The Bold Voice of J&K

Remembering Anupam Mishra

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Atul K Thakur
It didn’t remain an easy winter evening when a news alert flashed in my phone screen on 19th December, 2016: ‘Environmentalist Anupam Mishra is no more’. I thought winter is dead too. I was travelling to eastern Uttar Pradesh for a conference, so it was not possible to return to Delhi immediately and see one last time, probably the city’s most simple person with extraordinary attributes. With late information, I couldn’t meet him when he was ailing (with cancer). This will endure as a remorse.
He was a Gandhian, author, journalist, environmentalist and water conservationist who worked for decades on promoting water conservation, efficient water management and community wisdom driven rainwater harvesting. His books, Aaj Bhi Khare Hain Talaab (1993) and Rajasthan Ki Rajat Boondein (1995), are considered landmark works in the field of water conservation.
Anupam Mishra was born in a family of luminaries at Wardha, Maharashtra, in 1948. Bhavani Prasad Mishra, a prominent Hindi poet and author, was his father. His extraordinary command over the languages, especially Hindi, was on that family fulcrum and through his own lifelong learning pursuits. He worked at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi in varying capacities since completing his college education in 1969.
Working with the iconic environmentalist Chandi Prasad Bhatt, he was one of the early chroniclers of the Chipko movement that flourished through the 1970s in Uttarakhand, and published the Chipko movement: Uttarakhand women’s Bid to Save Forest Wealth (People’s Action, 1978), with Satyendra Tripathi.
His actual contributions were far bigger to the causes he stood for, and not all are in the public domain as he was not a believer in taking individual credit for anything. He also didn’t maintain a trail of his published works and left open them as ‘copyright-free resources’. A silent hero, he worked hard to make humanity better, by giving traction to the causes mattered most for environment and in general.
I had the good fortune to know him in 2012, when I was in search of an essay for my first book (Ed), India Now and in Transition. Sopan Joshi, a bearer of great legacy on environmental causes and a remarkable researcher at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, made me meet Anupamji. Although, out of choice and to maintain his commitment to the rashtrabhasha, he had written mostly in Hindi, he kindly agreed to contribute to the book, seeing I was very young and persistent with my humble demand. What finally I received was one of the finest essays I had ever read on the social side of environmentalism: ‘Sadhya, Sadhan Aur Sadhna’, translated by the bilingual scholar Sopan Joshi.
Later on, I met him on many occasions – and was always humbled by his warmth and simplicity. For him, everyone was equal – and doing it was normal for him as he kept his works delinked from the pressure of ‘power centres’. By training, very few people know, he was an engineer from the University of Roorkee (now IIT Roorkee). He did his best to keep himself away from ‘isms’ and ‘blocks’; he worked on Gandhian principles and for environmental causes but without aiming to be known as either of the two.
Gandhi Marg, a Gandhi Peace Foundation journal, he edited for decades, reflects well the healthy tradition of this institution and worldview of him. Anupamji remained life-devotee for Gandhi Peace Foundation that housed the intellectual discussions from people with different ideologies. He remained receptive to all but without losing his own stand. Also, he was firm in giving due space to ‘time’. He didn’t chase a deadline, as he cherished every moment that he lived.
With his premature departure, there is a void now that is hard to be filled. In frenzied times like these, it was hard to see a better anti-thesis than him. He always appeared calm, never in a hurry to do anything but without ever stopping his work. Anupamji was a voracious reader, well-travelled (like a common traveller) and a supremely sensible person – for whom it was always easy to comfort people with his pious thoughts.
He was a mahatma without living in its form; he was a karmayogi without being professional, and he was a scholar without pretension or bias. Stepping inside the Gandhi Peace Foundation will be never be the same again for anyone who had met Anupamji even once. I felt it while attending a memorial meeting for him. The arrangement was spartan, and it was attended by both ordinary people and intellectuals.
Only with little needs in a lifetime and humility, can one be in the league of Anupam Mishra. He didn’t live or die like an ordinary mortal; his goal was clear in life and it was never individualistic. Many memories are with him, and all will stay with me.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist and author)

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