The passing away of Sahitya Akademi Award-winning poet Manglesh Dabral has shocked the literary community. Leave alone the loss to Hindi poetry, prose and translation, the void created by his absence, in our spiritual and emotional lives, shall be regarded as one of the most catastrophic effects this pandemic has had.
The stories in his poems are those of struggling youth, the brutal force of money, administrative and political power. When he hits them hard in a language socked in pain and cry, sweat and blood, he sings the songs that his numerous readers wanted to sing for themselves
His individual warmth, humanity, sensitivity and simplicity travelled into his poetry and prose and back into his life, encompassing the people who came close to him and his writings. The stories in his poems are those of the struggling youth, the brutal force of money, administrative and political power. When he hits them hard in a language socked in pain and cry, sweat and blood, he sings the songs that his numerous readers wanted to sing for themselves. His unflinching commitment to the marginalised, his radical understanding of politics, society and human values was in no way detached of the homely affections and gentle, soft brotherhood he carried down from the hills of Garhwal to the plains of the North.
The quietness of solitude, the flow of rivers, the vast sky overhead, the flowers, smells and the slow pace of life, the women, people — young and old and the struggles of livelihood, the simmering anger against injustice, exploitation and the loss of the ethos of the ethnicity and a sense of displacement can all be dissected in his poetry spread over almost half-a-dozen collections. One of his favourite poetry lines, often quoted by him, attributed to German playwright-poet Bertolt Brecht read as follows: “Pahadon ki yaatanaayein hamare peeche hain, maidanon ki yaatnaayein hamare aage hain”. (In our past are the agonies of the hills, in our present are the torments of the plains.)
All through his journalistic career, he edited literary and opinion pages in various Hindi journals and newspapers. He was among the top literary editors the language had in modern times. Maybe he was the best in his times, more so after the demise of Dharamvir Bharti and Raghuvir Sahay, editors of Dharmyug and Dinman, respectively, who evolved canons for a serious, professionally competent and socially, historically responsible journalism with a human face. Using original sources of language, he made Hindi much more than just a language of translation. Manglesh was the Supplement Editor in Jansatta in the 1980s and 1990s, and there was scarcely an edition which was not worth preserving. Every budding writer wanted to be published by him, and there was hardly any significant writer in Hindi who did not prefer to be seen there. He was fighting a consciousness war on behalf of the interests of the masses and for a sustainable future for all. His articles underscored the vanishing lifestyles and sub-cultures as the onslaught of neo-liberalism was swarming up everything coming its way. It brought in economic risks for him; however, he weathered them all without any cynicism. He remained a person with graceful demeanor but with unshakeable self-belief and ethical steadfastness. He got some brickbats too, but earned much love from poetry lovers across the world.
As the tremors created by his death die down, the vividness of his legacy shall be much more pronounced. And without his kind of poetry being written anymore, it would be a different and difficult literary world we shall have to live in.