Purushottam Nijhaawan, 77, has to his credit a long literary apprenticeship of about 60 years. He started writing Hindi poems when not even a graduate. Some of his very early poems were already in the Panjab University courses when he was yet in his mid-twenties. A high point of his poetic career was reached when he was serializing his national epic of Punjab in the Jagruti, the mouthpiece of the Punjab Government. This poem created quite a stir in the literary circles of Punjab and a writer, no less eminent than Principal Gurbachan Singh Talib' hailed him as 'Another Iqbal born'. For almost 15 years, he remained the moving spirit of the Prerana Goshthi, first at Shimla and then at Chandigarh. He was quite regularly invited by the All India Radio, Jalandhar for poetry recitation and other literary discussions. The Punjab Government honoured him along with other noted literary personalities of Punjab, in a special Darbar. The Haryana Government too honoured him, adjudging a manuscript of his poems for their top annual award as the best poetry collection of the year
But soon he vowed never to write again in Hindi, till then his natural medium of self-expression. It was his protest against his co-religionists in Punjab for declaring Hindi as their mother tongue in place of Panjabi. Thereafter, he wrote even his poetry mostly in English.
In 1984, tormented by the deteriorating Punjab problem, he wrote "Sri Guru Gobind Geeta'. It is this work that Khushwant Singh has so graciously alluded to in his foreword. He was the first to take notice of it in the SUNDAY Calcutta before it, in fact, had appeared in its final form.
It was hailed as soon as it was published as a classic. Important newspapers in the country carried its reviews. The Doordarshan too telecast a full-fledged interview of him on the national hook-up by no less a critic and scholar than Dr. Amrik Singh. An Intellectual like Dr. Prem Kirpal and a spiritualist like Swami Ranganathananda, chief of the Ramakrishan Mission among others heaped fulsome praises on it. The overall assessment of this work was that it was the most original epic poem that had come out on a Sikh theme in English in the past 300 years since the tenth Lord, Guru Gobind Singh had created the Khalsa. Dr. Amrik Singh felt that it easily rivalled the English epic 'Meghnad Vadh' by Michael Madhusudan Dutta of Bengal, who wrote in the early 19th century.
In all these years, Nijhaawan was greatly impressed by Ghalib. He wanted to read him in English but there was hardly any good translation available. He, therefore, at the instance of Dr. Kirpal, undertook to translate Ghalib in his own way. Earlier writing Foreword to "ODE TO the East Wind" the English rendition by Nijhaawan of Gupta Riza's Urdu poems, M.V. Kamath, the doyen of English journalists, critics and writers had said that these translations had the same quality as Tagore's own translations of his songs of Geetanjall. Encouraged by such giants and enjoying the company of his friend Gupta 'Riza', Nijhaawan's "Moods of Ghalib" is a rendition of 7Ghalib's verses that now look very modern and independent English poems. "Moods of Ghalib" may also appear in the book form soon thanks A to the initiative of Sardar J.S. Sethi of the English Edition.
It was in 1997-98 that Nijhaawan rendered into English and Hindi the famous 'Jangnama Hind-Punjab' of the bard, Shah Mohammed, published by India's leading-most Sikh Publishers by name the Singh Brothers of Amritsar and Ghalib's Chirag-e-Dair as "Kaa'ba-e-Hindustan". These works owed their inspiration to his own quest to understand how we could obtain better communal understanding between the Hindus and Muslims of India that even now is the country's main problem.
Apart from his literary exploits, Nijhaawan had a distinguished career in Journalism. As Chief Editor of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, he did some outstanding work and was the first-ever U.N. World Population Year Fellow in the world. He also contributed the key-note (inaugural) address to the 40-day UNESCO seminar-cum-workshop held in Delhi in 1974 before stalwarts of the National and International media.
At the age of 50, he took voluntary retirement from his senior Government -"job to found "Four Seasons", a quarterly from Bombay, given to Home and Family-life Communication, with the pretension to become India's own Reader's Digest in due course of time. Thus, it was slated to come out in all the fourteen languages of India though initially it came out only in four languages, namely English, Hindi, Bengali and Marathi. Nijhaawan left it in 1982 after which it soon closed down. However till as long as it lasted, it was a very exciting and original experiment in the field of magazine journalism in India.
Another dimension of Nijhaawan is that he did some very original work on Hinduism. His first book "Hinduism Redefined" was much applauded. In fact, three of its chapters were reproduced by the Statesman, Calcutta and its opening chapter by the Illustrated Weekly of India. The-then Editor of the Weekly Kumud C. Khanna described it as 'A seminal work on Hinduism'.
In between he also worked as Development Communications expert in the Family Planning Foundation in India, now renamed as Population Foundation of India. He was also one of the software experts in the Satellite T.V. Experiment.
He was also the first Director General of the J. R. D. Tata Foundation of Research in Ayurveda and Yoga Sciences at Chitrakoot. Anyway, after a lapse of 20 long years, he is sort of having his literary rebirth. He is working furiously to regain his lost position in India's intellectual life.
Writing on Nijhaawan, some years ago M.V. Kamath very graciously wrote:
"Nijhaawan is no ordinary person. He is a journalist, a writer and a poet, may be exactly in the same order.... Nijhaawan feels like a poet, analyses like a journalist and writes, yes, like a writer should, crisply, interestingly and to the point".
Khushwant Singh's laudatory notice obliges me to say that since this volume is intended to cater to the vast English and Hindi readership in India and possibly abroad, the introduction answering the relevant doubts and questions on Ghalib as also giving his short biographical sketch is very much called for in order to place this poem in its right perspective. In fact, without it, the common reader would not feel satisfied. Hence, I take the liberty of writing a longish introduction. Not just that, quite a large part of this introduction I carry at the end of the poem so that I do not unnecessarily stand between the poem and my readers. Let me hope that the vast literary readership in India and abroad will excuse me for doing so. The most outstanding aspect of this ballad is that it is most unlike Ghalib. It is this aspect that deal with first.
To restate, this ballad is unique in Ghalib's entire poetry. In it, Ghalib is unlike Ghalib that we know because in savouring the sights and sounds of Kashi, he almost becomes a devotee of Kashi, the eternal city of Lord Shiva. It incidentally breaks his stereotype of a superlative Ghazal poet for whom writing verses is like reveling in abysmal sin. In this long narrative poem in Persian, we, for the first time, come across a Ghalib who is penitent, nostalgic, reverential, a family man who roundly curses himself for the neglect of his people, accuses his wayward poetic bravado for all that, wishes to make amends to be a responsible breadwinner, resolves to move heaven and earth for mitigating their hardships, and becomes even philosophic to the extent of imbibing the exalted Upanishdic message of Charaiveti which means to be always on the move, in order to carve out a niche for himself in the world of achievement. But, over and above, he, even as a puritanical Muslim, falls in love with the Hindu attitude to beauty with the soul of a Vaishnava. Thousands of Hindu damsels he finds splashing with total abandon their naked fairy bodies in the sacred Ganga water at the Benares Ghats, unmindful of the covetous stares of a thousand sinning onlookers. Not just that, he also sits with local Pandits to be able to know all about the mythological greatness of the divine city and then composes his ballad exactly in 108 verses as if he is telling the beads of a rosary with the full faith of a devout Hindu. Coming as it does from the pen of Ghalib, it is, therefore, easily the greatest poem of national and emotional integration for all Indians, both Hindus and Muslims. That's why, I have titled it Kaa'ba-e-Hindustan, a phrase coined by Ghalib himself.