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Nirmal Verma (1929 - 2005)


The news of his death walks into our souls gently. Just like him. Far away, sitting at a window overlooking snow-capped peaks in a vast sky, it seems he could be sitting thus, exactly at this moment. Writing about that cool patch of sunshine which made his critics say that even his sun is cold and not an Indian sun. And his writing western, even if in Hindi. Till they had to come of age and realize his sun and his writing were as Indian as Indian is, and the hallmark of our ‘modern’ moment. Writing at a window such as this one maybe. In Shimla where he was born and grew up. Seeping deeper and deeper into an area of aloneness and pain which is philosophical and from which emerges no hysteria, no crowdedness, but only quiet prose of long shadows and sublime silences.        Privacy, Nirmalji said, was a precondition for the emergence of the novel. Privacy that comes with the emergence of modernity. Like his person, his fiction was intensely private, uncovering some and leaving covered but palpably breathing other layers of the dark interiors of humans. A world of pain, sadness, melancholy, loss, loneliness, the angst of existence. Andhera – the dark – indeed forms a recurrent trope in his fiction. Prefigured, as it were, in the title of an early short story, ‘Andhere Mein’, various shades of the dark he kept casting, literally as well as metaphorically, in each one of his creative pieces, five novels and scores of short stories.       The human dark, which is elusive, cannot be written about except in its elusiveness. By the finest of writers who built, over half a century of writing, a world uniquely Nirmalesque, assuming no authorial omniscience, probing the areas of indeterminacy in human experience, hearing their resonances, and letting their shades and silences weave rich patterns and create subtle cadences. The world is there to be known. But, beneath the surface dross, that which deserves to be known remains unknowable, and that is what has to be probed on and on, patiently, undespairingly, like Sisyphus, like Nirmalji.     But listen, I am not sitting here to evaluate Nirmalji’s work. I am just baffled by the sound of my own words, the sound now of his name from my lips. The words and the name and indeed my lips are the same as yesterday. But one single moment of ...

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