One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Savoring the easy sunlight of a fading winter, he says, “I’m not a regular to this garden. Today is my off from the office and I came here… just to sit and… and to think… actually to think of nothing.”
The Delhi Walla meets Nalini Kant Pathak, 46, at one corner of the Delhi Development Authority Park in South Delhi’s Vasant Vihar. It has a few trees, a jogging track, and a ruin. Mr Pathak is alone on a bench; its green paint has peeled off to reveal earlier layers of yellow and red.
“I work in the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation). I was recruited by the agency in 1986. That was the year I arrived in Delhi. I’m from Buxar. You are looking puzzled. It’s a district in Bihar. After my retirement — it is still years away — we will return to our town. But my apartment is in the CBI Colony. It’s not far from here. We have a two-bedroom flat… me, my wife and my three sons. They are still young.”
Mr Pathak speaks slowly as if measuring the suitability of every word before allowing it to come out of the mouth.
“As a CBI officer,” I ask him, “you must have raided homes of powerful bureaucrats and ministers.”
“That’s merely a job. But you have long hair… you must be an intellectual. Can you tell me how difficult it is to be a freelance writer and still be able to live… decently?
“I’m asking this because I’ve myself written a few poems and short stories. I write in Hindi. About two years ago I sent them to be published in Kadimbini magazine but they mailed me a rejection slip. I then approached the publication department of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting — its office is close to mine. They said that my poetry does not meet their standards.
“Can you share one of your poems with me?”
“Ah, it was years ago. But I remember a few lines:
“Sunhare patte see hain jeevan ki yeh sham,
Nahi hota hain kabhi yahan pe vishram,
Sanwarat chalet jana hain
Kabhi to milega apna mukaam…
… aage yaad nahin!”
[This evening of my life is like a golden leaf,
There is no rest here,
Have to keep going,
Maybe someday I will meet my destination…
… I’ve forgotten the rest!]
“Now I have stopped writing.”
“Is it necessary to be published?” I say. “Isn’t it more important to just keep writing?”
“I’m a Brahmin. We are an educated people. I have many elderly relatives in Bihar who have written books. Their manuscripts are collecting dust. You put in so much hard work… and the result is negative… what’s the point?”
Looking around in the almost empty garden, Mr Pathak says, “This is the age of the market. Only those things are manufactured that are in demand. If they cannot be sold, then why produce it? Your poetry might have quality but if it’s not read, it is destined to die.
“The great poet Tulsidas initially wrote in Sanskrit but nobody read him. Most people did not understand the language. You know what he did? He destroyed all his works. Then one day something strange happened and he started writing in Avadhi, which was the local dialect of his region. Today, his Ramcharit Manas is read by millions of Hindus.”
Borrowing my notepad, Mr Pathak begins to scribble on a blank page. “Maybe one day,” he says, “I might start again… just as Tulsidas… ”
[This is the 69th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
A closet poet