Bachchan, Harivansh Rai 1907-2003

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BACHCHAN, Harivansh Rai 1907-2003

PERSONAL: Born November 27, 1907, in Allahabad, India; died, January 18, 2003, in Mumbai, India; married 1927; wife's name, Shyama (died, 1936); married Teji Suri, 1942; children: Amitabh, Ajitabh. Education: Attended Allahabad University and Benares Hindu University; Saint Catherine's College, Cambridge, Ph.D. Religion: Hindu.

CAREER: Allahabad University, Allahabad, India, instructor, 1941-52; All India Radio, producer, c. 1950s; Ministry of External Affairs, officer on special duty, 1955-c.65; nominated to upper house of Indian parliament, 1966. Writer.

AWARDS, HONORS: Saraswati Samman, K. K. Birla Foundation, for four volumes of autobiography; Lotus prize, Afro-Asian Writers' Conference; Nehru prize; Padma Bhushan; Sahitya Academy award.



Terā hāra, Sushama-Nikunja (Allahabad, India), 1939. Ākula antara, Bhāratī-Bhandāra (Allahabad, India), 1944.

Ekānta sangīta, Bhāratī-Bhandāra (Allahabad, India), 1944.

Madhu kala'sa, Bhāratī-Bhandāra (Allahabad, India), 1944.

Ni'sā nimantrana, Bhāratī-Bhandāra (Allahabad, India), 1944.

Madhu'sālā, Bhāratī-Bhandāra (Allahabad, India), 1945, translation by Marjorie Boulton and Ram Swaropp Vyas published as The House of Wine, foreword by Jawaharlal Nehru, Fortune Press (London, England), 1950, revised edition, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1989.

Bangāla kā kāla, Bhāratī-Bhandāra (Allahabad, India), 1946.

Halāhala,Bhāratī-Bhandāra (Allahabad, India), 1946.

Prārambhika racanāem,Bhāratī-Bhandāra (Allahabad, India), 1946.

Sūta kī mālā, Sentrala Buka Dipo (Allahabad, India), 1948.

Sataranginī, Sentrala Buka Dipo (Allahabad, India), 1948.

Madhubālā, Sentrala Buka Dipo (Allahabad, India), 1951.

Sopāna: Baccana kī sarva'sreshtha racanāom kā sangraha, Bhāratī-Bhandāra (Allahabad, India), 1953.

Āratī aura angāre, Rājapāla (Delhi, India), 1963.

Harivam'sarāya 'Baccana', Rājapāla (Delhi, India), 1964.

Hindīkī pratinidhi srestha kavit āyem, three volumes, Sarasvati Vihara (Delhi, India), 1978–82.

Bandara bānta (poems and a play in verse; for children), Rājapāla (Delhi, India), 1980.

Janma dina kī bhenti (for children), Rājapāla (Delhi, India), 1980.

Nīlī ciriyā (for children), Rājapāla (Delhi, India), 1981.

So'ham hamsah: Hamsa pratīka se likhita dasa gīta, Rājapāla (Delhi, India), 1981.

Naī se naī, purānī se purānī, Rājapāla (Delhi, India), 1985.

Pratinidhi kavitāem, Rājakamala Prakā'sana (New Delhi, India), 1986.

Baccana-gīt avalī, Jīvana Prabhāta Prakā'sana (Mumbai, India), 1992.


Kyā bhūlūm kyā yād karūm (also see below), 1969.

Nīra kā nirmān phira (also see below), 1970.

Basere se dūra (also see below), Rājapāla (Delhi, India), 1977.

'Da' sadvāra se 'Sopāna' taka (also see below), Rājapāla (Delhi, India), 1985.

In the Afternoon of Time (contains all four volumes), edited and translated by Rupert Snell, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1998.


(Translator into Hindi) Omar Khayyam, Khaiyāma kī madhu'sālā (Rubaiyat), with English translation by Edward Fitzgerald, Sentrala Buka Dipo (Allahabad, India), 1952.

W. B. Yeats and Occultism: A Study of His Works in Relation to Indian Lore, the Cabbala, Swedenborg, Boehme, and Theosophy, Motilal Banarsidass (Delhi, India), 1965.

(Adaptor) Nāgara Gītā (adaptation of the Bhagavadgīta'), Rājapāla (Delhi, India), 1966.

Bachchan Recites Bachchan (sound recording), His Master's Voice (Dum Dum, India) 1979.

Baccana racanāvalī, sampādaka Ajita Kumāra (collected works), nine volumes, Rājākamala (New Delhi, India), 1983.

Pātiphīra āī, sampādaka Jīvanaprakā'sa Jo'sī (correspondence with Jīvanaprakā'sa Jo'sī, 1956-70), Sanmārga Prakā'sana (Delhi, India), 1984.

Baccana ke vi 'sishta patra: Candradeva Simha ke nāma (selected correspondence), Prabhāta Prakā'sana (Delhi, India), 1984.

Patra hī nahīm, Baccana mitra haim: Kavi Udbhrānta ke nāma Baccana jī ke patrom kā aitihāsika silsalā sampādaka Udbhrānta (letters to Hindi poet Udbhrānta) Sanmārga Prakā'sana (Delhi, India), 1988.

Also author of poetry collections Khādī ke phūla, 1948; Cāra kheme caumsatha khūnte, 1962; Bahuta dina bīte, 1967; Katatī pratimāom kī avāza, 1968; and Bhāshā apanī, bhāva parāe, 1970. Author of other works of poetry and prose, including Harivam'sarāya 'Baccana', 1960; Kaviyom me saumya santa Sumitrānandana Panta, 1962; Naye purāne jharokhe, 1962; Abhinava sopāna, 1964; Buddha aura nācaghara, 1964; Dhāra ke idhara udhara, 1966; Tribhangimā, 1966; Samasāmayika Hindī sāhitya, 1967; Ubharate pratimānom ke rūpa, 1969; Baccana patrom mem, 1970; Pravāsa kī dāyarī, 1971; Jāla sametā, 1973; Abhinandana Patrikā, 1974; and Merī kavitāī kī ādhī sadī: san 1929 se 1979 taka, 1981.

SIDELIGHTS: Poet, memoirist, translator, and literary scholar Harivansh Rai Bachchan was one of the leading Hindi-language authors of the twentieth century and was deeply involved in India's fight for independence from the United Kingdom. He first gained fame with his 1935 poetry collection, Madhu'sālā (also transliterated as Madhushala and published in English as The House of Wine), which among other things celebrates taverns as places where India's Hindus and Muslims could come together in peace and learn to understand each other. He went on to produce many other volumes of poetry, a four-volume autobiography, translations of works by Shakespeare and Omar Khayyam, and wolumes of literary criticism. He was a close associate of Indian independence leaders Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, postcolonial India's first prime minister; he worked for a time in Nehru's government, and Nehru contributed a foreword to the English edition of Madhu'sālā. Bachchan, in the words of a London Times writer, "was one of the greatest writers of modern Hindi literature and represented the last generation that was inspired by Gandhian idealism and the Nehruvian quest for social harmony."

When Madhu'sālā was published, it "created virtual frenzy in literary circles," the Times reporter noted, with crowds numbering in the thousands attending Bachchan's readings. "Though Bachchan later moved on to a broader poetic canvas," remarked Rupert Snell in Modern Asian Studies, "this early success was to define him forever." While Madhu'sālā has remained popular and "perenially in print," Snell related, it has not always been taken seriously by scholars. Its "sweet pre-independence lyricism is severely out of fashion in today's literary circles," the critic added, noting that, nevertheless it "has acquired a kind of Golden Treasury immortality." Madhu'sālā, together with Madhubālā and Madhu kala'sa, form a trilogy and are particularly notable for their "profound sensitivity and simple diction," added a contributor to

Bachchan's autobiography also numbers among his best-known works. The first volume, Kyā bhūlūm kyā yād karūm, was published in 1969; its title, taken from one of its author's poems, translates as "What should I remember, what should I forget?" This installment deals with Bachchan's early life as the first child of impoverished parents in Allahabad and with the stories he was told of his ancestors. "One of its many pleasures is the way the soft focus of legend crispens into the tighter narrative of remembered and contemporary relatives," commented Snell. The book also goes into Bachchan's friendship—possibly a romantic relationship—with a young man named Karkal, Karkal's death at a young age, and Bachchan's subsequent attachment to Karkal's widow, Champa. Bachchan's writing "is remarkable for its candour" about these relationships, Snell observed, adding that, "While leaving much to be read between the lines, the account of the friendship with Karkal has led the Hindi critic Namvar Singh to reckon it the first published confession in Hindi of a homosexual relationship."

After working at a variety of jobs, Bachchan eventually opted for a teaching career, becoming a lecturer at the prestigious Allahabad University; he also married, but his first wife, Shyama, became ill and died young. His second volume of autobiography, Nīra kā nirmān phira, covers her death and his subsequent marriage to Teji Suri; the book's title means "rebuilding the nest." The third, Basere se dūra, meaning "far from home," is a narrative of Bachchan's stint at Cambridge University in England in the 1950s—he was one of the first Indians to earn a Ph.D. in English at Cambridge—and his time in Ireland studying the works of poet W. B. Yeats, the subject of his doctoral thesis. "Many of its most plangent moments make reference to English literature or to the culture from which it springs," related Snell. "There can be no finer example than the very moving description of the illness and death of Bachchan's one-time boss, Jawaharlal Nehru." In this account, Bachchan refers to Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"; a piece of paper onto which Nehru had copied the poem's final stanza was found on his desk when he died. Bachchan provides both the original English lines and his translation into Hindi, in the process offering "an entire course in the art and craft of translation," in Snell's opinion. The last volume, 'Da' sadvāra se 'Sopāna' taka, takes its title from the names of two of the Bachchan family's houses, one in Allahabad, the other in a writers' colony in Delhi. Bachchan spent much of his later life in either Delhi or Mumbai (Bombay), Mumbai being the center of the Indian film industry, in which one of his sons, Amitabh, had become a major star. (Bachchan's other son, Ajitabh, became a successful business executive and eventually moved to England.)

The four volumes provide not only Bachchan's life story but also many examples of his "inventiveness" with language, Snell noted, indicating that the work "has much to offer" speakers of both Hindi and English. A London Times writer commented that Bachchan's autobiography "reflected his personal warmth, intellectual vigor and even human frailties," bringing him "huge admiration from readers." The work is considered a "literary masterpiece," according to the Rediff writer.

The Rediff writer summed up Bachchan's career by calling it "an unbroker series of achievements." Snell, writing of Bachchan in London's Independent, added that the author left "a legacy of Hindi verse hardly to be matched by any 20th-century author."



Modern Asian Studies, May, 2000, Rupert Snell, "A Hindi Poet from Allahabad: Translating Harivansh Rai Bachchan's Autobiography," pp. 425-447.



Independent (London, England), Rupert Snell, January 21, 2003.

Times (London, England), January 29, 2003.

ONLINE, (January 19, 2003).*