In the present times when acts of activism are being treated as sedition by the state, Padma Sachdev’s life and works will serve as inspiration for the generations to come. Unlike many creative writers, Padma Ji did not restrict the inborn spirit of activism to her writings only but wore it on her sleeves. Be it the crusade for due recognition and promotion of her mother tongue Dogri or the systemic gender bias in Dogra, Indian, and human societies in general, she did not mince words. Infectiously bold and confident, she could talk to high and mighty frankly and equally.
With her passing away at the age of 81 on 4th August 2021 at Mumbai, Dogri poetry, language and culture have lost a diehard emissary and the national literary scene especially that of Hindi has suffered a setback.
Born in 1940, Padma Sachdev (Padma Sharma) was the eldest of three children of Professor Jai Dev Badu, a Sanskrit scholar, who lost his life during the turmoil of the 1947 Partition. Padma Ji had her early education in the primary school of her ancestral village Purmandal, situated on the banks of the sacred stream Devaka, about 39 km to the northeast of Jammu. “In her traditional household, she grew up reciting Sanskrit shlokas and Hindi couplets, and later, singing Dogri folk songs with local groups of women to the accompaniment of dholak and starting composing simple verses on the pattern of Dogri folk songs.”
A delightful, charming person with bubbling liveliness that often burst out as tinkling laughter, Padma ji was fired with an irrepressible lust for life. She also exhibited a positive attitude, strong willpower, tremendous energy, and a single-minded commitment to achieve desired goals. “It was sheer willpower that enabled her to survive three serious setbacks to her health, and yet produce a sizeable amount of literature”.
It was her poem ‘ Ae Raje Diyan Mandiyan Tundian Ne—-’, written at the age of 14 that announced the arrival of the gifted poet. This remarkable soul-stirring long poem impressed everyone for its craftsmanship, content, tone, and texture, and above all “bold shade of progressive and revolutionary thought”. It voiced the feelings of the oppressed and the exploited poor. Today, the poem stands included in almost all the anthologies of Dogri poetry and occupies an important place in the repertoire of Padma Sachdev’s works.
In the words of late Shiv Nath, Padma ji’s early chronicler and Dogri’s ambassador at Delhi, During the late 1960s “while studying in the first-year college, she became the first poetess of Dogri to share the stage with established Dogri poets. The poem recited by her on the occasion was published the next morning in a local Urdu paper Sandesh edited by Ved Pal Deep, a prominent Dogri poet, twelve years senior to her. They fell in love with each other and got married against the objections of relatives on both sides. Padma Ji was at the romantic age of 16 then. A few months later she suffered the first bout of her serious illness– tuberculosis of the intestines and had to remain in a hospital at Srinagar for about three years”.
Padma ji in her autobiography ‘Chit Chete’ has recounted those life-altering three years at Chest Disease Hospital, Srinagar. Reduced to a skeleton, she got well by the dedicated efforts of Kashmiri doctor Dr. Hafiullah to whom she later came to address as “Abbaji”. During those days she learned to speak Kashmiri fluently. “Kashmir has a very special place in my heart”, she used to say.
After recovery from illness, Padma ji returned to Jammu and worked as a staff artist with Radio Kashmir, Jammu. Soon after, she got separated from her husband Ved Pal Deep, and also lost her job. She then went to Delhi and worked as a Dogri newsreader. Later, in 1966, she got married to Sardar Surinder Singh (Sachdev)– a Hindustani classical music maestro (senior of Singh Bandhu duo).
In 1969 Padma Sachdev published her first collection of poems ‘Meri Kavita Mere Geet’. The book got her the Sahitya Academi Award and she became the youngest recipient of the national award in Dogri.
“When she moved to Mumbai, she got the opportunity to spend time with stalwarts like Dharamvir Bharati, Amritlal Nagar, Harivanshrai Bachchan, Amrita Pritam, Ismat Chughtai, Ali Sardar Jafri, and Gulzar among others. It was during those literary soirees where Poetry was shared, thoughts polished and horizons expanded” and her commitment to women-centric poems and prose further blossomed.
Along with Dogri, she wrote poems, short stories, and novels in Hindi. She also wrote the lyrics of the song ‘Mera Chhota Sa Ghar Baar’ for the 1973 Hindi film by Ved Rahi ‘Prem Parbat’ Later, she wrote the lyrics of two songs of the 1978 Hindi film ‘Aankhin Dekhi’. She also wrote the lyrics along with Yogesh for the 1979 Hindi film ‘Saahas’.
She was awarded Padma Shri in 2001 for her contribution to education and literature. Among her other awards included Soviet Land Nehru Award (1987), Hindi Akademi Award (1987–88), Uttar Pradesh Hindi Academy’s Soudha Puraskar (1989), Kabir Samman for poetry for 2007-08 by the Madhya Pradesh government. Krutitava Smarga Samman, Kabir Samman for poetry 2007-08, 2015 by Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad, West Bengal, Raja Rammohan Roy Award, J&K Cultural Academy Lifetime Achievement award. She was honored with the prestigious Saraswati Samman, 2015 for her autobiography “Chitt-Chete”, Dinu Bhai Pant Life Time Achievement Award, 2017 by D.B. Pant Memorial Trust, Jammu, J&K, and Sahitya Akademi Fellowship in 2019.
Padma ji, among other things, will always be remembered for her passion and commitment for Dogri. It was due to her initiative that Lata Mangeshkar, who treated Padma ji as a younger sister and ‘saheli’, gave her voice to the first popular album of Dogri songs which featured her all-time gem Nikkre-Fangru Uchchi Udaan….”, ‘Bhala Shapaia Dogareya’, and lullaby, ‘Toon Mala Toon, Lok Pahnnan Thikriyaan Badam Pahnne Toon ’ — still hummed today.
Composed by Padma Ji, the sonorous album with a daily broadcasted of one or two of its songs from All India Radio Jammu and through affordable audio cassettes reached every household of the Jammu region. The songs with lyrics in chaste Dogri created a sense of pride in the Dogras across the Globe and added spark to the ongoing Dogri renaissance movement.
Padma Ji, along with other writers and activists, pressed hard for the recognition of the Dogri language. “When Atal Bihari Vajpayee became PM, I would nag him about it as I knew him as a fellow poet. So he would avoid me knowing what I was going to ask for!” she would recount. When official recognition came to Dogri in December 2003, Padma says it was the happiest day for her as the language had its own identity and was not just taken for a dialect. “She was to the Dogri language what Mahadevi Verma was to Hindi and Amrita Pritam to Punjabi”.
The literary corpus of Padma Sachdev includes poetic anthologies in Dogri and Hindi, and works in other genres such as travelogues, memoirs, novels, short stories. A strong votary of translating creative poetry and prose into other languages, she translated several works from Urdu, Oriya and Marathi into Hindi and Dogri.
Literary Work includes:
Meri Kavita Mere Geet (1969)
Tawi Te Chanhan (Rivers Tawi and Chenab, 1976)
Nheriyan Galiyan (Dark Lanes, 1982)
Pota Pota Nimbal (Fingertipful Cloudless Sky, 1987)
Uttar Vahini (1992)
Chit Chete (Memoirs)
Main Kahti Hun Ankhin Dekhi (Travelogue- 1995)
Bhatko Nahin Dhananjay, 1999
Amrai (Hindi Interviews- 2000)
Jammu Jo Kabhi Sahara Tha (Novel-2003)
Phira Kya Hua? (with Jnanesvara, and Partha Senagupta- 2007)
Translations: Where has my Gulla gone (Anthology)
A Drop in the Ocean: An Autobiography. tr. by Uma Vasudev.
Padma ji is survived by her husband, daughter Meeta Sachdeva and brothers; J&K’s well-known sports administrator Ashutosh Sharma and eminent Dogri and Hindi poet Gyaneshwar.
Her death has been reported in all major newspapers of the country, news portals, and other media platforms. Messages condoling her passing away have been pouring from all over. The personalities who expressed their grief include heads of the national bodies of literature and arts, eminent writers of different Indian languages, leading artistes, and politicians all hues.
Lata Mangeshkar in her Twitter message expressed grief over the demise of her friend and noted author Padma Sachdev: “ Meri pyari saheli aur mashoor lekhika, kaviyatri aur sangeetkar Padma Sachdev ke swargwas ki khabar sunkar main nishabd hun, kya kahun,? Hamari bahut purani dosti thi, Padma aur uske pati hamare pariwar ke sadasya jaisehi the. Mere America ke shows ka nivedan usne kiya tha.” Acknowledged as the first modern woman poet of Dogri, Padma Sachdev with a prodigious body of literary works was a truly colossal personality who has left behind an unmatchable legacy. Adieu to Padma Sachdev will live forever in her poems.