Born On: November 27, 1907
Born In: Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh
Died On: January 18, 2003
"A body of clay, a mind full of play, a moment's life - that is me". That is how one of the doyens of Hindi literature, Harivansh Rai Bachchan described himself. And indeed, reading his poems, one feels a sense of life and playfulness, the two aspects which would become the hallmark of his poetry. In a career that spanned for about 60 years, he was the torch bearer of the Chhayavaad or Romantic upsurge literary movement, though later in life he came to be known more because of his famous son, Amitabh Bachchan, than his poetry. But there was a time when thousands and thousands would fill into theaters and auditoriums just to listen to him recite his poems, a particular favorite being the epochal 'Madushala'. His poetry is noted for its lyrical beauty and rebellious attitude with imagery that is unfettered and sensuous that placed him in a different league from his contemporaries in the Chhayavaad movement. Harivansh Rai Bachchan became the epitome of the romantic rebel. Through his poems he focused on the common man's urge for freedom and the sensuousness underlying in this quest, which made him a literary star embraced by the public.
Harivansh Rai 'Bachchan' Srivastav was born in the year 1907 in the village Babupatti near Allahabad in a Kayastha family to Pratap Narayan Shrivastav and Saraswati Devi. He was their eldest born. As a child, he was fondly called 'bachchan' because of his child-like ways. The moniker stuck with him, thus becoming one of the most recognizable names.
Harivansh Rai Bachchan started his education from a municipal school. It was the same time that he also started learning Urdu from Kayasth Paathshaalas. Later, he pursued his higher education from Allahabad University and Banaras Hindu University. In 1941 he joined the English department of Allahabad University as a faculty and taught there till 1952. He then went to Cambridge for two years to do his doctoral thesis on W.B Yeats and occultism, becoming the second Indian to get a Ph. D. in English Literature from this university. It was also during this time that he dropped Srivastav from his name and used Bachchan as his last name. He then came back to India and took up teaching, while at the same time, serving sometime at the Allahabad Station of All India Radio.
Harivansh Rai Bachchan later moved on to Delhi in 1955 to join the External Affairs Ministry as a Special Officer in the Hindi cell, translating official documents into Hindi. He served for a period of ten years. During this time, he also worked on promoting Hindi as the official language of India as well as translating some of the major works into Hindi like Macbeth, Othello, Bhagvad Gita, the works of W.B Yeats and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
Harivansh Rai Bachchan is best remembered for his 142 verse lyrical poem "Madhushala" (The House of Wine), which was published in 1935. This work catapulted him as the foremost Hindi poet and was subsequently, translated into English and a number of Indian languages. The poem became a craze and was even performed on stage. "Madhushala" was a part of his poetic trilogy, the other two being Madhubaala and Madhukalash. It is on this trilogy that his fame rests. In 1969, he published the first of his four part autobiography 'Kya bhooloon kya yaad karoon'. The second part 'Need ka nirmaan fir' was published in 1970, the third 'Basere se door' in 1977 and the last part 'Dashdwaar se sopaan tak' in 1985. The series was well received and an abridged English translation by Rupert Snell, 'In the Afternoon of Time', was published in 1998. It is now considered to be a landmark in Hindi literature. Throughout his teaching career and while working in the External Affairs ministry and later, Bachchan published about 30 poetry collections as well as other works in Hindi like essays, travelogues and a few songs for the Hindi film industry. He also read his poems to large audiences. His last poem 'Ek November 1984' based on Indira Gandhi's assassination was written in November 1984.
Awards And Recognition
In 1966, Harivansh Rai Bachchan was nominated to the Rajya Sabha and in 1969 he received the Sahitya Akademi Award. Seven years later the Government of India bestowed on him the Padma Bhushan in recognition for his contribution to Hindi literature. In addition he was also awarded the Sovietland Nehru Award, the Lotus Award of the Afro-Asian writers' conference and the Saraswati Samman. The Uttar Pradesh government conferred him the "Yash Bharati" Samman in 1994. A postage stamp was released in 2003 in his memory.
Bachchan first married in the year 1926 when he was just 19 years old and his wife, Shyama, was 14 years old. In 1936, she passed away succumbing to TB. Five years later, Bachchan married Teji Suri with whom he had two children Amitabh and Ajitabh.
At the age of 95, in 2003, Harivansh Rai Bachchan breathed his last. He was suffering from respiratory ailments. Four years later his wife passed away at the age of 93.
1907: Harivansh Rai Bachchan was born in a Kayastha family in Uttar Pradesh.
1926: Married his first wife.
1935: Madhushala, his seminal work, was published.
1941: Became a faculty of the English department in Allahabad University and marries a second time.
1953: Went to Cambridge to pursue his doctoral thesis.
1955: Joined the Hindi Cell of the External Affairs ministry.
1984: Published his last poem.
1966: Nominated to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament.
1969: Received the Sahitya Academi Award.
2003: Harivansh Rai Bachchan breathed his last.