‘Gillu’ is the name of a very popular Hindi story written by noted Hindi writer Mahadevi Verma. Gillu was a part of our school’s Hindi curriculum. NCERT books have this story even now. I was particularly fond of Hindi subject and read all course books like story books the moment they were purchased.
NCERT Hindi books have a beautiful selection of stories, plays, poems and translated works by acclaimed Hindi writers from different phases of Hindi literature. But, for us, they were just stories. We read them in a matter of fact way, remembered a few and the rest were forgotten.
The education system also emphasised on just touching upon the works, grasp a defined meaning, often a constricted one, and merely write the expected answers to questions, within a format. Rarely did the curriculum leave enough time for us to appreciate the prose or poetry as literature, or explore other works of the writer.
That apart, there were still many stories and poems that stayed with us and we can recite some of the poems verbatim. For me, one such writer is Mahadevi Verma. Her stories are narrated in simple words, written as if the writer is speaking to you directly.
Mahadevi Verma was an academician, poet, novelist and a social reformer who witnessed pre and post-independence India in her lifetime. She was known for her writing in khadi boli and her work was hailed to leave a deep emotional impact on the readers. In many of her stories she spoke about her bond with nature and attachment with life around her.
Gillu is a real story about a small squirrel which fell down from a tree at the writer’s house. The writer cared for her and brought her to life. The squirrel, though set free after recuperating, continued to live around her like her own family member. Mahadevi Verma lived a solutary life. Once she fell ill and went to hospital for treatment. The squirrel stopped eating till she returned home. The tiny creature even tried to look after her in her own little ways. After living a limited life span of two years, Gillu breathed last in Mahadevi’s care. She buried Gillu in her garden under a flowering tree. Yellow golden flowers burst on the tree after few days, an emblem of love between the creature and a deeply sensitive human being.
She wrote the story ‘Gaura’ after her cow, whom she brought home as a young calf. Gaura grew up into beautiful white cow with docile eyes resembling a deer. Gaura gave birth to her own calf after few months and writer gives an endearing account of the two bovine animals living and recognising her as a loved one. She narrates the presence of the cow like she would for a family member. One can read through the deep connections she had with nature. Gaura meets a tragic end when someone gives the cow a needle in her food for petty selfish reasons. Writer goes through deep anguish witnessing the animal’s suffering in her last days. Taking the life of an animal without mercy or thought, is the central theme and message of the story.
These stories indeed make us think about other life forms around us. Every life is precious, every living breathing animal, insect and even plants feel pain. They understand love and care and are capable of reciprocating it.
After reading Gillu, I was sullen and sad, for days. Every squirrel in the garden reminded me of the story. I wondered, if we had the same compassion as the writer had for Gillu, we could have many more of such stories.
Mahadevi Verma wrote a beautiful poem titled ‘Gauraiya’, the House Sparrow.
“आँधी आई जोर शोर से,
डालें टूटी हैं झकोर से।
उड़ा घोंसला अंडे फूटे,
किससे दुख की बात कहेगी!
अब यह चिड़िया कहाँ रहेगी?
हमने खोला आलमारी को,
बुला रहे हैं बेचारी को।
पर वो चीं-चीं कर्राती है
घर में तो वो नहीं रहेगी!
घर में पेड़ कहाँ से लाएँ,
कैसे यह घोंसला बनाएँ!
कैसे फूटे अंडे जोड़े,
किससे यह सब बात कहेगी!
अब यह चिड़िया कहाँ रहेगी?”
March 20th is celebrated as International Day of Sparrow. Sparrow, known as Gauraiya, the little brown and white speckled bird that jumped and chirped on every tree till a few years ago, is hardly visible anywhere. The reasons are many, and most of them man made. We take the little bird for granted and no concrete efforts have been taken towards it’s conservation.
Rising temperature, brick, cement structures, lack of small trees to nest, dwindling food sources, radiation from communication towers, lack of green cover in cities, noise pollution, to name a few. Mahadevi spoke about this decades ago so beautifully through this poem.
Sparrow that coexisted with us for more than 10,000 years, is on the brink of extinction. I wonder how we can bring about a sensitisation towards birds, animals and nature in younger generation when they have not even seen what living close to nature looks like.
Writers like Mahadevi Verma and their stories are more relevant today than any other time in history.