Discovering Umashankar Joshi

It was not like every other day. I woke up late, maid didn’t turn up and car was punctured. Well, it didn’t end there. Later, I got stuck in a traffic jam. While cursing my luck and answering multiple calls from office, I saw a signboard. It read ‘Umashankar Joshi marg’. Umashankar Joshi, name sounded familiar but I was not able to recollect. After an hour’s struggle, I finally managed to reach the office. And that day, just out of curiosity, the first thing I did was to Google ‘Umashankar Joshi’.

Umashankar Joshi, the way he preferred to be introduced, is an Indian writer who wrote in Gujarati. This one line itself was enough for me to search more about a man who was so sensitive about the literary society and the way world perceives it. Joshi was born in 1911 in a small village named Bumna in the north of Gujarat. He joined Gandhi in the freedom struggle and went to jail many times while fighting for country’s independence.

Over five decades, Umashankar Joshi has given a lot to Gujarat and the country. He was a professor and then later the vice-chancellor of Gujarat University; he was then the chancellor of Vishwa Bharti University that was founded by Rabindranath Tagore. He was also a member of Rajya Sabha and the President of Sahitya Academy and Gujarat Sahitya Parishad. Apart from receiving honors like Soviet Land Nehru Award, Delhi Sahitya Academy Award, Ranjitram Suvarna Chandrak, Narmad Suvarna Chandrak, he was also awarded with Jnanpith Award in 1967 for “Nishith” – a collection of poems.

Joshi has published around 70 books. He helped change people’s perception about poetry and other styles of creative writing. He always insisted on freeing Indian literature from narrow regionalism and viewing it in totality. While he never supported any political ideology, he always believed in the unshaken faith of humanism. He advocated the concept of freedom and world peace. The revolting writer was the first one to question the disillusionment with India’s freedom in ‘Haveli’ – a collection of dramas. One of his dear friends Sarabhai said “Joshi will always be remembered through his poetry, stories, plays, essays. But most importantly, he will be missed for his sense of humor.”

A person who was one of the nerve-centers of all the literary activities happening in the country and who dedicated his life for the betterment of the society needs to be remembered. I’m glad I saw that signboard. Keep looking for signboards whenever you are stuck in traffic next time. You never know, you may end up gaining a lot more while losing a little time. I still thank god that it was not just another day.

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