Gopal Das Neeraj or Neeraj is almost 90, Dr Chand Kumari is dead. But the relationship that existed between the two remains fresh and intriguing even today among those in Kanpur who love Hindi poetry.
Neeraj took his bachelor’s and master’s degree in Arts in Kanpur.
Dr. Chand Kumari lived in Kanpur and studied medicine at the medical college in Kanpur.
I have spoken to some people who have been close to Neeraj and Dr. Chand Kumari.
One of them who was Dr. Chand Kumari’s junior by a few years in the medical college said, ‘Dr. Chand Kumari was extremely beautiful. Only a poet like Neeraj could have described her beauty in words.’
She said Dr. Chand Kumari’s family was very rich and conservative. ‘Dr. Chand Kumari’s family would have never consented of her marriage with Neeraj even if they had been in love. Dr. Chand Kumari’s family was conservative and rich whereas Neeraj was poor,’ she said.
According to the doctor, Dr. Chand Kumari was fond of poetry and would often visit poetry recital programmes. Neeraj was a student but had made his mark in Kanpur as a poet. ‘I think that Neeraj and Dr. Chand Kumari had met at some poetry recital,’ said the doctor.
‘Yes, they were friends but I do not know if they were in love with each other. Whatever the relationship, they did not make it public,’ she said.
Dr. Chand Kumari’s later got married to a doctor.
Several anecdotes and myths related to Neeraj even today remain fresh.
According to a popular myth, Dr. Chand Kumari and Neeraj lived at the two ends of the same street. Neeraj saw her ‘vidaai ceremony’ and the resulted was poem (later used as a lyric in a movie - ) ‘Karwan gujar gaya, gubaar dekhte rahe…..’(ehttp://ramprasadbismil.blogspot.in/2010/11/karwan-guzar-gaya-gopaldas-neeraj.html.). The word ‘chand’ finds a place in the poem.
I asked the doctor how much veracious the anecdote is. ‘I am not sure. But Dr. Chand Kumari’s marriage is a fact. Neeraj writing that soulful song is a fact. You have to infer things,’ she said.
Another anecdote says that Neeraj would write a letter to Dr Chand Kumari nearly every day.
‘The protagonist in one of Neeraj’s poems writes a letter nearly every day and sends it to somebody by post. In the same poem, Neeraj mentions the neighbourhood in which Dr. Chand Kumari lived when she was young,’ Kamal Musaddi, a poet and professor of Kanpur told me.
Neeraj’s two lyrics start with khat and pati, both Hindi synonyms of letter.
One is Phoolon ke rang se, dil ki kalam se, tujh ko likhi roj pati…… (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4iYbxFBZKQ), and the other one is Likhe jo khat tujhe, who teri yaad mein….(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ax8OWmkhOEQ).
‘It can be said that Neeraj’s writing letter to Dr. Chand Kumari are reflected in the two songs,’ said Musaddi.
‘Going by the way his lyrics and poems ooze with love, it can be definitely said he was very, very deeply in love with somebody. Chand Kumari is no more. Either God or Neeraj can say what relationship existed between the two persons. But then there is no smoke without fire,” said Musaddi.
“At the same time, there is much of hearsay about Neeraj and Chand Kumari. After reading his poems, it is very clear that he was deeply in love but that love was platonic. It was more of Sufism,” she said.
“I have known him closely but he has never talked about his love. Today it will seem very incongruent to ask a person who is almost 90 to ask about his relationships,” said Musaddi.
Recalling the times spent with Neeraj, a former councillor of Kanpur, Anil Bajpai Bhullar said, ‘Once, around thirty years back, I was taking Neeraj to a kavi sammelan. We were travelling in an Ambassador car when we had to stop as the car broke down. As the car was being repaired I casually asked Neeraj to explain the line baadal, bijli, chandan, pani jaisa apna pyaar that’s repeated in the song phoolon ke rang se, dil ki kalam se…..
‘Neeraj said “baadal jaisa vistrit, bijli jaise swabhimaani, chandan jaisa pavitra, pani ke jaisa nirantar behne wala – aisa hona chahiye pyaar.” I had goose bumps,’ said Bhullar.
Pramod Tiwari, a veteran journalist of Kanpur who is close Neeraj, said, ‘The word Chand frequently appeared in Neeraj’s poems and lyrics so people concluded that he was in love with Dr Chand Kumari. Neeraj has never given a direct reply. He smiles or chuckles or keeps mum when asked about the relationship,’ Tiwari had said.
‘I you are so interested why don’t you talk to him? He is Bombay nowadays and I have his number,’ Tiwari suddenly asked me.
‘He is almost 90. Don’t you think he will feel uncomfortable in giving replies?’
‘If Neeraj comes to Kanpur today to participate in a programme, many people will ask him about his relationship with Dr Chand Kumari,’ Tiwari said.
My fingers shook as I dialled Neeraj’s number. There were many reasons – I was overawed by Neeraj’s personality as a poet and lyricist.
People in Kanpur who are or were close to Neeraj say with their chest puffed out how once they made drinks for Neeraj before Kavi sammelan or lit his bidi. Secondly, I had to ask him an uncomfortable question.
I swallowed several times. Finally I took some deep breaths and dialled his number. But my throat became dry the moment I heard the ring of the other side.
‘Hello,’ said a hoarse voice on the other side. I could make out that the person on the other side was sick and having difficulty in talking.
I politely introduced myself and asked, ‘Am I talking to Gopal Das Neeraj?’
‘Yes!’ came a hoarse from the other side.
I introduced myself and said I was writing a piece on him for Valentine’s Day.
He coughed, cleared his throat, chuckled and said, ‘What have I got to do with Valentine’s Day?’
My dilemma was increasing. I decided to come to the point directly.
I bluntly asked, ‘What was your relationship with Dr. Chand Kumari?’
‘I have been asked this question thousands of times. Everything said about me and Chand Kumari is trash. We had a very pious relationship. Like that of a mother and son,’ said Neeraj.
‘Okay. Thanks a lot.’
After much research, I still had not got the answer to many questions – Were Neeraj and Dr Chand Kumari in love? Did Neeraj’s love remain unrequited? Or was Dr. Chand Kumari Neeraj’s muse and nothing else?