Harivansh Rai Bachchan was an Indian poet of the Nayi Kavita literary movement (romantic upsurge) of early 20th century Hindi literature. November 26 is his 113rd birth anniversary.
Born in an Awadhi Indian Hindu family of the Srivastava clan of the Kayastha caste, in the village of Babupatti, in the district of Pratapgarh, in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh in British India, he was also a poet of the Hindi Kavi Sammelan. He is best known for his early work Madhushala. In 1976, he received the Padma Bhushan for his service to Hindi literature.
Harivansh Rai Bachchan started his education at a municipal school. It was the same time that he also started learning Urdu from Kayasth Paathshaalas. Later, he pursued his higher education at Allahabad University and Banaras Hindu University.
In 1941 he joined the English department of Allahabad University as a faculty and taught there till 1952. He then went to Cambridge for two years to do his doctoral thesis on W.B Yeats and occultism, becoming the second Indian to get a Ph. D. in English Literature from this university. It was also during this time that he dropped Srivastav from his name and used Bachchan as his last name. He then came back to India and took up teaching, while at the same time, serving some time at the Allahabad station of All India Radio.
Bachchan is best remembered for his 142 verse lyrical poem “Madhushala” (The House of Wine), which was published in 1935. This work catapulted him as the foremost Hindi poet and was subsequently, translated into English and several Indian languages. The poem became a craze and was even performed on stage. “Madhushala” was a part of his poetic trilogy, the other two being Madhubaala and Madhukalash. It is on this trilogy that his fame rests.
In 1969, he published the first of his four-part autobiography ‘Kya bhooloon kya yaad karoon’. The second part ‘Need ka nirmaan fir’ was published in 1970, the third ‘Basere se door’ in 1977, and the last part ‘Dashdwaar se sopaan tak’ in 1985. The series was well-received and an abridged English translation by Rupert Snell, ‘In the Afternoon of Time’, was published in 1998. It is now considered to be a landmark in Hindi literature. Throughout his teaching career and while working in the External Affairs ministry and later, Bachchan published about 30 poetry collections as well as other works in Hindi like essays, travelogues, and a few songs for the Hindi film industry. He also read his poems to large audiences. His last poem ‘Ek November 1984′ based on Indira Gandhi’s assassination was written in November 1984.
In 1966, Harivansh Rai Bachchan was nominated to the Rajya Sabha and in 1969 he received the Sahitya Akademi Award. Seven years later the Government of India bestowed on him the Padma Bhushan in recognition for his contribution to Hindi literature. Also, he was awarded the Soviet Land Nehru Award, the Lotus Award of the Afro-Asian writers’ conference, and the Saraswati Samman. The Uttar Pradesh government conferred him the “Yash Bharati” Samman in 1994. A postage stamp was released in 2003 in his memory.