It is not an easy task to retain's one's passions and interests when your principal focus in life is law and politics. But, Ashwani Kumar proves that assumption wrong. He has excelled in the legal profession, and has made a mark as a political statesman. And yet, he has retained his sensivity to other horizons and reservoirs of solace and fulfillment, so important in the leading of a complete life.
I have known Ashwani since we were students in St. Stephens, and later at the Law Faculity in New Delhi. Even then, he stood out as a travelaer in search of a different quest. This was not obvious to those who did not know him well, For most people, he appeared to be just one of the many who have something going for them, either in terms of family background, or political lineage, or money, quite simply academic worth. What made him different was that he seemed to be never willing to fully conform. He had his conventional ambitions and these were quite transparently discernible. But, there was, at the same time a sustained commitment to be different from the herd, to have a voice of his own, and an opinion that was based on substantial personal assesment, not uniformed or casual comment. Often, this came across as deliberately contrarian, but it was, actually even at such a young age, merely, an arrogance of spirit, a personal belief in himself, and in the cumulative cultural and political legacy that he had inherited.
One aspect of this non –conformist stubbornness was his love for Urdu poetry. My wife, Renuka, who was also a contemporary in the Delhi University, has told me of several occasions when Ashwani, without attempting to be unacceptably familiar, could come out with the apt couplet for the right moment, leaving young ladies blushing or –agianst their wishes –appreciative!
What I found noteworthy was that his love for Urdu was of a high caliber. This was important for me because, in the general milieu where any two lines that rhymed and had an Urdu word that people did not understand was greeted with illiterate 'Wah, Wahs', Ashwani's repertoire of this wonderful language, which was –and is –important as an end in itself. As he has himself explained, this was in great part due to the legacy of his grandfather and his father and the soires of great Urdu poets he had the opportunity to attend in his formative years.
But, fortunately, Ashwani has not only nurtured his love for Urdu poetry in later life, but also honed it. Over the years, I have seen a new canvas to his Urdu repertoire and a renewed passion to constantly widen it, not the least by the wonderful mehfils he oraganizes at home!
This book is the consequence of that affair. 'Ehsas –o –Izhar', a remarkably learned collection of poetry, representing not only the very well –known poets, but also the very talented but lesser known. However, it is not merely a collation. Every poem included in it has a personal connection to Ashwani's life and that is an indication of his own very wide expousure to Urdu literature.
As someone who is himself very fond of good Urdu poetry. I can identify with Ashwani's desire to put together this volume. The journey of life has its joys and sorrows, its elations and disapppointments, achievements and setbacks, successes and failure, but the acceptance, with poise and elegence of this great kaleidoscope is an art in itself, for as Ghalib said sham's har rang men jalti hai sahar hote tak. In the iconic film Pyaasa, there is a line that has for long remained in my memory:
Ham pi bhi gaye chhalka bhi gaye. Ashwani has had a long and distinguished career in law and politics but in compiling 'Ehsas –o –Izhar', has shown to the world that he has not only drunk deep at the well of life, but would like to be remembered for his ability to chhalka bhi gaye!
I wish him all the very best for this volume, which should become mandatory reading for anyone wishing to know what good taste in Urdu poetry is.
I have known Ashwani since his early youth days and his family for almost 50 years. I have heard of him as a young lad who absorbed and heard poetry at his grandfather's knee. At an impressionable age, he met and heard some of the finest poets of our century and that, I think inculcated in him from a very young age, not only a love for poetry but more importantly 'zauq', discernment.
He is an illustrious member of a family of freedom fighters. His father, his mother, aunts and uncles were active participants in the nation's freedom struggle. His father was jailed many times. His sisters are named Priya Desh and Asha Desh i.e. 'love of the country' and 'hope of the nation' respectively.
In Gurdaspur (Punjab) which is his political seat, the family's name inspires love and reverense. In fact, many households have his father's photograph on their walls. I have participated in the election frenzy, travelling with the family in cars and trains decorated with flowers. These were proud moments for me and I consider myself very much a part of the family. Government of India has issued a commemorative stamp in honour of Ashwani has always looked upon me as an elder sister and a lover of Urdu poetry.
Politicians, Lawyers and judges too often quote Urdu verses to convey something special while arguing or driving home a point. Ashwani quoted one of my 'Ghazal's' in his farewell speech in Parliament which is now a part of the annals of history and is also included in this book. His favourite couplets from this 'Ghazel' are:
Shafaq ke rang nikalne ke bad ai hai ye sham dhup men chalne ke bad ai hai ye raushni tere kamre men khud nahin ai sharma ka jism pighalne ke bad ai hai.
Ashwani or Ammuji as he is affectionately known in the family was always a sensitve person. The loss of a brother and later of his wife at a young age has enchanced his sensitivity to pain. I find him to be a great conversationalist, witty, full of charm with quick sense of humour. His dress sense is impeaccable. He entertains with deep knowledge of world cuisine and I have had the honour of meeting Presidents, Prime Ministers and many distinguished personalities in his home enjoying enthralling musical recitals and choicest delicacies in an atmosphere of warmth and elegence.
He has risen to the top echelons of his profession and in politics. He has been a distinguished parliamentarian known for the depth of his parliamentary interventions. One of the youngest Additional Solicitors General of India and a Union Law Minister apart from holding several other ministerial appointments in the last government. He was also PM Manmohan Singh's Special Envoy to Japan in 2013. In a rare honour, he was decorated by the Emperor of Japan with Japan's the highest civilian honour. "The Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun". He has published two books "Law, ideas and Ideology in Politics: Perspective of an Activist" and "Hope in a Challenged Democracy: An Indian Narrative". And now this Compilation shows his passion for profound peotry. This book has been chapterised under the titles 'Life', 'Love', 'Philosphy', 'Politics' and 'Separation' demonstrating, as it were, the board sweep of Ashwani's philosphical and emotional compass.
Compiled poetry books are much in demand not only in India but also with the Indian diaspora around the world. Urdu lyrics are a loved genre due to a shared cultural and historical heritage. This has oft been proven by the fact that our music singers and films are in great demand all over the world. This book will find a very high berth on that shelf!
I am proud and happy to have been a part of this very beautiful, sensitive and nostalgic effort. As always, I wish Ashwani the best and take the liberty of ending with a few couples of my lateest 'Ghazal' as a blessings for Ashwani.
Dr. Ashwani Kumar, an eniment lawyer, author and veterian parliamentarian was member of the Rajya Sabha for fourteen consecutive years representing the State of Punjab, untill his retirement in April 2016. During this time, he held various positions in government including an Union Minister for Law and Justice, Special Envoy of PM. Manmohan Singh to Japan in 2013 and chaired several important Parliamentary Committees.
Dr. Kumar represented the Indian government at the highest forums of global diplomacy including in the United Nations General Assembly and the World Economic Forum. He is a senior advocates at the Supreme Court, a former Addditional Solicitor General of India who is widely recognised for his elquence as a spokeperson of the Congress party and for the interllectual depth of his writings. In 2005, he was honoured with Honoris Causa in Law by the Punjab University. He was a visiting Distinguished Fellow at the spoken at the Oxford Human Rights Hub, The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, University of Birmingham and Kings College. London, amongest others. His publications include "Laws, ideas & Ideology in Politics: Perspective of an Activist" and "Hope in a challenged Democracy: An Indian Narrative"(2017).
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