Suryakant Tripathi Nirala: Doyen of Hindi literature
Eminent Hindi poet, author and essayist Nirala did something remarkable – although he had learnt Bengali as his main language since childhood, he took up Hindi later on and not only mastered it but also became a titan of the neo-romantic school of Hindi literature.
Childhood & Education
It was on the insistence of his father, who belonged to Gadhakola, a village in Unnao that was part of the erstwhile United Provinces but settled down in Medinipur, that Nirala was enrolled in a school where Bengali was the medium of instruction.
The boy, who lost his mother very early in life and the family, underwent spells of financial struggles, owing to the meager income of his father, who was the sole earner. Nirala was a diligent student who developed keen interest in Sanskrit. After passing the matriculation examination he shifted base, first to Lucknow and then to his family’s ancestral village. As he grew up, he drew inspiration from the life and teachings of leading personalities such as Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda and the poet, Rabindranath Tagore.
Nirala was in his teens when he married Manohara Devi. The couple had a daughter but the family was rocked by the death of his wife within a few years of their marriage. Soon after, his daughter too passed away.
Considering that Nirala began learning Hindi much late in life, he made rather rapid progress in picking up the language and even began to write poetry in it, instead of Bengali.
Gradually, although he achieved an impressive level of proficiency in Hindi, Bengali, Sanskrit as well as in English, he had decided that he would dedicate his life to a serious literary pursuits, especially in poetry and other forms of such expression. He felt propelled to wield the pen effectively against social injustice and exploitation and refused to buckle down even in the face of criticism.
During the 1920s, Nirala took up a job as a proof-reader. From those humble beginnings, he became the editor of publications such as Samanvaya and Matwala, that were brought out from Calcutta. He also embarked on a literary journey that would see him produce many more gems. Nirala’s major works include novels such as Prabhavati, Choti ki Pakad, and Nirupama; Poetry: Saroj Smriti, Parimal, Anaamika and Geetika; Stories: Lily, Devi and Sukul ki Biwi; Essays: Ravindra Kavita Kannan and Prabandha Pratima; and translations which includes Devi Chaudharani, Chandrasekhar, Vish Vriksh, Sri Ramkrishna Vachnamrit and Rajyog.
During his final years, Nirala was suffering from schizophrenia and passed away on October 15, 1961 in Allahahad.
Nirala pioneered the Chhayavaad era in Hindi literature, along with Jaishankar Prasad, Sumitranandan Pant and Mahadevi Varma.
1. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru once addressed a meeting in Allahabad (present-day Prayagraj) that was also attended by Nirala. After accepting garlands from admirers, Nehru said: ‘I have come from China and heard there a story of a great king who had two sons. One was wise, the other stupid. When the boys grew up into adults, the king told the stupid one that he could have his throne, for he was fit only to be a ruler. But the wise one, he said, was destined for far greater things — he would be a poet’. Nehru then took the garlands off himself and offered them to Nirala. This anecdote appeared in The Hindu newspaper.
2. Nirala’s poem Saroj Smriti is dedicated to his daughter Saroj who died very young. American novelist & translator David Rubin said his works are greater than that of other 20th-century Hindi poets.
3. A park named Nirala Uddyan, an auditorium Nirala Prekshagrah, and the Mahapran Nirala Degree College in the Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh were all named after the great poet.
Sources: Wikipedia, PhilaIndia.info, Famousbirthdays.com