A Tribute to Kamleshwar: An Immortal Star of Modern Hindi Literature and Friend of Burma

Burma Review pays its deepest tribute to Kamleshwar (1932 – 2007), an immortal star of Modern Hindi Literature and friend of Burma, who passed away on Saturday night, 27th of January 2007, by massive heart attack at New Delhi. Although Kamleshwar is more known for his many great works in modern Hindi literature and script writing for successful Bollywood Films like: Aandhi, Choti Si Baat, Mr. Natwarlal, Rajnigandha, Sara Aakash etc. then his association & love for Burma. But Kamleshwar’s journey to literary fame in India never hindered his attachment and affection for the people of Burma and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

His works reflected the voice of common people’s struggle to establish participative institutions and respect for human values. He generally chose ordinary middle class people’s character in his works and never got scared, lured and bogged down by power, money and official pressure in speaking truth.

The eminent writer was conferred prestigious Padmabushan award in 2005 for Hindi literature by Government of India and earlier he had priviledge to be chosen for the Sahitya Akademi award in 2003 for his famous book – Kitney Pakistan. He also served as an Editor of Hindi daily newspaper: “Dainik Jagaran (1990-1992)”, “Dainik Bhaskar (1996-2002)” and successfully revived popular Hindi magazine- “Sarika” under his editorship. He also held important position at Doordarshan (India’s official Television Channel) as its Additional Director General.

I can well remember, I first met Kamleshwar Ji at the seminar organized by the Indian Council for International Co-operation (ICIC) on the topic entitled, “Indo-Myanmar Relations: Past, Present & Future” at New Delhi on 21st November 2002, where he was one of the prominent speaker. And even today, I’m thankful to Baleshwar Agrawal, C. Lakshmanna of ICIC and my two great Burmese friend – Mr. U Ram Jeet Verma (leader of NLD – LA & Committee For Nonviolent Action in Burma, whom I met during my research work on Burma) and Late Dr. C. P. Prabhakar ‘Maw Thi Ri’ (Editor of Irra-Ganga Journal of Indo-Burma Relations, the journal publication was stopped after his death) for giving me the opportunity to share the stage with eminent writer Kamleshwar as a Speaker. It was a high profile seminar presided by India’s former Prime Minister: Mr. I. K. Gujral and among list of other speakers included: India’s then Minister for State for External Affairs, Mr. Digvijay Singh, India’s former Minister for External Affairs, Mr. Hari Kishore Singh, Eminent Gandhian – Nirmala Deshpandey, JNU Professor of School of International Studies – Dr. Ganganath Jha and most interestingly Burma’s then official ambassador to India– Mr. Kyaw Thu. It was a memorable event for me as Kamleshwar ji was a person, whom you couldn’t forget once you met him. Before his presentation, I was like a kid for him & others, he was telling me that, never compromise in your life for wrong things and for profits. You see…now we have come to the stage, that for few dollars of benefits…the country of Gandhi ji is betraying one of his greatest disciples of modern era. He was referring to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the great pain she had been suffering under prolonged house arrest and I could see in his eyes about his concern, pain and anger against Government of India’s constructive engagement policy with Burma’s military junta. And when his turn came up to present his opinion, he couldn’t hold his love and affection towards Burma and followed the path of Gandhi ji to speak truth & going beyond diplomacy.

And it is my priviledge to reproduce some of Kamleshwar’s thoughts and speeches of that occasion from my diary notes of 21st November 2002, when great luminary of modern Hindi Literature and writer par-excellence is no more with us:

“Though the things have been going on for the last so many years and years, yet the things are not changing in Burma. To discuss the Indo-Myanmar Relations, Past, Present and Future, the past has become a kind of tradition for us. The past has always been very grand, great and gorgeous. The past was very great, gorgeous and grand, but what about the present?….What I feel is that if the present can be corrected, then we need not worry about the future. The future will be safe if we take very proper kind of steps in present.”…..

“Now I should come directly on the condition of Burma. What is happening today? I can’t be diplomatic, diplomacy is another thing. We are not diplomats. What is the condition of Burma? Why we have assembled here? Whether we have come here to gather some information that what United Nations and other institutions are doing in Burma? Or, we want to know what is happening in the common mind in Burma or Myanmar? Have we come here only to defend the history of Burma or we have come here to understand the present day history of the common man of that country?…..You very well know that there was a movement going on, the movement of democracy in Burma and that was not only going on during 1990. It was established clearly by the vote of people that they want democracy and they have selected their MPs and the Leader also. Take Aung San Suu Kyi, what the Army junta has done to her? What they have done to other people? What they have done to other MPs, who have fled away from Burma? And what India can do in the present circumstances? Though I have no right, as I can only speak as a common Indian as a writer, as a journalist, I feel all the time, whatever be the relations, India can definitely do one thing that India can ask or the Indians can ask that the democracy must be restored in Burma, as fast as possible.”

“…We are opening roads, fine, very good. I know Jaswant Singh Ji (then External Affairs Minister for India) had opened a road to Burma, but these roads were actually there from centuries ago. This is only a kind of a concrete road, which has been built now, but the roads of culture have been there. So there is no dearth of roads between India and Burma. There are many roads but which one is the road to erode the pain and suffering of the people? That road is definitely democracy. If the democracy is established in Burma, the things will change definitely and with these roads there will be no worry at all as to what the future is holding for us, whether for India or Myanmar or on the relations between both of us. Therefore, if we correct the present, then definitely the future is very safe.”…

“…But what is happening? We only talk about democracy. Human Rights chairman visits Myanmar, even United Nations official visits there and say that efforts are going on for democracy. It is funny. Only elected representatives must be given the opportunity to shape up the future of their own country. But what is happening in the name of diplomacy? It is better to be a diplomat than to be a warrior because diplomacy can definitely stop a war. But here I see that diplomacy is being used to postpone the future of a nation. The future of Burma is being postponed, whether it is the diplomacy of China, whether it is the diplomacy of the Human Rights Commission’s representative who visits Burma or be the diplomacy of Indian Government.”…

Suu Kyi is very important citizen of her country. If she has been given freedom to visit one province of her country, it does not mean that freedom has been granted by military junta in Burma. She is granted permission to go to that province, is something funny. But Hindustan (Referring to India) doesn’t speak. It is not very important news as it is being floated as if the democracy is being restored. First you curtail the democracy and then you say that by granting her permission to go to another province, you are restoring democracy. It is something very interesting. We have to understand it.”…

“I’m speaking here as an Indian citizen, and as an individual. If India wants that the democratic rights must be restored in Burma…then let India say so…what stops you from saying this? But unfortunately they don’t say. I don’t understand what sort of diplomacy prevents them in saying so? We don’t have even words to say so….We can not explore even words of wisdom, of feeling camaraderie, but we send trucks and truck loads of ammunition from India to Burma. What is all that? How has this ammunition been sent for restoration of democracy there? I question it. So we have to understand this. As Indian citizen, I feel for Burma….?”

This was Kamleshwar with great pain, love and affection for Burma. Kamleshwar’s speech in every little pause generated a huge applause. I was watching the event very minutely and thinking, that, although the government might pursue the policy of constructive engagement with military junta in Burma but the rising applause from general Indian community once again proved and shown, that, the people of India is still with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and people of Burma! However, today, Kamleshwar’s is not with us and many Burmese would be not knowing about Kamleshwar’s love for the people of Burma and Suu Kyi. But Kamleshwar’s thought will always remain immortal for India and Burma.

(Important Note: Full Text of the Speech of Kamleshwar can be collected from the office of Indian Council for International Co-operation, M-6, Bhagat Singh Market, New Delhi – 110001)

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