DR. ARJAN MIRCHANDANI
– The poetic persona
By Sunder Iyer
Seldom would you come across a man who with every sweat of his brow has been only thinking of his homeland and the welfare of his community brethren. Dr. Arjan Mirchandani is one such gentle man who has been in the forefront of demonstrating his ire against the impeding policies of the government towards the members of the Sindhi community. Known to the literary world by his nom-de-plume, Shad is an individual who personified the pains of partition by his superior poetic skills. A literary genius, as many would deem him, Dr. Mirchandani, apart from being an eminent educationalist has been a freedom fighter during his youth and a revolutionary throughout his life.
Now aged 77, this septuagenarian does regret his inability, primarily due to his ageing, to take lead in the struggle for the community in attaining its much-deserved political rights and obtaining its true identity in India. He has time and again expressed his immense displeasure at the treatment meted to the members of the Sindhi community who don’t even have a single representation in the parliament. He does stress on the significance of the language and the importance of its usage for preserving the cultural identity of the members. He has single-mindedly pursued to fight for this cause through various platforms but primarily through his writings.
Even at this age he is known to devote most of his time towards his literary work, a remarkable thing most certainly! One does wonder from where he generates the energy for such long and dedicated hours towards his passion. To quote him, once while delivering his speech after having received the Sahitya Adademi award, he said, “I write because I must.” A difficult question answered with minimum ease, that’s the style he is known for. Recently the Sindhi Academy of the Maharashtra Government conferred upon him the, ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ for his immeasurable contribution to Sindhi literature. A true legend, Arjan Shad Mirchandani is looked up by many in the community as an authority, he is certainly a man of his words and words he does express with wisdom and finesse.
Seated in his beautiful residence in Juhu on a wet and dreary afternoon in Mumbai, Arjan Mirchandani epitomizes the feelings that each and every Sindhi, who underwent the grueling horrors of partition. Sindhishaan took an opportunity to meet this living legend, to understand what goes beyond his making, a brief look at his past, his journey through life and his enduring love for poetry and prose.
Born in Sukkur in Sindh on 17th of December 1924, Arjan Mirchandani did his schooling in Larkana, while he completed his secondary education in Karachi. Poetry was something that has always got this man, going. It was his undying passion for the art of poetry that aided him to achieve great heights in life. It was in his early teens, as a 14 year old that he penned his first poem during the Independence struggle, aptly titled ‘Quomi Jhanda’. In a short period, this young lad grew to become a connoisseur in the art of poetry. In his early days, Arjan fine-tuned his skills in poetry under the guidance of Hari Dilgir, the then great poet, who christened him with his nom-de-plume, Shad, which connotes ‘Happy’ in sharp contrast to his own name, Dilgir, which meant ‘Unhappy or Pensive.’
During his days of matric education, Arjan Mirchandani actively participated in the Quit India Movement of 1942, wherein this 18-year-old boy became a freedom fighter. It was during this period, that Arjan was always in the fore of student level freedom struggle activities. It certainly was the exuberance of his youth combined with the fervor for freedom that made him different from his peers. When quipped on his enthusiasm during his youth, he simply says, “I was different.”
Agitations against the British accelerated during the mid-40s and collected efforts from all corners of the country, led to British being driven away. But the escalated exuberance of Independence was short lived for Sindhis due to the cataclysmic tragedy of partition. He categorically portrays his unhappiness by stating, “After 50 years of India’s independence from British rule, it is not the euphoria of freedom I remember, but the holocaust of Partition and separation from my beloved Sindh. We passionately participated in the freedom struggle, but alas, we could not foresee that the “Britishers – Quit India” slogan given to us by Mahatma Gandhi would soon swivel into implying ‘Quit Sindh’ for we Sindhis!”
Recalling his days of horror, he cites his grievance on how lakhs of Sindhis were compelled to leave their homes and come to India as penniless refugees. On reaching India, he foung to his complete dismay that Sindhis were dumped in military barracks and had to make do with makeshift cloth enclosures for privacy. Having had to counter the traumas of partition, Sindhis also had to come to terms with the loss of a historical past that date back a few thousand years, to the days of Mohan-jo-Daro and the Indus Valley Civilization. He states, “I shudder even today, as I reflect on the legacy of partition : the language, culture, political status, economic security, and above all, the sense of identity as a community, left behind in the midst of massacre, rape and suicide.”
Having been made victims of vicious politics, Sindhis ran from pillar to post, in search of shelter. Like any other Sindhi, Shad to faced a lot of problems in resurrecting his life. The first few years were a bundle of woes. He emphasizes, “We were completely disheartened by the filthy living conditions and remained in a state of shock. We were promised much by the authorities, but our repeated pleas were turned to deaf ears.”
He initially worked as an Excise Inspector in Ahmedabad for close to two years. Subsequently, he worked as a Loan Inspector for refugees before being employed with the Employees Provident Fund Scheme as their auditor. To make ends meet, his wife too took up the job of a teacher. Commenting on his initial days of hardship, he says, “Such situations in life have contributed a lot to my poetry. If you have not wept, you shall never be a poet.” Such has been the remarkable resolute of the man. He has always through his life managed to see light in darkness. Such has been the upbringing of this writer par excellence.
After the initial few years of dismay, his life took a new and pleasant turn in the year 1955. It was the year, which marked his introduction into the profession of teaching. It was during this period that he set forth on his journey of being recognized as an eminent academician and educationalist. He initially took up the task of teaching Sindhi at Khalsa College. Subsequently in the year 1958, he enrolled as a faculty with Jai Hind College. His long and fruitful tenure at Jai Hind saw him achieve great heights.
A renowned scholar and a respected critic, Arjan Shad, the poet and writer added new dimensions to the art of criticism. He has to his credit several books on poetry and criticism and has also presented and published numerous papers for various seminars. He also compiled an anthology of Modern Sindhi poetry and jointly edited a Sindhi-to-Sindhi dictionary, a work assigned to him by the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Government of India.
Considered to be amongst the better Sindhi litterateurs of the post partition era, he has received many awards in recognition of his splendid works. Andho Doonhon – Blind Smoke, his book of poems is considered a masterpiece by the community. This book won him the much-coveted Central Sahitya Akademi Award for 1983. On being asked to comment on his work in Andho Doonhon, he says, “It is a poem about the aftermath of partition and the failure of the post-partition Sindhi to cope with the taking away of his land and language. It is based on my own intense personal experiences.” He also received the prestigious Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar for his contributions to the literary world. He also has the honour of receiving the Nehru Peace Award of Soviet Union for his contribution to the field of literature.
Enhancing his vast portfolio is the rare honour of being the first to have achieved many a distinctions. He was the first-ever Ph.D in Sindhi language from the Bombay University. He received this honour for having written his thesis on Sindhi Ghazals in 1973. Due to his being the first to receive his doctorate in Sindhi, he received the same under a special provision, without a guide.
A unique honour accorded to any Sindhi writer, Arjan Shad was also nominated in 1983 to visit the then Soviet Union as one of the two members of the Indian writers delegation under the Cultural Exchange programme of the two governments. In his long and fruitful tenure of 30 years as a Professor of Sindhi, he has held various important portfolios in the Mumbai University. He has also offered his services for numerous literary, cultural and academic organisations and also represented them in their Advisory Boards. After his retirement Shad became the first-ever Principal Investigator for a major research project on post-partition Sindhi literature for the University Grants Commission.
Blessed by many talents, Shad had displayed his expertise in various forums to the absolute thrill of his viewers. Known for his sensitive and effective readings of his poems, he has read them at innumerable Mushairas and Kavi Sammelans organized by organizations of repute such as the All India Radio, Doordarshan, Films Division and many other literary associations. A number of his poetry readings have been broadcast by the AIR for its External Services Division audience. He has not only written but also directed many plays at the college level and has always been connected with the cultural activities of the University.
When asked to comment on his unique style of poetry writing, he remarks, “Poetry, according to me is an escape from tragic situations. A man who is unable to grieve can never be a poet, at the most he can be a political or journalistic poet.” Apart from poetry and literature, one of his other prime interests would always remain cinema. He has been associated with the National Films Division Corporation (NFDC) in various capacities. Even today, he does various recordings for the Films Division.
While further talking on the subject, a huge smile beams across his even-otherwise cheerful disposition. I am a complete film-buff and my bonding with films dates back many decades. He laughs and then says, “Do you know I missed an opportunity of being an actor. It was a superlative experience. After having completed my graduation, I sent an application in response to an advertisement placed by the producer Kardar, who was then on the lookout for a new and fresh faces. Amongst hundreds of other candidates, I stood first in the screen test. I was on my way to stardom, but as Kardar kept speaking to me in Hindi, I repeatedly answered in English. My Hindi accent then was horrible, and I lost out.” He states with similar ease that he is happy with all his achievements in life and that he was always cut out for being in the profession of teaching.
True indeed! A much loved person by his many students, he certainly was an ideal professor. In recognition of his contribution to Sindhi literature and his teaching achievements, Jai Hind College awarded him the honourary position of ‘PROFESSOR EMERITUS’, specially instituted for him. Thus, has been the charm of this true gentleman, a poetic persona, who shall always remain a perfect personification of the single-minded dedication for the cause of a community.