Prof. Lalit Magotra
Another doyen of Dogri belonging to the old-guard has departed. Padma Shri Prof. Nilambar Dev Sharma, a thorough gentleman, with charming and attractive personality, a person with penetrating intellect and a key figure of the Dogri renaissance movement, passed away on June 23, 2020.
When a venture is destined to be successful, it so happens that right people join it at right time. When Dogri needed a person of his capabilities, expertise and vision, precisely at that juncture Prof. Nilambar Dev Sharma appeared on the scene.
Prof. Nilambar Dev Sharma was born on 6th October, 1931 in a highly respected Dogra Brahmin family. His father Pt. Madan Mohan Sharma, residing in Malhotra street, Jammu, was a well known Sanskrit scholar and a widely reputed Jyotshi, famous all over north India.
Prof. Sharma did his graduation from Jammu & Kashmir University in the year 1949-50. During his graduation he was a leading student activist and office bearer of the Student Union.
His closest friends in the College were Ved Bhasin, Balraj Puri and Ved Pal Deep – all prominent student leaders in their own right. The friendship forged among these four young men lasted throughout their lives. At a later stage, these four formed the front-line of the intellectuals of Jammu. Nilambar Dev was equally brilliant in his studies – always competing with the legendry Ved Pal Deep for top position in examination. In his own words, ‘ I always considered Ved Pal Deep as my closest adversary in studies. I worked very hard to surpass him in exams but he, with the least of effort, invariably, secured first position and I a close second.’ After his graduation, he got admission in the prestigious Hindu College of Delhi and attained his Master’s Degree in English literature in the year 1952. Immediately after that he taught English, for a short stint of few months, in a College in Kairana, U.P. It was in the year 1953 that he was appointed as Lecturer in English literature in G.G.M. Science College, Jammu. He served in the College up to 1961 – in between he went to Leeds University England in 1957 and returned in 1959 after having obtained an Honors Degree from there.
He was a very popular teacher. Recounting his association, as a student, with Prof. Sharma, legendary Santoor Maestro, Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma says, ‘ In addition to being an accomplished teacher and a gentleman to the core, Nilambar Ji was very friendly with students. We felt very comfortable with him and he always encouraged literary and cultural activities. He was instrumental, in those days, in producing a Shadow Play, in which I provided the music. It goes to Nilambar Ji’s credit that female artists also participated in the Play, which happened for the first time in Jammu. The respect that I developed for him and close friendly relation that I forged with him lasted for ever.
Prof. Sharma was deputed as Deputy Secretary to the newly formed Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages in the year 1961, of which he later became Secretary in 1966. His taking over the command of the Academy at that early period of its formation and subsequently the policies and plans that he initiated there, were to define the trajectory of growth of Language, Literature and Culture of the entire State, in general, and of Dogri, in particular. Without going into too much of detail, I will mention some of his endevours which bear testimony to his visionary outlook. First in this list is the Abhinav Theatre – the hub of all cultural activities in Jammu, which is a product of his imagination and planning. He conceived and got the plan of its construction approved by Shri Bhagwan Sahai, the then Governor of the State and Patron of the Academy. Today, it is impossible to imagine a cultural scenario of Union Territory of J&K without Abhinav Theatre. He was responsible for setting up of Regional office of J&K Academy at Jammu.To showcase the Dogra Basohli style of paintings at International level, he brought out, a publication of collection of six selected paintings of the school, with a foreword by no less a person than Mulk Raj Anand. This collection ‘ Ras Manjari ‘ was to become one of the most popular publications of the Academy, and brought fame to Basohli Kalam throughout the world, especially in Art circles. He was also instrumental in procuring a number of original paintings of Basohli and Jammu schools, including some incomplete ones, which still form part of the collection of Jammu regional office of the Academy.
Very few people know that he also contributed to the Theatre movement of Jammu in a very subtle manner. He sponsored Kavi Rattan on Academy’s scholarship to National School of Drama, New Delhi. Later on, when Kavi Rattan returned to Jammu, after completion of his training, Prof. Sharma offered him a job in the Academy and rest is history. Kavi Rattan was the person solely responsible for starting the modern Theatre movement in Jammu. It was through the initiative of Prof. Sharma that Institutes of Music and Fine Arts were set up in the State, one each at Srinagar and Jammu. He recruited nationally renowned Artists as teachers to impart training to the students of these Institutes. His vision was to see these Institutes grow into centres of excellence. Kashmiri Sufiana music was recognized by Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi through his efforts. He opened the regional office of J&K Academy at Leh to give a much required boost to the culture of Ladakh. These and many other initiatives of Prof. Sharma, as Secretary J&K Academy, laid sound foundation for the progress of Art, Culture and Languages in the State.
One outstanding contribution of Prof. Sharma towards the promotion of Dogri literature was the publication of his book in English, titled ‘ An Introduction to Modern Dogri Literature ‘ in the year 1965. The publication of this book could not have come at more opportune time. By 1965, not much literature had been written in Dogri, the Dogri literary movement being only about 15-20 years old. However, there was a keen desire of all Dogri writers that their language be recognized by Sahitya Akademi. This was of crucial importance for various reasons. However, those in position to grant this status to Dogri were not acquainted with the Dogri literature as they could not read Dogri. This book opened a window to Dogri literature for non-Dogri knowing readers and made them aware of the significant strides that Dogri literature had taken in that short span of time. As a result, this book played a major role in recognition of Dogri as an ‘Independent Literary Language ‘ by Sahitya Akademi in the year 1969. However, highlighting the importance of this book is not to belittle the contribution of various articles and write-ups in National magazines and newspapers by Col. Shiv Nath, Balraj Puri, Suraj Saraf and few others in achieving this goal. The recognition of Dogri and subsequent Awards conferred every year on Dogri writers paved the way for inclusion of Dogri in the 8th Schedule of Indian Constitution.
Another example of how sagacity of Prof. Sharma came to rescue at very crucial times, relates to the movement for inclusion of Dogri in 8th Schedule of Indian Constitution. Dogri Sangharsh Morcha, formed to spearhead this movement had been working for quite some time. The Morcha had the full support of all sections of society. In spite of that, no breakthrough was insight. As a result, there was a growing sense of frustration among the activists of Morcha. This frustration was being manifest in the form of mutual bickerings and accusations. In the meetings of Morcha tempers frequently ran high and at times it appeared that the Morcha would disintegrate. In such situations of utter chaos and distrust, Prof. Sharma maintained his poise and composure and in his typical cool and calm manner always managed to steer meetings to some meaningful and positive conclusion. That kept Morcha intact and functioning, which ultimately resulted in this struggle achieving its goal.
Prof. Nilambar Dev Sharma was elected president of Dogri Sanstha in the year 1977 and continued on this position for twenty years – upto 1996. In nineteen seventies Dogri Sanstha was the only Organization working for Dogri, apart from the J&K Academy. But Dogri for the Academy was one of the many languages of the State to which it had to cater. Prof. Sharma’s vast experience of managing cultural affairs and his visionary outlook shaped and molded the policies of Sanstha to evolve it into a vibrant, forward looking and progressive Organization. He took care that Sanstha’s activities do not duplicate those of J&K Academy but rather complement the same. It is pertinent to note that during his tenure as President of Dogri Sanstha, he was twice elected to be the Vice President of J&K Academy, once in 1978 and then again in 1988. He was, therefore, in the best position to guide and steer the activities of Sanstha in the right direction, which he did by organizing numerous symposia, conferences, workshops and a host of other literary activities.
Prof. Nilambar Dev Sharma, is though better known for his literary leadership and most of his time was devoted to organizational affairs of Dogri, but at the core of his heart he was a man of literature. He authored and edited six works in English; wrote 3 books in Dogri in creative genres – including short stories, essays and travelogues; translated four books from English to Dogri; compiled and edited three books in Dogri and contributed to four dictionary projets as co-author and expert. A manuscript of his Novel is awaiting publication.
The story of Prof. Sharma’s eventful life is deeply intertwined with the story of evolution of Dogri literature. He played his part well and worked diligently for the cause he believed in.
(The author is a Dogri writer and President of Dogri Sanstha)
Prof. Lalit Magotra