28 February, 2021

Alone With Solitude

The Jnanpith award can do little to upset the silent, internal spaces for Nirmal Verma

Prashant Panjiar
Alone With Solitude

Mistaken, hilariously, both for an Eskimo and a Japanese, there is something sparrow-like about the renowned Hindi writer, Nirmal Verma: his diminutive frame, his tiny voice, his timorous friendliness. But that's as far as it goes. He has none of the sparrow's chatty squabbliness, none of its instinct for companionship or community. As a young boy in fact - the fifth out of eight children - Verma used to cocoon himself in from the boisterous tumble of life with his siblings by playing an unusual and solitary game. He would imagine death close at hand. Impending. Five minutes away. Then compelled by its urgency, he would try and remember all the things he held most dear - before dying. "It was just a morbid little game," laughs Verma, a trifle self-consciously. But at 71, those early preoccupations with death, memory and solitude still persist, shaping him as a writer and defining him as a man.

Meeting Verma amid the refined clutter of books and the material frugality of his crumbling barsati in Karol Bagh (he has only recently shifted to the...

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