Round about: Unwritten novel, unfinished poem
Unwritten poems, stories and fables... remembering my friend Manmohan Sharma who passed away last week.Updated: Mar 04, 2018 12:14 IST
This has been a season of obituary writing for me so I am glad that I was away from the city when my friend Manmohan Sharma died. Of course, he did not go unsung.
People remembered him as a prominent health activist, executive director of the Voluntary Health Association of Punjab (VHAP) who played a pivotal role in the enactment and implementation of the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act, 1994.In his struggle against female foeticide he managed to get the Jathedar of Takht Sri Keshgar Sahib to pass the historic hukumnama against the heinous practice.
That was one side of Manmohan’s sizzling mind and the other was a keen interest in poetry, fiction and societal change. My first introduction to this frail, fair man with a crew-cut was his singing of ‘Samajvad babua dhire dhire aayi/ Laathi se aayi, goli se aayi votva se aayi/ Phir bhi ahinsa kahai’ (Socialism, my dear, came slowly/ Came with a stick, came with a bullet/ Still it was called non-violence).
Manmohan was singing in the right ‘puravi’ tonea poem by Jawaharlal Nehru University’s much-loved revolutionary poet Gorakh Pandey. Manmohan was very much a Punjabi home-grown in Patiala. He became grist to the mill of the Naxalite uprising which echoed Bengal in Punjab in 1967. He was then in the first year of college.
This frail young man would often recount the story of his arrest laughing that he managed to evade the police for he knew the lanes and by-lanes of Patiala well. When finally caught, his wrist was so lean that the handcuff would slip off. The hefty policeman mocked dragging him, “Such is the feeble state of these boys who think they will bring Inquilab (revolution)!”
When he moved from Chandigarh’s Sector 44 to Zirakpur, where I now live, he told me he would write a poem: ‘Yaadon ke stambhon par flyover ubhar aaye hain’.
My first acquaintance with him was in the canteen of a local newspaper office in 1984 when he came with his comrade-friend late Kalyan Mukherjee, who was doing an article on the resistance by writers-artists to Khalistani separatists. A chord was struck and we became friends and when I moved for two years to a barsati in Delhi in 1985 to be a writer as I fancied myself to be one, I came into contact with many of his co-travellers: Dilip Simeon of ‘The Revolution Highway’ fame, Left ideologue Jogen, poet Alok Dhanva, Bawa Singh, Kalyan of course and many others.
I would sit and discuss the novel I wanted to write about a good little Hindu girl’s tumultuous life and he would talk about a novel he would write on a brutalisation of a young man by society. He had a great sense of humour and told hilarious folksy tales from Malwa region’s oral culture.
The other thing we had in common was love for Kumar Vikal’s poetry: he liked the early red poems which he recited from memory and I preferred Vikal’s middle pink phase. Both Manmohan and I had to our credit aborted suicide attempts over lost loves and a passion for ‘awargi’ or wanderlust of emotions and experience. I puffed away my blues the Sahir Ludhianvi way and one rarely saw him do so but he did drown them in spirits.
I owed much to him, more so my early stories on Punjab including covering a remote village in Sangrur way back in 1994 where 26 farmers had committed suicide. I once did an election tour with him for company and came back with a rich haul. The last elections when he was ailing, he somehow hobbled with me through his Patiala for a story I had gone to do.
When he moved from Chandigarh’s Sector 44 to Zirakpur, where I now live, he told me he would write a poem: ‘Yaadon ke stambhon par flyover ubhar aaye hain’ (Flyovers have come up over the pillars of memory). He composed only the first line and I wonder riding over the flyover if I will be able to complete it in tribute?