Reminiscences of Nirala
Nirala is acknowledged as the greatest Hindi poet of the modern age. An excellent biography of the great poet written by Dr Ramvila Sharma, in truth his Boswell, was published in 1969. Dr Sharma dedicated that biography to Shivapujan Sahay, one of the closest friends of Nirala, and acknowledged the valuable help he got from Shivji (as he was popularly known) through personal interviews and research in Shivji’s correspondence with Nirala.
Shivji and Nirala came close to each other when they were living together in Calcutta wayback in the early 1920s. Shivji had resigned his government school teaching job at Ara (Bihar) in the wake of Gandhi’s first non-cooperation movement in1920, and come to Calcutta to seek a career in journalism. He began by editing a monthly journal ‘Marwari Sudhar’ which was being printed at the Balkrishne Press in Calcutta, owned by Mahadev Prasad Seth of Mirzapur in U.P. Later he was invited by Sethji to live with him in the same building where he came into intimate contact with Nirala who was already living in that building on an upper floor. Shivapujan Sahay reminisces in his memoirs about those early years of the turbulent twenties.
The hurricane of the first Non-cooperation movement had risen only a couple of years after the end of the First World War. The nationalist fervor started countering the onslaught of state violence with great gusto. I was then a Hindi teacher in the Arrah Town School. As an act of my non-cooperation, I left that school and joined a local national school. I had taken to writing in 1910 itself, but by 1921, I also became an editor of the monthly journal ‘Marwari Sudhar’. Soon I bid farewell to the national school also and reached Calcutta. I stayed with Shri Durga Prasad Poddar who had his business in Calcutta and lived in Harrison Road. Pt Ishwari Prasad Sharma, my teacher and literary mentor, fixed up the Balkrishna Press for the printing of ‘Marwari Sudhar’. It was through him that I came to be introduced to Babu Mahadev Prasad Seth, the owner of the press, and his companion, Munshi Navajadiklal Shrivastava.
The day I took the edited press copy of my journal to the press, both Sethji and Munshiji spoke very encouragingly about my work. Though at first they found it hard to believe that the editing of the articles had been done by me, and Munshiji particularly thought it all to be done by Sharmaji, as I was his true disciple any way. He had specially blessed me by publishing my early articles in his favourite literary monthly ‘Manoranjan’ (1910-12). Even my handwriting closely resembled his, which strengthened the suspicion. Sethji requested me to live in his press, and Munshiji also gave some positive allurements, but Poddarji would have none of it. Ultimately, however, the duo prevailed over my friend Poddarji; though it took me about three-four months to shift from Harrison Road to this press. Soon I got very close to these two gentlemen. And meanwhile I also had an opportunity of meeting Niralaji there.
The Balkrishna press was located in an open space behind the Vidyasagar College at 23, Shankar Ghosh Lane. On the ground floor of the building was the press, and monks of Ram Krishna Mission lived on the upper floor, with whom the poet Niralaji lived.
The learned monk Swami Madhavanandji of the Vivekanand Society in Calcutta had, with deep reverence, brought Niralaji as editor of the Society’s monthly journal ‘Samanwaya’ on the special recommendation of Acharya Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi. It was thus that the serendipitous assemblage happened there of these four literary figures – Mahadev Prasad Seth, Navajadik Lal, Shivapujan Sahay and Nirala –which resulted in the publication of ‘Matwala’, a revolutionary weekly styled after the famous British weekly ‘Punch’. The first number of ‘Matwala’ came out on 26 August, 1923, and soon the Balkrishna Press of 23, Shankar Ghosh Lane became the headquarters of ‘Matwala-Mandal’ and the main centre of a literary congregation in Calcutta.
It is said that Nirala assumed this pen-name in rhyme with ‘Matwala’ when he started publishing his earliest poems and his prose pieces in that weekly. Besides publishing his poems he also wrote a satirical column ‘Chabuk’ (whip) or ‘Matawale ka Chabuk’ in which he commented on the articles published in the contemporary literary journals, particularly the linguistic solecisms in them.
Shivapujan Sahay and Nirala both left ‘Matawala’ after a year or so, but their close affinity went on deepening across the later decades as evidenced by their intimate correspondence which is now published in the ‘Samagra’ writings of Shivapujan Sahay. Shivji also wrote a series of memoir articles during the last couple of years in his life which present an extremely fascinating and sensitive portrayal of the great poet’s personal human qualities. A selection of some glimpses of Nirala’s overly humanistic and compassionate nature, as depicted in Shivji’s memoirs, is presented in the following extracts.
When the Vivekanand Society in Calcutta decided to bring out a Hindi monthly magazine ‘Samanwaya’, its learned monk, Swami Madhavanand, went straight to Acharya Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi looking for a good editor for its journal. It was Dwivediji who had selected Niralaji for the job.
It is said that Mahatma Gandhi had chosen a jewel like Nehru. Great men indeed have the ability to make such unmistakable historical choices. Dwivediji also discovered this jewel for Hindi. Who would not just wonder at his perceptive choice? The Society had indeed found a rare gem in Nirala, and soon as the incomparable talent of Nirala unfurled before the Swami, he started taking all care of the priceless jewel that had fallen into his hands.
The Society was housed in the same building as the ‘Matawala-Mandal’. I had myself seen how much care the Swamiji took of Niralaji’s comforts, always being at the latter’s beck and call. Sethji, the ‘Matawala’-editor, was verily sold out to Niralaji eversince he met him. There has never been a greater devotee of Niralaji.
All the monks of the Society showed great respect to Niralaji. They were all Bengalis, and Niralaji spoke Bangla like his mother tongue. In the philosophical discussions with them, Niralaji always had an upper hand. Even in discussions on Bangla literature, Niralaji always proved weightier. Amazed at his analytical prowess, Swami Vireshwaranand had once exclaimed – Eimen ki manaver medha (Could this be human grey matter)? But Niralaji’s analyticality never crossed the bounds of reasoning. His prodigious memory power and razor-sharp rationality always left others totally convinced.
Shivapujan Sahay then sketches a portrait of the poet in those days, done as it were in pastel colours.
God had been bounteous in his gifts to Nirala. An attractive, tall and well-built healthy body chiselled by regular exercise, astounding intellect, mellifluous voice, kind-hearted, contemplative mind, a prolific creativity – God had showered him generously with his boons. Big captivating eyes, brilliant, shining teeth, black curly tresses adorning his head, small mouth with thin lips, long, slender artistic fingers, broad heavy chest – the Creator had embellished his statuesque figure with great love and care….
Nirala was also a wrestler in his youth. Even at the ‘Matawala’-office he would smear his body with earth in the traditional way as he exercised. Munshiji would bring soft Ganga clay for him, from his native place near Balia in U.P, to rub on his body.
Nirala had long black tresses and Sethji would bring expensive perfumed hair oils like Jawakusum and Kesh Ranjan for him. He would even polish his shoes every day. When he went out, Sethji would put money in his pocket. But he would always return empty-handed with nothing left in the pocket. The beggars were familiar with his habits. He would put whatever came out of his pocket on any begging palm spread before him and then nonchalantly move forward. It was impossible to fathom his strong wilfulness. Munshiji would often caution him to be frugal and save something for the future. But one who didn’t care for the present, how would he bother for the future? Instead, he would rather be quite exultant as he looked at his broad chest and strong biceps while exercising. Nirala was a poet of glorious manhood. Why would he worry about his old age? Both in his mind and body he was always full of the virility of manliness. When his first book of poems Anamika was published, and he started reciting its poems to us with his characteristic verve, he looked a perfect embodiment of manliness.
He was also gifted with excellent histrionic talent. The Raja of Mahishadal (Bengal) was so enamoured of his acting talent that he loved him like a prince. But Nirala was not to be tempted by such adoration. When he went from Gokul to Mathura, he would never look back to Gokul again. He fully enjoyed his luxurious life style. Like Bharatenduji, he would pour out perfumes on his palm and rub them all over his clothes. But often he would also go out bare-bodied or in dirty, shabby clothes, bare-footed, to the market, rubbing surti (tobacco) on his palms. He just didn’t bother what someone - who may have seen him only the other day clothed in fashionable spotless dhoti-kurta - would say, seeing him in such shabby clothes today. Nirala never cared for what others would say of him….
A session of the All India Hindi Sahitya Sammelan was held in the Senate Hall of the Calcutta University. The great poet ‘Ratnakarji’ was presiding. Nirala came out of the hall and stood in the park nearby at Wellingdon Square, took off his kurta, expanded his chest and started flexing and displaying his muscles. His long tresses swung round his face. At once a small crowd of onlookers gathered there. That divine repository of physical strength and beauty was only Nirala, and none other than him.
Shivji, in these memoirs, fondly recounts many stories of Nirala’s incredible munificence. He says that these acts of Nirala’s generosity were such daily occurences that he could even have maintained a diary of them.
There are countless stories of his generosities. A whole diary could be written about them. ‘Matwala’ was published every Saturday. Early morning every Saturday several Bengali young graduates would arrive with their bicycles. They would sell the magazine and collect their commission amount on a weekly basis. ‘Matwala’ was a hot-selling item, and poor students used to earn enough money through its sale. One day Niralaji started talking to a very poor, shabbily dressed young student and learnt that he used to sell the magazine on a bicycle which he took on rent. Nirala was so moved seeing his poor, dirty clothes that he not only bought him a bicycle worth 150 rupees, but also got a two-piece suit stitched for him. Then advised him always to be self-reliant, and never hesitate to ask him for money for buying any books that he might need. When Sethji, the ‘Matwala’-editor, asked him where did he get that big amount of around 250 rupees for it, Nirala only dismissed it with a smile. Later it transpired that for this he had taken an advance amount from Shri Mahadev Prasad Jhunjhunwala, a publisher of the
Badtalla locality for writing a book.
There are other stories of his boundless munificence. The watchman of the ‘Matwala’ office was a handsome young lad who came from the Gorakhpur area. He used to call Niralaji as ‘Guruji’. When his marriage was fixed, he requested Niralaji to attend the ceremony. But just on that occasion Niralaji’s nephew fell ill. Even so he gave him, without anyone’s knowledge, a silk sari with a velvet blouse, a pair of gold earrings, some cosmetics, plus ten rupees as his marriage gift. But Niralaji would never talk about his secret deeds of charity.
Nirala used to earn by writing books for publishers and also from writing for the magazines, but whatever he earned vanished into thin air in almost no time. The ‘Matwala’-editor, Mahadev Prasad Seth was always eager to cater to his smallest needs. When Sethji went out with him and bought sweets or fruits exclusively for him, Nirala on his way back would keep giving away to the beggars all that he carried in his own hands, and when he had finished with his own things, he would take the things from Sethji’s hands and give all that away, too. And Sethji adored him so much that he would never resist and just look endearingly at him. Often, a little upset, he would ask Nirala to carry everything himself if it was all only to be given away to the beggars. Munshiji who also invariably went with Sethji would often chide him for buying all those delicacies, if everything was only to be given away by Niralaji, and they had only to return empty-handed. But Sethji would do all this out of respect for Niralaji’s sentiments. For him, his money had no value if it so pleased the poet. Munshiji would often say jokingly that Sethji was only being over-indulgent towards Niralaji. But even such comments had absolutely no effect on Nirala.
Nirala was – just as his pen-name signified – truly ‘unique’. He would often give a bunch of grapes or a packet of Muscat dates to a beggar and smilingly ask him to taste them and then tell him how he liked them. When Munshiji would say – Niralaji, why don’t you give him some money instead so that he could buy some cheap eatables to fill his tummy, he would just give the beggar, in addition, a couple of oranges of the finest Nagpur or Sylhet variety. One day he gave a red shining apple to a beggar saying – if you eat this, your face also would look as redolent. The grinning poor fellow replied - Sir, if I eat this apple today through your noble kindness, will that fill this shrunken body of mine with enough blood! Hearing this, Nirala asked Sethji to give the beggar two rupees more so that he could buy more apples and Sethji dutifully complied. And when Munshiji said with a loud laugh that even those two rupees would not buy him enough apples to bring that much blood to his weak body, Nirala gave him another rupee. And when Sethji saw more beggars flocking towards them, he hastily pulled Nirala away from there.
Munshi Navajadik Lal, besides being an old friend of Mahadev Prasad Seth, was also the manager in a factory of cosmetic products, owned by Seth Kishorilal Chaudhary of Patna City. Once when Nirala went to that factory, Munshiji presented him its products as gift, but before he reached ‘Matawala-Mandal’ Niralaji had given away all the bottles, except one, of the famed ‘Bhootnath’ perfumed oil, and had distributed all the soap cakes among the beggars - who by now had known him too well - for washing their dirty clothes. He just stopped near the dirtiest of them and ask if he gave him a soap cake would he wash his dirty clothes with it? And who would not avail of this free gift? Several pairs of hands spread before Nirala and instantly each needy palm had a soap cake on it. And the next moment, each beggarly, licey crown would have expensive perfumed oil soaking it. Even the emptied bottle was given away to one of them. Had one such bottle not been safe in my pocket, that also would have been sacrificed to his munificence. And just then a vendor selling tilkuts (square-shaped candies made of sesame) arrived on the scene and Nirala bought and freely distributed the candies among those beggars. When all the candies thus disappeared, he even promised the beggars that he would give them a similar feast of pyaji pakoris (fried onion veggies), thus earning evermore blessings from them.
Such profound philanthropic trait was inherent in Nirala’s character…
In the Belur Math (Calcutta) of Paramhansa Shri Ramakrishna, there used to be formal mass feasts for the poor to mark the birth and death anniversaries of Paramahansaji and Swami Vivekanand. Niralaji, as the ‘Samanwaya’-editor, would always go there on these occasions with the sanyasins of the Vivekanand Society which was a branch of the Mission. During the various programmes in those momentous events, Nirala would only busy himself in distributing the food items to the daridranarayan (the poor folk). His intense interest in feeding the beggars would earn the admiration of all. Generally on these occasions, only the Bengali bhadralok (gentry) would assemble there, and Nirala, who spoke Bangla as his mother tongue, would thus win the hearts of the assembled gentry. He would mix like sugar-in-milk with that crowd. Even the most learned of the Bengalis could not excel him in his depth of knowledge in Bangla literature. His recitations of the songs of Rabindranath would fill even the most ardent of Bengalis with wonder and satiety.
But Nirala’s generosities were not limited to humans only. Even animals came well within his ambit of lovingkindness…
The ‘Matwala’ office was first located at 23, Shankar Ghosh Lane. Behind it lay the Vidyasagar College. Once we were going to attend a public meeting there. A dog lay whining in pain on the footpath of Cornwallis Street, just in front of the Arya Samaj Temple. There was a big suppurating wound on its back. Nirala suddenly sat there beside it. We were getting late for the public meeting, but he ran to the medicine shop across the street and came back with a tube of ointment, wiped the wound with his handkerchief and threw it off, then spread the entire contents of the tube on its wound. It was only after completing this task and washing his hands at the nearby public hydrant that he accompanied us to the meeting. While returning Munshiji jokingly said – ‘Please also give the poor thing something to eat’ – and Niralaji immediately bought some pakoris from the vendor there and put it before the beast in agony, and burst into laughter when the poor thing started gobbling the pakoris hurriedly.
Nirala always lived in a world of deep thought, entirely lost to the mundane world – in a kind of transcendental existence. Shivji recounts another incident of Nirala’s utter non-materialistic behaviour…
At a flower show one day Sethji bought and presented Nirala a beautiful flower bouquet for Rs five. But when we came back to our office, it was discovered that he had left it somewhere in the flower show itself. Immediately, Sethji went back there by tram with Niralaji, but the latter couldn’t remember where exactly the bouquet had been left. When winter came, Sethji got an expensive light quilt made for him. He bought the finest Dhaka mulmul cloth for it, got it done in gaudy colours, even the inner cotton was coloured red and green - all then sprinkled with mica dust, and adorned with broad satin borders, and finally enveloped in a specially sewn cover. Nirala then wrapped it around himself and beamed a smile, but only a couple of weeks later gave it away to a beggar. It was bitter cold when that beggar in his bare body had appeared before him. At once Nirala took his quilt off and lovingly wrapped it around that poor being with his own hands. When by chance I saw this, I rushed to the press to call Sethji and Munshiji. But even before they could reach there, that crafty poseur had just vanished! Sethji ran to look for him but all in vain. And Niralaji burst into a loud laughter, saying – Why are you so bothered? Poor fellow will have a comfortable time in this biting winter! Even Sethji then smiled and said – You are truly great, Niralaji!
Nirala had very strong views about economic inequalities in society, almost verging on the communist ideology, very much in the air in those days…
Often in the ‘Matawala-Mandal’ when discussions took place on the problem of poverty, or news or articles appeared on the subject in the newspapers, Nirala would forcefully present his arguments against it. While criticizing the rampant economic inequalities in the country he would seem to be an aggressive Communist. Although he lacked sympathy for able-bodied beggars, yet for the sad plight of the infirm or the disabled among them he would bitterly criticize society and the administration. Only the lame or the blind, or the totally deprived and the leprous among them would catch his attention, and then he would be totally oblivious of his own circumstances. In a big city like Calcutta he would always be looking for these most unfortunate beggars on the pavements; much of his time would be spent in the world of these wretched beings only. On these pavements in the nights, besides these beggars, many shelterless labourers and vendors also would be found sleeping. There was none else in that megapolis of the rich except Nirala who would buy and distribute biris, fried corn or gram or peanuts among them all. Numberless business magnates would pass by these pavements in the night, and may be a few of them threw a coin or two among these beggars, but there would be none like Nirala to share their sorrow with heartfelt sympathy. Calcutta was the City of Joy, and Nirala had no dearth of money for enjoyment, but his sole source of entertainment was the succour he could provide to the poor.
Nirala was so detached from worldly affairs that he remained a recluse throughout his life. Never had he any trunk with lock and key in which to keep his things, nor any care for clothes or money. How many clothes were tailored for him or were sent to the washerman, he would never remember. He had absolute trust in his tailor or his washerman. Nor would he ever bother about the upkeep of his clothes. Always engrossed in his own self, he had no care for these mundane things. Any accounts of his expenses also, he would never keep. Hundred rupee notes would lie under his pillow, but no one knew how long would they stay there? It would be lucky for any currency note to stay with him for more than twentyfour hours! What came in the morning went by evening, and that which came in the evening would disappear before next morning. He had no bad habits, no indulgences of any kind. But his cronies would come to know about these cash arrivals, and he was ever ready to meet their demands.
Even when he left Calcutta and lived in Lucknow or Prayag (Allahabad), he continued to live like a monk or a recluse. Wherever he lived, he would shower his munificence on the shopkeepers catering to his needs with exorbitant payments. Even the ekka-tongawllahs (hackney-drivers) would bask in his indulgence, and would refuse other passengers in order to serve him. The beggars of the neighbourhood would start blessing him the moment they saw him around.
Nirala would generally give away his new clothes to the poor and use his old clothes instead. In the winters also he would give away his new quilt to the poor making do with his old blanket. People of such philanthropic nature were scarcely to be seen in his literary fraternity.
In Shivji’s memoirs of Nirala, there is also a very amusing anecdote of great literary interest, when Nirala was still in Calcutta with ‘Matwala’…
‘Matwala’ published Nirala’s poems as well as his critical pieces, but Nirala wrote his critical notes on material published in other literary magazines under a pseudonym – ‘Gargaj Singh Varma’. Once under this column he wrote a series of critical notes on articles published in Saraswati, the famous literary journal edited by Acharya Mahavir Prasad Dwiwedi. But Dwiwediji did not know that those critical notes were written by Nirala. When he could bear it no more, Dwiwediji edited all those issues of ‘Matwala’ in which the said critical notes were published and sent them back to ‘Matwala’ office by registered post. He had mercilessly edited all those issues from cover to cover with a red pen and written in his letter that those who try to find fault in others should first look into their own shoddy work. When Nirala got that packet of ‘Matwala’ issues with Dwiwediji’s letter, his loud bursts of laughter would not cease till he went totally out of breath. After that day he stopped criticizing ‘Saraswati’ for good. He also requested that all the pages corrected by Dwiwediji’s pencil should be published by ‘Matwala’ but Mahadev Prasad Seth, the ‘Matwala’-editor, locked all those brutally edited issues of his magazine in his iron chest never to be seen by anyone. If those pages could be seen today, they would appear to be priceless literary material….
But Nirala was ever reverent towards his seniors, as he was conscious of his own self-respect. He would give all respect to a venerable person and yet would expect similar approbation from him. Once when he went to a literary meet in Calcutta, the president of the meet did not stand up to welcome him. Nirala went up the dias, but the very next moment descended from it. The president even then failed to take the hint. By the time, Mahadev Prasad Seth, the ‘Matwala’ editor, knowing Nirala’s quick temper, went to stop him, he had already gone out and left on a taxi.
On another occasion, in a poet’s meet, when the list of poets was being announced, his name came at the very end; perhaps, to make the audience stay till the last. But when Nirala did not hear his name at the top of the list he at once left the place. When we wanted to stop him, he said – ‘I wouldn’t mind reciting my poem at the end, but why was my name given last without even asking me?’ And he just went away.
One day Niralaji went with Munshiji to meet Pandit Narayan Prasad ‘Betab’ [the famous dramatist of the Parasi theatre]. ‘Betabji’ later arranged a drama-meet at his residence and invited Niralaji also. But he did not agree to go there in spite of all our pleadings. He said – ‘I was the first to go to his place to see him, but he did not come to my place any time thereafter. If he doesn’t have the time for it, I, too, don’t have the time today’.
There are innumerable such instances of Nirala’s elevated sense of self-respect which touch the very summit of self-pride.
One such anecdote of later years (1960) when Shivji had gone to see Nirala in his last days of ill-health is equally remarkable…
I went to see Niralaji on 24 November, 1960. While bathing at the Triveni confluence, before meeting him, I saw a glittering bus carrying film starlets arrive there with the famous star Rajkapoor. There was a great crowd surrounding them. Some scenes for the film ‘Ganga-Jamuna’ [‘Jis Desh Me Ganga Bahati Hai’] were to be shot. When I met Niralaji I started describing the scene to him. Then he said ruefully – ‘Rajkapoor’s father Prithviraj, whenever he came to Prayag, would always come to see me, but Rajkapoor hasn’t come yet!’ Niralaji was always very conscious about these things.
Shivapujan Sahay had left ‘Matwala’ in 1924 and gone to Lucknow only to return a year later to Calcutta, but not to ‘Matwala’, doing odd editorial jobs elsewhere, though still contributing frequently to ‘Matwala’. By 1926, he had finally moved to Kashi. Nirala, too, who had disassociated himself from ‘Matwala’ a couple of years later, had arrived in Kashi around this time…
Niralaji had lived in Kashi for some time, when I, too, lived there. Literary sittings at ‘Prasadji’s’ were a daily affair. Poetry recitations would also take place on boats in the mid-Ganga river. Once Nirala sang that bhajan by Tulsidas – ‘Shri Ramchandra kripalu bhaju man’ playing on a harmonium. Later ‘Prasadji’, in Nirala’s absence, had lavished praise on him. He had been extremely impressed by his equal virtuosity in both literature and music. ‘Prasadji’ was a man free from feelings of envy or approbation. After weighing his talent, Prasadji had prophesied at that time that Nirala was God’s gift to Hindi. On seeing Nirala’s passionate rendering of his poem ‘Panchwati’ Munshi Navjadik Lal would say that at such times Nirala reminded him of the brilliant actors of the Bengali stage. Those who had ever seen Nirala’s dramatic talents on the stage could never forget his memorable histrionics.
Nirala spent his last days at Daraganj, Prayag. On hearing of his ill-health Shivji went to see him in November, 1960…
Last November (1960) I got a leaflet regarding his ill health from Prayag (Allahabad), and I went there on the 23rd to meet him. After putting my luggage at the house of Pandit Vachaspati Pathak, the manager of Bharati Bhandar in the Leader Press, I went straight to Niralaji’s house in Daraganj. My eldest son, Anand Murty, and my five-year old grandson, Lallu, were also with me. When he saw me standing before him, he was overjoyed. After the usual exchange of greetings and solicitations about my welfare, he said – It’s late evening, and after a long journey you must be tired. Please go and have rest and come early tomorrow so that we may have a full day’s chit-chat; and please also have your lunch with me here. I noticed some swelling in his legs. His only son, Pandit Ramkrishna Tripathi, was there to nurse him. I was told that earlier the then C.M. of U.P., Dr Sampurnannd, and the Education Minister, Pt Kamalapati Tripathi, had both come to see Niralaji and by a special order Ramkrishnaji had been transferred from Jhansi, where he was a music teacher, to Prayag, to look after his ailing father, though the latter’s family was still at Jhansi. He wanted to rent a house in Daraganj to bring his family there and help in nursing his father. But I was surprised to learn that Niralaji was absolutely reluctant about any change of place. He was not even ready to go to a hospital as the Ministers and the doctors had advised. I, too, implored him for it but he flatly said that he would not hurt the feelings of the inmates who had been serving him for years and give credit for nursing him to others in this last stage of his life. Even later he didn’t agree to move to a hospital. But this was nothing new. What he would once decide, he would stick to it in spite of all persuasions. He wasn’t stubborn by nature, but would only go by what his over-sensitive heart told him.
Next morning after a bath at the triveni-sangam (the holy confluence of three rivers at Prayag), I went again to Niralaji’s place. I had wrapped myself with a double andi (warm shawl), but he insistently covered me with his own hands with a lihaf (quilt). Then he called the house-keeping lady to cook moong-urad lentils, rice and puris, green vegetables and fried badis (salted cakes) of urad and gram – indeed, he dictated to her a whole menu of rich dishes for me. He also invited Pandit Ganesh Pandey, the old wizened proprietor of Chhatra Hitkari Pustakmala, for the lunch. He always liked to eat in company, as he said. He took my grandson in his lap and kept cuddlinge him. When a gentleman came to take a photograph, he made me sit on his bed by his side. We kept talking about the present and the past affairs till late in the afternoon. He even said that my visit has cured him of half his ailments. Encouraged by his statement, with folded hands, I implored him to take all necessary precautions about his delicate health, and put a restraint on his tendency to speak continuously. But, instead, he took up a copy of Abhigyan Shakuntalam and started reciting selected shlokas from it as also explicating the subtle nuances of their meaning. The more I avoided making him speak, the more he would go on speaking. He would sometimes start reading from Tagore’s verses and then switch over to reciting lines from memory from Shelley’s and Milton’s poems. I couldn’t even get up to leave.
He then started asking about Munshiji’s family. [Munshiji had died in 1939, leaving his widow and small children in very indigent circumstances.] He wanted to know about the sum of 2,100 rupees which he had received as a literary award and given away to be sent to Munshiji’s family [through Mahadevi Varma]. He also talked about Professor Nand Dulare Vajpeyi, Dr Ram Vilas Sharma and Pandit Vinod Shankar Vyas. He kept on talking in spite of my keeping totally mum. All my pleadings to stop him went in vain. And no sooner had I returned to Leader Press after making further entreaties with him about proper care and rest for himself, he came there on a rickshaw accompanied by the house lady. Vachaspati Pathak was sitting there, besides Pandit Vishwambhar Nath Jijja (Sub-editor, Bharat) and Shri Bhagawati Charan Varma. All of them expressed their deep anguish and surprise and said that he shouldn’t have come like that, and he could get well only by following his doctor’s advice. But possessing an intellect of the highest order and being a poet-philosopher with a highly self-willed temperament, he would listen to everybody, but do only what he willed. And it was this unbridled wilfulness that proved so perilous for his failing health. Who, indeed, could argue with him about the mortality of the physical body and the transience of life!
Concluding his series of reminiscences of Nirala, Shivji speaks of Nirala’s deep anguish for Hindi which he shared with Shivji during their last meeting at Prayag in November, 1960…
Nirala had expected that after independence the supremacy of Hindi as Rashrtabhasha will be established, but that hope was belied, which made him very sad. When Sanehiji, a fellow poet, went to see him, he said to him feelingly – Look, I want to die now, but people just wouldn’t let me. For whom should I live now? Language and literature have become political weapons, and the humiliation that Hindi is being subjected to has now become unbearable. English has now become beloved of all – whether or not people understand anything of it.
(c) Dr B.S.M.Murty