Sunday, July 22, 2018

An Autobiography of Global-Warrior-Poet

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
To get an introduction and broader understanding of this most truthful literary testament chronicling ‘toil, tears and triumph’ of our self-effacing hero, let us begin with a summarized over view of the Aatam Katha - literally, Story of the soul - I am even tempted call it ‘Vatukayan’, after the immortal Indian epic! The First Part - 67 chapters, without any headings and list of contents in the beginning, spanning 384 pages - is interestingly titled, ‘Getting Stranded: It also paved Path Ways’ describes, in the minutest details, the early life of Ved, son of Krishan Lal (b. 1886) and Kripi Devi who had been married, as per tradition, in their early teens. Ved - their 13th and the last issue, born on April 13, 1931 - had been preceded by the 1st born eldest brother, Sundar Lal (b. in 1906) and then the three sisters; the next seven male issues had not survived more than a couple of years. Most memorably, the saintly son, Sunder, is quoted consoling his mother, “Don’t worry, my dear Mom; like my three sisters, we will be three brothers too!” - P. 22. And Ved, most  memorably, records, "As if to prove this pious prediction by the noble - in the scriptural echo - son to be correct, younger brother Ram Niwas was born, 21 years later after  Sunder’s own birth and I followed four years later!" - P. 23. So deeply sadly, writes Ved with a courage of his conviction, “mother became blind after the birth of Ram - may be - because of lack of proper nursing care and had to live with the disability from age 41 till her death at 85 in 1971” - P. 30. He, however, states that lack of sight did not inhibit her life style of active routine and a fuller participation in all the affairs of the family. Ved, the Shravan son, proudly refers to her phenomenal memory - which the youngest son would seem to have inherited in equally ample measure! Vatuk’s love and devotion towards the two elder brothers - father had died in 1941, at the age of 55 - and the three sisters might seem to have been, as if, inspired straight from pages of Hindu scriptures. 

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
The Second Part of the Autobiography titled, 'In Search Of Panchvati' (The mythological Woodland in Ramayana) comprises of 40 Chapters covering 319 pages. The mingling with Silvia’s larger family - including her three married sisters, parents and grandparents - was full of interesting experiences for Ved in understanding the life styles and cultural contours in the USA. He could initially get job in a mental hospital as a nursing assistant. He also joined Boston University to learn Russian language where he also met Amiya Chakravarty - one time secretary to RN Tagore. A daughter Aruna, named after the Indian revolutionary in the Quit India Movement, was born in March, 1959. During this period, the American political scene was witnessing new developments surcharged with a different atmosphere in the wake of the Presidential election. Ved had felt drawn towards the comparatively liberal Democratic Party and the emergence of the candidature of youthful John F. Kennedy and his victory surely gladdened him. The movement for the Civil Rights of the Black people in the USA certainly attracted the Gandhian Ved. He was delighted on receiving the offer, in January 1962, to join University of Colorado as an Assistant Professor to train the Peace Corps Volunteers to be sent to India and Pakistan. He had an enjoyable and purposeful time in the job. The year 1963 brought many happy tidings for him - including birth of the fourth and the last child - named Jaidev; Sanjay’s finishing nursery class - and purchase of the First car! (P. 99). Then in September 1963, Ved was offered the position of Professor of Hindi by the University of California, Berkley. He accepted the appointment with a great enthusiasm. He was impressed by the cosmopolitan character of the larger place though he also missed the intimate intensity of life in smaller Colorado. The most shocking assassination of President John Kennedy and several policies of President Johnson - particularly the escalation of war in Vietnam - deeply disappointed Ved. He was inspired to join the various protest movements in the USA for Civil Right and world Peace. He had felt impressed by the struggle waged by Caesar Chavez for the rights of the farm laborers (Chapter 29). He had also to undertake intense personal struggle against the authorities of the University for their biased and racially discriminatory decisions. Meanwhile, Ved’s two major proposals for funding - to the Department of Education for - Text to Learn Hindi and to the American Institute for Indian Studies for a research Project in India - were approved. He resigned his position in the University of California. The stay in Berkeley had made him deeply involved as a lifelong crusader to highlight the sacrifices of the patriots of the Ghadar Movement - with the 19 year martyr Kartar Singh Sarabha in the forefront - operating from there in the Second decade of the Twentieth century. 

Book 3 - देश-परदेश सब बिराना है  
The Third Part of the Autobiography, evocatively titled, 'Home-land or Distant-land: All are Desert-Waste-Lands', is slightly shorter than the other three - it comprises of 24 chapters covering 272 pages. It opens with an interesting observation by Ved: "I had thought that my time in India would be spent in peace and comfort but it appears that I have not been born to lead such a life. My circumstances and ‘sanskaar - inherited instincts’, as if, would never permit that such a situation should ever occur." He narrates the course of events triggered by the movement started by Jai Prakash Narayan which culminated into the imposition of Emergency by PM Indira Gandhi on June 25, 1975. Ved‘s dearest brother ‘Poojya Agrej - His Worship, the eldest’ Master Sunder Lal Ji, a pious Gandhian and a dedicated social reforms activist had also to suffer imprisonment for 19 months under inhuman conditions. Ved felt disgusted and disappointed with many of his eminent friends and he has not felt shy to name - and shame - those who had felt too timid to stand up against the suppression of fundamental rights of the people in India. The 19 month old Emergency was over and-to the utter disbelief of the world - the Congress led by Mrs. Gandhi was routed. The JP blessed newly formed Janata Party Government, however, failed miserably to come up to the expectations of the people. It collapsed under its own dead weight of quarrels, false egos and mutual back-stabbings among its degenerated old leadership - paving the path for a roaring return to power by Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1980. Ved had, however, been shaken completely, on the eve of the 19th anniversary of his wedding on 20th July, 1976 - by a totally unexpected ‘seismic’ personal shock.  Sylvia had written to him, “You will be as grievously sad to read this letter as I have been in writing it... we have reached a stage when we cannot live together...”, adding that he should  speak to her lawyer on the given telephone number. Ved felt shattered; children were dazed and confused; but he did not want to fight an ugly legal case. He did not make any counter legal claims in the case and divorce was legalized on December 15, 1976. 

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 
Coming to the Fourth - not yet formally called the Final - part of Autobiography, titled 'Home itself Turned into a Prison', deals with Ved’s thoughtful account of various personal, national and world events during 1995-2015. The project of bringing a group of students from the USA for a study tour in India proved a successful experience. The birth centenary of Kartar Sarabha was celebrated in 1996 with several functions in the USA. The participants included Prof. Harish Puri of the GND University Amritsar and Prof. Jagmohan Singh (son of Shahid Bhagat Singh’s sister) of the PAU, Ludhiana - Sarabha village is situated in the neighborhood of this beloved city of Sahir. Jagmohan is a prominent human rights activist (P. 18). Ved organizes a forceful front against efforts by the Khalistanis to distort its ideals and history. He had felt outraged over the increasing divisions among Indian community into the narrow sectarian and caste based groups. He was conferred, in August 1996, the award by the Hindi Institute of the Govt. of Uttar Pradesh, for his contribution to Hindi Literature as a ‘Pravasi - Non-Resident-Indian author’-his friends celebrated this recognition, more than him! Ved does not mince words to express his views against the policies of the AB Vajpayee led government. He was particularly upset and dismayed over the conduct of the Nuclear Tests by the nation calling Gandhi Ji its Father. Ved has been, personally, no admirer of Atal Bihari’s oratory and considers him a hypocrite and communalist - not a statesman but a salesman. He even campaigned against him in Lucknow in the general election in 2004. He was, however, utterly disappointed by the poor organization, political strategy and the total lack of will among the opposition parties to win the confidence of the voters. 

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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