The fingers of both his hands are dancing, as if making - or backing - the point that he is putting across; the eyes, with discernible dark pouches underneath, are sparkling. The voice is loud enough not to need a microphone even in an auditorium, although full of warmth and friendship. The forehead displays the furrows time has made on a face that is otherwise noteworthy because of a largish nose.

But, the owner of these features,Prof.Niranjan Bhagat,poet and teacher,and a human being par excellence, seems to be hardly aware of all the visual impression he is making on his listeners. In fact, it would appear that rest of his body is merely a functional attachment to the extremely lively --and invisible feature -- that ticks under the greying hair combed straight, his mind

Prof.Bhagat has not written more than two or three poems in the past 35 years, and even in the preceding 15 years, his work could perhaps fill 200 pages.Yet, it is the profoundness of his poetry, and not his prolificity, that has made Bhagatsaheb, as he is known to countless students of literature in Gujarat, a pillar of post-Independence Gujarati poetry.

For some five years, he had been speaking for an hour-and-a half every Tuesday at the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad on poetry; in Gujarati on poetry in many a language ranging from Gujarati to French. Said a regular listener, one of the 30 odd-people who collected at the Parishad to relish the pleasure of his erudition, exposition, explanation and critique: "You could listen to him for five hours without ever feeling bored. It is like listening to the roar of the Niagra, ever enchanting. Mark his mannerism of closing his hands to his chest and outstretching them to his listeners, as if he giving them something from the depth of his heart. It is unlike so many others, notably politicians, whose far-flung arms close towards their chest, as if taking away something from those who came in touch with them."

That alone would make Prof Bhagat a unique teacher, a rare bird even in these days of proliferation of educational institutions, with all the Tom, Dick and Harry taking a tutorial tempted to call himself a professor. He is more than a mere teacher. Although he formally retired from teaching in college years ago, he has never tired of delving into the world literature, and meticulously preparing himself to give what he has excavated to others.

Niranjan has been hailed as a poet of restraint and consciousness, whose poetic creativity took place mostly between 1943 and 1958.Born in 1926, he calls himself "a child of the city, an industrial city”. At the time of his birth,Ahmedabad still lived mostly was a walled city; the western suburbs were still villages and Gandhiji had been in town with an ashram for a decade or so. The Mahatma's Dandi March took place when Niranjan was a child. On the eastern side of the Sabarmati,he recalled once, were the textile mills, spawning eddies of black smoke into the sky and on the west was the Gandhian establishment, with its subdued noise of the indigenous spinning wheel, the charkha. The struggle for the country's independence, for the growth of its swadeshi industry, for freedom to go its own way of social, political and economic development was the backcloth against which the young Niranjan's childhood was spent, first in the walled city and later in the Ellis bridge area. His Bhagat surname was derived from an active participation in Magan Bhagat's Bhajan group by his grandfather, Harilal.But this was more of an accident, according to the poet.” I do not perform any religious puja at home, nor do I go to temples. I have never advertised my relationship with the Almighty either through thought in private, or through words of action in public. Even in solitude, I never take God's name without any rhyme or reason, either to myself or others." Eldest of among three children of his parents,Narhari and Menaben,the young Niranjan had a taste of freedom fight when he suffered a fracture on an arm during a police lathi charge near Gujarat college in 1942.He went to college at the L D Arts in 1944,and to Bombay for two years for post-graduation. He regards his childhood as a very happy period- a paradise. “I have tried to re-enter that paradise through my poetry, a failed attempt. Maybe I will still try to do it. I am looking for my childhood in poetry". His creative journey appears to have actually begun in 1942 when he wrote the first line of Mari Papan Ne Palkare. It was not a full poem, but the journey took him to the publication of his first collection of poems, Chhandolay, in1949.He was also given the Kumar medal for the best original contribution to the magazine, Kumar in that year. The next year saw the publication of Kinnari, another volume of his poetry. In 1950, he took up teaching English literature at a college in Ahmedabad, and continued to teach forever, even though he no longer goes to a college, having formally retired several years ago. After Pravaldwip, which came out some 35 years, Niranjan appears to have stopped writing poetry, partly because he never felt satisfied that his creation could be better than what it had been till 1958.It is not a writer's block in the sense that he does not have anything more to say; it has something to do with his quality consciousness.

Invariably, whether the visitor is a close friend or unknown admirer, the question that comes up more often than not is: Even so, why did he stop writing poetry? "There is no definitive answer. I do not know why I wrote, I do not know why I stopped. I cannot even say that I will never write poetry again." He says: "Is it a matter in the hands of poet that he will or will not now or ever pen a poem? One thing is sure I will never write anything that looked like a dilution of my earlier work, or a reehash, or a watering down." He gives an impression of being a wordsmith who produces when there is an inner call, and when there is no such call would not do a thing in spite of all the world telling him to produce.Art,in the eyes of a true artist, just happens; it can never be ordered about, or mass produced.

His creative process, he frankly admits, is some sort of a mystery to himself. ” I wrote poetry for 15 years because I felt like it; it was all bursting out on its own." His work had never been a forced or disciplined output-- a formalised production process so to say. He has to spontaneously feel like writing and then only could he write. He has written some prose, mostly literary criticism; and more often, he has emptied his thoughts to his innumerable student audiences. He reads a lot, learnt French, has travelled to various countries and goes regularly to Paris. "I must have walked a thousand miles in cities of London, Athens Rome and Paris since 1982.Everytime I go to a big city, I roam around. I will always continue to do it."

Actually,Niranjan is a loner. “I do not belong to any camp. I like both classical and modern, traditions and experimentation." Painting,music,scupture,architecture do not seem to attract the professor much; nor do the flora and fauna, birds and bees, animals, sky and the sea, the vales or dells, the plains or peaks. “All these are beautiful and I am aware of that fact, but personally these do not enchant me. I am interested in poetry, cities, and the nameless, faceless crowds roaming the roads in the cities." He is a voracious reader, who wants not to enjoy world literature himself, but enable his friends, acquaintances and even strangers to partake the pleasure. He would dearly love to translate the 164 poems of Baudelaire from French into Gujarati.He has lived a full life, and does not have any regrets. He sets a great store by his friends, who are innumerable in number. He sometimes quotes Yeats:" My glory was I had such friends".

He admits to finding some mystique in the crowds of human beings, unstable, unknown, formless crowds. Yet, this attraction is not without a curious detachment. “I am in crowd, but not of the crowd. His desire to translate Baudelaire into Gujarati also stems from this. But, he would like to dodge questions that would commit him to anything. When and how will its flight take place, the bird knows not.

(Niranjan Bhagat's caricature by Nirmish.)

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Sketches

Numerous scrolls of honour, mementos and photographs adorn the walls of a rather Spartan-looking room at Dev Ami. Near the window opening into a modest foreground of the house is a bed on which till some years ago a visitor would have found Ghayal, grand-daddy of Gujarati ghazal, whose only ambition was to be remembered as a martyr to the ghazal-- shaheed-e-ghazal.

He not only brought the ghazal form as authentic poetry into Gujarati, insisting on using the words of his mother tongue, but also elevated its status to a spiritual level, to a level reflecting the trials and tribulations of the masses, rather than remaining a vehicle of the love-lorn.

Ghayal - a wounded soul - was his pen-name, but even the poet himself had given up using his surname, Bhatt, and signed as Amrut Ghayal. Why did he take this particular pen-name? With a toothless, hearty laughter, he said: “It is not a pen-name taken in the aftermath of a broken love-affair. In a way, all human beings are wounded souls. I sing their songs."

There was not a trace of bitterness in Ghayal,although he yearned to be thought of a martyr;. in truth, he came across as a man who had lived a full life, had no complaints ,and more importantly,who,unlike so many of his age, was  never tired of life. There was a peculiar zest for life, which made Ghayal an unusual ghazalkar, who had seen many ups and downs in his long innings. Teeth had taken leave rather early, and so had hair on his head, deep lines furrowed his largish forehead and veins stood out prominently on his shrivelled hands. But the mind was alert, registering as truthfully as ever. Though his throat parched easily, he spoke fluently, and coherently, never lost for either words or thought. The memory served the master efficiently, and Ghayal wrote incessantly. "You see, I cannot sleep much, and am much too restless to give up living."

The old world courtesy, long association with royalty and a modesty of soul, all made the man, bent with age. He would get up when visitors came, and see them off at the gate of the house when they depart, even though he had to walk with a stick.

Modest he was, but Ghayal was no servile a soul. He had seen a lot of ups and downs in life, but had not allowed them either to dent his spirit or to be cowed down by the worldly-wise, powerful. His modesty went hand in hand with an outspokenness that had struck many as unabashed arrogance. Yet; he was full of self-deprecating wit, a caring parent and affectionate individual, who would not overlook the ways of the world. In the middle of making a profound remark on ghazals, he would suddenly stop, switch gears and would call out:"Listen, bring some tea or coffee for our guests", and then pick up the thread of what he was saying effortlessly.

His literary journey of life had a journey of a single-minded devotion to  the word .He had  written nearly 1000 ghazals,brought out seven volumes of poetry, taken part in hundreds of mushairas. Still,he was as joyfully into it all as he was in his younger days. "I get involved in writing, once the imagination is triggered, often by a single word, a single phrase or sentence, uttered in utterly normal affairs of the day to day life. Words have such an effect on me that my thinking process gets started by them suddenly and I go into a trance like situation. Then,I would not get any sleep, would not remember the time of the day, or even to eat.” Some call it ras samadhi.

He went on: “I have an inner voice, ordering me about. It just does not get drowned by any external noise, distraction or difficulties." But, that did not mean he was an escapist, a romantic living in a make-believe world. Another poet, Makarand Dave, has noted that his spiritual bend of mind, made Ghayal a poet in this world, but not of this world. He did not run away from pain, but digested the pain so well that it led to a rare sensitivity and high-grade poetry. He took life at a high flood, unafraid of the intensity of the turbulence, and neither having the slightest doubt that he shall overcome.

Ghayal himself summed it up all in one of the ghazals:

Valan hun eak sarkhun rakhun chhun asha-nirashaman,

Barabar bhag laun chhun zindagina sau tamashaman

Sada jitun chhun evun kain nathi,harun chhun bahudha pan -

Nathi hun harne palatva deto hatashaman.

(I maintain the same frame of mind in hope and in despair,

I partake fully in the drama of life without allowing it to impair,

Not that I always win ; many a time I do get trounced,

But,not allowing it to drown me, I get back into it bounced)

Past eight decades into life,this man could still talk as if he was a mere 20-year-old, so full of ideas,joys,setbacks,life itself. He had a life-long habit of keeping a pencil and paper,handy,whether he was at dinner table or in prayer. But, that does not mean that Ghayal depended on the Muse to transmit him a signal and do all the work. He had mastered both Sanskrit and Urdu,although he wrote in Gujarati. He had studied the classics in ghazals,learnt techniques of word-play,meter,and  to care of every word that he may care to use. "I do not depend on certificates from others; I must get a certificate from myself before I finish writing, re-writing and re-writing." That often meant the writing stretched over many days for a single composition. He,of course, was not in a hurry,nor was he bent upon mass-production,partly because he did not write to order, -- that is, any external order.

For all this, Ghayal was a simple person,not given to any showmanship or snobbery, two hallmarks of creative writers these days.

Born on August 19,1916, at Sardhar in Rajkot taluka,he remembered the prediction his father, Laljibhai ,had made about his son. Laljibhai was a chef in the royal household of Lakhajiraj of Rajkot, and since Amrut was born on the day of Randhan Chhath (which fell on August 19 that year),when people cook delicacies,he forecast:"The boy will spend a life getting heat, getting boiled." Like noted painter Vasudeo Smart,young Amurt's early days were also spent watching the colourful rites at the Vaishnav Haveli in the village. He would play the role of Krishna in the Krishna Lila stage in the haveli,go to a Sanskfit pathshala in the morning, and to the village primary school in the afternoon."On way back from school, I would go to the fields,catch-hold of the family mare,and bring her home,picking up vegetables for the kitchen. I would occasionally go to the tiny village library, read books and poems by Kalapi and Jhaverchand Meghani. Under the spell of Kalapi's poetry in Kekarav,I had imagined to pen poems,sitting on the bank of the village pond. But nothing got written. Up to the seventh standard,this more or less was my childhood."

He recalled: "I came to Rajkot for the eighth standard, and began learning English. Prabhudas,our teacher ,would patiently explain everything,but I just would not understand anything,would get fed up and jump classes. Most of my evenings were spent playing cricket,volley ball and wrestling. I was the school cricket team's opening batsman as well as bowler and had played against a Jamnagar team in which famous cricketer,Vinoo Mankad, was one of the players. Because of him, we got beaten. Another famous cricketer of the old time, Amarsinh, was also known to me,and thanks to him I played for a year in the Morvi team,after three years in Alfred high school in Rajkot. In 1936,after Mankad left the Jamnagar team,we managed to wrest the shield from his home team."

But all this,plus reading of literature and poetry,took a toll on his routine studies. He failed four times in his matriculation,and in 1938,wrote to the ruler of Pajod princely state, Pajod Darbar,Khan Imamuddinkhan, who later assumed the pen name of Ruswa Mazlumi,for a job,becoming his confidential secretary,in 1939. He held that job till 1948, during which he systematically learnt Urdu,getting his first ghazal published in Beghadi Mauj journal. Ghayal also happened to meet a lot of leading Urdu writers,such as Jigar Moradabadi,Josh Malihabadi,Bharat Vyas,Krishan Chander and Shoonya Palanpuri in those years.

Ghayal spoke with great warmth of his association with Pajod Darbar. He was the first person to recognise the potential in Ghayal's pen. An athlete and a player,Ghayal had been hobnobbing with writing. A sports contact with the grandson of Kalapi,Prahladsinhji,invited him in 1938 to go to the Kalapi festival at Lathi. Kalapi's son,Joravarsinhji too was there and so was the noted poet, Lalit. Joravarsinhji was a great fan of Kalapi and would recite poems of sorrow from Kekarav,Kalapi's collection of poems,every night with deep passion and anguish,tears rolling down his cheeks even as he sang."This made a deep impact on me",said Ghayal. In the mornings there would a visit to the samadhi of Kalapi.

Said Ghayal:"One day, while at the samadhi, I started feeling an unbearable,unrecognisable pang of mental anguish. Pajod Darbar had asked me to bring something for myself from Lathi. I started thinking about what I should receive from the precincts so poetic. I could not fathom my unease,nor could I decide what was it that was bothering me. I started crying and Joravarsinhji, who was known as Kakasaheb, consoled me."

Ghayal recalled:" I told Kakasaheb that I felt I had found what I was looking for. I was looking for the ghazal,and the ghazal itself has apparently found me. I do not think I will have peace with myself till I devoted my life to the ghazal. But how to do that was beyond me."

In the drawing room of the palace, Prahladsinhji asked the same question as was posed by Kakasaheb."I repeated the answer,but then suddenly my eyes caught the fish whirling in the aquarium in the room. I wrote a few lines comparing the slave Indians with the fish in the glass vessel. In the evening,Lalitji blessed me. He wrote the blessings in a poem,which unfortunately I later lost."

On return to Pajod from Lathi,Ghayal was as if in another world. The  uneasiness lasted for sometime during which he went on inquiring about ghazal with every literary figure who visited the state. He had noted that the ghazal writers of those years used a lot of Persian and Urdu words and determined to write ghazals in Sorathi dialect in Gujarati. The editor of a journal, Karavan,from Rander,Vahesi,recommended to Ghayal a study of a two-part volume ,Shayari. He also asked Asar Saleri,to take him as a disciple. Asar told him to send him his ghazals. When Ghayal sent one,Asar wrote an advice that Ghayal followed all his life. "You do not have to show any ghazals of yours to anyone." He started depending on his own judgement,his own conscience. All his life,Ghayal never  permitted any of his works to go into print till he had satisfied himself. "It requires writing and re-writing, but I am not a poet in haste and would not make compromise about my inner satisfaction. If conscience certified it,then only a ghazal of mine would be worthy of being called ghazal." He had implacably followed this golden rule,and maintained a total self-honesty.

In 1947,Ghayal's first wife, Taramati,died, but in the same year he managed to pass his matriculation. For a brief while,he went to college in Rajkot but gave it up. Soon thereafter when princely states were merged into Indian union, left Pajod too,to become a clerk in the public works department in Rajkot,and rose to senior clerk's position. In 1950,he married for the second time. He gave a lot of credit for his literary work to the wife, Bhanumati. In 1951,he got promoted as an accountant. His first collection of ghazals,Shul Ane Shamna,was published in 1954,when he got transferred to Junagadh. After serving the government in Sunrendranagar,Bhuj and Nakhtrana,he settled for good in Rajkot in 1973,upon retirement. In 1978,Ghayal went to the Soviet Union and by 1982 four more publications were to his credit. In 1984, he got affected by TB,but recovered. Since 1985,he had been devoting time to writing only. A thousand-page compendium of his collected works was published  as part of the celebrations of his 80 years of life.

He  never stopped,however. "I write every day",Ghayal said, patting a black colour briefcase,lying next to him on the bed on which he was sitting when I went to see him once,never realising it was our last meeting. He planned to complete at least 1,001 ghazals in his life time; some 900 had already been written. "I plan to bring out one more book ,my ninth,coinciding with the philosophy of nine rasas",he said without any boasting. Modest he always was,but he was also proud to be an original poet. Once he was asked if he could be called Gujarat's Ghalib. With humility,he submitted: I do not believe in copying,and I would only say this much:

Anadi chhun matlab adal man adal chhun,

Nathi nakal hun dar asal hun asal chhun.

Nathi samrat athva rushi hun;

Kharun jo kahun to shaheed-e-ghazal chhun.

(Am with neither a root nor a top. I am I am,

Am not a copy. Originally I am an original.

I am not an emperor ,nor am I a saint,

I am just a martyr to the ghazal,if must it be said.)

His ghazals talk a lot about life and death."I want to tell you I have not been a soft,cry-baby type. I would rather say this:

Tane kone kahi didhun maranni baad mukti chhe?

Rahe chhe ked eani ea fakt diwal badale chhe.

(Who told you there is salvation after death?

Prison remains the same,only the walls change.)

Once,when he was down with hepatitis-B,there was dim hope of his survival. But Ghayal was not one of those pessimists."I told my children I am not going to die . I am going to live for 89 years.Even thereafter,it would be like changing clothes. I will come back. There is nothing like death; it is only a change of clothes."

His advice to the young writers was equally frank,and fearless."Study the ghazal first. Read everything you can. Respect the word,its finer nuances,exact meaning,proper usage. The word is a very pious thing. Use it with devotion. Do not soil it. Only such a devotion to the word will bring in the real element of poetry into your writing."

People still remember how Ghayal recited a Gujarati composition to Jawaharlal Nehru when the first prime minister of India was on a visit to Rajkot during the days of the erstwhile Saurashtra state,some five decades ago. Another tall poet,Shaikh Adam Abuwala,recorded the encounter evocatively.

Ghayal told Nehru that he would present something in Gujarati only,seeking the prime minister's indulgence if he could not follow it. A game Nehru said : "Go on. I have been with Bapu for many years and can understand Gujarati, and if need be can even speak a smattering of it too."

Then, Ghayal sang out something that must have left Nehru, who wore a red rose in the lapel of his coat, red also in face, especially the part where the poet talks of giving the people at least a stale rose,:

Melun ghelu makan to aapo,

Dhul jevun ye dhan to aapo.

Saav juthun shun kam bolo chho ?

Kok saachi jaban to aapo.

Bagman chhe bhag amaro pan,

Eak vasi Gulab to aapo.

Sukhna be char shwas to aapo|

Zindganino bhas to aapo|

Mukt vatavaran na swamio,

Kain hawa kain ujas to aapo|

Muktinu ene saaj to aapo.

Adamino avaj to aapo|

Mai na put manvine pratham,

Manvino mijaj to aapo"

(Give us,the people, at least a dirty,squalid hovel,

Give at least grains like dust.

Should not someone tell the truth?

Is telling lies always a must?

Give us an account,

Maybe wrong, but some count.

Forget not we too partly own this flower bed,

If not much,give us at least a stale rose.

Give us a few fresh breaths of life,

Or, at least give us an illusion of life.

O you Gods of freedom,

Let us have some air,some light in all this darkness.

Give us an instrument of freedom,

Give our vocal chords some rhythm.

O you,darlings of the mother India,

Give Man first of all the temper of a free man.)

A stunned Nehru asked Ghayal when he completed,why was he saying those things? “Give us time.”

Ghayal replied:"A poet is a mouthpiece of the people and the mouthpiece should pass on the pains of the people." The prime minister said: "Certainly. But do you feel the country has not made any progress at all?" Ghayal riposted:"Nearly two decades of Independence would be over soon. The underground drainage is still to come into my street."

Today,after six decades of Independence,an underground drainage is still to come in many streets of many cities.

There,however, was a paradox. If Ghayal could be brutally frank,he could be charming also. A freeze frame from the past has remained itched in memory. When this writer first  went to meet Ghayal, he was in his pooja of the deity. As the visitors sat quietly for nearly half-an-hour,he went on unhurriedly, but not unmindful of our respectful waiting. Prior to getting up, he opened his eyes and softly called me and my wife Hansa and made us offer  homage to the deity. He began reciting in Sanskrit. I believe in God but not in the rituals. But I did not utter a word but when the chanting ended looked quizzically at Ghayal. He read my mind and said” I was praying to Goddess Saraswati to make home in your inner being to give power to your words.” I kept mum for want of words.

Nearly three free-wheelling hours of talking passed in which everybody present joined. Brushing aside the protests not to bother,he got up,picked up a stick and walked,firmly,chattering away in a firm voice,wheedling out a promise to come back soon. A spiritually erect man,bent with age; a rebelliously young mind,refusing to grow senile, stood as we left..

Ghayal is gone now. I have no idea  if the goddess of letters has paid heed to his commendation. I do not think that she has but hope one day she will. What a daydream!

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Sketches