Wednesday, January 28, 2015
KAMALESHWAR : A Tribute
It was in February, 2006. I was then living in Delhi after my retirement. The KATHA editors had asked me to write a preface for a collection of translated stories by Kamaleshwar, well-known as one of the pioneers of the ‘Nai Kahani’ movement of the fifties. He had been in the Doordarshan, and had served as editor of the Hindi literary monthly Sarika, and had also earned fame as script-writer of films like Aandhi, Mausam and Rajanigandha. The fifteen stories in a collection named Not Flowers of Henna were translated by Jai Ratan, the famous Sahitya Akademi award-winning translator and writer. It was certainly an attractive proposition. And before writing the preface I decided to meet both Kamaleshwar and Jai Ratan; one living in Faridabad, the other in Gurgaon. I had my small tape-recorder and camera with me.
I first met Jai Ratan at his Gurgaon residence. He was waiting for me and we immediately sank into a spirited conversation about the art of translation. He told me how after doing his MA in English he had moved, after the partition, from Lahore to Calcutta where he joined the business firm of the Thapars as a junior executive rising in due course to the highest position of a senior executive. It was there that he came in contact with Prof PLal of the Writers’ Workshop fame, and on his suggestion translated Premchand’s GODAN. Thereafter translation became his chosen field of creative pursuit and he translated several novels and short stories by Manto, Krishn Chander, Mohan Rakesh, Bhishm Sahani, et al.
We were soon joined by his wife who asked us to a delicious lunch. Then he took me up to his study which was walled on all sides with the choicest classics in English, Hindi and Urdu, as he had equal command in all these languages. Most of the books on his shelves were bound in leather and inscribed in gold. He was almost 90 but showed no signs of fatigue as he kept pulling out volume after volume and continued with his fascinating reminiscences of his long literary career. Much of it was captured on tape in my mini-recorder. He was thrilled when I told him about my assignment of writing a preface to his translated stories of Kamaleshwar whom I also intended to meet soon.
Kamaleshwar lived in his flat at Faridabad. I sought an appointment and met him soon thereafter. I wanted to chat with him about his variegated experiences of a long and struggle-filled literary career. He began with expressing his deep regard for my father and soon drifted into reminiscences of Patna where he had spent a few months in 1966. Those were hard days for him. He had been invited to edit the ‘Samkaleen Kahani Visheshank’ of NaiDhara (Feb-Mar,’66). It contained contributions from an avant garde generation of Hindi short story writers, including all the famous names of his contemporaries, ranging from ‘Renu’ and ‘Ashk’ to Gyan Ranjan and Rajkamal Chaudhary.
I told him about the preface I had to write for the collection of his stories. He was pleased to refer me to a preface he had written for one of his own collections of stories. There he had written :
“Writing prefaces to stories is more difficult than writing stories. Stories are living things, by themselves born; but prefaces only chart their horoscopes, enabling the inept critic-astrologer to make half-baked prophecies.”
It was a daunting admonition for me. I wrote in my preface what he told me about his own stories : that they were like an expectant mother, waiting for the story to be born, waiting in hope for change. Unlike others, he said, his own stories do not dish out perennial and absolute truths; rather, they sketch only the relative temporal reality in all their dimensions and complexity. He said, he was acutely aware of his own perplexities and limitations and considered each of his stories unfinished, as restive as his own self, and still waiting, perhaps, for a finish
A new edition of his famous novel Kitne Pakistan had just been re-published and I went to its re-launch which was, perhaps, the last momentous occasion of my meeting him. He died of a heart-attack on 27 January, 2007. Three months later I was to leave Delhi.
My preface to Not Flowers of Henna had ended with these lines:
Kamaleshwar perceived the story as “not only something that is told or listened to; one has to live the story even as one tells it again and again. Stories of today do not soar on the wings of imagination, but are rooted in the hard realities of life”. And one would like to add that they always tend to remain hanging unfinished, connected with raw reality with its umbilical cord of creativity.