Namvar Singh was a famous writer, literary historian, essayist, progressive activist and stalwart of Marxist criticism. If I am not wrong, he had a premonition of his death. Some months ago, when I met him, he told me that he wanted to visit Varanasi for the last time.
There are very few literary figures in free India who lived and died for their ideology, and Singh suffered because of his principles and commitments.
One of the best-known leftists of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) during his student days, Singh was a much-admired student of literature. He was guided by Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, who was in the department of Hindi. Acharya Narendra Deva, the vice chancellor, insisted on his appointment as a lecturer in BHU despite opposition from socialist groups due to his political views. Eventually, Singh had to leave the university when he contested in the parliamentary election on a Communist Party of India ticket.
Many lawyers advised him to file a legal case against BHU, but he felt it was unethical to file a case against his own alma mater. Later he joined Sagar University, followed by Jodhpur University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, where he started the Centre of Indian Languages. It was the first common department for Hindi and Urdu in any university.
Criticised for an article Basi Bhat Khuda Ka Sajh (Charity in leftovers) published in the monthly magazine Hans – where he criticised the government in Kashmir for making Urdu the second language — he remained unperturbed and felt it was important to teach Urdu at primary and junior level in north India. He also recommended Ali Sardar Jafri’s name for the Jnanpith Award when he was a member of the jury. He was very happy when I dedicated my Urdu book Hindi Shayari to him.
An avid reader of Ghalib, Singh delivered many lectures on Ghalib’s poetry and often cited his couplets. He not only has many books to his credit — including Kavita Ke Naye Pratiman, Chhayawad, Wad Vivad Samwad, Doosari Parampra Ki Khoj, Prithveeraj Raso: Bhasha Aur Sahitya, Hindi Ke Vikas Mein Apbhransh Ka Yog and Baklam Khud — but also edited a reputed Hindi magazine Aalochna.
In it, he emphasised that the social and economic conditions of authors reflect in their writings. He was never apologetic about Hindi language and is a rare literary figure who was not only awarded but also widely admired. In his book Ghar Ka Jogi Jogda, author Kashinath (his brother) shares many untold stories of his childhood. He writes that Singh gave his piece of land to his relatives to avoid any disharmony, though he was also in need of money.
I don’t think any other Namvar will come again to bridge the gap between Urdu and Hindi.
(Alvi is an Urdu writer and literary historian)