Kaisi guzar rahi hai sabhi poochte hai mujhse, kaise guzaarti hoon koi nahin poochta."( "Everbody asks me 'how are you', but nobody asks me how I spend my days and nights.") (As told to Farhana Farook in 2012).
She died on 31 January 2004 aged 74, after being hospitalized for a few days. In her last six months, she was taken care of by her neighbour and family friends; Dhimant Thakar's family, with whom she stayed during this period. She was very close to the two daughters (Amee and Camy) of Dhimant Thakar. She was admitted for a brief period for hypoglycemia, ischemia and insulinoma to Harkishandas hospital ( Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre ) in South Mumbai by the Thakars.
In the hospital, actor Sunil Dutt, music director, Naushad and Pratap A. Rana, writer-producer of her films "Jeet", "Vidya" and "Parwana" (along with R. B.Haldia), visited her during this period. She died at 9.25 am on 31 January 2004. Actor Dharmendra, who was her ardent fan, also attended her funeral. She was buried at Bada Kabaristan in Marine Lines, Mumbai.
After her death, Suraiya's property at Worli and her house at Krishna Mahal, Marine Drive, where she lived on rent for over 70 years, went into legal dispute, as she did not leave behind an explicit will. While the house at Krishna Mahal was claimed by her adopted family (and lawyer) and her Pakistani cousin, Mehfooz Ahmed (maternal uncle M. Zahoor's son) in Dubai, her property was claimed by the adopted family of her lawyer (based on his daughter being a nominee in Suraiya's papers and gift to her as 'hiba'), and her cousin. No relatives from her father's side claimed anything from her property. In 2006, Mumbai High Court granted Mehfooz Ahmed, her Pakistani cousin, born in Lahore in 1943 and staying in Dubai, the right to administer Suraiya's estate, as she died without a will. In 2008, her maternal cousin brother (Mehfooz Ahmed), who never met her for over 40 years before her death, got the right to the rented house at Krishna Mahal, valued at 7.5 crores rupees, as a tenant by the High Court judgement (according to Mumbai's old rent control laws) over her family lawyer. The house owner Ashwin Shah did not contest the case. The cousin had no objection to the house being sold.
Honours and recognitions
In 1946, Suraiya's film Anmol Ghadi with Noor Jehan and Surendra celebrated 'Silver Jubilee' (25 weeks continuous run in one or more cinema halls) in Bombay (now 'Mumbai') and other cities of India.
In 1947, Suraiya's film Dard in which she co-starred with Munnawar Sultana and also sang her own songs, celebrated 'Silver Jubilee' in Bombay (now 'Mumbai') and in other major cities in India.
In 1947, Suraiya's film Natak as heroine, with Amar as hero, celebrated 'Silver Jubilee' in the major Indian cities.
In 1948, Suraiya was awarded a gold medal by the noted theatre personality Adi Pherozeshah Marzban, for her role in Kajal (film), in which she acted as a sixteen year old to a sixty-year-old woman. The film was produced by the noted ghazal and folk singer Malika Pukhraj, after she had gone to Pakistan, under the 'Ratan Pictures' banner, and was directed by M. Sadiq.
In 1948, her film Pyar ki Jeet with Rehman as hero, became a hit and celebrated 'Silver Jubilee' in Bombay and in other cities in India.
In 1948, Suraiya was voted as the 'Best movie actress of the year'
In 1949, her film Dillagi with actor Shyam as hero, celebrated 'Silver Jubilee' in Bombay and in other major cities.
In 1949, Suraiya's film Badi Behen, with Rehman as hero, became a huge success and got recognition as a 'Silver Jubilee' film.
In 1950, Suraiya's film Dastan with her as heroine opposite Raj Kapoor as hero, celebrated 'Silver Jubilee' in the major cities of India. The film collected rupees 65,00,000.
In 1950, Suraiya was declared 'Star of the Year' and was presented a gold medal.
In 1951, in the inaugural issue of the famous film news-weekly 'Screen', Suraiya was given the pride of place on the front page, with her photo adorning the page.
In 1952, her film Diwana, with Suresh as hero attained success as a 'Silver Jubilee' film in the major cities of India.
In the 4 April 1952 issue of the newly launched film magazine 'Filmfare', Suraiya's colour photograph appeared on the front cover during the first year, second month of its publication, the first issue of which came out in March 1952.
Suraiya featured regularly in 'Lux' soap campaigns in magazines and 'Lux' calendars in the 1950s.
In 1954, Suraiya's duet 'Rahi Matwale' from the film Waris with Talat Mehmood was selected as the fifth Song of the Year , chosen by listeners in 'Binaca Geet Mala' on Radio Ceylon.
In 1954, her film Mirza Ghalib was the fourth highest-grossing film of the year. The film collected rupees 90,00,000.
In 1955, Mirza Ghalib (film), a film in which Suraiya acted, was awarded the President's Gold Medal for the Best Feature Film of 1954 (first Hindi film), during the 2nd National Film Awards, and her acting and singing were highly appreciated and extolled by the then Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru at Rastrapati Bhawan, during the special screening of the movie, which Suraiya said was bigger than an Oscar.
In November 1956, Suraiya was specially invited to the Soviet Union, where her films Mirza Ghalib and Waris were shown in the 'Festival of Indian Cinema' along with other films such as Awara of Raj Kapoor and Nargis, who also went as part of the delegation. The films were shown in cities such as Baku, capital of Azerbaijan.