Over two months ago, I received a call from Devi Prasad Tripathi, one of my closest friends for the last 46 years, to block January 6, 2020 on my calendar as he was throwing a party on his 70th birthday in India International Centre. Now, a memorial meeting will be held on January 6 in the Constitution Club. Tripathi was an outstanding man in every sense of the term. His mind was in politics but his heart was in literature, especially poetry. He had scanned pages and a photographic memory rather. This was when he suffered from a really serious visual infirmity because his early childhood.
However, it was not only his memory but also wisdom that sustained him throughout his difficult life. Though lean and thin, he had a courage that flowed from intellectual and mental strength. He fought cancer with the same determination as he had fought the Emergency when he had to spend nearly 18 months in jail. A lesser man would have given up.
I must be one. In front of the others, I called Pandit Ji or him Tripathi Ji. When we were young pupils at Jawaharlal Nehru University, he would often fondly call me Kulanov and I would return his affection by calling him Triposky. Our friendship did not break on political ideology.
It was suspended in poetry. Devi Prasad Tripathi, who breathed his last at 9.50 am on January 2, 2020, was a poet . I was almost his mirror image – a poet in journalism. As he remembered while speaking at the launching of my poetry collection at India International Centre on September 8, 2019, we knew about each other even before meeting.
Vibhuti Narain Rai, Dinesh Kumar Shukla, Mohammad Shees Khan, Devi Prasad Tripathi, Krishna Pratap Singh and a few others formed the literary circle at Allahabad University and brought out a literary journal titled Parivesh. After quitting the University of Roorkee where I studied industrial engineering for a year, I was completing my B.Sc in my home town Najibabad. My poems were published in Parivesh and Krishna Pratap Singh began corresponding through inland letters and post cards with me. That Tripathi and I came to know each other.
At that time, he used to write poetry using the pen name’Viyogi’. In actuality, his friends of these days continued to call him Viyogi until the end. Later, he wrote a few poems Agnivesh, with a name. It was a coincidence that both of us joined Jawaharlal Nehru University at precisely the exact same time in 1973 to do an MA. While political science was chosen by Tripathi I chose Indian history.
At that time, only one wing and the mess of Kaveri hostel were constructed while the other wing and Godavari Hostel were under construction. We chose adjacent rooms – 104 and 105 – and our friendship started in the real sense. His first public appearance was. I then realised that my buddy was a speaker that was mesmerising, whether he spoke in English or Hindi.
There was. After we met, Tripathi, possibly under the influence of Hindi poet-critic Vijaydev Narain Sahi who taught English literature at the Allahabad University, was under the spell of socialist ideology, although he was connected to the RSS’s student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). He became a councillor and then president of the JNU students’ union.
He could campaign for three days without sleeping a wink without even getting up and could also sleep for three days. His sense was so unusually sharp that after polling was over, leaders from the opposing camp would come to learn what is the outcome. He could predict with precision which candidate would get votes. He was almost always proven right.
P. Tripathi He was among the most anarchic persons I’ve ever met, but he had the capacity to adapt himself to the requirements of the situation.
He would go back to his anarchic ways After that situation was over. One fine morning in February 1978, he came to my area in Periyar Hostel and asked me to pack my luggage. When I asked why, he said we were leaving for Calcutta (now Kolkata). So, we went to Calcutta in an unreserved second class compartment (‘cattle class’, according to Shashi Tharoor).
In Calcutta, we went to meet with Mrinal Sen who used to live in a two-room flat near Deshapriya Park. Tripathi read could speak and write Bengali fluently. Sen, at the peak of his fame and imagination, was showing great deference to him. I asked him to ask the filmmaker to give an interview to me.
I wanted to make some money to meet with the expenses of this travel. Much to my surprise, Sen immediately agreed to be interviewed by an unknown 23-year-old pupil. It was Tripathi who introduced me to the legendary theatre and film personality Bijon Bhattacharya and his poet son Nabarun Bhattacharya, who later became a very good friend.
It was because of his love for literature that one would often find writers such as Fahmida Riyaz, U.R. Ananthamurthy and Abhimanyu Anat (a Hindi writer from Mauritius) staying in his house. All of them were impressed with his knowledge of Sanskrit, Hindi and Bengali literature, in addition to literature in other Indian and international languages. At will, he could quote from them on account of his prodigious memory.
As a Rajya Sabha member, he quoted from Sanskrit, Urdu and Hindi poets to make a point. He ever ready his speeches. When mischief mongers are busy creating controversy over Faiz, Tripathi’s lack is much more painful, today. It was he who had taken Faiz to Allahabad in 1980 and organised a grand party in his honour.