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A remarkable man of letters

Emotionally loaded symbols, double awareness, solitude let's take a walk into the lonely world of Nirmal Verma.

IDEAL ATTITUDE Nirmal Verma (1929-2005)

`I may remain in His Deathless Life'

Word and memory, for me, are like water and rock, making dialogue with each other, where death is simply a thought, and Kafka made us learn to see life from the other side of ashes. So I may remain in His Deathless Life.'

So he said in the first week of October over the telephone in his famous whispering voice. Today he remains only in our deathless memory, ever since the last week of this shocking October.

In his last decade, Nirmal Verma used to stay at the Krishnamurthy Foundation, Varanasi, almost every year for a week, though he used to practice the teachings of Ramana Maharishi. The effects are there to be seen in his later writings.

"Parindey" ("The birds", his first story) and "Maya Darpan" ("The Illusion", the first film by Kumar Shahani on his novel) were about the trauma of a communist intellectual who had witnessed the irrationality of a sanguine age that had revolutions stand on tragi-comic conflicts. In Chekhovian style, it whispers of the sad Sisyphean absurdity of human history. He had faith in Marx and Krishnamurthy, and as years went by, he used to believe in some cosmic presence whose radiance illuminates the loneliest of minds. "But I am not lonely, nor do I ever feel loneliness as it seems in my fiction," he usually said.

In his seventies, he did arrive at a mature, multisided, subtle delicacy and lingering grandeur. Whenever he managed to express exactly what he wanted, he would look heavenward. In 1996, we went through the film "Lisbon Story" by Wim Wenders in Delhi's International film festival at Siri Fort Auditorium. After the movie, he responded with his restful cigarette, "What a depiction of time and memory, as Mauvre Blanchot depicted in his latest novel `Space of Literature'. Actually life is so absolute or abstract, one finds it difficult to make an attitude. Only an `ideal attitude' exists, but in between idea and `what is', only life remains as an empty space. That is why love is not natural. We have to cultivate it. When we are not attentive, we are dead."

Once at the Krishnamurthy Foundation, he accepted, "Despair grows when I find, I am incapable of doing what exactly should flower in society and politics." He had a great regard for his elder brother Ram Kumar, the outstanding artiste and storywriter. "Ram is able to win back his own selfhood. Something happens very quietly, almost imperceptibly in Ram's paintings. The emotionally loaded symbols of solitude and desolation of his period generate in us a kind of benumbed and bewildered response, which comes closest to the existential anguish, a feeling further confirmed," he said. This kind of double awareness, which he had cultivated in his Prague days, gave him a kind of detachment. His story "Ek Din Ka Mehman" ("The guest of one day") narrates all this, in solitude, where he looks for salvation.

Nirmal Verma the phenomenon happened in Hindi much before Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Umberto Eco. His visionary energy always reflected in his prose writings, and in listening to George Luis Borges, or watching a movie of Bergman. "I had shared all my musical belongings with Nirmal ji when I was making `Maya Darpan'," Kumar Shahani remembers. "Not until I made `Maya Darpan' did I get a chance to learn music from Jal Balaporia of the Gwaliar gharana, as he had suggested to me to do. When he saw the movie, his love sublimated into his lonely smile, I noticed."

Usually he quoted several writers in his writing, like James Joyce, Kafka, Auden, Henry James, but in his last phonecall, he was simply with his own self to be witness to his final deliverance.


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