The Musafir rests at last

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Poet Kailash Vajpayee talks about Kamleshwar, the man and his principles.

Kamleshwar and I crossed paths in several assignments over the years. Kamleshwar, author of books like "Raja Nirbansia", "Laute Huye Musafir", "Qasbe Ka Admi", "Registan", and the Sahitya Akademi Award-winning novel, "Kitne Pakistan", was introduced to me at a tea party in Allahabad where I had been invited to take part in a poetry symposium. By that time Kamleshwar had already finished his education whereas I was still struggling to finish my doctoral thesis at Lucknow University. During the second week of December 1959, I received an invitation from Mumbai Radio to participate in a big Hindi-Urdu Poetic Symposium where again Kamleshwar and I met. My friend Sahir Ludhianvi was also present. Kamleshwar later joined TV, but I opted for a teaching assignment with Delhi University. It was during this period that All India Radio, Delhi, blacklisted me for one of my poems titled "Rajdhani". The lines of the poem run like this: "I am living the parody of life in a city plagued by characterless rulers and foul money lords. For years, carts-full of false slogans and empty dreams have been plying on Janpath and out of boredom, my brothers have committed suicide... For years, embassies have been spitting culture and dirtier grows the threadbare sheet of the weaver. Freedom has fallen like a rock and under its weight the whole country has been crushed." It was at this juncture that Kamleshwar and I became close. He helped me draft a protest note, which was signed by him, Akshyobheshwari Pratap, and a few other friends. During our discussions sitting over endless cups of coffee in the Akashvani canteen with Kamleshwar, I discovered that there was some kind of synchronicity between us. For instance, in spite of being drawn to the philosophy of Karl Marx, Kamleshwar did not accept it completely. He tried to combine scientific socialism with the moral philosophy propounded by Kant. Kamleshwar used to say that mankind and its affairs, anywhere in the world, should always be regarded as a goal and never as one of the means. Kamleshwar's basic agony was the fragmented sensibility of Indians. He often quoted the principle of causality, according to which when a rock is thrown at a window, it doesn't matter who threw the rock, but if the window is broken, it fractures the sensibility of all sensible people. Both of us agreed that people of India have occupied the same land, shared many an experience, but have never really felt compelled to recognise each other as brethren except under political banners or through the English language, whereas in spite of the language barrier, he and I both felt that there was always an undercurrent of affinity in what Kabir, Nanak, Narsi Mehta, Tukaram, Bulle Shah, Eknath, and Daulat Kazi, etc., said at various times in various Indian languages. After a few years, Kamleshwar went to Mumbai as an editor of "Sarika", the short story magazine. In 1973, while working as a visiting Professor at El Colegio De Mexico, I requested Kamleshwar to send his long short story "Nili Jheel", which was translated into Spanish, and I organised a follow-on seminar. Again in 1984, when Indira Gandhi was assassinated in Delhi, Kamleshwar and I gave the live commentary for that most unforgettable of days. Later as we sat over a cup of tea, we were both quite devastated and for once had no words to exchange. I still remember his sad face. On the 12th of this month, an international Hindi festival was organised under the chairmanship of Kamleshwar. After the long, impressive speech made by Kamleshwar, when all of us gathered to share a sumptuous lunch, in the lawns of the India International Centre, Kamleshwar came to me looking exhausted and said, "Kailash, I must go home, I am completely fagged out." I could sense his discomfiture. I said, "Bhai, you are precious to all of us. My only request to you is to stop running now. Pay attention to your failing health because all good deeds need a good body. Promise me you will accept this small request." Kamleshwar in his low and sonorous voice said, "I will, I will". Alas, exactly fifteen days later, he breathed his last.



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