Pankaj Singh: Reminiscence (1948-2015)

Karan Singh Chauhan

Comrade Pankaj Singh was born in a remote village named Chaita situated in East Champaran of District Muzaffarpur, Bihar. After completing his B.A. (Hons.) and M.A. from Bihar University he came to Delhi and enrolled as a research scholar in the prestigious University of Delhi, JNU. His life in JNU was so versatile and full of all round self teaching and activity that he became some kind of a legendary figure in the political and intellectual circles of India. Even after formally leaving JNU he was so attached and inseparable to the institution as though he was an integral part of the life there.

As much we know about him he was a person of multi-dimension talent and full of rebellion towards the system which culminated in his joining the ranks of the organized revolutionary organizations. Wherever there was any revolutionary political action, movement, resistance, suppression and wrong-doing Pankaj was there. Till his last, he was participating in the movement for the”freedom of expression” and against the tendency of growing communalism and fascism undermining the advice of his doctors against exhausting his already poor physical condition. He would be serious for a moment and laugh as if saving his life at the cost of the nation was not possible for him.

He worked in different fields and occupied important positions. He wrote regularly in Jansatta for many years, for a year took charge of the literary column of Nav Bharat Times, did lot of translation work for Sahitya Academy and other institutions. He edited magazines for Doordarshan and for the British High Commission, published a literary magazine “ Soch” in Hindi. He was not only a good writer and editor but he produced and directed many documentary films. He taught in the ‘Institute of Oriental language and Civilization’ in Paris and worked as producer in the BBC World Service for almost four years. In the last years of his life he was functioning as the advisor-cum-chief editor for a newspaper group of AGRA.

Although he was an untiring agitator, activist, column writer, editor, teacher etc.etc. the nearest to his heart was his poetry. He was not a prolific poet and to great extent was a perfectionist in content and structure. But whenever his new poems were published he got almost a standing ovation from the writer community.

His first poem was published in 1966 and his first poetry collection, (“Aahaten Aaspaas” Faint Murky Sounds Around) was published in 1981. This book created a commotion in the Hindi world. He published the second collection (“Jaise Pavan-Paani” As Air-Water) in 2001 and (“Naheen” No) in 2009. Many of his poems were translated into foreign languages and many audio/video recordings were also made. As a recognition to his creative contribution he got Maithilisharan Honour (2003), Shamsher Honour (2007) and Nai Dhara (New Stream) Honour (2008) besides many local recognitions and felicitations.

Fond of exploring new areas, ideas, meeting new people, he travelled to countries like France, Britain, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Iraq, Pakistan, Nepal etc. and also stayed for a longer duration in many countries.
No one could believe that the man like Pankaj Singh would leave his mission and all of so suddenly in these troubled times when his enthusiasm, energy, untiring crusades and leadership was required all the more. We expected lot of decisive political action, a lot of poetry, a lot of guidance and comradeship from Pankaj in the coming days. His untimely death stunned and shocked us all. His absence left a large gap out there and inside us.
In his memory presented here are three of his poems:


The Day I Moved From Home

The day I moved from home
Early morning
A nest soaked with dew fell on the ground

Crowded platform peeled away my smile
I tried hard to say – ‘good bye’
‘Farewell.... for now’

Before those words could reach you
Or to my ear
The dusty wind caught and blew them away

Towards butcher quarters
Because the demand of the words brimmed with
Fresh blood of childhood
Was constantly increasing in that town

A smoky old lantern and many years
Wrapped winters in ragged quilts and many years
Dejected and dismal world under thatch roofs and many years

A hanging broken slate
In the evening sky and many years
Creeping death in dribs and drabs and many years

Year after years, patched year after years,
Filled with desiccated leaves Descended
Near the raised parting hand with unknown tremble

Was yours.
These few words were for that raised parting hand
But could not be heard By those hands
And had been carried to slaughter house

That shaky-tired moving hand,
Fading in the crowd of platform Haunted every corner of my memory
Till today
When wake up from sleep year after years, when
Anecdotes of million years return in the reflected world of sleep
When all stones come to life
In forts, parks, temples and
Drawing rooms and spewing out the past

That hand, rose in parting,

And it will never ever
Be mentioned in the history.


Tramplings Around

How many shadows, how many weapons and screams how many
How many breads and salt how much
How many unseen crimes

Rains as if to wash it all
Unnumerical Tornados and hot winds

All collected
Agonies from millenniums with folded hands
The history of greatness

Just listen to
Many – many footfalls
Many – many faint murky sounds
Near and around


Like air like water

Our voices trying to say something to us
Then something appears reverberating, stood still like sobs
Finally that also faded gradually
Remained only voiceless Noise

The entire narrative is much entangled and very lengthy
All have their own tiredness
Each Sorrow has its own counter sorrow
Which silently sits in the place of our own absent words

Sorrow is as much in the heart
Equally in decrepit body and also equally
No, rather much more
In slipshod pinched and ragged society

Our lost words shall have to be invented
Though they might be deformed, even smeared with blood
But shall be ours as of yesterday

We shall identify them in all circumstances
As they stood boldly by our side
In our stammering, in anger and in wakeful nights
Visible in our early morning dreams sometimes
With faces having stained stream of tears

We shall identify them even during hunting or
In spite all forest tales
Despite all terrifying magic, Intoxication, Tipsiness
As they were our own voices after all

Still they will be in difficulties like us
Somewhere for their own invention
And must have faith that
We shall get them as we need them
For the sake of our rebirth
For some light
For some clear sky
Also for the sake of humans’ rights
They were & they will be
In our forests
In our kids
In our homes &
In hopes
Like AIR like WATER

Translated from the Hindi by Dr. Archana.

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