Friday, December 12, 2008

Dr. Bachchan - Rupert Snell

Respected Brother,
Sadar Charan Sparsh,
In league with you for living with your father - Dr. Bachchan is constantly in my thoughts mood and life, more so for the reason that I have been in the process of reading four epic volumes of his autobiography- a tantalising tale of the ups and downs, of his existence as a poet and otherwise, of times and phases that spanned his life. He was 95 plus when the poet breathed his last. But I say do such people really die, he lives amongst us with his great contribution in the form of literature mainly in the poetic form of which Madhushala could well be considered an enormous success with India and lovers of Hindi poetry.
For me, brother, I knew Dr. Bachchan before I came to know of you, his style of poetry reflected a mood that could well be understood and followed by the most common man and yet it had a great impact. I would consider myself fortunate if i could someday even achieve 1 percent of his style, he was inimitable, he was different, he was radical and someone who struggled, almost in the same vein as Premchand struggled in his lifetime. His contribution is higher than meets our eyes or what meanings we derive reading his poetry for the first time. I know some poet friends had written an antidote to Madhushala requesting someone to not to go to Madhushala. would care to agree less! Not that I am a perpetuator of wine house in any way yet I feel that his writings could never ever be associated to drive the people to dissolve themselves into wine! His was a symbolic poetry the one that could draw meanings of life from such a soft concept as the house of wine! Indeed he did achieve a great success for his Madhushala yet I would like to divert the attention of the connoisseur towards his four volume autobiography. After having read the two middle volumes and in midst of the first and final, I can not differ to agree that his prose is actually more emphatic than his poetry! It leads into life of those days of an ordinary middle class person who was acclaimed for his poetry yet had to face the music of life like any other Indian of that time! The Cambridge days story which is compiled in the third volume called Basere se door .. is simply a great reflection of the India and England of those days. That he was only the third Indian to be awarded a Ph.D from the prestigious university did not bring much accolades to him on his return to Allahabad.
Without going too much into Dr. Bachchan's life story I share the piece by Rupert Snell.
I have deliberately given the lik as it is from Pakistan, the one country that we all believe is our enemy to the core. He and his fame knew no bundaries!
Harivansh Rai BachchanHindi poet whose 1935 poem 'Madhushala' - 'The House of Wine' - drove audiences wild21 January 2003
Harivansh Rai (Harivansh Rai Bachchan), poet: born Allahabad, India 27 November 1907; married 1927 Shyama (died 1936), 1942 Teji Suri (two sons); died Bombay 18 January 2003.
In 1935, a young Hindi poet from Allahabad published a long lyric poem called Madhushala, inspired by Fitzgerald's translation of Omar Khayyám's Rubáiyát. The runaway success of Madhushala, whose title means "The House of Wine", made its teetotal author, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, the toast of northern India; he was in constant demand at the large-scale public poetry readings called "kavi sammelan", and his poem became the hymn of the age – its sweetly rhymed cadences still echo in people's memories today. More than mere literary success, this was stardom, and the poet's performances drew wild enthusiasm from his huge audiences.
Harivansh Rai, the son of a family from a modest United Provinces background, was born in 1907 in Allahabad, where his father was a clerk in the office of the Pioneer newspaper. The birth of a boy seemed a miracle to the sonless parents, and they named him after the Harivansha Purana, the Sanskrit text to whose devout recitation the happy event was attributed. The young boy seemed to have books in his blood, for he read voraciously during long childhood hours spent in Allahabad's libraries.
In adolescence, the early deaths of some intimate friends, including a boy named Karkal and Karkal's wife Champa, brought an acquaintance with grief that primed the nascent poet's verse with a bittersweet mood. Meanwhile the tide of politics ebbed and flowed: Mahatma Gandhi visited Allahabad, as did Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and a relative was witness to the 1919 massacre at Jallianwallah Bagh in Amritsar. Harivansh Rai's inner life echoed the vacillations of these outer events.
At the age of 18, he was married to a girl called Shyama, some three years his junior. Their sweet relationship provided the background to his student career and to his involvement in Gandhi's Satyagraha movement; but Shyama's fluctuating health was a constant worry, and she died within a few short years.
Deeply grieved, Harivansh Rai followed a series of uninspiring jobs, until at last a change of fortunes brought him a lectureship in the renowned English Department of Allahabad University. He thrived on this new work, whose unchallenging schedules allowed him ample time to develop his poetic persona; teaching English and writing Hindi became the two strings to his bow, and, if his heart-on-sleeve poetry did not always please the austere Hindi critics, his public popularity knew no bounds. The conventional need for a nom de plume had already been filled by his family pet name, "Bachchan", which means simply "child" or "little boy"; and the poetry kept coming, even if it was Madhushala that the rapturous audiences always demanded.
In 1942 Bachchan met and married Teji Suri, from a Punjabi family, and their life-affirming domestic harmony was soon underwritten by the birth of two sons, Amitabh and Ajitabh; Amitabh's registration at school was the first occasion on which the name "Bachchan" became confirmed as a family surname. In the early 1950s Bachchan took an unusual opportunity to study in St Catherine's College, Cambridge, where he worked on W.B. Yeats under the supervision of T.R. Henn, learning also the art of living on a few shillings in student digs, and noting, in this linguistically novel environment, that those shillings were called "bob", not "bobs".
Yeats's widow received him most graciously when he made a research trip to Ireland; and, although problems and distractions abounded, he became one of the first Indian students to complete a literature PhD at Cambridge. On his going back to Allahabad, however, the "England-returned" scholar was cold-shouldered by his jealous colleagues, and he soon left academia to work as a radio producer, then as a "Hindi Officer" in Jawaharlal Nehru's Ministry of External Affairs.
While living in Allahabad, Teji Bachchan had became a close friend of Nehru's daughter Indira. This family connection was maintained after the Bachchans moved to Delhi, where Teji blossomed socially, acting in Shakespeare plays translated into Hindi by her husband. Bachchan himself looked on his ministry work askance, realising that the establishment of a separate Hindi section in the ministry was a mere sop to the movement that sought to promote Hindi as a true national language.
Meanwhile the growing Bachchan boys found great success in their chosen careers: Amitabh became the very archetype of the Hindi film actor, while Ajitabh went into business. Gradually Bachchan himself became part of the cultural establishment, representing his country on numerous tours to foreign capitals, and receiving many honours including appointment as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament.
His writing continued unabated – always in Hindi, except for the English dissertation from Cambridge (published as W.B. Yeats and Occultism, 1965). From the Sixties onwards he began writing a serial autobiography, the first of whose four volumes, Kya bhulum, kya yada karum ("What Should I Forget and What Should I Remember", 1969), was quickly seen to be a modern classic, a sublime invocation of his family background and of the emotional turbulence of his early years. An English translation of Madhushala appeared in 1950 (The House of Wine, from the Fortune Press) and an abridgement of his autobiography in 1998 (In the Afternoon of Time, from Penguin Books India).
In retirement, often in indifferent health, Bachchan and Teji began to live under the long protective shadow of Amitabh in Bombay, amidst the supportive cast of an adoring family.
Harviansh Rai Bachchan leaves nine volumes of "collected works", including a legacy of accessible Hindi verse hardly to be matched by any 20th-century author.
Rupert Snell

Abhaya Sharma December 13 2008, 11.04 Hrs IST


Anonymous said...

Mr. Sharma,
it was interesting reading this piece on Dr. Bachchan. i wish one day i could come across any of his works. i have developed an interest in his Madhushalla, and his autobigraphy. unfotuante that they are not available at my end.

Abhaya said...

Dear Rasha,

I wish I couls make available some of the works of Dr. Bachchan into English. Where do I have the necessary sklls and maybe even time to get into such acts.

In the Afternoon of Time by Rupert Snell presents an abridged form of his autobiogrphy. I think it was published by Penguin Books.

Love and regards

Abhaya Sharma