Remembering Hindi litterateur Prof KP Singh

By Dr Mohammad Sajjad,

It is quite befitting for a reputed and historic university to commemorate its distinguished and accomplished academics: people who combined a vision and action for a better world for the underprivileged segments of population around the campus. Professor Kunwar Pal Singh (1937-2009), nicknamed KP, was one such academic who taught Hindi literature in the Aligarh Muslim University. The sixth edition of the annual lecture event in his memory on December 10, 2015 saw Nayan Tara Sehgal speak on dissent and intolerance—“The Unmaking of India”.

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Upon listening to Sehgal, and also referring to her protest against such suffocating and stifling atmosphere in the 1970s [The infamous Emergency, 1975-77 imposed by her cousin Indira Gandhi], people now expect her to write another memoir. More than six decades ago, in 1954, Sehgal wrote her memoir articulating on the Nehru family and the freedom struggle.

Thus the context was triply befitting: the choice of the topic, the speaker, and the person in whose memory such an issue was to be talked about.

KP’s concerns for humanity made him undertake his philanthropic journeys beyond the cosy confines of the campus. Besides, he pledged his mortal remains to the university’s Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, for research. Singh wrote extensively on literary criticism and aesthetics, history of Hindi literature, Hindi prose and Hindi fiction.

His close friendship with another distinguished AMU alumnus, Rahi Masoom Raza (1927-92) was the other conspicuous thing about KP. They represented the Left-leaning segments of the AMU campus. However, KP was the one who also bravely dissented against the tallest of the Marxists on the AMU campus in the 1990s, emulating certain characters of some of the novels of his late friend/comrade Rahi Masoom Raza.

Set in Aligarh in the early 1960s, after the dust of Partition had ostensibly settled, Rahi’s eponymous novel Topi Shukla (1968) is an intriguing story about two friends–one Hindu and one Muslim. It also carries satirical insinuations against the venal politicians. What intrigues me is why Topi Shukla had to eventually commit suicide.

Similarly, Katra Bi Arzoo (“The Lady Desire Locality”) is set in the city of Allahabad, Katra being a locality of the city. The novel is set in the 1970s and as its central theme, it bares the brutality of emergency in India and how general people were affected by such a draconian regime. It is an ode to anti-emergency activist and shows how people through their vested interest enjoyed the fruits of emergency and how emergency ruined and destroyed the life’s people. In the foreword, Raza dedicates the novel to anti-emergency activists and also affirms that freedom of speech is basic freedom.

Interestingly, in the 1960s, the Left was quite assertive in AMU, both politically as well as academically. This aspect is articulated in vivid details by Mushirul Hasan, in one of his meticulously well-researched long essays, on his alma mater, AMU.

Subsequently, in the 1980s, there were head on collisions (between the Left and the Islamic Right?) in AMU hitting the news headlines in the leading English dailies and hogging huge spaces in the periodicals like the EPW, and the Mainstream, not to say of the chapter, “The Wasted Generation of Aligarh”, in Salman Khurshid’s, memoir, “At Home in India: A Re-statement of Indian Muslims”.

Presumably, inspired by some of the characters in Rahi’s novels, KP bravely dissented against his own fellow Marxist-Aligs (a deadly cocktail of Marxism and Feudalism!), who had become intolerant about the dissent on the AMU campus. Though, this was little belatedly—in the 1990s; so much so that Comrade Prakash Karat had to intervene in to put a feud between the two Marxists in the local Hindi dailies to rest. Ever since then, he charted his own course. He groomed some of his students to grow up as academics but unlike some of his ‘revered comrades’ he didn’t mentor disgusting parasitical cronies.

It was pleasure listening to Nayan Tara Sehgal, not only because of her erudite and politically assertive presentations, but also because of a tribute which was paid to KP. Presence of the widow and the daughter of KP in the auditorium hosting the event was something made the younger students identify with KP in even stronger and closer way.


Nehru in AMU