Monday, February 4, 2013

Remembering Maninder Singh Kang

By Rajesh Sharma

I visualize him watching his own burning corpse and laughing a philosopher’s laughter. “Oye pandatā, this Kang was a dog’s tail of a man. Look, he is poking even the flames to laugh. What a struggle the wind and the fire are waging over his body. And look at the rain, it refuses to stop. His death seems to have released an excess of the five bhoots, making nature go berserk.”
                Listening to him, I try to make sense of his bizarre inner geography.
                “He’ll be impossible to replace. It’s such a loss,” he adds in an altogether different mood.
      Maninder had this ability to move effortlessly between gaiety and gravity. He probably had found the thread that connects the extremes.
                I met him some twenty years ago when he arrived to teach in the college where I was already teaching. That college, in Hoshiarpur, had then a Principal who liked to take himself very seriously. And he had managed to surround himself with men and women who competed with one another to sustain their boss’s precarious endeavours. Maninder, it seems, had been dropped in this theatre of the ludicrous by some malicious naughty gods. One day as the Principal sat basking in the sweat-scented congregation of his flattering chamchas and chamchis, officially designated as a staff meeting, he walked in late, went straight to the Principal’s side, put both hands on his table, bent a bit low, and began, “Bhāji, the office boy told me you wanted to see me. I am not really late. I was sitting in vacant classroom and reading. I had the room bolted from outside to avoid being disturbed. Yes, may I know why you called me?”
                The boss’s lips twisted under the unaesthetic imbalance of his recalcitrant moustache. We knew his pride had been wounded: the twisted lips always indicated the throes of a struggle to put himself into words, in which he always failed, so that he ended up frothing at the corners of the mouth. How could a mere teacher, that too on probation, treat him like an ordinary mortal? Maninder’s fate was sealed. Soon enough, when he booked half a dozen boys for using unfair means during an examination, the principled Principal persuaded the college management to terminate his services. He was again on the road.
                He had once given me a book to read. It was titled Oddballs. I was to gradually discover what a great oddball Maninder himself was.
                Years later I found him again when his story Bhār was published. I called him. He almost sang with happiness to hear my voice after all those years. After that we used to talk once or twice a month. More often it was he who called. And he invariably scolded me for not calling him. I had to reinvent all the banal excuses at my disposal. He always forgave.
                He came to meet me last year when he was visiting some relations in Patiala city. He borrowed a scooter and rode through the cruel traffic all the way to my house which is quite far from the city. “I can’t see clearly in the evenings, but I pushed on. I had to meet you, Rajesh baba.” He had come to pat me for co-editing the journal South Asian Ensemble. He loved the way I wrote. He liked that I had not let myself die under the weight of trivialities. He wanted me to write in English on Punjabi culture. “There is a world of work waiting to be done. We’ll sit down soon again and I’ll tell you what you should do,” he spoke with a conviction that was irresistibly infectious. Had he been in some university, how many people he would have inspired, driven, even kicked. And they would have been grateful. Some say he could not get a teaching position in a university because he had a tendency to kick the wrong people. They are perhaps right. His goodness was irrepressible. He hit you to do you a good turn. Unfortunately, not many recipients of his eccentric generosity had a heart as large as his.
But then he had an incredibly large heart. He never bore a grudge against anyone, not against life, not even against the generality the vulgar-minded call ‘the world’. Others felt he had never got even a fraction of what should have been ensured to a man of his caliber. Yet he never complained. Maybe he knew that exile was the price he had to pay to preserve his intellectual integrity and creative edge. That may be the reason he never tried to be politically correct.


Daljit Ami said...

Goodbye Maninder Kang. You left me speechless as always but this time it is too hard.

rakesh sharma said...

he was in a great to keep moving

vinod mittal said...

its too hard to accept the truth...

vinod mittal said...

its too hard to accept the truth...

Badri Raina said...

salt of the earth; the stuff of authenticity; many thanks
for sharing; my blessings as always go out to thee for being there
on the side of the brave and the beautiful, me excepted, although i am not too bad either.
much love,

Sarvan Minhas said...

It is a very sad and disturbing news. I knew Maninder from the time he was a student at our University. He would call on us occasionally and, to be honest, he struck me as a little unusual, if not eccentric, in his demeanour, but that I suppose is a trait of all genuinely creative people. I met him rarely after he left Patiala. When in the first issue of 'Hun', my 'nikka mota baajra' appeared, he called me to express his appreciation of the little stories. One of the stories in particular had disturbed him and he kept asking me probing questions. The protagonist in the story had died a premature death.

Alpna Saini said...

I remember reading Bhaar and getting goose bumps. May his memory rest in peace. (Not sure about souls!)

Kapil said...

Few can dare to be what they are. One must tolerate all the pain of negligence and obscurity it entails. But it is much better than to be a stranger to oneself, which is like committing suicide.