Harivansh Rai Bachchan burst upon the horizon of Hindi poetry as a bright star one evening in 1935 with his recitation of Madhushala to a huge audience, unfolding to listeners an enchanting world with a ring of Omar Khayyam.
He was to carve out another niche for himself decades later with his autobiography in four volumes, beginning with “Kya bhoolun kya yaad karoon (What to forget and what to remember)”, regarded till date as a literary masterpiece.
In a literary career spanning more than 50 years, he captured the imagination of readers and continued to hold it with an unbroken series achievements.
Born in Allahabad on November 27, 1907, Bachchan had early education there and later studied at Allahabad University and Benaras Hindu University.
He then taught at Allahabad University from 1941 to 1952, before moving to Cambridge for research. Bachchan, who failed college twice, ironically went on to become the first Indian to acquire a Ph.D. in English from Cambridge University.
On his return, Harivansh Rai Bachchan resumed teaching. After a short stint as a producer in All India Radio, he joined the ministry of external affairs in New Delhi in 1955.
In recognition of his contribution to the Hindi language, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1966. He was also awarded the Padma Bhushan, K.K. Birla Foundation’s first Saraswati Samman, Sahitya Akademi award, Soviet Land Nehru Prize and the Afro-Asian Writers’ Conference Lotus Prize.
His early writings consisted of the trilogy of Madhushala, Madhubala and Madhukalash, noted for his profound sensitivity and simple diction. This was followed by some of the finest lyrical poetry. He has about 30 collections of poems to his credit.
He translated the BhagwadGita, as well as the works of W.B. Yeats, Shakespeare and Omar Khayyam, among others.