Amid the publicity following the announcement that the Hindi film Shahid won two national awards, most people appeared to have overlooked the fact that the movie’s protagonist had a strong connection with the City Beautiful.
The movie portrays the character of for mer Panjab University professor DC Saxena, with Yusuf Hussain playing the role, who was incarcerated in Delhi’s Tihar Jail in the 1990s after he filed a petition accusing the then Chief Justice, AM Ahmadi, of misusing his official residence for running a private legal practice by his children.
While in jail Saxena reportedly transfor med the lives of many prisoners by teaching them, eventually dying in 2006 of a heart attack.
“I haven’t seen the movie but it’s a tribute to a great teacher who changed so many lives for the better wherever he was,” recounted Deepti Gupta, a former student of Saxena and now an English professor at PU. “He was so committed to teaching”, she recalled, “that once when his leg was fractured he would take classes at his home. His house was like a reference library for students. After his death his books were donated to the varsity’s English and law departments”.
Till the end Saxena remained in touch with his for mer students. “Once on Teacher’s Day he came to the class and brought a few cards from his bag, saying they had been sent to him by his ‘students’ who were still locked up in Tihar jail. But you haven’t given me any cards,” said Ashish Alexander, who was one of his last students at PU.
Satyapal Sehgal, a professor in PU’s Hindi department, remembered Saxena as a fearless crusader who did not compromise on issues that mattered. “He a lway s fought against injustice, not caring about the consequences,” he said.
When the Chandigarh-based editor of an English daily was writing Saxena’s obituary in 2006, approached prominent human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi in Mumbai, the latter was quick to acknowledge the former PU don was the “turning point” in his life.
Another character from the region portrayed in the film is of that of Ghulam Nabi Var, played by KK Menon. Var was imprisoned after being falsely accused in a case and later launched the Saxena Vision Foundation in Srinagar, which produced several Kashmir civil services officers.