It was the 25th of June 1975. There were more than a hundred thousand people congregated at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan and Jayaprakash Narayan, the man who had rallied the country around him thundered, ‘Singhasan khali karo, ki janta aati hai’’ (vacate the throne, for the people are coming), to frenzied applause. This evocative war cry had already been entrenched in the hearts of the people who were there thanks to the work of the poet who JP quoted. Twenty-five years before this day, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar had dedicated his poem ‘Janatantra Ka Janm’ (The Birth of a Republic) to India as it declared itself as a Republic. Now JP, always an astute leader who like his mentor, the Mahatma, knew how to get to the heart of the people, was using Dinkar’s powerful lines to take on Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s regime.
That very night, Indira Gandhi declared Emergency.
Dinkar’s life and work exemplified the struggles he faced and his patriotic fervour.
While Dinkar wasn’t around to see that dark day, his fiery composition of rebellion and patriotism, would become a rallying cry for protests against the Emergency.
Today identified as a ‘Rashtrakavi’ or one of the National Poets of India, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s life and work exemplified the struggles he faced, his patriotic fervour and the vision he and a generation of India’s freedom fighters had for a caring, inclusive India.
Dinkar was born on 23rd September 1908 in the village of Simaria in present-day Begusarai district of Bihar. His parents were farmers and Dinkar grew up in poverty. There is a well-known story of how he had to miss half a day of school to take the last steamer back to his village as he could not afford to stay in a hostel. Despite such difficulties, he was a brilliant student and studied Hindi, Maithili, Urdu, Bengali, and English languages.
He brought back poetry to the masses with his simple and direct style.
When Dinkar enrolled at the Patna College in 1929, he was caught in the whirlwind of the changes sweeping across India. The freedom movement had gathered force and Dinkar soon began composing poems filled with patriotism and what he saw around him. For instance, he penned the ‘Vijay Sandesh’ in honour of the Sardar Patel led satyagraha of farmers in Gujarat - popularly known as the ‘Bardoli Satyagraha’.
Over time, Dinkar became a popular writer whose works, published regularly in Hindi periodicals, resonated with the readers. He brought back poetry to the masses with his simple and direct style. In 1935, ‘Renuka’, a compilation of his poems, was published and a copy of it was even presented to Mahatma Gandhi.
Dinkar’s works were not just nationalistic, they were also deeply insightful takes on the moral dilemmas faced in a complex world and a nation - India, looking to break free. He touched on themes like violence vs. non-violence and war vs. peace, best articulated in his work Kurukshetra (1946), which questioned the very theory of non-violence, in a climate of perpetual atrocities and injustice.
His work Kurukshetra questioned the very theory of non-violence, in a climate of perpetual atrocities and injustice.
Dinkar’s hard hitting verses took a new dimension after India’s Independence when he continued to question ‘What does it mean to be an Indian? Distressed with what he saw, he soon came to believe that old colonial rulers had been replaced by new ones - because the problems of poverty, injustice and oppression remained. Dinkar would go on to write social satires on the inequities and exploitation he saw, in the ‘New’ India.
His works were however not always about criticism and rebellion. One of his most famous works, for which he won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1959 is a historical study named ’Sanskriti ke Chaar Adhyay’ which looked at India’s culture through the history of her four major encounters - the entry of Aryans and development in pre-Vedic times, the philosophy propounded by Buddha and Mahavira, the arrival of Islam and its effect on the language and art of India and finally, a comprehensive account of colonialization with the advent of the Europeans.
Dinkar could flawlessly solve the mystery of human emotions in rhyme.
However, it was Dinkar’s work ‘Urvashi’ which got him the much-coveted Bhartiya Jnanpith Puraskar in 1973. Based on the theme of Chhayavad (romanticism), it was a big break from his works, thus far. In this, Dinkar tried to address the mystery of human emotions in rhyme by talking about love, passion and the relationship between a man and a woman.
In 1952, Dinkar was nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha, and served three tenures as a member of the Upper House till 1964. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1959 and was even the Vice Chancellor of Bhagalpur University, in Bihar. He passed away in 1974 at the age of 66.
In 1959, he won the Sahitya Akademi Award for his historical study ’Sanskriti ke Chaar Adhyay’
A year later, his words would be used once again, at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, to inspire fellow Indians to rise against injustice - an apt way to remember the poet who always showed a mirror to India, fearlessly.
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