Balkrishna Sharma was humble, often disregarding most of his colossal achievements, which included publication of his magnum opus ‘Urmila’.
If one was asked about that one thread of continuity between the Hindi school textbooks of today and those seven decades back (1945-46), there would be one common factor – the fiercely patriotic poems of Balkrishna Sharma ‘Naveen’. Ask any seventh grader about a poem called ‘viplove gaayan’ and immediately he is wont to rattle off the brilliant lines exhorting the poet of that time to use his art to create a stir –
‘kavi tum aisi taan sunaao
Jisse uthal puthal mach jaaye
Ek hilor idhar se aaye, ek hilor udhar se aaye
Prano k laale padh jayein, trahi trahi swar nabh mein chaaye
English translation – O poet ! make me listen to a melody such
That creates a stir everywhere
A surge should come from here
And another wave from there
These lines penned at the height of the freedom struggle exhort the poet to inspire the youth, the entire citizenry and to motivate them to join the movement to oust the British from the motherland. The poem creates such a moving imagery that one can imagine the extent to which the poet’s heart would be bleeding for his beloved country. This son of the soil- Balkrishna Sharma ‘Naveen’ was born on the 8th of December, 1897 in Shujalpur, Madhya Pradesh. His parents were pushtimargi vaishnavs whose entire life was devoted to the worship of Vishnu and therefore there was no means to earn a livelihood. They made ends meet by whatever they got as a largesse from others. The early years had such an impact on him that till much later he used to say that his body has been nourished by alms and therefore he has no right to covet /gather material objects and his body is meant to work for the welfare of others. He has himself described the abject poverty of his parents, of living in a rented hut with a leaking roof and that it was considered a luxury to wear shoes so he had none. His mother used to sing hymns in various classical ragas so his ear for music was developed since childhood. Years later he used to sing his poems and also used his sonorous voice to address political gatherings of lakhs of people. After completing his initial education he cleared his class Xth examination from Ujjain and his inter from Kanpur. He was a prolific writer, a staunch nationalist and his stories and poems reflect that fervour. Above all, his struggles made him large-hearted and compassionate towards the plight of others. All the while in Kanpur he did not own a home but provided for many other homes. He began writing while studying and in 1915 his first poem was published in a student magazine called ‘surya k prati’. He added the pen name ‘Navin’ to his name in 1918 when his first story was published in the journal ‘saraswati’. Acutely aware of his surroundings his stories are a reflection of the prevalent political-economic-social milieu. The truths, beliefs, traditions of the time and an attempt to change the thought is evident in his writings. One of the rare gems who participated directly in the freedom struggle by quitting his studies and joining the call for non-cooperation given by Gandhiji. He was arrested in 1921 while participating in it. Between 1921 -1945 he was in jail for a total of nine years. The British police was wary of his speeches rendered in his magnificient voice sprinkled with the most beautiful poetic expressions in Hindi which could stir anybody (and in their view cause a riot !) He has reminisced that in jail he read Shakespeare with Nehru whom he addressed as Jawahar bhai. Always a part of his rallies, Naveen ji’s voice had that magnetism which was only matched by his poetry. His was mentored by the iconic Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi and became the editor of ‘Pratap’ – the paper from Kanpur – after him. His editorials had that sharp, incisive edge interspersed with sarcasm and humour that made such a worthwhile read apart from awaking millions from their colonial slumber. For instance while criticizing Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s partisan politics he revealed a fact that his last name was actually jheena – they were two brothers from Gujarat with the same name and since he was the lean one he was called jheena and since English has it’s own way of corrupting things – we ended up with a Jinnah! Naveen was extremely humble, often disregarded most of his colossal achievements which included publication of his magnum Opus ‘Urmila’, being the major influence on Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poetry, fighting for mill worker’s rights, passenger’s rights, mobilizing millions through his speeches, being the head of Congress Working Commitee, Kanpur, becoming a member of the Central Legislative Council in 1945. In fact, he was the one who read the Gita on Nehru’s behest at Gandhiji’s funeral. Member of Parliament from 1952 to his death in 1960. He was a member of the central languages commission and made sure Hindi got its due place in the constitution despite opposition. He was a committed nationalist and a fearless journalist who earned the respect and awe of all those who came in contact with him. His published anthologies include Kumkum, Rashmirekha, Apalak, Kwasi, Vinoba stavan and Urmila. His prose writings – Balkrishna Sharma Gadya Rachnavali is available in 5 volumes. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1960 and his poems have been reported to have influenced many, including former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The India Post honoured him with a commemorative stamp in 1989. A college in Madhya Pradesh has been named after him. His life has been chronicled in a biography by eminent journalist Vishnu Tripathi. The power of his poetry illuminated the path of many and offered a respite in which the readers gathered renewed strength. His life, his struggles, his path and his achievements did achieve poetic justice for reality is the best poetry.
(The writer is an author and translator based in Delhi )