Pushpa Bharati’s ‘Yaadein, Yaadein! Aur Yaadein’ breaks mould of memory-writing

On page three of her 2016 book, Yaadein, Yaadein! Aur Yaadein… (Memories, Memories, and More Memories) Pushpa Bharati recalls how Hindi literary critic Namvar Singh, quoting from the Gita, once pointed out that a nation with amnesia is doomed to perish. What are we without our memories? Yet, it is unfortunate, says Bharati, that memoirs, personal diaries and letters are not given the same importance as novels, poetry and short stories. This is why it is commendable that the prestigious literary award, the Vyas Samman, instituted in 1991 by the KK Birla Foundation, and bestowed to an outstanding Hindi literary work by an Indian citizen published in the last 10 years, went to Bharati, who dwells on the joys, challenges, and transformative moments that shape an artist’s life in this book. Previous recipients of the award include novelists and poets such as Asghar Wajahat, Gyan Chaturvedi, Mamta Kalia, Surendra Verma and others — though, in 2008, writer Mannu Bhandari did get it for her engrossing autobiography, Ek Kahani Yeh Bhi.

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Born in Moradabad of Uttar Pradesh in 1935, Pushpa Bharati did her MA in Hindi literature from Prayag University in 1955 (HT Photo)(HT_PRINT)

Yaadein is neither memoir, nor an autobiography. To be sure, you get glimpses of her own story, but Yaadein is all about the lives of various luminaries from the world of literature and the arts. It throws light on their personality traits and idiosyncrasies, their genius and their talent. The 20 people she has written about include poets like Suryakant Tripathi Nirala and Harivansh Rai Bachchan, novelists such as Kamleshwar and Rahi Masoom Raza, and film and theatre celebrities like Javed Akhtar and Satyadev Dubey. As a bonus, there’s a heartfelt, tenderly written chapter on her late husband, the formidable writer and poet Dharamvir Bharati, to whom she was married for more than 30 years.

Makhanlal Chaturvedi, and the Bharatis’ love story

 

In smooth, engaging prose peppered with colloquialisms, Bharati brings alive all these larger-than-life personalities. The very first sketch is of poet Makhanlal Chaturvedi, who played an instrumental role in Bharati’s love story. She was a young research scholar of Hindi literature at Allahabad University when she met her husband. She had finished her MA in 1955 and wanted to research a subject in which he was considered an expert. He was teaching Hindi at the university and had already acquired a glowing reputation as a writer with novels like Gunahon ka Devta, Suraj ka Saatwaan Ghoda and plays like Andha Yug.

Pushpa Sharma (as she was known before her marriage) began going to Dharamvir Bharati’s home for guidance but invariably found him surrounded by friends. She decided to become a fly on the wall and absorb the highly creative energies swirling about the house. He was married, but that didn’t stop the eager student and brilliant teacher from falling in love. Pushpa went away to Calcutta to teach Hindi at Shikshayatan Degree College, but their ardour didn’t cool.

Restless and tormented, Dharamvir travelled to Khandwa to open his heart and unburden himself to Makhanlal Chaturvedi, whom he affectionately called Dada. After he had done so, the venerable Chaturvedi gave no reply but handed Dharamvir a big yellow package, asking him to open it when he reached home. The envelope contained two beautiful, identical Chanderi saris with narrow zari borders in different colours. The message was clear. 

It was a symbolic message, that Makhanlal Chaturvedi understood Dharamvir Bharati’s predicament and did not disapprove. This was a big relief for Dharamvir Bharati. Dharamvir didn’t reply with a letter either; he enclosed a handwritten copy of his famous poem Kanupriya (he had just sent it to his publisher) in the same yellow package and mailed it to Chaturvedi. Later, Dharamvir left Kanta, his first wife, and married Pushpa,

A 1960s Bombay drawing room

 

In 1960, Dharamvir moved from Allahabad University to Bombay (now Mumbai) to edit a weekly Hindi magazine. Bharati joined him from Calcutta. He had a busy, demanding life as an editor, plus he had his own writing to do. Their home was the hub of writers, poets, artists, theatre people, and film writers; you get the sense of the scintillating evenings full of bonhomie and laughter. Bharati says their kaleidoscope of friends included writers and poets like Krishan Chander, Salma Siddiqui, Rahi Masoom Raza, Nayyar Jahan, Ali Sardar Jafri, Ismat Chugtai, Kamleshwar, Padma Sachdev and many, many others.

She captures vivid little snapshots of Bombay as it was in the very early 1960s when they began living in a flat on Bomanji Petit Road, just behind Warden Road. They had a terrace flat from where they could see the vast sweep of the sea at Breach Candy. The terrace, which Dharamvir filled with plants and flowers, was the venue of evening poetry recitations and literary gatherings. When writers like Mohan Rakesh came to visit, they made a beeline for the terrace. Bharati writes that the sea seemed so close, they could hear the waves in the silence of the night. Later, they moved into Sahitya Sahawas in Bandra East, the colony that was developed in 1966 on a piece of land earmarked by the Maharashtra government for writers, journalists and artists. After living in the Warden Road area, Bharati wasn’t keen to shift to the suburbs. But her husband was enthusiastic. Later, she realised that he had more foresight than her and grew to love Sahitya Sahawas, where she stays to this day.

The eccentric Satyadev Dubey

 

One of the most entertaining and perceptive profiles in Yaadein is of theatre director Satyadev Dubey. Bharati writes with humour and affection for his often bizarre eccentricities. He was their neighbour in Sahitya Sahawas and at one time actress Jennifer Kapoor used to go to him to practise her Hindi dialogues. One day, he asked Bharati’s daughter Keka to come over and help him. After a while, Kapoor said she was tired and would love a cup of coffee. Dubey gave Keka the coffee powder, sugar, cups and plates. But when she went to the kitchen, she discovered that there was no gas or stove. Stupefied, all Keka could do was offer to make the coffee at her own home. But Dubey would hear none of it. “Arre, go to the bathroom, switch on the geyser and you’ll get hot water,” he said. When Keka protested, he scolded her, “This is my house and this is how I do things here. Now go and quietly make the coffee.” Another time, says Bharati, he suddenly decided to empty his house of all possessions. Friends and acquaintances came and took whatever they wanted. Soon, she writes, there was nothing left in his house but bare walls and the floor!

Foolish in Allahabad…

 

There are several such delightful anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book. Looking back at her years in Allahabad, she remembers the great poet Suryakant Tripathi Nirala who lived in the same area – Daraganj – as she did. Every day, early in the morning, she would see him going for a dip in the Ganga, bare-chested, wearing only a tahmad. Tall, well-built, with a broad chest, he cut a striking figure. She was so much in awe of him that when he asked her to buy a sari of her choice because he had enjoyed a sitar recital by her, she felt so shy, she just bought a blouse piece. Years later, when she met the novelist Shivani and narrated the incident to her, Shivani replied that she had behaved even more foolishly. When she was studying in Shantiniketan, Rabindranath Tagore gifted her his black choga, because he had liked a poem she had written. Shivani said she cut up the choga to make petticoats! No wonder the chapter is called Moorkh Aur Mahamoorkh! (Stupid and Stupider)

Bharati has some beautiful memories of Hindi writer Agyeya. She recalls going with Dharamvir to a well-stocked bookshop in Calcutta’s Chowringhee area, next to Neera restaurant. She had previously picked up a copy of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago from there and sent it to him in Allahabad. The book wasn’t available in Allahabad yet and he was thrilled to get it. He always made it a point to visit the bookshop on his Calcutta trips. That day too, he was there and found a book he really wanted – a volume of Rainer Maria Rilke’s collected poems. He was flipping through it longingly – because neither he nor Pushpa had enough cash to buy the book. Suddenly, Agyeya appeared, like a devdoot, a messenger of the gods. Realising their predicament, he immediately bought Rilke’s book for Dharamvir and then proposed coffee at Neera.

Bharati has a couple of unusual choices in her selection of people too – such as film lyricist Maya Govind. Who knew that the late songwriter, known for her hits such as Main khiladi tu anari and Aankhon mein base ho tum, was an accomplished poet in Braj and Awadhi?

A wife remembers

Dharamvir makes an appearance in many chapters of Yaadein, but the most moving is the second last chapter in the book, titled ‘Chin Up Mamma!’ Bharati writes that he was a passionate nature lover and had planted three very special trees when they moved to Sahitya Sahawas. The first was a kadamb tree, beloved of Krishna (it features in Kanupriya, his celebrated long poem about Radha-Krishna). It thrived and grew big and strong. The day it first flowered, Dharamvir called all his friends to come over and see the blossoms. Then he set his heart on another tree associated with Krishna – the chhitwan tree, in whose shadow the blue god is supposed to have danced with the gopis.

He hunted for it everywhere and finally located it in Delhi nursery: it is the same tree that Delhiites know as the city’s much-loved saptaparni, a tree that gives off a powerful, intoxicating fragrance in the months of October-November. He planted it close to his study; this too grew large and lush. And the third was the farad tree with its blazing red flowers that Bharati fell in love with on a trip to Puri. But after Dharamvir’s death in September 1997, the kadamb tree stopped flowering, and the saptaparni withered away till it turned into a stump that had to be cut down. When it was being cut, a strong wind blew a dried-up branch into Dharamvir’s study, where it remains to this day. The farad tree was hit by a gale a year after he passed away and crashed down on the street.

Bharati is in her twilight years now — she was 80 when she wrote Yaadein. Apart from Yaadein, Pushpa Bharati has written articles, essays and profiles, and edited several books. She wrote a series ‘Romanchak Satyakatha’ for seven years under the pseudonym Mukta Raje, later published as a two-volume set. She has written Harivansh Rai Bachchan ki Sahitya Sadhna and Dharamvir Bharati ki Sahitya Sadhna. Among the books edited by her is a 648-page volume of love letters that Dharamvir Bharati wrote to her (Ek Sahityik Ke Prem Patra).

Most recently, she brought out Jeevan Gatha, a very well-received book on Amitabh Bachchan. She got her love for Hindi literature from her learned father, Pandit Raghunandan Prasad Sharma, who often wrote letters to her in verse. She then married a man who was devoted to literature. Her deep admiration and love for her husband made him the centre of her existence throughout her life. As she writes, “Maine toh apna sara jeevan hi sahitya ke adhyann ko aur Hindi sahitya ke ek amar hastakshar Dr Dharamvir Bharati ko arpit kar diya.” (I have dedicated my whole life to the study of literature and the evergreen Hindi writer Dr Dharamvir Bharati.)

These are the years when you find yourself living in your memories. As she says, “I don’t remember what happened yesterday or the day before, in fact, I don’t even remember what happened this morning, but events that took place decades ago unspool in front of my eyes like a cinema reel.”

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