This Lohri, memories of iconic author Ved Mehta and worries for our farmers abound

Though visually impaired, Ved Mehta was a prolific writer and had a strong personality. He was very apprehensive of the right-wing coming to power in India. And he was not really wrong

Protesting farmers (left) and famous author Ved Mehta who recently passed away
Protesting farmers (left) and famous author Ved Mehta who recently passed away
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Humra Quraishi

With the passing away of writer Ved Mehta, I can only say that we have lost not just a great writer but also a man with a definite personality. I had met him twice and interviewed him once around the autumn of 2009, when he had flown down to New Delhi with his wife, Linn Cary — a descendant of the 19th century American writer James Fenimore Cooper.

He came across as not just straight forward but also blatantly stark in his views. And though a meningitis attack had left him visually impaired at the age of 4, yet he looked so very confident, full of life. Remarkably, he didn’t let this setback of impaired vision, come in way of his writing. He wrote over 30 books along with several long and short stories; not to overlook the fact that for over three decades, 1961 – 1994, he was a staff writer at The New Yorker. Above all, he lived life to the fullest. Along with exceptional inputs and outputs to his professional life, there were those ample steady splashes to his rather unconventional and colourful lifestyle, till of course, the time he decided “to settle down”. He married in 1983 at the age of 49.

During the interview with me, he had stressed on the fact that knowledge of our historical past is very significant. To quote him, “I feel our history is very important for today’s generation. People who live without history are no better than animals …history is important as it adds a dimension to life, just as children and wife add that extra dimension to a man’s life.”

Though based in America, he was extremely critical of America’s intrusion in Afghanistan and beyond. To quote him on this, “America should get out of Afghanistan. And Iraq was a total disaster, totally a fantasy of a kind, along the lines of the US did in Vietnam and Korea. I’m for non-violence and all for the policy of tolerance. And I do also believe in Aristotle’s philosophy vis -a -vis democracy: you can only have democracy if a majority of people belong to the middle class.”

Ved Mehta was also extremely apprehensive of the right-wing coming to power in India. He was worried that divisions and communal rifts between communities would be brought in, by the right-wing rulers and their policies, and that in itself would spell disasters for the masses of this country.

Our farmers in deep distress

Lohri is celebrated across Punjab and Haryana to mark the lessening of the winter cold and the beginning of spring. But unlike the previous years, this year there is no rejoicing, as apprehensions surmount for the farmers and all those who support their demands and call to roll back the three controversial Farm Bills. There is tension in the air, as farmers feel betrayed by their very own government.

Perhaps, these lines of Sarojini Naidu would be somewhat adequate to relay the sheer pain and sorrow spread around, not just in the Punjab but almost across the country. Let me hasten to add that Naidu wrote these lines in the context of the Jallainwala Bagh tragedy but today the situation doesn’t stand much changed. Farmers are perishing and dying, rather forced to kill themselves, in one way or the other …

These lines of Sarojini Naidu are tucked in the pages of - ‘Jallianwala Bagh- Literary Responses in Prose & Poetry’ ( Introduced and Edited by - Rakhshanda Jalil. Published by Thornbird - An Imprint of Niyogi Books):

“How shall our love console thee, or assuage/

Thy hapless woe; how shall our grief requite/

The hearts that scourge thee and the hands that smite/

Thy beauty with their rods of bitter rage?/

Lo! Let our sorrows be thy battle –gage/

To wreck the terror of the tyrant’s might/

Who mocks with ribald wrath thy tragic plight,/

And stains with shame thy radiant heritage!/

O beautiful! O broken and betrayed!/

O mournful queen! O martyred Draupadi!/

Endure thou still, unconquered, undismayed! /

The sacred rivers of thy stricken blood/

Shall prove the five -fold stream of Freedom’s flood,/

To guard the watch -towers of our Liberty.”

It is about time we begin to chant on a daily basis these lines of Martin Niemoller - the German pastor who was persecuted by the Nazis -

In Germany, they first came for the /

communists, and I did not speak up /

because I was not a communist. Then /

they came for the Jews and I did not /

speak up because I was not a Jew./

Then they came for the trade / unionists, and I did not speak up /

because I was not a trade unionist /

Then they came for the homosexuals /

and I did not speak up because I was /

not a homosexual./

Then they came for the Catholics /

and I did not speak up because I was /

Protestant. /

Then they came for me …but by /

that time there was no one left to /

speak up.”

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