Satyapal Sehgal

What a treasure it was, the Department of Hindi, Indian Language Center, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Namvar Singh taught with manager Pandey, side by side with famous Hindi poet Kedar Nath Singh and the best Hindi researcher of the moment, Veer Bharat Talwar! Namvar Singh and manager Pandey had left inclinations, but the difference in nuances was quite significant. This also crept into their behavior. Namvar was a senior and a big figure, but manager Pandey managed to carve out a niche for himself in the annals of Hindi criticism despite Namvar’s presence. Along with Namvar Singh and Ashok Vajpeyi, he has become the most influential Hindi critic of our time. Like Namvar, his popularity was based on his witty and idiomatic eloquence, tinged with slang and a Bihari accent. He was sharp as a literary analyst and knew how to choose his facts well, rooted in the sociology of the present day. It is no coincidence that he wrote a sort of textbook on the sociology of literature, entitled “Sahitya ke Samajshastra ki Bhoomika” (An introduction to the sociology of literature), the most exhaustive book on the subject in hindi to date.

Manager Pandey was a commoner, lived a simple life, was easily approachable. His authority over Hindi literature derives more from his scholarship, the fields he delved into, his razor-sharp intelligence, his eloquence par excellence, and his theoretical transparency. He was never a father figure. He never looked like one, he walked like one. He was a kind friend who understood the issues of poverty, subsistence struggles, delinquency, anarchism and delayed revolutions.

His basic inclination was to read literature as a social document. Even the formal aspects of a literary creation are read as social content. He surpassed his contemporaries in this respect. It was more insightful and appropriate in its expression, easy to understand, earthy, less diplomatic and more truthful, targeting a relatively younger audience. If he was on the left, then he represented the new left in Hindi criticism. There was freshness in his approach to the literary text. He sought more assertive ideological positions, so his favorite sarcastic phrase was “Duvidha ki suvidha” or the advantage of being in a dilemma. Perhaps he echoed Avtar Singh Pash, who said, “There is no middle way.

It was the emotional backdrop because of which he was not known for his closeness to or control over centers of power in academic, literary, social or political spheres. Besides, he was a commoner, lived a simple life, was easily approachable, and was quite insecure at times. His authority over Hindi literature derives more from his scholarship, the fields he delved into, his razor-sharp intelligence, his eloquence par excellence, and his theoretical transparency. He was not a writer-activist, but activists sought him out as a literary refuge, as an adviser, and to establish a relationship with this thin, short man. He was never a father figure. He never looked like one. It never worked as such. He was a good friend who understood the problems of poverty, subsistence struggles, delinquency, anarchism and delayed revolutions.

His affection for Chandigarh and Punjab and in return the respect from the listening community he got here was evident. He has been invited to Hindi and Punjabi language events with equal zest. All of his lectures were delivered to packed houses. He was well acquainted with the current literary map of Punjab. He recorded a lecture on Lal Singh Dil for All India Radio. Prominent Hindi critic, Ashok Vajpeyi rightly commented that Director Pandey was not happy with all the great Hindi poets except Agyeya for not writing a single line on the catastrophic tragedy of Partition. He wrote a lengthy preface to the collected poetry of nationally renowned local Hindi poet Kumar Vikal. He was a great admirer of the famous political scientist Randhir Singh and helped get his Punjabi poetry translated into Hindi.

He always appeared irrepressible, without taking any rest. Only death could silence him. Of course, his creations, around twenty books, will be talked about for a long time. Maybe even stronger than now. His contribution to the Hindi scene has yet to be properly assessed and assembled. He was a man who captured the medieval and modern spirit alike.

Poetry was closer to his heart. “Kavita maanavta ki maatribhasha hai” (Poetry is the mother tongue of mankind) was one of his favorite lines. He began his career as a poetry critic of the Bhakti Movement. Another beloved phrase from him was that “you can’t be truly global unless you’re truly local.” You have this book called “Siwan ki Kavita” by him. It was surely a humble act on his part towards his roots as Siwan is a small town in Bihar.

Not enough attention has been paid to his quality research work. He has written a lengthy and illuminating introduction to the Hindi translation of Sakharam Deuskar’s book “Desher Katha”, originally written in Bengali. He also edited the book, first published in 1910. It is an extraordinary compilation of data on the economic, political and cultural plunder of India by the British. Few Hindi books of this era would do the educational act performed by this single book. It is a classic work on imperialism available in Hindi, on the ways and mentality of colonialism. It is written in a very lucid manner and is very readable.

His books on the Great Revolt of 1857 and India’s Mughal period are also worth perusing. ‘Mughal Baadshahon ki Hindi Kavita’ (Hindi poetry of Mughal emperors) and ‘Hindi Lokgeeton aur Geeton Mein 1857’ (1857 in Hindi songs and folk songs) are notable efforts.

Hindi scholars like Ramvilas Sharma have insisted on the supposed Hindi Renaissance spanning some 75 years, beginning roughly after 1857. The JNU Center for Indian Languages, including teachers and scholars, have done much research in this area. Director Pandey was no exception. In a way, his critical works become both a part and a critique of this era. In Hindi, efforts have been made to recreate the essence of the Renaissance. Manager Pandey’s critical and research studies should be considered as such. Therein lies the key to defining its eminence and wider acceptance across the length and breadth of India. He will be remembered as a Renaissance man.

He and Namvar Singh used the rhetorical quality of the Hindi language to convey a deeply political and catalytic message. Director Pandey would learn reading material in English, but he was able to make it lively, thrilling and interesting, with a unique twist of the daily bustle of North India. It must also be evaluated from this point of view.

– The writer is the former Head of Hindi Department of PU, Chandigarh