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SECOND LIFE

Poetic identity

SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY

She’s more than just another a politician; Girija Vyas prefers her life as a writer.

Photo: V.V.Krishnan

Creative licence: Girija Vyas.

She talks about her mother’s dream of seeing her as a Florence Nightingale, the healer of the poor. You might see it as a seasoned politician’s attempt at an image makeover with the polls round the corner, unless you notice the softness in her eyes even as she says it. A well-known face of the Congress party from Rajasthan and the Chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Girija Vyas says her mother Jamuna Devi Vyas wanted her to be a doctor so that she could do what Nightingale did.

“But then as a child, I had butterflies as friends and all I wanted to do was dance,” she says with a warm smile. Vyas did learn Kathak for about 15 years and also classical music but, by then, she had taken to many other creative skills. “I began to take part in school debates, started writing in school magazines…books became my friends, in a crowd I started to feel lonely.” And, that is when, she adds, “I began to talk to myself.”

Lifelong pull

A look within translated into writing verse in Hindi and Urdu, a pull strong enough to last lifelong, she now says. As of now, Vyas, a Ph.D. in Philosophy, has eight books under her name, three of which contain her poetry. “While Ehsas Ke Par has my Urdu poems, Seep, Samundar Aur Moti has both my Hindi and Urdu poems. My English verses are in Nostalgia,” she says.

Uncovering her little-known personal side, Vyas talks about writing her first poem. She was in third standard then. “In Rajasthan, rain is a rarity and everyone eagerly waits for a drop of it. As a child, I too used to excitedly watch clouds floating in the sky and then vanish. This made me write a poem.” She recites it to recapture the moment: Akash mein urte rahe pani ke parinde; nahi aaye kheto ki magar pyas bujhane.

The ability to take shelter in poetry helped her through life’s ups and downs. She recounts, “When in the 1990s, I was suddenly removed from the post of Deputy Minister for Information and Broadcasting, I got the news with my little nephew by my side. He began to cry, so I told him what my mother had once told me, ‘lie low when the wind is against you, a time will come when the same wind will push you forward’.” That night, she put pen to paper. “I wrote: I am not a big banyan tree; I am a less green bush; the more you cut, the more I grow.”

Her mother saw Vyas’s decision to enter politics as a way of working for the poor and women. “My mother was a social activist. Way back in 1922, she was a graduate. Though she belonged to a conservative family, she took up the cause of child widows. On her deathbed, she told me, ‘I have some money with me, please use it for the welfare of poor women’.” Her father Krishna Sharma was disowned by his father for joining the freedom movement.

Learning Urdu

“I grew up with liberal thoughts. I never felt that I was a girl growing up in a conservative society.” Vyas cites her venturing into Urdu. “There was a mosque near my house in Udaipur district. Inside it was a madrasa where Muslim children would go to learn Urdu. One day I told the maulana that I too want to learn Urdu. He asked me to come from the next day. That is how my first lessons in Urdu began.”

Vyas often takes part in kavi sammelans and doesn’t bother too much if she “is not a very successful politician.” “Mere parmane alag hain. How can I forget my upbringing?” That would amount to losing her sense of self, the core of her poetic identity.

This column features the little-known aspects of well known personalities.

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