Professor Doctor Ved Prakash ‘Vatuk’ (वेदप्रकाश 'वटुक'), an amazingly gifted poet and a multi-disciplinary scholar, has presented-on his 87th birth day, on April 13, 2018 - the fullest autobiographical account of his life and time to his global circle of readers and comrades. He has solemnly stated, "Dedicated with reverence to the pious memory of my ancestors and love to my descendants." He quotes lines from Atharava Veda to emphasize and eulogize the dire necessity - like Oxygen - of ‘Freedom from Fear’ for all living species - humans above all - during their limited sojourn on this planet. A meticulously disciplined and deeply devoted artist of ‘penning words of beauty and wisdom’, he had started this magnum opus on 11th October, 2016 - the birth day of his late scholarly brother Ramniwas Vidyarthi - and completed it on 21st November, 2017 - the date of the anniversary of death of both Ram and a sister, Shanti. The reader will have to be a brave hearted and a determined seeker to complete the ‘Paath - study with reverence’ of this epochal saga of Ved’s multi-challenged early life and a continuously active participation in the struggles for justice and human dignity waged by the marginalized and discriminated people in all the countries of the world. This unique literary creation requires to be studied and meditated upon as an epic of poet’s marathon run of life in his soulful lifelong search and ceaseless struggle in quest of Freedom, Equality and Justice for the human race.
We have to embark upon poet Vatuk’s ‘Meri Saar Gujashat-Aap-‘hadd’ (bones) Beeti i.e. An Account of my Life’ accepting an ugly and harsh truth that the entire history of humanity can be studied, analyzed and understood as an endless chronology of personal and collective travails of bloody conflicts and violence premised and disguised in the utterly false pretexts like race and religion but plainly paraphrased as crude and naked barbarity, loot and plunder. The wise philosophers of earlier civilizations; learned political thinkers of later centuries; the modern socio-biologists and the latest breed of behavior scientists have all made ceaseless and sincere endeavors to decode deeper underlying impulses behind the mass elimination of one group of ‘naked apes’ by another of the same species - audaciously still calling itself 'homo sapiens'! The colonial imperialism created and practiced by the various European countries during the last five centuries of the world history - in the wake of the era of discoveries of the new oceanic routes - characteristically differed from the earlier versions of the empires patched up via the tough terrains of the land routes. The subjugated countries were, in the new deal of dehumanizing discrimination amounting to enslavement, to be systematically exploited for enriching the distantly lying conquering countries. The tiny tribe from the British Isles was, perhaps, to turn out to be the cleverest of all to put together the most splendid example of this model by adopting ‘nashtam-pushtam i.e. destroy and nourish’ policy in the ‘legendary ancient land of glory that was India’.
The historic background of the emergence of the brand new nation named the United States of America was, however, peculiarly unprecedented: the consequence of the sectarian persecution in Europe - majority of them being Anglo Saxons - creating a vast new state. The process had been preceded by a brutal decimation of the local people and their cultures. The newly contrived state then proclaimed itself to be the first in the world to craft a Constitution adopting the high and lofty ideals of governance which were, however, adroitly confined to the few people of the Caucasian race. The inspiration for the participatory democracy had surely come from the intoxicating slogans of the French Revolution of July 1789 - Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The Iberian colonial powers - Spain and Portugal - outsmarted others in resorting to ruthless genocidal oppression in eliminating the local populace - but having no compunctions in ‘cultivating’ their women and ‘pro-creating’ a new racial dimension; and then resorting to oppression against their own blood-product!
The dawn of the twentieth century witnessed the beginning of the determined efforts by the natives in many countries to regain their freedom from the colonial powers. The long drawn - faithfully claimed to be based on 'Ahimsa - Nonviolence' - struggle in India waged by the Indian National Congress under the leadership of MK Gandhi - indeed set unimagined high moral standards for its followers to attain their political goals. It is in this overarched frame of reference that we have to study and examine the epochal autobiography of Ved Prakash ‘Vatuk’, a many splendored man - a versatile scholar-academic; a lifelong activist for equality and justice and above all a Mahankavi - a gifted prolific poet.
This essay is an attempt at a difficult literary task - a reader friendly lucid review of the mighty work of a poet-thinker, published in Four Parts of Paper Back - running into a total 1231 pages - written in masterly Hindi of the soil of Tulsi and Rahim, aptly hailed as a ‘Historic Document disguised as an Autobiography’. The life of Ved Prakash, born on April 13, 1932 in a Gaud Brahmin family, living in a small village called Fazal Pur - meaning, ‘Full of Blessing’, located 32 km from historic city of Meerut, in its North West, indeed embraces the heart and soul of the pulsating and evolving India as well as the tumultuous and technology driven new world of the Europe, UK and the USA. How simple boy from a small place belonging to a ‘Swatantarata Senani - Soldiers of Freedom’ family of very modest means managed to beg and borrow money here and there from friends and relations for the sea fare and mustered enough courage to take the plunge - at the age of 23 - into the vast unknown to cross oceans and face all the unimagined challenges of living, learning and protesting - all indeed constitute the spinal-cord of the story of our unusual hero. He had sought to brave it all with just the inherited integrity and nobility of his personal character - and the only craft he had known: to compose poetry!
|Book 1 - भटकाव ही पथ बन गए|
The dedicated patriot and social servant of the strictly Gandhian creed, Sunder Lal, was arrested and imprisoned six times between 1921-42, for a longer spell during the ‘Quit India Movement’ in 1942. A son, named Onkar Dutt, was born to his wife Balwanti Devi in Oct. 1942. Ved was deeply inculcating the values of self-denial, patriotism and sacrifice for the society in the rapidly expanding joint family and in the company of many elders around who were all self-sacrificing freedom fighters. He braved with the crowd - as a child of eight - to walk a distance of 10 km on a cold day of January in 1940 to have glimpse of Neta Ji Subhas Chandra Bose. The 54th Session of the Congress in Meerut on November 23-26, 1946 was indeed the most memorable - a dream come true - a life time opportunity for ‘boy-Ved’ to have,’paavan Darshan - holy sight’ of the top leaders of the freedom struggle. The witty Acharya JB Kriplani impressed him. Jawaharlal was the perfect picture of grace and people simply adored him. Ved passed his Matriculation Examination in 1948 obtaining the first position in his school. He went on to complete M.A. in Sanskrit in 1954; he had obtained special distinctions in the earlier Intermediate and B.A. Examinations, displaying a distinct aptitude and high proficiency for languages. A few sadder experiences in seeking some suitable employment and increasing disappointment with the steep decline in the Gandhian-values based politics and creeping ‘hera-pheris - unfair practices’ in the government of the Congress Party confused him-more of it is authentically detailed in later Parts. It was, however, the sudden strong urge to go abroad and the attraction ‘to see the wide world’ overpowered his mind with the idea to go abroad. An old friend Narayan’s example of doing well in London was an added inspiration. Managing to obtain the passport after several hiccups - a tough task in those days if you could not pull some high official string - and borrowing small sums from several friends and relations to purchase the ticket for journey by sea to London, Ved has given hilarious accounts of situations because of his not having lack of basic necessities like proper clothing for such a travel and ignorance about food and other amenities in the ship - he was even uncomfortable using the flush system! Anyway, braving all the odds of all kinds, he reached London (P. 296) in the morning of November 4, 1954 - a brighter day of soft sun shine; he had in his pocket 10 shillings-equivalent to Rupees Six and a half!
Ved was guided by his friend Narayan to find his feet in the quite different life of London. He could manage to get various type of manual jobs including a stint in the mortuary to ‘care and carry’ dead bodies. He was able to find company of Indian students and enrolled himself in School of Oriental and African Studies. Soon the doors of many other eminent institutions and organizations opened for him. A chance meeting with Sylvia, an American student of Hindi, in December 1956 developed into intimacy and culminated in marriage in July 1957. They were blessed with a son, who was named Sanjay, on January 23, 1958 (To the immense delight of Ved, it was Neta Ji Subhas’s birth Day). The couple then decided to move to the USA in December 1958. The reader will be amply rewarded to study the First Part as an authentic socio-cultural documentation of the life of that period in the region of Western Uttar Pradesh. Ved’s descriptions of the various friends in London - some of them, including Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, RS Sharma and SC Dubey, later became iconic academicians in India - and the prestigious British institutions during his four years of stay in London are indeed deeply instructive and most enjoyable.
|Book 2 - पंचवटी के खोज में|
|Book 3 - देश-परदेश सब बिराना है|
Ved had come to India for a few months in 1977 to ‘recover’ from the shattering shock of his life. He utilized various opportunities for an extensive interaction with many top politicians in the government of the Janata Party and had deeper discussions with several eminent literary figures. He was a prominent participant in early 1980 in a Conference in Mysore on ‘Indo-American Folk Lore’. This occasion provided him a very useful opportunity to explain how the western methodologies and frame work of reference unduly dominated the approaches in India to the studies of all the social sciences. He also undertook extensive study tours of the various other southern states. Meanwhile, most mysteriously, many of Ved’s friends and relations became hyper active to propose a second marriage to him with some suitable Indian lady - ‘an American Daamad - son-in-law’ was indeed considered a prize catch; the harbinger of an, ‘American - synonymous with Heaven - Dream come true!’ How a close old friend proposed an ‘ideal match for our broken-hearted poet’ - with an amazingly appropriate name, Kalpana! She was a very pretty woman, in her 31st year; it was mentioned that she had recently become a widow, and had two daughters. Ved’s quicker paced narration details how he was tricked to marry in an indecent haste. She turned out to a personification of all the oddities and so many intrigues and dark secrets - he mentions even her ‘big appetite for sex’!
Their roller-coast time together for eighteen month could be termed an inflammable stuff with so many deceptions on the part of the lady and even her two smaller children. The short part of Ved’s life can certainly be described as the stuff fit for producing ‘heroine-vamp-double-role’ box office hit Bollywood masala film, with location shootings in the USA! This most mysterious chapter in the life of our poet-hero still awaits the formal-final-closure - she was known to have even given birth to Ved’s son!! The third Part further extensively deals with several events in India - like the World Hindi Conference in 1983; strange twists in the lives of so many talented friends; activities of the Khalistanis and major developments in the USA including the War with Iraq over Kuwait in January 1990. He was deeply disturbed with the demolition of Babri Masjid in December 1992 and organized protests against growing communalism in India. The graduation of younger daughter Sunita with Physics and Math was a great comfort and pride for Ved, who celebrated his 60th birth day in April, 1991. Meanwhile Ved had got deeply immersed in high lighting the heritage of the Ghadar Movement by organizing regular activities not only in America and Canada but also promoting the memories of the Ghadarites in India. Incidentally, I had also got the pleasant opportunity to know him during the Ghadr Centenary Seminar organized by Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar in November, 2013.
|Book 4 - घर ही कारागार बन गया|
Meanwhile, the ‘terrorist’ attack - on September 11, 2001 - on the World Trade Centre, the iconic symbols of ‘America-God’s own country’ had changed overnight the entire global political atmosphere. Ved’s indignation over the series of bloodiest wars waged by the USA against innocent citizens in so many countries, Afghanistan and Iraq in particular - has found thoughtful expression in several of his poems - P.85-91. On the level of his personal life, the circumstances enabled Ved to spend more time with his younger children Jaidev and Sunita. Meanwhile, his larger and extended family in India with the grown up new generation was developing strains with signs of inevitable disintegration. His large circle of friends in the USA were keen to offer him any assistance in the eighth decade of his life. He shares many touching tales of friends and his sense of deep loss with passing away of several of them, "the vacuum in my heart had been growing bigger since the dawn of 21st century (P. 128)... sometimes I felt as if my heart was a huge graveyard and I have been cremating the memories of the soulmates in it since the age of nine years...” - P.163. Ved quotes a memorable shae’r, "Meri Qismat mein gham ‘gar itne thhe / dil bhi ya Rabb kaee diye hote!" He, however, also records that 20th of May, 2009 was one of the happiest days of his life - P.181. I was the day when the Centre for South Asian Studies, in the University of California, organized a function, 'Celebration of Life and Work of a Poet' to honor and felicitate him. Ved recalls with pride how, he had started a grim struggle against the policies of racial discriminatory and intellectual imperialism in the University, ‘The white supremacy of the intellectual empire lasting half a century had been decimated. I was proud that I had a hand in this transformation and that the first crucial move in that direction was mine.’ The year 2010 had brought various tensions for Ved emanating from the evolving relations among the grown up children of his clan in Meerut. He had, however, decided to return permanently to India, much against the advice of well-meaning friends both in Meerut and in the USA, 'you will get devalued the moment you return.' They pointed out that ‘not to be an American citizen’ was also a folly. But he expressed confidence that he would be able establish himself as an independent author and academician. After making suitable arrangements for his papers and books, he undertook the long travels by rail for ‘Farewell Round of the USA.’ Ved describes in memorable words how he returned for good into the lap of ‘Bharat Mata’ on March 29, 2011 - having departed from Meerut on October 13, 1954 (P. 211). The last Five chapters in this fourth part make an uncomfortable and painful reading with Ved getting deeply disgusted and disillusioned over the soul scorching quarrels in his clan - a la descendants of Lord Krishna - and atmosphere of increasing intolerance in the country! The Epilogue - two poems of exquisite beauty about the tragic juxtaposition of character and destiny - provide us ‘virat roopa - multiversal form’ of the tormented soul of our Maha Kavi.
Ved Ji - the name itself indeed invokes the mythological master creator of Mahabharata - has honestly - often deeply painfully and quite bluntly chronicled the vicissitudes in the lives of several generation of his clan - and would seem consequently suffering the fate of Bhishama in Mahabharata. The reader of today might judge him harshly for his scriptural emotional attachments and failures in striking a harmony in competing relationships. He has been very fair in assessing and accepting the changing sexual and family mores in the post-2nd World War USA. The long running commentaries on the post-Independence politics in India could be adjudged more ‘poetical’ than perceptive analysis of the complex socio-economic forces. It is to his great credit that he has not been timid to spare likes of Chaudhary Charan Singh with their ‘feudal, murderous and caste prejudiced’ mind sets. He has been careful in pointing out fault lines of electoral politics since the First General elections in 1952. He has courageously underlined the all-pervasive oppression of Dalits / Adivasis by the unscrupulous upper castes. A reader more seriously interested in this uniquely Indian societal disease to go to Vatuk’s epic poetry in ‘Uttar Ram-katha’ and ‘Abhishapat Dwapar’ for profound references to the cancerous civilizational wounds inflicted by the caste divides on the destiny of India. The solitary reference to Dr B.R. Ambedkar in the Autobiography - Part1, P. 252 - might, however, appear more to be based on some hearsay - and, factually, Dr Ambedkar had resigned as Law Minister before the 1952 General Elections and he had been himself defeated, according to some accounts, by adopting unfair practices. It would seem rather paradoxical that that the authorship of both the Mahabharata and Ramayana is attributed to so called ‘Shudras’ - Ved Vyas and Valmik! One might imagine that Ved’s next poetic epic would celebrate the titanic struggle of an ‘Untouchable icon’ relevant to Today’s India. Ved has been a shrewd and intimate witness to all the amazing - alarming too - changes in human life during his own life: it has been pointed out that that the speed of changes, with the information technology in the forefront, during the last five decades has been, perhaps, more than the last five centuries, or even more! We await and pray for more sublime poetry during the days ahead from Dr. Ved Prakash Vatuk’s mighty, beautiful and justice-loving mind!
To sum up, I may earnestly state that it has been a deep delight and great instruction for me - and my wife, Aradhana - to study this land mark Autobiography of a heroic-poet - with his character reminding us of the many of Shakespeare’s heroes - suffering with their subtle tragic flaws - hamartia - but emanating that rare ennobling fragrance of the soul. The Four Part ‘precious life blood’ of Dr Ved Prakash ‘Vatuk’ would seem to be calling for equally heroic readers to read this major work of Indian Literature to be published in 2018.
More about Prof. Ved Prakash 'Vatuk':
- Kira Hall's Preface to Dr VP Vatuk writings (PDF file)
- Book Review: Studies in Indian Folk Tradition by Dr VP Vatuk (PDF file)
- Videos: Poet's Justice... Vatuk reciting poetry!
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