Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Why was Gandhi killed?
Gandhi’s assassination was the ultimate act in a long life of sacrifice. Like a brave soldier, he knew all along that ultimately he had to die for his cause. Whichever way the battle would end, the soldier always dies in triumph: upholding his flag of victory. Gandhi sacrificed his life for his principle - with a vengeance. That was the only way he could demonstrate the absolute vindication of his unified principle of Truth and Ahimsa.
He was totally disenchanted with the Congress and its neo-colonial government of a partitioned India. Gandhi had been ready to offer power to Jinnah barely five months before, to avoid partition. But Congress wouldn’t listen. Like Jinnah, it wanted power – even over the dead body of the Mahatma. And so did Jinnah. Gandhi, after the power transfer, had become  completely  useless for Congress. It just couldn’t care less about his security. To precipitate the end, the new Indian government of Nehru and Patel stubbornly withheld the share of 55 crores to be paid to Pakistan according to the partition terms. They knew it would hurt Gandhi most bitterly. They knew he would resort to his last weapon – a fast, against their stubbornness. They knew Gandhi's fast in support of Muslim's would endanger his life at the hands of the Hindu extremists. But they remained nonchalant, unconcerned; negligent.
But Gandhi knew the time for his exit had come. He went on a fast against the government’s stubbornness. He knew this was only the last turn of the screw. For the militant Hindu groups it was their signal for the end of this crusader for Truth. And Gandhi’s insistence on truth and justice was anathema not only to the militants but also to his so called followers. Gandhi had chosen the path of martyrdom for upholding his principle of Truth and Ahimsa. He could see Destiny preparing the way for his martyrdom. And he was too happy to oblige. Yes, in a sense, it was not they that killed him : Gandhi opted for his own end, holding the flag of Truth and Ahimsa flying high in his hands! He had said that India could be partitioned over his dead body! He knew his tryst with destiny had arrived, and he was ready!

The following is a continuation of this tragic tribute in an excerpt from my newly-published biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad where I retell the story of that dark evening when I had heard this news of Gandhi’s assassination on a radio and rushed to tell my father about it…
New Delhi : January-end, 1948
The situation in Delhi was very tense. Even the top leaders in the Congress, including Patel, were unhappy with Gandhi’s alleged partiality towards Muslims, particularly after his last fast over the delay in the transfer of money to Pakistan. Serious differences over policy matters between Patel and Nehru had become Gandhi’s greatest worry. Accusations were being made that there were no proper security arrangements at the prayer meetings in spite of Patel being the Home Minister. A bomb incident had already taken place in one of Gandhi’s daily evening prayer meetings at Birla House, just ten days before his tragic assassination. In fact, on the very day of the assassination, till only a few hours before, Gandhi had been drafting the new constitution for the Congress in its new avatar as the Lok Sevak Sangh conceptualised as a purely non-political organization focused on the ongoing 'constructive programme'. But, perhaps, destiny was scripting another pitiless narrative for that evening and beyond in history. In keeping with the tragic irony, Prasad had left Delhi the same morning as he narrates the whole sequence of events.
"This matter [the Sevagram conference] had been under [Gandhiji’s] consideration for some time, and it had been decided that a conference of constructive workers should be called at Sevagram. A date had been fixed for it in the first week of February. Mahatmaji had decided to attend it and was anxious to go to Wardha for this purpose…. Early on the morning of January 30, 1948, I left for Wardha by plane. Before that, however,… I saw Gandhiji….He said that he would leave for Wardha in a day or two to attend the conference….I left Delhi in the hope that I would see Bapuji at Wardha within the next few days, and that the constructive programme, which was the very basis of the strength of the Congress, would receive a new impetus….I arrived at Wardha about half-past two in the afternoon. By that time, because of the cold and the exhaustion consequent on the journey, I had started a temperature. A doctor came to see me at about five o’clock in the evening. While I was talking to him, a boy came running and told us that Mahatmaji was dead….[The] announcement had come on radio."
As I reproduce these lines, I am struck by a personal flashback of that terrible radio announcement.I was just about ten years old. We lived in Chhapra (in Bihar) where my father was a college professor. It was around six in the evening. I was playing on the street with other boys. Across the street lived our landlord, the only person in the locality who owned a big radiogram in his drawing room. The news of Gandhiji’s murder came in a special announcement: some Hindu fanatic had just shot Mahatma Gandhi as he was proceeding to his prayer meeting in Birla House. The news stunned everyone. I immediately ran into my house to convey this terrifying news to my father. He looked paralysed by the news.
That night he recorded in his diary. 30 January, 1948: “Right at nightfall, heard that at New Delhi’s Birla Bhawan, a youth named Nathuram Vinayak Godse, around five in the evening, fired three shots at Mahatma Gandhi, killing him instantly. But God was merciful to Muslims. Had the killer been a Muslim, the entire Indian Muslim community would have been annihilated in a day. Even in his death Gandhiji protected the Muslims.Mother India became sonless today.”

Prasad recollects: “I could not sleep that night”. Though early next morning he was able to get a lift in a flight from Nagpur to Delhi with Gandhi’s son Ramdas and just made it to the last darshan and the funeral. The Sevagram Constructive Workers’ Conference was put off and met in March when it ‘decided to establish the Sarvodaya Samaj’....

[Edited extract from the original version of my biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad, Part VI, Ch 2] © Dr BSM Murty

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Introduction to ‘Not flowers of Henna’

When I was asked to write an introduction to a selection of Kamaleshwar’s short stories translated into English by the well-known translator Jai Ratan, I was caught between the horns of a dilemma – how to do or not to do. Both the names are celebrated in the Indian literary world and even abroad. Would it not be presumptuous on my part to write an introduction to their work ? My relative  anonymity – would it be for better or for worse ? I knew Kamaleshwarji – five years my elder – since the sixties when I had started my career as a lecturer in English. He was in Patna as the guest editor of a special short story number of ‘Nai Dhara’, then being edited by Rambriksha Benipuri. I was also an avid reader of  ‘Kahani’, ‘Nai Kahaniyan’  and ‘Sarika’ which he edited during the 50s to the 70s. I was familiar with his oeuvre. He was also a recipient of the award instituted in my father’s name by Bihar Rashtrabhasha Parishad. Nonetheless, I decided to take a plunge into the fray, even as an outsider. I hoped to get away with it, because what Kamleshwar wrote in one of his own prefaces to a collection of his stories, would hardly pin me down - as an outsider to Hindi literature. He said –

“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.”

In this statement, he was bitterly disparaging of the prevailing scenario of Hindi fictional criticism which had squandered its obligations and gone on a wild goose chase, instead of giving the short story a close scrutiny, it so acutely deserves, as an organic whole, created and existing in its own right. His stories (he says) are, perhaps, like an expectant mother, waiting for the story to be born, waiting in hope for change. Unlike others, they do not dish out perennial and absolute truths; rather, they sketch out only the time-relative reality, multi-dimensional and complex as it is. He is acutely aware of his own perplexity and his limitations, and considers each of his stories as still unfinished; restive as himself, and still waiting, perhaps, for a finish.

In one of his recently published interviews he speaks about his native place Mainpuri in U.P. as a small township, a typical ‘kasba’, which was like an inn on a road from the village to the town, looking both ways, like his stories, taking their essential sustenance from the life at the grassroots, and moving with hope and perseverance to the formality and complexity of city life. Life, he maintains, is not made up of  a sequence of big catastrophes, but is woven of the warp and woof of  bits of experience in our everyday life. It is these bits of experience that fledge human relationships as they soar. In a novel or a story, he says, it is the theme which is the kernel, the seed, which sprouts out into its natural form.

“A story is not only something that is told or listened to; one has to live the story even as s/he tells it again and again. Often one would tell a story to get over the pain and gloom of life…. Stories of today do not soar on the wings of imagination, but are rooted in the hard realities of life.”

Kamaleshwar’s life, at several of its turns, bears striking similarities with the life of Gorky. Like Gorky, Kamaleshwar, too, spent a childhood in indigence and want. Though not an orphan like Gorky, he, too, had lost his father when he was only three. His early jobs were those of a  signboard painter and a godown watchman, before getting his first decent job as script writer in All India Radio. (Gorky had started as a shoemaker’s apprentice, a draughtsman’s clerk, and a cook’s boy on a steamer.) Once like Gorky ( who had started a publishing house and failed) Kamaleshwar, too, had established a publication house “Shramjeevi” at Allahabad which met a similar fate. And these similarities in the circumstances of their lives are also closely paralleled in their creative work; their novels and short stories embody similar experiences and social predicaments.

Kamaleshwar was born on 6 January, 1932, in a middle class family, fallen on bad days, after the death of his father. After an early education in Mainpuri, marred by penury, he went to Allahabad where  he took up sundry jobs, as they came his way, as a signboard painter and a  godown watchman, besides writing for local journals, and teaching Hindi in a Christian Seminary. It was here that he started attending meetings of the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Progressive Writers Association. Then he moved to Delhi where he worked as editor in the Rajkamal Prakashan for some time and as a  script-writer in All India Radio. The next phase of his life began when he moved to Bombay to write for films, and joined the Times of India as editor of ‘Sarika’ which soon became the finest literary magazine of its time. But after editing it for 13 years his relations with the management soured and he resigned his job. For some time more he lived in Bombay as a freelance writer before returning finally to Delhi. Now he was A.D.G. in Doordarshan and a famous literary figure, with a number of novels and far larger number of short stories to his credit. He was also by now the most celebrated film and TV writer, editor and critic. Indeed, he was at the zenith of his literary career with the most prestigious literary awards, besides the state award of ‘Padmabhushan’, being showered on him.

Kamleshwar’s first short story ‘The Fugitive’ was published in 1946. But that was only the beginning. He has written around 200 short stories since then besides about 10 novels and  a large corpus of editorial writing, including some significant literary criticism. The total span of his  fictional writing career is generally divided into the three periods of his life; the first from the beginning to his coming to Allahabad; the second, up to his coming to Delhi; and the third during his stay at Bombay and thereafter. He himself speaks about these three phases :

“ The sequence of my story-writing extends from the initial authentic recognition and aggregation of experiences, the realization of their multiplicity of contexts, and, finally, the progressive penetration into their full significance. My stories were always born out of  the pain and suffering which have been the boon companions of my creative life”.

In a nutshell, his literary career has itself been a six decade long story made up of countless smaller stories, adumbrating, as it were, the  journey of his creative life, in which he lived through the very story he was trying to tell over and over again. To that extent all stories acquire a form that is essentially, by definition, incomplete and forward-looking. Kamaleshwar’s stories bear testimony to this basic truth. They are all attempts to attain completion which always remains an elusive ideal, and, perhaps, rightly so.

This selection from his stories contains 15 of his finest and most representative short stories chosen and translated by Jai Ratan, an accomplished and brilliant translator. Of these only about five are rather long, including the famous “How many more Pakistans?”, a purported precursor of his finest novel “Kitne Pakistan” ( in English translation: “Partitions”,Penguin,2006). However, one of the notable omissions in this selection is Kamaleshwar’s “Raja Nirbansia” which had catapulted him to literary fame in the early 1950s, and is a class in itself with its overt allegorical experimentation in the modern Hindi short story form.

Literary translation is a daunting challenge; but Jai Ratan is an old veteran in the field. I have a hunch that the language of modern Hindi fiction with dynamic infusion of Urdu lends itself more easily to translation into English; perhaps, because linguistically both forms today are much closer to each other. For instance, the story “Intezar” (“The Wait”) in its Hindi original form itself reads almost like a translation from English. Such linguistic affinity between the source and the target languages is a positive advantage, though, on the other hand, it may also trammel the translator’s freedom of creativity to an extent. Jai Ratan’s equal command over these three languages is his great strength, and both Hindi and Urdu literatures – and, indeed, English literature, too - owe him a profound debt for his momentous contribution to them.

It is singularly appropriate for Katha to publish this selection of Kamaleshwar’s short stories, finely rendered into English by a practiced master of the art, particularly because Kamaleshwar’s art of story-telling is umbilically linked to the hallowed ‘katha’ tradition of this ancient art form.The modern Hindi short story only presents kaleidoscopic variants, one of the most fascinating of which are the short stories of Kamaleshwar.

                                                                                 - Mangal Murty

Other Important blogs you may like to see here:

2010 : Sahitya Samagra : 5 Oct / 2011 : On Premchand: (26 May) / Has Hindi been defeated by English? : Shivpujan Sahay : (7 Dec) / 2012 : Memoirs on Prasad and Nirala : (25-26 Oct)/ 2013 : Sheaf of Old Letters (10 Oct) / 2014 :  Shivpujan Sahay Smriti Samaroh:( 27 Jan) / On Amrit Lal Nagar: (18 Aug)/ On Bachchan : (27 Nov) / 2015 : On Renu: (3 Mar) / On Trilochan: (1 Apr) /Odes of Keats + Shantiniketan: (25 May) / Premchand Patron Men: (3 Aug)/  Suhagraat: Dwivediji's poem: (13 Nov)/ 2016 : Three stories of JP:(6 Jul) / On Neelabh Ashk: (24 Jul)/ / Dehati Duniya: (8 Aug)/  Anupam Mishra: Paani ki Kahaani :(Dec 25) /   2017 :  Doctornama: memoirs of Shivpujan Sahay (July 10):  On Prithwiraj Kapoor (Nov 6) / Rajendra Jayanti Address @ Bihar Vidyapeeth, Patna (Dec 14)/ 2018:हिंदी नव जागरण, शिवपूजन सहाय  और काशी           (1 Mar)/Tribute to Kedar Nath Singh (25 May) /  राहुलजी और हिंदी-उर्दू-हिन्दुस्तानी का सवाल (12 Jun)/ Neelabh Mishra (16 Jun)/ Death of Shivpoojan Sahay(17 Jun) / बाबा नागार्जुन (1 Jul)

Extracts from my forthcoming biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad

Some extracts from my forthcoming biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad are also available on this Blog (Scroll by year and date), plus some other articles on him.
2011:  The Indigo Story (28 May) / A Planter’s Murder (17 Jul) / The Butcher of Amritsar (July 18) / 2014:  The Seven Martyrs, The Last Act, The Pity of Partition, Lok ewak Sangh (14 Sep) /  Early childhood in Jeeradei ( 3 Dec) /   2015:  Congress in disarray, Swearing of First President (30 Jun) / 27: Clash of Convictions: Somnath (27 Aug) / Presidential Itineraries ( 8 Oct) / Congress at crossroads             ( 20 Dec)  2016: Election for Second Term (15 Mar) /  Visit to Soviet Union (13 May) / Limits of Presidency, Code Bill (24 Aug) /  The Last Phase (28 Aug)   2017:   Dr Rajendra Prasad: On Kashmir Problem ( 12 Jul) / The Swearing in of Dr Rajendra Prasad (24 July) / Remembering Dr Rajendra Prasad (Patna Univ Centenary) (15 Oct) / Dr Rajendra Prasad & Bihar Vidyapeeth (14 Dec

 You may also visit my Hindi blog –  mainly for articles on Shivpoojan Sahay, and my translation of Shrimad Bhagawad Geeta and Ramcharit Manas( retold)

My new address : Dr BSM Murty, H-302, Celebrity Gardens, Sushant Golf City, Ansal API, Lucknow:226030. Mob. 7752922938 & 7985017549              

All matter and photos, unless otherwise indicated, are © Dr BSM Murty,