Prabhakar’s death marks end of an era of Hindi literature (Obituary)

April 11th, 2009 - 10:46 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, April 11 (IANS) Gandhian poet and writer Vishnu Prabhakar, who died here Saturday, was the last link between contemporary Hindi literature and that of the pre-Independence era.
Prabhakar, 97, died after a prolonged illness. He is survived by two sons and two daughters.

He was best known for “Awara Maseeha” (1974), his engaging biography of Bengali novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, and his trademark white Gandhi cap that he wore till the end of his life.

Prabhakar made headlines in 2005 when he threatened to return the Padma Bhushan for alleged misconduct at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He won the Sahitya Akademi award for his novel, “Ardhanarishvara (The Androgynous God or Shiva)”.

“Prabhakar’s death is a great loss to Indian literature. To my knowledge, he was the last Hindi litterateur who upheld the old lofty values of the freedom struggle in his writings,” Janardan Dwivedi, Congress general secretary and a Prabhakar aficionado, told IANS.

The Congressman, who read him off and on, said Prabhakar captured the Indian freedom movement in his literature.

“Prabhakar’s career spanned four generations of writers right from the freedom movement to this stage. He was a thorough gentleman and a Gandhian as far as his writings were concerned, though he was not affiliated to any political party. He always donned a white Gandhi cap,” Dwivedi said.

Prabhakar was born Jan 29, 1912 in Mirapur village in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh to Durga Prasad, a devout man, and Mahadevi, an educated woman - the first one in her family who dared defy the practice of wearing a veil.

He stayed in Mirapur until the age of 12, when his mother sent him to his maternal uncle in Hisar, then in undivided Punjab. He cleared his matriculation examination at the age of 16 in 1929 and had to find a job to fend for his family.

Prabhakar joined the government as a class IV employee on a salary of Rs.18 a month. But he continued to study and acquired the degrees of Prabhakar in Hindi, Pragya in Sanskrit and a BA in Hindi.

Ten years after starting the job, Prabhakar joined a theatre company and wrote his first play, “Hatya ke Baad”, following which he took to writing full-time for a while. He wrote short stories, poetry and novel.

He married Sushila in 1938. After the Independence, Prabhakar worked as drama director for Akashvani, the national radio network, in New Delhi 1955-57. His works were patriotic and reflected his concern for humanity and its welfare.

His body of works included “Dhalti Raat” (novel), “Swapnamayi” (novel), “Navprabhat” (drama), “Doctor” (drama), “Sangharsh ke Baad” (short stories), “Prakash Aur Parchhaiyan” (plays), “Barah Ekanki” (plays), “Ashok” (plays) and “Awara Maseeha” (biography).

The writer, who wrote under the pen-name Vishnu, became Vishnu Prabhakar after a curious editor wanted to know what examination he had passed as part of his formal education. The poet replied “Prabhakar”; and the editor suffixed it to his name.

The secret of his long life, recalls admirer Sudheesh Pachauri, the head of the department of Hindi at the Zakir Hussain College in the capital, was his discipline and self-control.

“He was a quiet man who kept to himself. Till the age of 85, he would walk from his home at Ajmeri Gate to the Coffee House at Mohan Singh’s Place in Connaught Place every evening,” he said.

Prabhakar’s Gandhian values earned him the displeasure of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Pachauri recalled. “The Hindu organisation launched a tirade against him for wearing the Gandhi cap. We, the fellow writers, protested the attack and mounted a signature campaign to express solidarity with him,” he said.

Pachauri was also part of a group of writers who raised funds to honour Prabhakar for “Awara Maseeha” at the old hall of Palika Bhavan.

However, writer and academic Pushpesh Pant rued the fact that few yonsters read Prabhakar’s works these days.

“Tell me how many youngsters read Hindi literature? We discuss books that raise political debates and win Bookers. It is very difficult to fit Prabhakar in with his profound style and Gandhian values. He was a victim of indifference,” Pant told IANS.

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