Dhaka, Bangladesh
Towering like a colossus

Towering like a colossus

About Acharya Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, one can say without fear of contradiction that God no more makes such people. I did not have the privilege of knowing him personally but I can say with pride that I had attended his public lecture on Surdas that he delivered in L-3, the hall on the Old Campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, where every thinkable political and intellectual activity took place, a few years before his death. He was a rare combination of extraordinary scholarship and phenomenal creativity who wrote well-researched tomes on the history of Hindi literature, displeased conservatives by nearly displacing Tulsidas by establishing Kabir as the central figure of the Bhakti literature, explored and explained various facets of India's cultural and literary tradition, and also wrote wonderful novels that became modern classics soon after their publication. After Acharya Ramchandra Shukla's demise, he was the only towering figure in the world of Hindi literature. I am remembering him because on June 26, Bharatiya Jnanpith announced its prestigious Moortidevi Award for Vishwanath Tripathi's biography of Acharya Dwivedi titled "Vyomkesh Darvesh". It's really Tripathi's respectful tribute to his guru in the form of a biography. Credit goes to Tripathi because his book, understandably full of reverence and emotions, manages to avoid being a hagiographical account of his preceptor's life. Tripathi also happens to be a good poet and I still remember his love poems for his wife that were published in the late 1970s (or perhaps, early 1980s) in "Aalochana", a highly regarded literary journal edited by well-known critic Namwar Singh. Little wonder then that he has penned the biography of his guru with commendable understanding, sensitivity and perceptiveness. It emerges from the book that Acharya Dwivedi was truly like a darvesh who led the worldly life without really getting entangled in it, faced its trials and tribulations with equanimity, and went on with his intellectual pursuits. This partly explains the name of the book. But why Vyomkesh? And here hangs a most interesting tale. If one takes a look at the great men who played the most crucial role in establishing Hindi literature as an academic discipline, did pioneering work in bringing out critical editions of great medieval poets, wrote the history of Hindi literature and developed the art of literary criticism, and successfully headed the Hindi department at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), none of them had studied Hindi literature as a subject and, consequently, had a degree or diploma in it. Hazari Prasad Dwivedi too belonged to this list. He had no formal education in Hindi literature. Instead, he had a degree of Acharya in Jyotish (a strange combination of astronomy and astrology). He wrote an article in Madan Mohan Malaviya's journal "Sanatan Dharma" joining issue with his Jyotish guru Pandit Ramyatna Ojha. As he did not want to offend his teacher, he used Vyomkesh Shastri as his non de plume. Acharya Dwivedi maintained and encouraged intellectual independence all his life. In fact, the recurring chant in his classic novel "Banbhatta Ki Atmakatha" is "Kisi se bhi na darna, guru se bhi nahin, mantra se bhi nahin, lok se bhi nahin, veda se bhi nahin." (Do not be afraid of anything or anybody - not even of your guru, not even of the sacred word, not even of the world, and not even of the Vedas.) This lack of fear turned Acharaya Hazari Prasad Dwivedi into a peerless explorer and commentator of the Indian tradition. When one comes to know from the book that such a great scholar, who was invited to establish Hindi Bhavan at Shantiniketarn by no less than Rabindranath Tagore, was sacked by the BHU because of intra-departmental politics, one realises that things have no changed at all in Hindi departments of our universities and colleges. They continue to celebrate and rejoice in mediocrity. While Vishwanath Tripathi has written many books, one of them must find a mention here. It's the story of his village Biskohar in the erstwhile Basti district of Uttar Pradesh. Titled "Nangatalai Ka Gaon", it combines the biographies of the writer as well as his village. It's a delightful read. While still a student, he had along with Acharya Dwivedi co-edited "Sandesh Rasak", a poetic work in Apabhramsha composed by Addahman (Abdul Rahman) between 1000-1100 CE.

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