Updated: August 6, 2021 10:21:14 am
“Eh raje diyan mandiyan tundiyaan ne? (Are these royal palaces yours?)”, a woman once asked this question of Padma Sachdev. It was a hot day and Sachdev, discovering the woman sitting on her patio, gave her water and pickle with rotis. After the meal, the woman looked up at the palace-like houses across the road and asked her the question that Sachdev took and turned into a piece of poetry that remains one of the most scorching criticisms of the feudal system that has denied basic rights to a majority of the people. Sachdev would write, “those who blinded me… the weapons used against us, do they belong to you?”
Sachdev, known as the mother of contemporary Dogri literature, died in Mumbai on August 4 at the age of 81. Her first collection of poetry — Meri Kavita Mere Geet, in 1969 — won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1971. Introducing the book, on its first page, was a much-impressed veteran poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. He wrote, “After reading Padma’s poem, I thought I should throw my pen away — for what Padma writes is true poetry.” Sachdev began writing in the village of Purmandal, where she moved with her family after her father, a Sanskrit professor, died in the turmoil of Partition. As a young girl she would sing folk songs, and secretly add new couplets to them as an experiment. She credited the rhythmic quality of her poems to her understanding of Sanskrit chants.
Moving to Mumbai, she spent time with Dharamvir Bharati, Amritlal Nagar, Harivanshrai Bachchan, Amrita Pritam, Ismat Chughtai, Ali Sardar Jafri, and Gulzar among others. Poetry was shared, thoughts polished and horizons expanded. The result was prose and poetry that was women-centric. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2001. She realised that it was necessary to write in Dogri, her mother tongue and a language that needed her, even more than Hindi. In her interviews, she would often say, “People call me the mother of contemporary Dogri literature. I’d only like to stay her daughter.”
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 6, 2021 under the title ‘Daughter of Dogri’.
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