On Wednesday, as Ananya Vajpeyi lit the pyre of her 79-year-old father, Sahitya Akademi Award winning Hindi poet Kailash Vajpeyi, words from his famous poem ‘Bhavishya Ghat Raha Hai (The future is shrinking)’ kept ringing through her head. All his life, the veteran poet had made fun of death; “obsessing” over it; being sarcastic about it. And here he was, embracing it.
“He was always fascinated with death. He was sarcastic about it; even funny, but deeply philosophical. In many ways, death was the main subject of his works,” Ananya told The Indian Express shortly after the cremation. “During the entire time at the hospital and when I came home to get some sleep and as I stood next to his pyre, his words kept flooding my mind. I am his only child and privileged to be the daughter of one of the most important literary figures in India.” Vajpeyi had been hospitalised for the past few days and passed away Tuesday after suffering cardiac arrest.
Poets across the spectrum agree that Vajpeyi had a “distinct” style of writing that has gone with him. Gulzar said Vajpeyi was a “very pleasant and handsome” man. He told The Indian Express, “Kailashji was a very unusual poet with a style of his own. His usage of metaphors was unlike others and I always heard him with rapt attention… Sufi rang tha unki poetry mein (His poetry had a Sufi colour to it); an abstract element.”
Vajpeyi belonged to Lucknow and completed his PhD in Hindi at 24. He began his career as a journalist and subsequently started teaching at Delhi University. Poet Ashok Vajpeyi said he became “an important Hindi poet” in the ‘60s when Hindi poetry was trying to challenge itself and the establishment.
Vajpeyi then moved to Mexico and later, Dallas in the US. When the family returned to India in the ‘80s, Ananya said his focus had shifted. “His poetry till ‘70s was all political. A number of his poems were banned. Poems like ‘Sankranta’, ‘Dehant se Hatkar (Away from Death)’, ‘Teesra Andhera (Third Darkness)’ created quite a stir. One poem, famously called ‘Rajdhani’, was critical of Nehru. Another banned poem, ‘Ek Naya Rashtrageet (A new national anthem)’ was extremely political and openly adversarial,” Ananya explained.
When he returned to India, his poetry took a very different turn. He started taking a keen interest in mysticism and spirituality. According to writer Prabhat Ranjan, who teaches Hindi at Zakir Hussain College, the crux of Vajpeyi’s poetry was spirituality that distanced itself from religion. “His poetry reflected his belief that life is meaningless. For example, he wrote: Aisa kuch bhi nahi zindagi mein, ke har jaane wali arthi par roya jaaye (There is nothing in life that needs to be mourned for when gone),” Ranjan told The Indian Express. Vajpeyi is also one of the few Hindi poets who were bilingual and he is often credited with bringing Hindi poetry to international platforms, Ranjan concluded.