Suryakant Tripathi Nirala is a prime example of the power of the spirit. Given the constant battle that his life always was, it is astonishing how he reached the pinnacle of success as far as his passion was concerned. Today, he is revered as one of the most prominent Hindi language poets of the twentieth century. His works are read across the country by literature students and enthusiasts. And the rigours wrought by life are all too evident in his writings.
Born in a small village in the Midnapore district of West Bengal, India, Suryakant lost his mother at a very young age. A strict disciplinarian, his father was never too much of a support. Needless to say, Suryakant hardly knew what a loving family life can be. He was married at a very young age, and found love and companionship with his wife, and later his daughter. However, misfortune struck again, and this time, it was a deadlier blow. He was only twenty years old when his wife passed away. By this time, he had already married off his daughter, who became a widow soon afterwards. A few years after the death of his wife, Manohara Devi, Suryakant received the most devastating blow a man could probably withstand: the death of his only daughter. He took on various jobs, in a publishing company being one of them, so see himself through the tough financial times that plagued him all his life. The end of the great man was no a peaceful one either; he succumbed to schizophrenia in the later years of his life.
Suryakant Tripathi Nirala was known in his circles, and even today, as a most erudite man. However, like many men and women of true genius, he received formal education only till matriculation. Having passed the matriculation examination with flying colours, Nirala continued his education at home, and devoted himself to studying English and Bengali literature.
It is to be noted that since Nirala was born and brought up in Bengal, his education was in the vernacular of the region. However, through sheer intelligence and hard work of his own, he grew proficient in four languages: Bengali, Hindi, Sanskrit and English. It is in this sphere of his life that he found true support in the form of his wife; Mahohara Devi insisted that he learn all four languages, an her constant support and encouragement egged him on to start writing poems- albeit secretly- at home in Hindi.
Suryakant Tripathi Nirala’s contribution to Hindi literature is difficult to measure. Pre-independence India of the twentieth century was a turbulent place, and for most intellectuals, a dark one. Naturally, intellectuals tuned to idealism, trying to hold on to the glory of the days past, and painting pictures of an illuminated present and future. This school of thought led to the Chhayavad movement, and its principal proponent was Suryakant Tripathi. There could be no more fitting person to bring about a movement of idealism, for who knew better the pains of growing up in a loveless, oppressive home and a life fraught with every imaginable disaster?
Suryakant earned the nickname ‘Nirala’, or unique, by the virtue of his own style of poetry. He wrote on the themes that were to later on characterize the Chhayavad school: love, longing, enslavement and the yearning for freedom, but the best part was how he wrote the same. He revolutionized Hindi poetry by writing in free verse- the first ever Hindi poet to do so. He introduced the readers of the language to the fact that poetry can be just as poetic and lyrical and full of cadence even when the lines do not rhyme.
As a poet, Tripathi was very much influenced by the prominent Bengal poets Rabindranath Tagore and Michael Madhusudan Dutt. The influence is very much evident in his works, the greatest of which is Saroj Smriti, poignant with his love for his daughter. In the field of poetry, his contribution is invaluable, and not least because of the progressive humanist ideals that he propagated through his works.
Tripathi’s education is something to be reckoned with. Despite having minimal formal education, his field of expertise reached beyond the workaday school syllabus. His poetry displays a brilliant mind looking beyond the obvious and into the deeper details of the vedantas, mythology and philosophy. He took an active interest in the history and development of languages, which explains his immense command over all the four languages he was proficient in.
Touting Tripathi only as a poet would be a gross misnomer, because the man was much more than that. A true fighter, he did everything in his power to best the odds life forced upon him. And, what’s more, despite being in a situation where he had to struggle constantly against poverty and ridicule and a million other sorrows, he fought for the others in the same shoes as well. A social reformer in effect, Suryakant dealt with the issues of social exploitation and social injustice. Suryakant Tripathi was highly influenced by the great social reformers of Bengal- Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Those thoughts are very much present in his writings.
It is indeed standing testimony to the spiritual strength in the man that Suryakant did not break down even in the face of extreme ridicule and mockery. Like most social reformers, he was born ahead of his times, which subjected the thoughts portrayed in his writings- considered highly rebellious at the times- to immensely offensive criticism. As a result, he did not receive the much deserved accolades in his lifetime, despite his superb mastery of the language and the flawless beauty of his poetry. It was only after his death that Suryakant received the adoration he deserved; today, there is a college and an auditorium in his name, and there is a life size bust in Daraganj in Allahabad.
It’s sad indeed that a man so great did not receive his due in his lifetime. But, it’s the privilege of the nation that came in contact with Suryakant Tripathi Nirala. Fifty years after his death, his poems continue to touch our hearts and souls, and the relevance of the themes he explored has not diminished. Truly a class apart.