On August 22 the memory of Girish Tiwari a.k.a Girda returned to pinch the conscience of those who have known him. A people’s poet known for bringing the translations of Faiz Ahmed Faiz into the homes of ordinary people of Uttarakhand, Girda is also often remembered as Nagarjun (pen name of famous Hindi and Maithili poet and novelist Vaidyanath Mishra) of the hills.

Girda stands all the more relevant today when one looks at the land subsidence in Joshimath and other places, the growing menace of communalism and casteism in the hills along with the deplorable response of the political and bureaucracy to the aspirations of the masses.

He was one of the architects of the movement that brought Uttarakhand to the fore as a political entity on the map of India along with the two other states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

Girda was a social activist, poet, cinema artiste, theatre personality and above all a lovable and relatable human being till the time he passed away on August 22, 2010. One has vivid memories of this tall frail, dark complexioned figure dressed in a kurta pyjama with a cloth bag on his shoulder moving on the roads always greeting you with nimble hands and a smile, ready to listen and talk about the problems of a common person.

How common people related to him, was visible on the day he was cremated. Despite inclement weather conditions people from all walks of life from different towns and villages had descended at his house in Kailakhan in Nainital to pay their last respects and be a part of his final journey.

These included porters, hotel workers, boatmen, students, writers, women from different spheres, high court judges among others. They had accompanied his body to the cremation grounds singing his songs that included a Kumaoni translation of Faiz’s iconic poem ‘Hum dekhenge’.

Despite being an architect of the movement that created Uttarakhand, Girda was dejected and bitter at the way things had taken a turn for the worse after its creation. He had dreamt of a state where people would be at the centre of things. After all this is what democracy is all about.

“The state was carved out in haste. The situation was such that neither the receivers of statehood nor those giving the statehood of Uttarakhand were prepared with a future road map. In fact, the creation of all three states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand was a result of a political conspiracy that was going on across the nation at that point of time. Today all three states are drowning,” he had told this reporter on the sidelines of an event three months before his death.

He was critical of the political parties for their lack of political will to even have a permanent capital of the new state. “No one has the guts even to say that Dehradun will remain the permanent capital.

“The state was made not for those living in palatial houses or for those owning vast tracts of land. Instead it was made with the notion that the Chief Ministers would regularly move in rural areas and the public representatives would address the grievances of common people.

“But, what we have got is useless talk. I want to ask those in power where were you when the struggle was on and where are you now? Those who were not to be seen anywhere at that time are now enjoying the fruits.

“It is a well-known fact that the percentage given (cut) for getting works done in Uttar Pradesh was lesser than what needs to be given now for getting works done in the government offices. Where have those dreams vanished? It is now that I realise what people had to go through in 1947 when the country was divided. But things are no better when a state with a mere 13 districts has been carved out,” he had shared.

One can ask a common man today and he would resonate with what Girda felt then. There was hardly any issue related to the common people that this poet had not touched through his poems or plays. His poetic creations were satirical, hard hitting and easily relatable.

Imagine him writing about what an ideal school should be like when he penned the lines ‘Jahan na basta kandha todein, Jahan na patri matha phode, Jahan na akshar kaan ukhadein, Jahan na bhasha zakhm udhade, Aisa ho school hamara (our school should be such where the books don’t break backs, where alphabets are not jarring and where the language does not hurt)’. These words came from a man who did not have formal schooling and studied up to intermediate as a private student.

He was scathing on the murderous mobs of the Ayodhya movement of the late eighties and early nineties when he described them as ‘Krodh ghrina ke maare hain, ye asli hatyare hain’ (drenched in anger and hate, these are the real killers) in his poem ‘Deshbhakt’ (Patriot).

His poems are about the plight of a villager waiting for a public transport bus, the issues faced by farmers, the plundering of natural wealth by crony capitalists with the backing of those in power, women trying to overcome the hardships, a bright and better future and social equality.

He conveyed a powerful message though an allegory when he wrote the lines ‘Mushkil se amma ka chulha jala hai, geeli hai lakdi ki geela dhuan hai’ (It is with great difficulty that the granny has been able to light the fire because the wood is damp and the smoke is irritating and painful).

Though he was born into a well off family in Jyoli village of Hawalbagh Block in Almora on September 10, 1945, Girda always wanted to be amongst the masses. He had even plied a rickshaw in Lucknow before working at a lower rank in the Public Works Department and later the Hydel Department.

Alongside he had a regular presence at the All India Radio (AIR). He had later joined the Song and Drama Division of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry but later took voluntary retirement.

He had taken to social activism in the 1970s and old timers across Kumaon fondly remember him playing the Hudka (folk instrument) while singing people centric songs. Coming from a Brahmin background, he had taken to playing Hudka to make a social statement as the instrument is normally played by people coming from down the caste ladder.

People still recall the song that he sang while protesting against the auction of forests at that time. The song that became the anthem of the movement went ‘Aaj Himalaya tumin ke dhatyu cha, Jaago jaago meri lal; Nahin kari do hamri neelami, Nahin kari do hamro halal’ (The Himalaya calls upon you my son to wake up; Don’t allow them to auction and slaughter the trees).

He was also a vocal voice during the famous ‘Nasha nahin rozgar do’ (Give jobs not intoxicants) movement of the early eighties.

Girda is credited with bringing modern theatre to Nainital through staging of plays like ‘Andha Yug’,‘Thank you Mr Glaad’ and ‘Andher Nagri’ (the latter two were performed during the Emergency).

Nainital’s theatre group Yugmanch planned a presentation of his play ‘Nagade Khamosh hain’ to mark his death anniversary on Tuesday.

Girda had given a new dimension to traditional Kumaoni Holi where while conveying his best wishes to those around he used to hit upon local, regional, national and even international issues.

A few months before his death this reporter was fortunate to see the coming together of Girda and the well known voice of AIR Lucknow Beena Tewari after four decades to present a folk song at a programme “Maati se manch tak’ in Nainital.

The event had brought together women singers of Kumaoni folk who were otherwise tied down with mundane daily chores. What was visible then was that despite his failing health Girda’s enthusiasm for promoting the culture of the hills was very much alive.