By Kulsum Mustafa
His humility is so real and his welcome is warm and spirited. There is something so endearing about him that it transports you back into the old-world charm. Octogenarian GOPAL CHATURVEDI, is a Hindi language, luminous satirist. He creates magic with words. Devoid of blatant, uncouth expressions, his satire is like a sharp spear laced with velvety satin cover. In this tenor, peppered with humor and wisdom he exposes vices, corruption, and red-tapism, all with élan. Throughout this interview, he used expressions, one-liners that gave glimpses of his strong grip on the language, which one can read in his books. This satirist has proved beyond doubt that age is but a number and that a writer never gets old but only gets seasoned as years go by. This iconic satirist, who has seen eighty springs establishes that good humor has no season and that it never goes out of fashion because it not only entertains, it refreshes, activates your mental faculties, and lifts up your spirits.
Q: Tell us about your childhood wherein lie the seeds of your love for writing.
A: I was born and spent the early years of my childhood in Lucknow. My father was into academics and hence instilled discipline and love for acquiring knowledge in me. As ours was a joint family and, I happened to be the youngest among the children there was no one my age to play with. Hence books became my childhood companions. My years at boarding school also enhanced my love for literature.
Q: Tell us about your Education.
My primary education was in Lucknow and then when my father became principal we moved to Dewas. I completed my Intermediate from Scindia College and my graduation from Hamidia College, Bhopal. My masters in English literature I completed from Allahabad University. Here I had as my teacher Prof Yadupati Sahay, who was the brother of renowned Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri’s (Raghupati Shaay ) Firaq Sahib also taught at the University. His awe-inspiring personality impressed me a lot and I feel so privileged to have known him, even though from a distance.
Q: Tell us about your early writings?
A: Seems I enjoyed expressing myself in words right from my childhood. My Pen has been my constant companion. In college days, it earned me my pocket money as those days my poems and stories were published in Hindi publications and I was also invited for recitation at the All India Radio. When I was doing my master from Allahabad University my poems got me popularity and I had a good fan following. The money I earned from my writing helped me pay my bills at the coffee house. In Allahabad sitting in the Coffee House was and I suppose still is the norm.
Q: What kind of poetry did you write in college days?
A: Obviously at my age, one could and should write Romantic poetry and that is what I wrote. It got me a lot of attention, especially from the opposite sex.
“us umrmay to yeh hi likhna accha lagta tha ‘( at that age one enjoyed writing that kind of poetry only.
Q: You had cleared the Indian Police Service (IPS) but you quit. Why?
A: Yes I had been selected for the IPS and was posted as ASP, Faizabad, but I resigned. The thought of spending the next four decades of my life surrounded by criminals scared me, it was not my cup of tea. I was later selected in the Indian Railway Accounts Service and I am so happy that I made this decision to quit being a cop. More so had I not quit IPS and joined IRAS I would not have meet Nisha, who became my life companion.
Q: Tell us about this very interesting “destiny meeting”.
A; Nisha was in Customs and Narcotics and posted in Mumbai. Our batch went there for some training programme and I met her there. It was love at first sight. Even after changing many spectacles no, my love for her remains the same. I made the right choice. She has been my life’s inspiration and has always been my pillar of strength.Q: That is so wonderful to hear. But why have you never dedicate any book to your inspiration? A: I write satire, how can I dedicate it to her, ((his loud guffaw transcends the wires of the telephone). All my romantic poems which I wrote before I met Nisha, I would like to dedicate to her.
Jokes apart, Nisha has been the most supportive and encouraging life companion I could have asked for. It is she who has seen my pain and my tears which I never let the outside world witness. She is the only one allowed without permission into my secret world of grief. This journey of life would not have been so satisfactory, so rewarding had she not been my wife.
Q: How did you switch from composing poems to writing satire?
A: I wrote my first satirical piece in 1975-76 during the emergency. I was posted in Varanasi then. I think as a government servant you see a lot happening around you that you have to ignore and keep your mouth shut. It kind of suffocates you. I attempted to give voice I tried to hit at the system, all that needed to be changed both in humans and in society, and that I did through my satire. My first prominent book on satire was Afsar ki Maut. It was a satire on bureaucracy and was much appreciated.
Q: How difficult was it to attack the government policies when you were within the system?
A: Well it could have been difficult but I suppose it was not chiefly because that was an era of tolerance and secondly the brown sahib kind of bureaucrats of that time never bothered much about the vermicular press, this attitude helped me remain unnoticed and unpunished. On my part, I took care not to attract too much attention and remained low profile as far as my public image as a satirist was concerned. That helped a lot, my books were appreciated, many got reprinted several times but I was not brought to task.
Q: Your books were released by dignitaries of that time like President Shankar Dayal Sharma, and Union Minister Madhav Rao Scindia who was a Union minister.
A: Six of my books were released by Dr. Sharma. He was my father’s friend and I had my Bhopal connection too. He did ask me once how come I write against the system while being in the system and I had given him the same answer as I gave you. I have high regard for Dr. Sharma, he was so well-read, in fact, he was an institution in himself, being in his company was a reward and one learned so much from him.
Two of my books were released by Scindia, I suppose he did it out of sheer respect and never questioned the content as he was my junior in Scindia College.
Q: What about satire on politicians?
A: Incompetent political leadership has always disturbed me, but somehow I never got to writing on this aspect until just a few years back when I used my pen for political satire. There is nothing more disgusting than politicians who are anti-people in their ruling.
Q: In these years you have given so many Books and have been bestowed with many prestigious awards. Do tell us about them.
A: I have received the UP Govt Yash Bharati, Sharad Joshi award from MP government Subramanyam Arad from Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, Vyangshree from Hindi Sansthan Etc.
Q: Your friends and the associate list reads like a Who’s Who.
A: My friends are my lifeline and many of them have been with me since decades. Like for instant Ex-Governor and veteran Congress leader Aziz Qureshi, late journalist Anees Jung. I was fortunate to enjoy the company of Kishan Maharaj, Bismillah Khan Sahib, Sitara Devi. My posting in Varanasi brought me in contact with these legendary souls and enriched me culturally.
Q: With a Masters in English Literature are you happy you chose Hindi as a medium of satire writing.
A: 100 percent. But it pains me that the vernacular writers are so poorly paid and that they have to a hand-to-mouth existence. For me, writing was a passion and so remuneration did not matter, but I feel sorry for those for whom writing is a livelihood.
With this we come to the end of this interview. Gopal Chaturvedi’s satire I noticed is often his defense and often his humor hides his pain. The inconsolable ache of having lost their only son Sandeep in the prime of his life. If one tries asking him about his son he will artfully switch the topic. He will instead start talking about his journalist daughter Swati and how when he had gone to invite President Dr. Sharma for the wedding he refused the invite and said he would like the couple to capture all the attention on their D Day and if he attended the function the attention would be diverted. He instead invited the bride and groom and their families to have breakfast with him at Rashtrapati Bhawan the next day. What a thoughtful gesture