By Jasleen Kaur
What is serene can bear strength and breed warriors. The strength of a land or country isn’t measured by the arms it possesses, but its people. Most people fight to kill, but some have swords that cut not the flesh but the desires that blind us. They fight with their pens and their voice and that is when true wars are won; the wars that are fought on the battleground of ideologies. The state of the foothills of Himalayas, known for its scenic beauty, mesmerizing landscapes, pilgrim destinations and its hospitable people, is a mother to many such warriors. Among them is the one whose sword didn’t rend but healed and uplifted. He was a poet, a playwright, a singer, a lyricist, an actor, an activist and a common man’s friend. He was Girda.
Girish Chandra Tiwari, also known as Girda, was born to Hansadatt Tiwari and Jeevanti Tiwari on 9th September 1945 in Jyoli Hawalbagh district of Almora. Coming from a financially affluent family, he was sent away from home for his education even though he didn’t have any formal schooling until 6th grade. He completed his metric from Rajkiya Inter College in Almora and then went to Ashdale School, Nainital for his intermediate but didn’t pursue higher education.
The idea of living the common mundane life never interested Girda; he wanted to devote every single second of his life to a greater cause. Perhaps this is why he was inquisitive about what went on in a common man’s life and adamant on building a connection with it. His humility and rootedness allowed him to take pride in whatever job he took up, regardless of the presumptions the society linked it with. He didn’t mind doing odd jobs to earn a livelihood. On some occasions, he would be seen pulling a rickshaw under the sweltering sun of Lucknow and on the others, he would do menial jobs at the Public Works Department and the Hydel Department. No matter the job, he would give it his all. He didn’t believe in the practice connecting a profession or social status of a person with his/her character.
Girda was fascinated with literary and performing arts. While his work would keep his stomach full, art, to him, was the gust of fresh morning air that would breathe life in him every single day. At the age of 21, he got his first big break when he met writer and lyricist Bijendra Lal Shah, known for his original composition Bedu Pako. Shah saw through Girda and commended and acknowledged his potential as a performer. Laudation from a distinguished personality such as him was all the motivation Girda needed to set forth on a journey to chase his dreams.
Following Shah’s advice, he used the magnificence of his voice to his utmost advantage on stage with theatre under the guidance of Tara Dutt Sati. His most renowned performances include his roles in“Bharat Durdasha” and “Andha Yug”. Gradually, his interest spanned towards writing, directing and composing music for plays. Most notable of his works as a playwright include “Nagare Khamoosh Hain” and “Dhanush Yagya” both of which are political satires. Besides being a playwright, he also directed plays like “Andha Yug”, “Andher Nagri” and “Thank you Mr. Glad”. He made his cinematic debut with “Vasiyat”, a Rajeev Kumar directorial.
Besides drama, poetry held a special significance in Girda’s heart. Poetry is the fastest and the best channel for the flow of thoughts, leading straight into the hearts of the listeners. Almost all of his writings are woven around his homeland, which is why he is known as “Uttarakhand’s Neruda” in the literary circle. He held huge admiration for the Pakistani poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and translated many of his works from Urdu to Kumaoni, including the famous “Hum dekhenge, lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge”. He believed that poetry should be written in a language best understood by the masses. Being comfortable in a language deepens the connection with the audience. That is why he wanted the excellent works written in different languages to reach to the people of Uttarakhand. He was the first to introduce Hindi drama to the Kumaon.
For his excellent oratory skills, he was often invited by the All India Radio to do shows and his inclination towards drama, music and poetry fetched him a job at the Song and Drama Division of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in 1967.
Girda wrote not only for pleasure and self satisfaction, but for a cause. He was a social activist and his poems always had a motive behind them. He took active part in any movement that concerned the wellbeing of his fellowmen by using is poetry as a tool. His voice infused his words with passion. His verses, like pearls, freshly fished out of the vast ocean from within , were strung together into a sautoir by his enigmatic voice. Such was his magic.
In 1973, when the abundant natural resources of the forests of Nainital and Chamoli were being plundered, he lent his support in every way he could. He protested in his own unique way by writing for the people. He voiced his deepest concerns and biggest dreams, so they could reverberate in their hearts and keep their fires from flickering.
“Iss Vyapaari Ko Pyaas Bahot Hai” talks about how the lust for materialism and commercialism have consumed people to an extent that they are blind to the consequences of their actions.
“Mahal-chaubarein beh jaenge
Khaali raukhadhh reh jaenge
Buund-buund ko tarsoge jab
Bolo vyaapari- tab kya hoga?”- Girda, Iss Vyaapari Ko pyaas bahot hai
Girda held strong opinions with no censorship. He would sarcastically remark upon eminent political personalities without a second thought. Once, he called Yadav a traitor for using the resources of the Himalayan region while bearing ill-will against the natives of Uttarakhand. He believed that no true development or progress could take place without keeping the well-being of the flora and fauna as their priority. He explained to people the consequences of deforestation and consumerism to the best of his ability. The following lines by Girda are a plea for people to come forward and put an end to the auctioning of their Devbhoomi.
“Aaj himalaya tumin ke dhattyu cha,
Jag oho jago mere lal,
Nahin kari di halo hamro neelami
Nahin kari di halo hamro neelami” – Girda
While the movement started out on a peaceful note, there were some disruptions at its peak. On one instance, when the locals were trying to protect their trees by embracing them, the enraged opposition forces fired some gunshots. Regarding this incident, Girda said, “In 1942, during the independence movement, the British fired two rounds in Nainital. Since then, there was never any firing in Nainital.”
In 1994, Uttaranchal was blazing in the fire of demand for separate statehood for Uttarakhand. It is marked as one of the most crucial and bloody periods in the timeline of Uttarakhand’s history. Every organisation, artist, writer, poet, dancer came forth to lend their support. Although Girda served the government, he sympathised with the cause of the people and took voluntarily retirement from his job at the Information and Broadcasting Committee to devote all of his time to aid in the movement.
He worked alongside Prasad Uniyal and made Mussourie and Almora the headquarters for controlling the mass movement. With a hudka in his hands, he would perform his poems for the people, rejuvenating every mind, heart and soul they poured upon. His words, wrapped in the aroma of mountainous soil, filled the air with passion.
“Uttarakhand meri matrabhuumi
Matrabhuumi meri pitrabhuumi
Bhuumi, teri jaya jaya kara
Myar Himala.”- Girda, Myer Himala
His song, “Jaita Ek Din Toh Aalo” became an anthem for the movement.
He wanted to unite people not just for the sake of fighting for a common cause, but also to break the ancient walls of prejudice and caste to come together as a community. Hudka, considered an instrument fit for the lower classes which dance and entertain for a living, was the instrument of choice of Girda. He was rebuked for playing and even having it in his possession due to his Brahmin lineage. He played it nevertheless, smashing down all the stereotypes and social stigmas surrounding it. He would often spend time with Nepalese labourers and learn more about their language and culture. He would often try to minimise the language barrier by acting as a translator.
Later on, he participated in the “Nasha nahin Rozagar do” movement which was aimed at curbing the increasing rate of alcoholism and unemployment in the youth. In 1978, he edited a magazine named “Hamari Kavita ke Ankhar” and became one of the founding members of the Editorial Board of PAHAR. In 1984-85, he founded Jagar institution. In 1999, he worked on “Rang Dari Dio Ho Albainim Main” and in 2002 , he created Uttarakhand Kavya which later on published all of his work For the next couple of years, Girda performed on invitation in throughout India and abroad and he shone the limelight on other lesser known artist. He helped Jhusia Dumai in attaining the fame and appreciation he deserved.
Girda lived miles away from the complexities of by city life and took pride in the simple yet fulfilling life offered by his hilly retreat. He could’ve been a nation-wide phenomenon had he chosen to write just in Hindi. Yet, he chose his brothers and sisters from Kumaon and devoted his entire life to their cause. He treated everyone as his equal and wanted to be treated likewise, hence, he urged everyone to call him by just his name with no honorary suffix adjoining it. From a seven year-old kid to a seventy year-old elderly, he was “Girda” to everyone.
The only thing he went wrong with is cigarettes. His friends and loved ones would advice him against smoking and often hid his cigarettes. On not getting hold of his smoke, he would frantically search for them throughout the house. Due to excessive smoking, he soon developed a serious respiratory disease. Alas, his meagre pension wasn’t enough for him to afford good healthcare.
On 22nd August, 2010, Girda finally took leave from this world, leaving behind his wife, two sons and a million shattered hearts. In 2015, five years after his death, he was awarded the Kumaon Literary Festival Lifetime Achievement award.
His mortal cast has now been reunited with the land he was born on but he continues to live on in pages and in our hippocampus. Girda left behind a legacy of poetry, dreams and bits of himself in our memories, but a question arises, are we keeping it safe? Are we dreaming the same dreams as him and working for them? Do we really understand the motive behind his poems and songs? Are we really working to preserve our cultural heritage? Is this the Uttarakhand Girda longed for? Our present holds the answers to our future, but time is running out. It is time for us to come out as one and work for the common dream Girda dreamt for us. Time and tide wait for none. Every second wasted is lost forever. Let us save our cultural heritage before it’s too late. Our story is being etched on the stones of time and we bear the hammer and the chisel.
“Dil lagane mein waqt lagta hai, duub jane mein waqt lagta hai,
Waqt jaane mein kucch nahin lagta, waqt “aane” mein waqt lagta