•Haar nahin maanoonga,raar nayee thaanoonga Kaal ke kapaal par likhata mitaata hoon Geet naya gaata hoon
The poet who wrote these defiant and inspirational lines is now back at his home,after many days of hospitalisation. The news of his being admitted in New Delhis All India Institute of Medical Sciences had caused concern all over the country. Now that he has been discharged from hospital,crores of Indians must be saying to themselves: God is kind. Our prayers have been answered.
People adore Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
India has produced many great leaders since Independence. Some were politically more powerful than him. Some were electorally more successful than him. But few have received so much admiration and adoration for so long a time as Atalji has.
Many have asked me in the past few weeks: Do you feel Ataljis absence in this election campaign? The answer is obvious. This is the first parliamentary election,since the first one in 1952,in which Atalji will not be actively campaigning. He did not contest the 1952 elections. But since the 2nd Lok Sabha in 1957,he has had an almost uninterrupted innings in Parliament. He will not be a candidate in 2009. The 15th Lok Sabha will miss him and so will Indians miss his election rallies for the coming elections. In the past,people used to travel several hundred miles just to experience the magnetism of his oratory.
Memory helps us feel his presence in many ways. As Indias Prime Minister who ably steered the ship of the nation at a critical time; as the leader who made India a nuclear weapons power; as the peacemaker who,despite the betrayal in Kargil,left no stone unturned to normalise Indias relations with our unreliable neighbour; one who built those world-class highways to progress; one who is ajaatashatru,a man with no enemies.
But today I feel Ataljis presence as a poet of extraordinary sensitivity and strength. After a long and tiring day in office,in the silence of the midnight hour,I open YouTube to listen to Jagjit Singhs soulful rendition of Ataljis Kya Khoya Kya Paaya Jag Mein… and Lata Mangeshkars recreation of the magic of Aao man ki gaanthen khole… Jagjit Singhs music video,titled Samvedana,was the first-of-its-kind collaborative effort of a prime minister and several great names in Bollywood: Amitabh Bachchan,Shah Rukh Khan,Javed Akhtar and Yash Chopra. Javed Akhtar,himself a great poet and lyricist,writes in his introductory lines that the distinction between the poet and the reader dissolves when one reads (or listens to) Ataljis poems. So true.
I take out my copy of Meri Ikyaavan Kavitaayen (My Fifty-one Poems),which was released in 1995 by Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao at a memorable function in the capital. My tonic for inspiration whenever I need it,it is a collection of Ataljis poetry of diverse genres,each charming and evocative in its own way. His patriotic poetry,which he wrote mostly at a young age,still retains the power to ignite young and old minds alike. His oratory itself was mostly poetry,and the book carries an extract from one of his speeches in which he says,Bharat zameen ka tukdaa nahin,jeeta jaagata Rashtrapurush hai…yeh vandan ki bhoomi hai,abhinandan ki bhoomi hai. Yeh tarpan ki bhoomi hai,yeh arpan ki bhoomi hai. Iska kankar-kankar Shankar hai,iska bindu-bindu Ganga-jal hai. Hum jeeyenge to iske liye,hum marenge to iske liye. Which Indian heart will remain untouched by the sound of soaring nationalism in this poem?
True,Ataljis patriotic poetry makes us proud of our heritage,but it does not favour blind,uncritical pride. In a poem titled Satta,in which he bemoans the many atrocities perpetrated by the powerful in our society,he writes: Paanch hazaar saal ki sanskruti: garv karein yaa royein? Swaarth ki daud mein,kahin aazadi phir na khoyein. Anger over abuse of power and the helplessness of ordinary citizens are a recurrent theme in his poetry; so is the call for defiance and resistance. In a 1975 poemhe wrote it while in prison during the Emergencyhe says: Daanv par sab kuchh laga hai,ruk nahin sakte. Toot sakte hain magar hum jhuk nahin sakte.
There are many poetic moments etched in my mind from my six years of close association with Atalji in the PMO. In political conventions,people would invariably request him to recite his poems,and his favourites were: Geet nahin gaata hoon; Na chup hoon,na gaata hoon; and Geet naya gaata hoon. In this trilogy,the poet takes us through a journey from despair to determination,from hopelessness to hope. Like many of Ataljis acolytes,I have heard him recite these poems on innumerable occasions,but not once have I felt my curiosity and expectation flag.
My most memorable poetic moment with him was when he recited his famous Jang na hone denge in Pakistan during his 1999 bus yatra to Lahore. The recitation came at the end of a stirring extempore speech he delivered at a reception hosted in his honour at the Governors House. It brought tears to many Pakistanis,who genuinely desire peace with India.
The power of great poetry is its creation of a silent chamber within oneself,where one can begin to dialogue with oneself,listen to ones own voice that echoes,or dissolves into,the words of the poet. Some of Ataljis best poems are those in which he speaks to himself,prompting,in the process,the readers also to speak to their own inner selves. Listen to these lines from Apne hi man se kuchh bolein: Prithivi lakhon varsh purani,Jeevan ek anant kahani,Par tan ki apni seemayen,Yadyapi sau sharadon ki vaani. Then comes Ataljis introspective soliloquy of incredible mysticism: Itna kaafi hai antim dastak par khud darwaaza kholein (Its enough that,when the final knock comes,I open the door myself.)
The quintessential Atalji appears in these prayerful lines from another famous poem Oonchayi: Mere Prabhu! Mujhe itni oonchayi kabhi mat dena,gairon ko gale na lagaa sakoon itni rukhayi kabhi mat dena.
Atalji has himself often wondered if poetry and politics can ever co-exist. His unique greatness lies in the fact that,for over half a century,he has been speaking to the Indian mind in the language of both poetry and politics,with rare beauty and profundity.