The other day my elder son’s class was required by their Hindi teacher to recite/narrate some lines in Hindi. The students attempted both prose and poetry. Most did their versions of Hindi film dialogues and songs. Some of the adventurous ones even tried an excerpt from Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s “Agnipath”, the philosophical “Agnipath, Agnipath, Agnipath.” I persuaded Ved to recite something dear to me from my childhood days. “Khoob ladi mardani, woh toh Jhansi-waali rani thi”. I spent an entire evening rehearsing the poem with him, with full gestures, body movements and with the right intonations. Sample the fervor in the words “Singhasan hil uthey” (with the emphatic stress on “hil”) followed by the arched eyebrows in the subsequent string of words- “Rajwanshon ney bhrikuti taani thi”. Etc etc. You get the drift, right?
I was reliving my school days through Ved. And I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it! (I am not too sure about Ved though)
Like most schools, ours too had this annual elocution contests, in English and in Hindi. There were some set favourite pieces. Mark Anthony’s speech from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “Friends, Roman and country men”. Enough scope to give full expressions to the range of one’s vocal chords. There were pieces from Reader’s Digest and some longer poems like Sir Walter Scott’s “Young Lochinvar”. Or this popular one from closer home, Nehru’s “Tryst with destiny” speech.
It was the Hindi pieces which were more interesting (to me, at least). I never had a great “elocutionist” voice- neither in English nor Hindi- but given my relative prowess in Hindi in school I was but an obvious claimant to the finals of the Hindi elocution contests. But I could never make it. (I actually would, nearly every year, but more about that in a bit.)
The Hindi pieces too were mostly the standard ones. Patriotic songs were pretty popular. For example, this one- now a rarity- was perhaps the most used. Dinkar’s “Mere nagpati mere vishal…”. I still remember most of this poem and it always gives me goose-pimples. “…. Vaishali ke bhagnavashesh sey tu pooch Lichhawi shaan kahan..”. This famous- and popular- poet, Ramdhari Singh “Dinkar” was by qualification a qualified historian. Those familiar with his vigorous poetry steeped in Indian history and cultural traditions would be surprised to know that even if he did not write one single poem he would still remain immortal as the author of a great book on Indian cultural history called “Sanskriti ke chaar adhyaya”.
Then there was Suryakant Tripathi “Nirala” with his poem titled Bhikshuk, “Who aata, pachhtata..” Enough pathos to tug the heart-strings of the toughest. There were poems by Sumitra Nandan Pant, Mahadevi Verma and Jaishankar Prasad. Remember the piece from Prasad’s Kamayani- “Tumul kolaahal kalah mein, mein hriday ki baat re man”?
For those who could not handle the gravity of the aforementioned poets there always was the (then) popular poet- Kaka Hathrasi. This old-ish, grey-bearded bard from Hathras (UP) would churn out best selling books with an amazing frequency. Books with pithy rhymes and with some socio-political messages. These sold like hot cakes at the A. H. Wheeler book-stalls at the North India railway stations. With very creative names like “Kaka-Cola”, “Kaka ke kartoos”. He would invoke Kaki- his wife- too, for some deeper insights into whatever he was trying to figure out for his readers. He had even published a book called “Kaka-Kaki ki Nok-jhonk”- Kaka and kaki’s banter!) I do not remember any of the stuff, but I do remember that each of the ditties would end with something like “Keh Kaka kavi-rai..” – says the great poet Kaka- and then going on to summarize the gist of the poem. Kaka’s was a hugely popular selection for the school elocution contests.
I have mentioned earlier in this piece that my “mellifluous” voice ensured that I never made it to the top of the heap and hence was never a finalist to the Annual Hindi Elocution Contest. But my Hindi skills- specially my ability to speak ad lib (May be I was one “andhon mein kaana Raja”??) ensured that I was the MC for the finals. And more often than not my father was the chief judge/chief guest for these contests. My father was an eminent Hindi professor and speaker in the city. So I had the privilege of riding pillion with the chief judge on his old Lambretta scooter, clambering onto the stage in my school dress and welcoming from the stage my father who sat in the audience as the chief guest/chief judge. “Ham manananiya Professor Satyadeo Ojha ka hardik swagat kartey hain…” etc., etc.
To end this piece I must tell you about the one piece which fetched me several awards in various competitions in my early years. The piece was called “Ek hi Hai”. This is how it started: “Bihar ki rajdhani Patna, wahaan ke hotel mein ho gayi ek ghatana….” The poem went on to narrate the tale of an aged couple who walks into a restaurant for a meal. The old lady fanned her husband as he ate his meal and after he was done she had her’s as the husband fanned her. The waiter watched them astonished. He was touched at this display of love between the oldies. And said as much to the old lady. The granny brushed this off. “Something insignificant, and wholly practical”, she said, “between the two of us have only one set of dentures and the solution of alternate lunching was one which was the most practical one!
I think I would have fly-wheeled on this poem for at least three years. Dressed as a clown in a holiday camp, in my school-dress and tie in the school competitions and in yet another contest dressed as a clown in a peaked-cap and rouge-tinted nose! Anything to evoke laughter and……. win prizes galore.
Even after some 35-40 years my mother has not forgotten this (she is in her 80’s now).In a moment of extreme tenderness she addresses me as “Ek hi hai!”
Who said elocution contests are drab and devoid of warm memories?