Friday, September 26, 2008

Farewell Shukla-saab

I got an email this morning from Ahmad Saidullah, a writer and editor based in Canada, bearing the subject line "IK Shukla". I knew with a sinking feeling what I was going to read.

Ahmad wrote: "IK passed away last week. I hadn't ever met him but we used to correspond almost daily. The last email he'd sent he said he was ailing. I emailed him a couple of items to cheer him up. A lovely person. I'll miss him."

Prof IK Shukla, who lived in Los Angeles, was a renowned literature and cultural connoisseur, writer, poet, translator, activist and author of several books including Hindutva: Treason and Terrorism, Hindutva: An Autopsy of Fascism as a Theoterrorist Cult and Other Essays etc.

I became acquainted with him through the South Asian Literature mailing list (SASIALIT). That must have been in 2005. I had posted a message about the Indian writer Bhabani Bhattacharya, and Mr Shukla wrote to me in response. And thus began our correspondence. After I began translating the short stories of the Bengali writer, Subimal Misra, Mr Shukla was most appreciative and encouraging. When I started this blog in June 2006, he overwhelmed me with his encomiums. In December 2006, he wrote to me: "Let me commend your work and self-conscientization. India, without its uniquely pluralistic culture, would become a nullity, a wasteland. Let not traitors win. It is for patriots like you to keep the torch of an all-embracing India ever alight."

It was Mr Shukla who put me in touch with Ahmad, and what a fortuitous association that has been. And he sent me some of his pieces which I put up on this blog, including his translation of his sonnet in Hindi on the Buddha.

I was honoured to have got Mr Shukla to write a Foreword to my collection of poems, which I published on-line in August 2006.

Mr Shukla had been ailing for quite some time, and we had been out of touch. I feared the worst, but in June this year Ahmad shared an email he'd received from Mr Shukla in which he mentioned me. And so I resumed my communication with him, sharing my translations of the short stories of the celebrated Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto. Once again, Mr Shukla was only appreciative and encouraging.

In one of his last emails, Mr Shukla wrote: "I have grown weak and get tired soon. Voice has become gravelly, but I am thankful I got it back. ... I have stopped writing. Mentally exhausted, physically depleted. Yes, I still keep on reading a little now and then. ..."

Mr Shukla was well advanced in years, and has had a long and productive life, and so he is entitled to eternal rest. But he leaves behind a void and he will be sorely missed.

I would like to conclude my homage to Mr Shukla's memory by quoting from a mail he sent me two years ago:

"Borders whittle and belittle humanity. Instead of making secure they end up making us squalid. They alienate us and inculcate a crippling narrowness. We create our own prisons via borders of various kinds, not just topographical. ...

Let me hope that there emerge several blogs preaching amity, bringing people closer, enhancing our awareness, exploring our potential, and improving our prospects. We in the subcontinent have so much in common to keep us bound together in glory and grandeur, in struggle and survival, beyond the vicissitudes of history and accidents of nation-state contingencies..."

Painting: Homage to Gandhi, by Laurie Zagon.

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