Zindabad Shyamji

Not uncle alone, a dear, dear friend – and that is how he will remain, with me. Always!



In what is surely one of the most moving portrayals of the trauma that seeped inside the very being of the one cast out, umbilical cord crudely severed, consigned to the fate of being the undead rather than the living – Shyam Kaul talked about the Chinar tree he had left behind at home while he was left with no home. That this haunting piece appeared some years back as a newspaper article meant that it was classified as journalism in our regimented understanding , but to me it was fine literature – as fine as any I had read. It was by no means the only specimen. There were many more, some uncut but diamonds still. Shyam Kaul had the rare gift of seeing the most mundane of things with the sensitivity of a poet, as also the quality of being ‘passionless’ about the most sensitive of subjects – both these with  enviable simultaneity.
Shyamji, as he was fondly called by his very many friends from all walks of life, was a man of great charm. If one were to look for an expression that could describe him it would have to be the French ‘joie de vivre’ – he was so full of it, the joy of life. And yet, there was gravitas in every word he wrote, and also nuanced understanding. His professional and social life is already chronicled and is in the public domain but the milieu he was part of, and indeed made up in part, needs a bit of contextualizing.  Shyamji brought up the rearguard of a remarkable generation of people – the renaissance generation. Great intellectual ferment, curiosity and creativity were the distinguishing markers of this generation. It was the generation that had made the leap of faith from the reservoir of tradition to the ocean of inquiry, the horizon without horizon, and somehow managed to be in both places at the same time. These people had been witness to the momentous forties and tumultuous fifties and had gone on to craft the world of the sixties and seventies around them, the period of consolidation and enrichment.  As they were preparing to hand the baton on to the next generation, their whole world imploded and came crashing down all around them.
Cherished values, greatly regarded relationships, carefully nursed dreams – all these lay in shambles. Those of this generation that passed on before the civilizational breach had perhaps the better deal because the younger lot – the rearguard as it were – had to cope with the most soul destroying experiences. Everything that meant something, indeed life itself, came apart and they were powerless to do anything about it.  It is in this background that the equanimity Shyamji exhibited in his private and public life shone through like a reassuring beacon in a dark and stormy night on high seas. Somehow, one would occasionally glimpse behind that equanimity the pain of a warrior rendered hors de combat, but the moment was always fleeting.  Never the one to shy away from discussing the most controversial of things he would manage to retain perspective. His take was devoid of stridency, tone measured and thoughts well calibrated. There was no rancour, no bitterness and no ‘living in the past’ in his considerable post-exodus writings but that did not stop him from plain speaking. He earned the respect of his professional peers as well as the political class (with which his writing put him in a generally adversarial position) mainly through his unsparing honesty and professional integrity.   
Shyamji could walk into a room and light it up. Even the thickest pall of gloom would be lifted, the most sombre of moments lightened. Today, when I am confronted with one such sombre moment of my own I don’t have his reassuring presence around to help me cope with it. I will have to manage on my own, with the help of Father Time. Many years after my mother passed on Shyamji once told me that she used to address him as ‘Shyamulu’ when they were kids – he was her younger cousin brother after all. For me he was always more of an older friend, not uncle alone.  A dear, dear friend – and that is how he will remain, with me.

Lastupdate on : Tue, 8 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 8 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 9 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST

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