Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better: So said Algeria-born French writer Albert Camus who believed in absurdist philosophy. It is not such a good idea to start the obituary of a well-known city intellectual with a Camus quote but that is what NK Oberoi, who passed away here on Wednesday morning, would have expected from his obit-writer.
One recalls when Oberoi took over as the head of the English department at Panjab University, in the mid-1990s, he related with glee a remark by a friend: “It seems a runaway character from one of Camus novels is now chairing the English department.”Oberoi took it as a compliment because he understood freedom, rebellion and the absurdity of human life. This was the remark that his wife recounted to her husband’s friends who gathered at Oberoi’s house as the sad news reached them. Oberoi, who passed away at the age of 75, is survived by wife Hemlata and daughter Vandita, who lit her father’s pyre.
Oberoi, who was one of the creative rebels of the 1960s and part of a charmed circle including his best friend, Hindi poet Kumar Vikal, philosophy professor Satyapal Gautam, actor-musician Kamal Tewari, artist Diwan Manna and many others. Vikal-Oberoi duo exercised a great clout in the literary and intellectual circles right till the mid-1980s, enjoying a strong male bonding and shared belief in Bacchus. Recalling his lost friend, Gautam says: “He was among those intellectuals who believed that literature could change the world. Passionate and devoted to literature, Oberoi proved to be a good administrator when he took charge as the department chairman.”
“With the passing away of people like Vikal, Oberoi and others it is the end of an era in which teachers were friends, philosophers and guides. Oberoi had a very sharp mind and he was as a friend of friends,”says Tewari. For Manna he was a father-figure who guided him in his early years, “He supported me in my lost and vagabond years and always took interest in my work and wrote about it,”says Manna.
Satyapal Sehgal, professor of Hindi, feels: “The unique factor about Oberoi was that while he taught English, he was well read in Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu too. He also took a keen interest in music, art and cinema and guided his students in multi-disciplinary research. He was part of the left-of-the-road times in Ludhiana and the coffee house culture of Jalandhar that came with Vikal and him to Chandigarh.”Oberoi had been battling illness for a couple of years. A memorial meeting will be organised by the family on Saturday