No other words would better introduce a man like Harivansh Rai Bachchan as he himself has-
“Mitti ka tan, masti ka man, kshan-bhar jivan– mera parichay”
(A body of clay, a mind full of play, a second of life – that’s me)
Born on November 27, 1907 in Allahabad, Harivansh Rai Bachchan was one of the doyens of Hindi literature. Honoured with Padma Bhushan, he worked for the evolution of Hindi as the official language and enriched Hindi through his translations of major writings including Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Othello, works of W.B Yeats as well as the Bhagvad Gita. Father of a renowned Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan, Harivansh Rai Bachchan was the torch bearer of the Chhayavaad or Romantic upsurge literary movement. There was a time when thousands and thousands would fill into theatres and auditoriums just to listen to him recite his poems, a particular favourite being the epochal ‘Madushala’. His poetry is noted for its lyrical beauty and rebellious attitude with imagery that is unfettered and sensuous. Through his poems he focused on the common man’s urge for freedom and the sensuousness underlying in this quest, which made him a literary star embraced by the public.
Bachchan is often credited as the first Indian to get his doctorate in English literature from the Cambridge University. He was a student of the renowned English literature don, Thomas Rice Henn who in June 1954, wrote a reference for Bachchan describing his thesis as a-
“… genuine contribution to our knowledge, [that] will be of great assistance to future students of the work of WB Yeats … [Bachchan] has a tremendous enthusiasm for his subject, and an unusual sensibility to English poetry and its background in religion, philosophy and social history. He also has the outstanding advantage of being a poet in his own right.”
One of the ‘Proud Past Alumni’ from Allahabad University, Bachchan was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1966 and received many honours such as the Sahitya Akademi Award, Sovietland Nehru Award and the Lotus Award of the Afro-Asian writers’ conference for his contribution to Hindi and Asian literature. In 2003, an Indian postage stamp was released in his memory. The enduring popularity and influence of Bachchan was evident at his funeral in January 2003. Thousands of people attended his funeral procession, and tributes were paid by politicians, industrialists and Bollywood stars. In 2013, Amitabh Bachchan posted on his official website- “… Jan 18 is my Father’s death anniversary … an exalted and most special soul passed away into the heavenly abodes of the Gods … a man of such excellence and exception, that even today years later, I still struggle to fathom his contribution to, not just my life, but indeed the lives of the millions that were drenched in his thought and so his mind..”
A rebellious poet who romanticized life, has penned down some great poems that remain engraved in the reader’s heart forever. His four volume autobiography, Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon, Needa Ka Nirman Phir, Basere Se Door and Dashdwar se Sopan Tak bagged him Saraswati Samman. His notable poems including Agneepath, Bahut din beete, Khaadi ke Phool, Do Chattane, Aakul Antar, Kat-ti pratimaaon ki awaaz, Satarangini, Jaal sameta and many others made him the epitome of the romantic rebel. Many of his works have also been used in Bollywood Movies numerous times.
Describing his father as “a unique genius”, Amitabh Bachchan once posted on his official blog admiring his ‘Babuji’- “A man of immense letters, words, thoughts and several unknown deeds, born and brought up in extreme poverty, earning his living with Rs 20 per month and then creating some of the most extraordinary writings in literary India.” Indeed, considered to be a landmark in Hindi literature, Bachchan’s words mesmerize us even today and would always work as a motivational force for the posterity.