‘Whatever I am today is because of my father’

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Allahabad shaped the man who shaped so many others

‘Home’ is where you live. My home is in Mumbai. It is the city that gave me my present profession, my independent home, my wife, my children and my grandchildren. I lost my parents here, too. My ‘roots’ are where I was born. The earth and environs of Allahabad. So, Mumbai is my ‘karmabhoomi’ and Allahabad, my ‘janmbhoomi’.

From my birth till age 14, I was in Allahabad—14 formative years, of growing up and facing the challenges of life at that age. One of the strange aspects of life is that what you experience in youth remains with you for a longer period than what you did yesterday. I remember most of it—my family, my parents [poet Harivansh Rai and Teji Bachchan] and their status in society, my schooling and its wondrous experiences, friends, incidents, the day of Independence, the cortege of [Mahatma] Gandhiji, and later the corteges of close family friends Panditji [Jawaharlal Nehru], Indiraji, Rajiv and Sanjay [Gandhi]. Then, activities in school, the atmosphere of the city, its language, its importance in the history and culture of our nation.

Allahabad is a unique and vibrant city. It has, through hundreds of years, been blessed with many varied assets. It is an important religious centre because of the triveni sangam—the confluence of the Ganga and Jamuna and the hidden Saraswati—where it is auspicious for Hindus to immerse the ashes of their dead. Alongside is a magnificent fort built by Mughal rulers. There is Allahabad University, one of the four main universities built by the British, a centre of learning. It is the city of Motilal Nehru and Panditji and several important political figures, connected with many freedom movements, hence a huge political centre. The most number of prime ministers of India have been from Allahabad. Five, I think!

It has the Allahabad High Court, the first among the four or five built during the Raj, so is a centre of huge legal importance. And then a great literary centre, with some of the most prominent Indian poets and writers residing and coming from there—Firaq Gorakhpuri, Nirala [Suryakant Tripathi], Mahadevi Verma, [Harivansh Rai] Bachchan and several others.

I was too young then to assimilate what it all meant. The meetings and visits of literary luminaries to the house and my own travels with my father to poetic symposiums must have left an impression, which now reflects in whatever I do and think. One always feels one should have had more time to spend with elders. But lamenting what one missed, in hindsight, has always remained an unexplainable feature of the human race. Whatever I am today is because of my father.

These assets of Allahabad still remain and shall remain eternally. Of course, comparatively and materially, Allahabad has changed with modernity, taking rapid strides, much like other cities in the country. But somehow when, at my age [70], you look back, you view Allahabad differently. There was a quietness about it, or so I believed at that young age, despite its vibrancy. Now, of course, it has grown in many ways. Yet I feel it has still not lost its original qualities. I doubt if it ever will. Most cities exist with an inborn culture and remain in that strain no matter what the circumstances.

I have not been able to visit it as much as I would have liked. But old associations, friends, family, places and people shall always stay within me.