It is said that rebels define our times. Those with the courage and fortitude to break the shackles of conformity, armed with the eloquence and conviction to shake the slumbering masses, enriching minds and hearts with simple expressions and thoughts. We celebrate them in stories, yet we shudder to live up to their examples in the real world. But not Randhir Singh, not my grandfather. ‘Tiger Nanu’ to me, yet the celebrated Kunwar Viyogi to the world.
An artist’s greatest challenge and achievement is to give birth to the beauty of a thought and emotion with his creativity. The man-made rules of armchair intellectuals do not stand in the way of gifted artists and my grandfather was no less. He introduced the tradition of Sonnet to the Dogri world and created the literary gem of ‘Ghar’, a long Dogri poem on life and love for one’s home, for which he was awarded the coveted Sahitya Akademi in 1980. The Dogri Sanstha and the newly formed Kunwar Viyogi Memorial Trust have instituted an annual award in Tiger Nanu’s memory, for encouraging new and young Dogri writers. A fitting tribute to a man who was as fearless with a pen as he was in life.
Tiger Nanu was a gifted storyteller. I still remember when I was 5 years old, how he used to regale me with stories from the epics – the Ramayana and Mahabharata. His baritone voice, the movement of his hands matched by the ferocity in his green eyes, as he enthralled me with a world he created out of thin air. An enthusiastic child rested within his heart, someone who I could always relate to even when I would hold his finger and visit the Dussehra market, sitting on his shoulders as we watched the ‘Raavan’ burn where he once again breathed life into his stories. This childlike wonder, which stayed with him till his last days and his love for beautiful things, is the bedrock of what made him a unique writer.
My grandfather’s rebellious spirit extended beyond his writing. He grew up very young, losing his parents at the age of 27 and charged with the care of eight siblings, the youngest just four years old. In the darkest of times his stubborn kindness would not abandon him and he dedicated himself to educating and empowering his brothers and sisters, who were nothing less than children to him. He was their father and guardian even when many looked at them as forgotten. Strengthened by the love and support of his wife Prem, no challenge seemed daunting to him.
The restlessness of an artist’s spirit never left him. Like an astronomer striving to be an astronaut he joined the Indian Air Force to soar the blue skies like few mortals can, moving from place to place to lay roots and savour experiences, always looking at the horizon carrying his loved ones with him. No matter the situation, he could not be chained down and the Air Force provided him the life of an adventurer. It was a living, yet it fueled the writer inside him. His family would often joke about how a beautiful sunset or a dazzling array for clouds could easily distract him from his flight controls, but only a few may know what wonders could have touched his heart and mind in the blue expanse and shaped Kunwar Viyogi.
The times he grew in, were not the most favorable for women, yet like the very few of his generation, he never saw them as burdens, or less than men. He ignored what society expected of him and pushed his sisters to be educated first. As his family grew happy and strong, he was blessed with three daughters, and he empowered them to be more than what the world thought they could be. He was brave and enlightened as the world around him tried to catch up, and years later he adopted 2 more girls.
When important people in our lives pass on, we often mull about their legacy. As I immersed Tiger Nanu’s ashes into the holy Ganga last year, the thought crossed my mind. There are no statues, buildings, roads or schools named after him, yet his legacy is something far more enduring – a legacy of love. Tiger Nanu’s memory continues to enrich my family and that same sentiment oozes out of his written word, namely from my favourite passage from ‘Ghar’:
Home is not the roof, the walls, nor daughters and sons, Neither is it the bricks and mortar, nor the friends you’ve won, Home is an eternal melody of love pure and pristine, Else we call it a house and it is not then a HOME.
Get a spark from the eternal luminescence, Enlighten your dark being, give yourself an illumined HOME.
His words and he belong to the world, to any soul searching for a glimpse of life’s grace. It is a simple appeal to love, cherish and be compassionate to one another in this short life of ours – and achieve the few things that elevate us above our origins.