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Round about: Folks make the city

Last week I got two books by post: one in Hindi and another in Punjabi in which the authors choose to reminiscence over their youthful years in the young city, covering some two decades from the 1960s to 1980s.

columns Updated: Apr 28, 2018 23:36 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Nirupama Dutt
Hindustan Times
Legends in their lifetime, Kumar Vikal and Manjit Tiwana (ILLUSTRATION: Biswajit Debnath/HT)

A city comes of age when people start writing memoirs set in its nooks and crannies and this is happening to our Chandigarh. Of course, memoirs are about people because just as the old saying, ‘Clothes maketh a man’ goes, it’s the people who make the city.

The past few years have seen a surge of memoirs on yesteryear writers, both living and gone. Last week I got two books by post: one in Hindi and another in Punjabi in which the authors choose to reminiscence over their youthful years in the young city, covering some two decades from the 1960s to 1980s. The idols of those times were poets, writers and scholars and more so those with quirky talents. ‘Smrition ke Byscope’ (A Byscope of Memories) in Hindi is by Delhi-based poet Shailendra Shail who moved from Jalandhar to do his masters in Hindi Literature in 1961 when the much venerated writer-scholar Acharya Hazariprasad Dwivedi was the head.

Shail paints vivid portraits of Dwivedi and his successor Indra Nath Madan seeing them at close quarters and knowing minute details like Dwivedi used to add some tobacco to his paan and Madan would take a swig of gin in his washroom even when he was hosting and offering wine to his younger guests in the drawing room. Many others move in and out of the narrative like Ramesh Kuntal Megh who is the first ever to get the last Sahitya Akademi award on his encyclopaedia of aesthetics.

The fondest remembrance of Shail is of his dear friend, the Hindi poet of the city called Kumar Vikal, who was quite a legend in his lifetime too. Looking back, Shail writes: “Those days Chandigarh was witnessing a literary upsurge and following Banaras, Allahabad and Delhi, this young city too was making its place on the literary map of India. It was at this time that Vikal’s poetry got recognition”. When Shail returned to the city once more after a gap of some years, he would recall his long discussions with Vikal which started mid-morning in the Coffee House and often move in the evening to the tavern.

Punjabi poet Lok Nath who moved to Chandigarh a decade and a half after Shail, brings to us tales in his book ‘Shookde Dariya’ (Shrieking Rivers) of the next generation of poets and writers who made their presence felt in the 1970s. He was closest perhaps to Punjabi poet Amitoj, being his junior in the department of Punjabi (Punjab university?) and he describes him and rightly ‘the superstar of Punjabi poetry’. After Batalvi, it was Amitoj who enjoyed a fanfare as a poet and perhaps female adoration too. Lok Nath quotes an early poem by Amitoj in which a village boy’s alienation is experienced in a modern city; where he has no name but a roll number, no place but a room number, with his identity reduced to the back bench in a classroom (his identity comparable to a back bench in the classroom?). Of course, Vikal features here too as the ‘literary warrior of Punjab’!

Thank heavens for the bright Punjabi poet Manjit Tiwana for breaking the glass ceiling and making space for a woman poet in those times and that too with poetry of resistance against patriarchal norms. In fond remembrance, hinting at the lost romance with Amitoj, he reproduces her two immortal poems of the ‘70s: ‘Pati’(Husband) and ‘Window Shopping’. In the first the sparkling Manjit calls a husband a hungry wolf who will save you from other wolves but devour you in the end. The second is a tender poem of girls in the university going out in the evenings to window shop friendship.
Both memoirs make for good reading and are not just nostalgic but a document of the curvaceous literary mood in the city of straight lines

First Published: Apr 28, 2018 23:36 IST