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Life of letters

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A full lifeProfessor Kumar's memories of love, loss, literature and music have left his zest for life intact; (right) His ‘Mahabharata' treats the epic as a literary masterpiecePhoto: G Ramakrishna
A full lifeProfessor Kumar's memories of love, loss, literature and music have left his zest for life intact; (right) His ‘Mahabharata' treats the epic as a literary masterpiecePhoto: G Ramakrishna

Thereon began Shiv Kumar's rise on the literary firmament, as he went onto become a doctorate in English from Cambridge, visiting Professor at various British and American Universities, and also a Fellow of the prestigious Royal Society of Literature, London. “Being a Fellow of the Royal Society is an honour I cherish the most. On being inducted, every fellow has to sign in a book. I was given a lovely silver pen to do that. Later I asked the person ‘Can I have the pen?' and I was told, ‘Sir we cannot give that pen to anyone it belonged to Lord Byron, one of the founders of the Royal Society'. That was so awe-inspiring.”

Conversation with celebrities

Cambridge and the Royal Society were also where Kumar met a host of literary and political giants including T.S. Eliot, Clement Attlee, Bertrand Russell and others. E.M Forster was a good friend of his, he had met and conversed with poets T S Eliot, Octavio Paz and many others, he says.

He recalls his encounters with another luminary Henry Kissinger. “I once danced twice with his wife Barbara and offended him.” His next meeting: “At a seminar organised by Kissinger, he complimented me for my talk on the Bhagavad Gita. ‘He is a sage,' he had said and invited me to a Punch party the next night. I normally have only beer, but as the President of Cambridge Majlis, I had to attend the Punch party. It's only Vitamin C I thought and had a bit more punch than advisable; soon I was standing on a table and declaring, ‘I tell you Hitler was a hero, he changed the course of history.' As you know Kissinger was a Jew, so I was escorted out to my room,” he chuckles.

He plans to publish these and other interesting conversations with various prominent personalities in a book ‘Conversations with Celebrities'. Also on the anvil are a book on Buddha and his autobiography.

His return to India saw Kumar serve as an academic for about 40 years, teaching British and American literature in India and abroad, work as Head of the English department at Osmania University and as Vice chancellor of the Central University in Hyderabad.

The well-known literary critic who received the Sahitya Akademi award for his poetry and the Padma Bhushan for his contribution to literature has also translated Urdu poet Fiaz Ahmed Faiz's works.

Second love

Kumar has also translated 100 popular ghazals to English. “Music is my second love,” he explains. Pointing to a harmonium, he reveals, “After I received the Sahitya Akademi award, I went to Kolkata to buy a special harmonium at a shop called Melody. And then last year, on my 90th birthday, my son who adores me, gave me a lovely surprise - after dinner at a very expensive hotel, he took me down to a hall where he had organised an exclusive ghazal performance by Jagjit Singh for me.”

Any regrets about being in Hyderabad, away from the bustle of literary circles of Delhi? “Not at all. I like the quiet here. Also I have many Muslim friends here and I tell people my name is Syed Shiv K Kumar Hyderabadi. I love Hyderabad and Urdu. So I belong here,” he concludes.

Music is my second love

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