The last time I met Nirmal Verma at home, he was recovering from a bout of the long illness which finally claimed him last night, at the age of 76. We were speaking of his early life, before he, along with writers like Mohan Rakesh and Kamleshwar, forged the ‘New Story’ movement in Hindi literature. ‘‘My mother said she liked my writing,’’ said Verma. ‘‘And then she asked me: But why don’t you write like Ram Kumar (the painter, and Verma’s elder brother)?’’ Even Verma’s gentlest critic could not entirely appreciate the new style he was evolving, which is now the heritage of every new writer in Hindi.
Kailash Vajpeyi writes:
There came a time after that when Nirmal Verma became more exposed to Indian tradition and he shifted his point of view. He began to believe that unless you think in a holistic way, it is impossible to be committed to any one political system or other.
We talked in those days, and he asked: but what about scepticism, which is the beginning of modernity? I said it is there in our scriptures. I asked him to go back to the Nasadiya Sukta, which begins, “When there was neither space nor time, when darkness covered darkness…” Slowly, he covered the entire span of Indian traditions. The year was 1986, I think, and he was suddenly a different man.
Quite a few people were disturbed about it, given that he had been identified as a progressive Marxist in the beginning. But it happened to many of us, who began our journey with Marxism, and then went to Existentialism, modernity, post modernity, New Left…
As a writer, he chose to do nothing else but write. This is a risky thing to do in India, particularly for a vernacular writer. But Nirmal being Nirmal, chose to pursue a solitary career as a writer without any fuss or fanfare. Till the very end, if he discussed problems with friends, they had nothing to do with his frail heath or worldly needs. When I met him last, he talked of his tussle with his professional problems: how to surmount the central paradox of a writer’s situation, where his very creativity puts him out of touch with ordinary men and women he writes about; how to recreate in the rich fullness of Hindi, the impoverished reality of the life in small towns, without diminishing the essential dignity of his protagonists or appearing paradoxical.