For decades, his house has been the meeting place for writers. Many a fine talent was nurtured here and seeds sown for staging of plays that are part of the city lore. But this Saturday, the meeting of the literary group ‘Abhivyakti’ (expression) was different because the savant who gave a patient and critical ear to the writings in his drawing room for over 40 years, read the final chapter of his autobiography.
We are talking of Virender Mendiratta, 85, who came to Chandigarh in 1953, at a time when only two and a half residential sectors were built to teach Hindi literature at the Government College for Boys, housed in a school building in Sector 23. This young lecturer had in him an immense passion for literature in its myriad forms. He also has many firsts to his credit, like staging the city’s first play in 1957. In 1974, he opened his doors to writers of all hues to come and read their latest works on the first Saturday of every month.
Thus, while on one hand the city was being built gradually with bricks and concrete, on the other a group was formed to germinate a literary and artistic culture. In later years, theatre lovers also formed the group ‘Abhinet’ that delivered some memorable plays for the city.
My acquaintance with ‘Abhivyakti’ started when it was in its fifth year. I had just turned a scribbler and started attending its meetings to write a few words about them. But I had known of Mendiratta much earlier as the aesthetic and cultured professor of Hindi, through elder siblings. At his home, one could hear fine Hindi poetry and I also had the chance to listen to poems of Kumar Vikal, among several others. Mendiratta rarely read. Although he was a short-fiction writer, but on one occasion he read a very sensitive story on the making of the city’s high court building that probed many layers of the philosophy of justice. He directed many plays and Mohan Rakesh’s ‘Ashadh Ka Ek Din’ is still remembered as a milestone.
Coming to his reading of the last chapter of his autobiography, something that looks back at the years starting with the migration of his family from Pakistan and the trials and tribulations of his own growing years, to becoming a writer and university professor in the city of dreams. “I write in long hand still and my process is long for I finalise my writing in the third draft. But I am satisfied that I have completed it,” he says. He has much to tell, for he has witnessed life and creative endeavours of many generations of writers: Ramesh Sharma’s stories, Swdesh Deepak’s plays, Atulvir Arora’s poems, to name a few.
He has battled severe illness at the prime of his life, but is still on the go despite age and health not by his side. He makes it a point to attend literary meets, festivals and the like; offering an opinion here and giving a word of encouragement there. All through his life his graceful wife Kanta has been a pillar of support. She shares his love for letters and one gets a feeling that his story of a life well lived will be dedicated to her.
blurb: City’s own man of letters, Virender Mendiratta, pens the story of his life