by SHAILESH SOLANKI
NIRANJAN BHAGAT was a giant of Gujarati literature and undoubtedly one of the greatest Indian poets of the last century.
His poetry was widely regarded to have ushered in a new era of conversational rhythm to the Gujarati written art form.
He was a titan of Gujarati poetry whose canvas was broad and deep. He spoke to a new emerging India after the Independence struggle, addressing issues of violence, hope, corruption, love and light.
Niranjan Bhagat was one of the few Indian poets conversant in French literature. After he retired as professor of English literature at St Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad in 1986, he learnt French and often travelled to Paris to translate the works of poet Baudelaire.
But the Niranjan Bhagat we knew wasn’t just the towering poet, he was our joyful uncle, a man of profound wisdom who enriched our lives through his remarkable intellect and love of words.
Niranjankaka, as we all referred to him, was a close personal friend of my father Ramniklal Solanki and mother Parvatiben, and a regular visitor to London until failing health prevented him from travelling long haul.
He was an Anglophile in the truest sense, a love of England enriched and fuelled by his deep passion for English literature.
He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Britain through the centuries, each period in history bookmarked by an eminent poet. He believed poetry could only really be appreciated when you understood the poet and the time and environment in which he was writing.
So each summer since the early 1980s Niranjankaka would make a yearly pilgrimage to London and spend three wonderful months with us at our family home. It was a time my brother Kalpesh, sister Sadhana and I remember with fondness.
We enjoyed many evenings listening to him recite from memory the poems of Shakespeare, Keats, TS Elliot, WH Auden and countless others. We would sit around the dinner table listening to his booming voice, as he marvelled at the beauty of each word, his hands becoming more animated as he explained the meaning of each verse.
We spent many summers visiting Straftord-upon-Avon, the Lake District, Cambridge and every corner of the City of London. Niranjankaka discovered London through literature and loved to visit theatres, libraries and even pubs where his beloved poets once drank or penned a great sonnet.
He was a contemporary of the eminent poets Uma Shankar Joshi and Harindra Dave and they often visited London together setting up something of a literary fest in our living room. These were heady days for my parents and their friends who would gather at our home to listen to these greats of Gujarati literature.
Niranjankaka was so much more than a friend to my father. He was the elder brother he never had, someone with whom he would share the burdens of editing a weekly newspaper, someone who would proffer advice on an editorial line. He was his confidante but above all he was the friend with whom he laughed and escaped into a shared love of literature.
We pray that his soul rests in eternal peace.