IN the alternating seasons of life and time, survival of the human spirit manifests itself in art and literature, which no one can take away from us. What kind of thoughts must we transmit to our fellowmen for a better world is the question. The two recently published anthologies by Ashwani Kumar, an eminent lawyer, author, a former parliamentarian and minister, perhaps answers the question.
Kumar’s anthologies, ‘Words of Wisdom’ and the second volume of ‘Ehsas-o Izhar’, have brought out a lesser known facet of his personality, that of a sensitive mind given to deep thinking. These books are a testimony of faith in, and celebration of pleasures of our “civilized heritage” as well as of a life lived in thought. It is indeed uncommon these days to find lawyers and politicians committed to thoughtful reflections of the mind and the heart, such as are reflected in the selections encased in the artistically curated books. These will be a valuable addition to our literary and poetic heritage.
The ‘Book of Wisdom’, which includes quotations and profound thoughts, shows the vast reach of Kumar’s intellectual meditations and belies the perception that he is more a man of politics. His sensibilities reflected in these anthologies have assisted him to exist creatively in the field of politics. ‘Book of Wisdom’ is a repository of meaning, the concentrate of knowledge, a talisman of promises and prospects, which the Dalai Lama in his Foreword urges readers to reflect upon.
‘Ehsas o Izhar’ is essentially autobiographical. The author indicates as much in his eloquent Introduction: “As a philosopher of the heart, it is the poet’s function to ensure that his own reality and that of the world around him does not remain outside the language of his heart. In this sense, poetry is essentially autobiographical.” Kumar’s words echo Ghalib’s immortal verse about the relationship of poetry with the truth of a poet’s life: “Khulta kisi pe kyon mire dil ka muaamala, Sheron ke intekhaab ne ruswa kiya mujhe.”
Although engaged in law and politics for the better part of his life, Ashwani Kumar’s persistent advocacy of human dignity and justice remains the driving force behind his philosophical preferences that shine through the subjective selection of thoughts and sentiments in these anthologies.
‘Ehsas o Izhar’, embellished with Forewords by Gulzar and Muzaffar Ali, is a celebration of the diverse hues of life, an affirmation of the survival of art in trying times and of deep sensitivity that Ghalib’s romanticism depicts: “Ishq se tiabit ne zist ka maza paya/ dard ki dava pa’i dar-e-be-dava paya.” This moving assertion of faith in the intellectual and emotional act of remembrance of our history, songs and dreams invest Kumar’s books with their qualitative distinction. As Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish American poet, says, “At least poetry, philosophy, action were not/For us, separated.”
Ashwani Kumar’s selection of compositions in the chapter ‘Separation and Longing’ reflects the reality of aloneness in the middle of a crowd. In recalling an intensely philosophical thought, he ruminates on life’s continuity through remembrance, challenge and hope. “Yad-e-mazi, gham-e-imroz, umid-e-farda, kitne sae mire humrah chala karte hain.” And given his passion for advancement of human dignity reflected in most of his other writings, the author relates deeply with Iqbal: “Jab ishq sikhata hai adab-e-khud agahi/ khulte hain, Gulamon par asra-e-shahenshahi.” In the centenary year of the legendary poet Sahir Ludhianvi, Kumar has devoted a full chapter to his poetry, including therein some of Sahir’s unforgettable compositions. Savor for instance, the compelling couplet from his nazm ‘Taj Mahal’, “Bazme-e-shahi men gharibon ka guzar kya ma.ani? Sabt jis rah men hon satvat-e-shahi ke Nishan us pe ulfat bhari ruhon ka safar kya ma’ani?”
In his books, Ashwani Kumar reflects on the landscape of human drama, its experience, tragedy and glimpses of truth that, as Joseph Conrad reminds us, are expressed “in a moment of courage in the remorseless rush of time”. In their essence, the anthologies are about the literature of life and a must-read for all those who can appreciate the sensibilities of a sensitive mind. Through these books, Ashwani Kumar has given us a larger introduction about himself.