118 years of Trust THE TRIBUNE

Sunday, November 29, 1998
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An ocean of intellect passes into history

By Ajit Dalal

THE top Hindi poet of contemporary literary world, Nagarjuna, passed away last month at the age of 67. Known as ‘Baba’ among the Hindi lovers, Nagarjuna was called "poet of the people". He had been keeping indifferent health for the last few months. Unfortunately, neither the administration nor any social or literary organisation came forward to even partially meet the expenses incurred by him on treatment of asthma.

Baba breathed his last in the Khwaja Sarai locality of Darbhanga town in Bihar in the small house of his eldest son, Shobha Kant. About a month before his death, his daughter-in-law made a sentimental appeal to all Hindi lovers to come forward and provide financial help to the seriously ill poet. Her appeal fell on deaf years.

Nagarjuna (Vaidya Nath Mishra) was born in 1911 in Satlakha, his mother’s village. His native village, Tarauni, is not far away from Satlakha. He was brought up in his native village. As per the tradition of those days, the child was admitted to a Sanskrit pathshala (school). Thereafter, he studied Sanskrit at Kashi and Calcutta and obtained the degree of ‘Sahitya Acharya’ in Sanskrit. But, Baba never took up a job. Soon after his studies of Sanskrit were over, he went to Kalania near Colombo in Sri Lanka to study Pali and Buddhism. Here he converted to Buddhism and was renamed Nagarjuna.

His first poem was published in Maithili dialect in 1930 under the pen-name ‘Yatri’. Nagarjuna was impressed by Marxism and he spent a couple of years in propagating Marxism.

From 1934 to 1941, Nagarjuna toured various parts of India and even went abroad. He was very active in journalism too during this period. Meanwhile, his first poem in Hindi was published in 1935 and he started writing under the name Nagarjuna.

Nagarjuna launched the peasantry movement in Bihar along with Sahaja Nand Saraswati and Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan. He passed most of his time between 1939 and 1941 in various jails of Bihar for leading the farmers agitation.

Many of his poems, written after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, were banned by the government,as it feared that they might cause communal and social tensions. Baba had deep differences with the Communist Party after the Indo-China war in 1962. Though Baba’s ideology was not far removed from Marxist theory, he never participated in meetings organised by different Communist parties.

Baba Nagarjuna played a vital role in awakening the masses during the Jaya Prakash Narayan movement of 1974. As a result, just after the imposition of the Emergency he was jailed along with many other associates of JP. Baba was one of the pillars of the Marxist-Leninist thought, which later became a political party--the CPM.

Nagarjuna has left behind over a dozen books. His well-known collection of poems include Yugdhara, Satrange Pankhon Wali, Talab ki Maghhliyan, Khichri, Vipalva Dekha Humne, Hazar Hazar Bahon Wali, Purani Juliyon Ka Course, Tumne Kaha Tha, Akhir Aisa Kaya Kah Diya Maine, and Is Gubare Ki Chhaya Mein.

The famous novels of Baba Nagarjuna include Rati Nath Ki Chachi, Balachnama, Baba Bateshar Nath, Nai Paudh, Varun Ke Bete, Dukh Mochan, Ugratara, Jamania Ka Baba, Kumbhi Pak, Paro and Asman Mein Chanda Tare. Nagarjuna’s collection of essays which gained fame are Anan Hinam Kriyanam. His books in Maithili are Patrahin Gachh (collection of poems)’ and Hirak Jayanti (novel). His work on culture has been published in the form of books entitled Desh Dashkam and Krishak Dashkam.

Baba also wrote in Bangla very regularly and his writings appeared in leading Bangla newspapers and magazines. He wrote a lot for children, too.

Nagarjuna received a number of awards. He was given the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1969 for his historic book Patarheen Nagan Gachh. He was honoured by the Sahitya Akademi by appointing him its fellow in 1994. In addition to that he was honoured with the Bharat Bharti Award by the U.P. Government, the Kabir Award by the Madhya Pradesh Government and the Rajender Shikhar Award by the Bihar Government, besides other literary and social awards by various organisations.

Baba’s simple lifestyle, soul-stirring poems and philosophy based on realities will always be remembered for long in Indian literary world. Behind his deep and searching eyes, there was an ocean of intellect which was manifest in his works.

A great scholar of Hindi, Sanskrit, Maithili, Bangla and Pali, Baba represented the mainstream of Hindi and Maithili creative writing which finds its origin in the whole tradition of Kalidas and Bhavbhuti, on the one side, and Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, on the other. The poet in Baba was an aesthete as well as a nurturer of people’s sentiments.

A wanderer by nature, Nagarjuna always strove for the awakening the masses against exploitation, social injustice and suppression. Baba’s unique satirical style of saying things and expressing his views in a very simple way will be remembered by the coming generations. Little wonder that his Dukhmochan was the first and finest novel to be broadcast in a serialised form by the All India Radio.

A Socialist to the core of his heart, it was probably only Nagarjuna, after Munshi Prem Chand, who strongly advocated the cause of the downtrodden and the exploited. He wrote extensively about the rotten social system which, according to him, was being used to exploit the peasantry. Nagarjuna was basically anti-establishment, because he was not compromising by nature. This is why he even rejected the offer of nomination to the Rajya Sabha and thrice to the Bihar Vidhan Parishad.

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