Padam Shri Ram Nath Shastri: Pitamaha of Dogri

Rajeshwar Singh ‘Raju’
He is widely known as ‘Pitamaha of Dogri’. Some remember him as ‘Bharatendu Harishchandra of Dogri’. A large number of Dogri literature lovers and litterateurs regard him as ‘Father figure in Dogri’ Padma Shri Prof. Ram Nath Shastri is indeed fatherly figure in Dogri because he had led the movement for winning gratitude and honor for his mother tongue Dogri with all grace and had convinced those established writers penning down their creative works in other languages like Hindi and Urdu to realize their moral responsibilities towards their own language and traditions. He inspired them to write in Dogri and enrich their own language and literature. It did the most wanted and desired magic and being guided by a towering personality like Shastri Ji, many joined the noble cause and the language that had been discarded by her own started getting admiration.
Prof. Ram Nath Shastri was born on April, 15 1914 in the family of Vaid Gouri Shankar, an Ayurvedic doctor hailing from a small village Marhi in Reasi. His father moved to Jammu along with his family for better prospects. He wished his son Ram Nath to adopt his profession and inspired him to study Sanskrit that would have helped him immensely in practicing Ayurved. He did study Sanskrit but he had some other plans to fulfill and serve the Duggar Land.
Shastri Ji was quite fast in learning right from his childhood and proved his intelligence with the passage of time. He was an outstanding student and did his post-graduation in Sanskrit and Prabhakar in Hindi.
He worked as Sanskrit and Hindi teacher for some years in Rajput School initially. Thereafter he got job as a Sanskrit Professor at Prince of Wales College now Gandhi Memorial Science College Jammu in 1943. In 1970, he got retired from state’s education department and joined Jammu University as senior Fellow Dogri and worked there till 1975. He also worked as Chief Editor in Dictionary Project of Jammu & Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture & Languages continuously from 1977 to 1985.
As far as literature is concerned, he had passion for it since he had studied Sanskrit which has such a classic literature. He started quenching his thirst for writing with writing short stories and essays in Hindi. But soon he realized that he could do justice with his creative writing in his mother tongue only. Moreover the pathetic condition of Dogri moved him from within and he decided to become a torch bearer despite all odds to win reverence for his mother tongue that it duly deserved. It became his mission and he went on to give the movement desired pace with his thought provoking writings and organizing skills.
I will like to cite what an eminent English novelist, essayists, journalist and critic George Orwell says,
“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself that I am going to produce a work of Art. I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”
Prof. Ram Nath Shastri’s works reflect the same feel. His writings and his all other works had a focal point for the language. Whenever we will talk of Dogri literature, he will always find prominent place in our memories for his pivotal role in revival and resurgence of mother tongue. He has contributed to Dogri literature to such an extent whether in the form of original works, translated works or as editor, his colossal contribution that it has enriched the Dogri Literature and movement enormously.
He was a versatile short story writer touching the nerves of readers with familiar characters and poignant plots, amazing poet penning down thought provoking poetry and captivating Ghazals, a playwright who knew to propagate significant messages in One Act Plays and pen down the plays not only for entertaining the audience and spectators but realizing them from within for their moral obligations thus inspiring them to come up to the expectations of their duties towards society and cultural heritage.
He proved his class as a prolific short story writer through much acclaimed and publicized collection of short stories “Badnami Di Chhaon”. Through ” Dharti Di Rin”, a collection of poetry and ” Talkhiyan”, a collection of Ghazals, he not only enriched Dogri literature in these segments also but proved his versatility as a creative person. He knew that Dogri needed all sorts of writings to flourish as a strong language and plays play a significant role in any movement. He wrote “Jhakdiyan Kiran”, a collection of One Act Plays and immensely popular play “Bawa Jitto” that has become synonym with Dogri plays not only at national scene but at international level too. In addition to it he was also an associate writer of another well acclaimed play “Nama Gran” along with Pt. Dinu Bhai Pant and Ram Kumar Abrol.
Shastri Ji had broad vision. He knew that not only original writings but Dogri Literature needed the translations of world class literature. He was a scholar of Sanskrit and Hindi and was aware of the fact that Sanskrit had the outstanding literature and if translated into his mother tongue Dogri, it will be a great job. He not only inspired others to do it at war scale but also took the reins in his hands and went on contributing the Dogri literature with the best literature of the world at that time. His outstanding contributions as a translator include ” Upnishads”, Bhurathari’s ” Nitishatak” and ” Vairagy Ashtak”, Shudrak’ s ” Mrichh Katikam” by the name of ” Mitti Di Gaddi”, Bodhyan’s Sanskrit play ” Bhagwad Ajukiyam”, Raj Mahender Vikram Verma’s Sanskrit play ” Mat Villas”, Guru Rabinder Nath Tagore’s three plays “Balidan”, “Malini” and “Dak Ghar” and noble award winning poetry collection ” Gitanjali”, Mahatma Gandhi’s ” Atam Katha”, Vinoba Bhawe’s ” Geeta Parvachan” Maxim Gorki’s ” Lower Depts” by the name ” Patal Vasi” and Dharamvir Bharti’s ” Andha Yug” by the name “Anna Yug” etc.
Although Shastri Ji has contributed as a writer and translator immensely but his even more remarkable contribution is for promotion of mother tongue. He has sacrificed to such an extent for this noble cause that he is rightly regarded as ‘Father figure in Dogri’. He along with Pt. Dinu Bhai Pant, Sansar Chand Baru, Dharam Chand Prashant, Bhagwat Prasad Sathe and N. D. Mishra founded Dogri Sanstha in 1944 on Basant Panchami, a festival commemorating the beginning of spring thus symbolizing the beginning of a new era for Dogri. It became a pioneer organization with the passage of time and has the privilege of being a strong voice for mother tongue and cultural traditions since its formation. It is a fact that after an organization was formed, a right direction was found to march ahead with all ambitions in the form of a mission. It was sheer dedication and devotion of Shastri Ji that tiring efforts started yielding results. Whatever has been achieved till date, the credit goes to Pitamaha of Dogri Prof. Ram Nath Shastri.
He was a strong man who believed in self and his timing was always perfect. He knew the basic mantra of leading a movement with a well drafted strategy and take the struggle to a logical conclusion. He did it with all enthusiasm and an instinct getting full support from his companions since everybody knew that his mission is a pious one and is not related to his personal gains at all. When you leave self aside and concentrate on consolidated common goals, success ratio increases obviously because others follow you in your journey towards a common destination.
Shastri Ji knew that published literature was the need of time. He edited numerous books and particularly critically acclaimed ‘Nami Chetna’, a Dogri magazine published by Dogri Sanstha since long has been a mile stone in Dogri literature. It offered space to the aspiring writers to express their feel for language and cultural traditions through this highly esteemed magazine. It was an honour to get published in it. It is pertinent to mention here that Shastri Ji’s brothers Narender Khajuria and Vishwanath Khajuria were also celebrated Dogri writers who have carved a niche for themselves in Dogri literature.
Prof Ram Nath Shastri’s immense contributions to Dogri Literature and language were acknowledged and he was honoured with fourth highest civilian award of Republic of India ‘Padma Shri’ in 1990 .In addition to Sahitya Academy award for ‘ Badnami Di Chhaon’ , a collection of short stories in 1977 he has also been awarded with State Academy Award twice. In 1981 he got awarded for collection of Dogri Ghazals ‘Talkhiyan’ and for his Dogri prose “Duggar De Loknayak’ he was awarded again in 1991. He has also won Sahitya Academy’s translation award for Sanskrit play ” Mrichh Ka Tikam’ translated as ‘Mitti Ki Gaddi’ in 1989,’Duggar Rattan’ award in 2004, Saraf Award in 1989 and was also conferred highest honour of fellowship by Sahitya Academy New Delhi. He has also been awarded by different Government and Non- Government organizations from time to time.
I may recall the days when I had the privilege of meeting him quite occasionally at Dogri Sanstha Jammu where I used to go for rehearsals of theatre plays. He was such a graceful personality in his attire white Kurta and Pajama with everlasting glow reflecting from his impressive face that he appeared as a pious soul. Whenever he spoke, it was like a sermon by a man who knew life from a close up and had a lot to tell and motivate. It was a wonderful experience to listen to him in his very impressive voice and every one was so inspired from him that those small meetings are still intact in memories despite a lapse of considerable time.
Prof. Ram Nath Shastri like personalities is an asset to any society. We are blessed to have him from our own Duggar Pradesh. The way he has lived his life amid all sorts of struggles and still emerged as an outstanding personality is an inspiration for all.
On March 08th 2009, Prof. Ram Nath Shastri left this world for heavenly abode but not before having enriched Dogri literature with class original works, translation of world’s best literature and infusing a special feel for mother tongue. Dogras will remain indebted to him for winning recognition and honour for mother tongue which was otherwise discarded by Dogras even for the inferiority complex best known to them. Today we may boast of whatever the achievements made but should never forget the man behind same, who had led us holding our hand firmly and guiding us through the ups and downs of time towards the dream destination.
However, while concluding, I wish to say that whatever Prof. Ram Nath Shastri did, he did it with a belief that we will follow him and popularize and publicize our mother tongue with a promise that it should never face a threat again. Ironically we are far behind that commitment. We have to realize it and come up to the expectations of Shastri Ji and offer him a real tribute in right spirit by taking an oath that we Dogras will promote Dogri not only outside our homes but make it a point that it should find prominent place in our homes too. We will have to inherit it as a language of communication within our families because it’s our own mother tongue. Only then Language may survive and will prosper.
Shastri Ji struggled for it and has shown us a path to move on.
We have to follow his dreams because these are not his personal dreams but dreams of entire community. We have to work and carry on the movement to realize these dreams not for him but for ourselves. The torch that enlightened the then Dogras should have same impact on present generation too.
We have to admit that when the roots are not there, trees get uprooted so easily.
Let us consolidate our roots which are watered by our mother tongue ‘Dogri’.
Let us save it from extinction.