In Memoriam: Prof. Manager Pandey

The JNUTA expresses its grief the demise of Prof Manager Pandey, a doyen of Hindi literary criticism and a towering figure, both in JNU and beyond. Prof. Pandey will always be remembered in the university for his inspiring and transformative contributions in building the Centre of Indian Languages and the university as a vibrant intellectual space, his incisive mind, his air of utmost accessibility, his sparkling wit and twinkling eyes, and above all, his incisive and rigorous intellect. The JNUTA pays its heartfelt tributes to the memory of this great scholar, critic and generous teacher and prays that his family has the strength to bear this loss.

The following note of homage has been prepared at the TA’s request by Prof. Deo Shankar Navin, his long-time colleague and friend.

The foremost and earliest spokesperson for the inclusion of four vital thought-perspectives in Hindi literary criticism, viz, a sense of history, sociological insights and Dalit and Gender sensitivity, Prof. Manager Pandey breathed his last on 6th November 2022.  His last rites were conducted at the Lodhi Crematorium the following day. He was 81 years old.

Prof. Pandey was born in Lohati village of Gopalganj district in Bihar on 23rd December 1941. His early education took place in his village after which he went to Benaras Hindu University for higher studies.He was reared in a purely agricultural social milieu and he was the first person in his family to go in for eucation. His parents had a keen interest in his studies. He was the first graduate from his village. His mother passed away when he was in class five and he had little recollection of her, other than that she wanted to see him highly educated. His upbringing was under the care of his widowed paternal aunt. 

In 1968, under the guidance of Prof. Jagannath Prasad Sharma, he completed his doctoral thesis titled: ‘Sur ka Kavya: Parampara aur Pratibha’ and thereafter, in 1969, started his teaching career at Bareily College. On 7 July 1970 he came to Jodhpur University and seven years later on 11 March 1977, he joined the Centre for Indian Languages in the Jawaherlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He retired from the post of Professor on 30th September 2006. His prominent and well-known books include Shabd aur Karm (1981), Sahitya aur Itihaas-Drishti (1981), Sahitya mein Samajshastra ki Bhoomika (1989), Bhakti Aandolan aur Surdas ka Kaavya (1993), Sankat ke Bawajood (1998), Anbhay Saancha (2002), Aalochana ki Samajikta (2005), Mere Sakshaatkaar (1998), Mein Bhi Munh Mein Zubaan Rakhta Hoon (2006).

Prof. Pandey used to say that writing criticism was akin to a form of struggle – and this struggle was a perpetual feature in his life. His mother died when he was in class five and he had to postpone his studies when he was in class nine due to his father’s severe illness after which he resumed his studies. When he arrived in Benaras Hindu University for higher studies, he became involved in political acticvities. He was interested in the study of Political Science but he was unable to secure admission in that programme due to academic politics. But he did not give up and passed his graduate exam in First division. What is pertinent is that though his wish was not fulfilled, the world of Hindi Literature gained a ‘Manager Pandey’. Life acquired a steady rhythm but unfortunately his father passed away at a time when the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, led to a 48-hour blockade of all roads leading from Delhi to Gopalganj. The agony of those 48 hours created stressful conditions leading to the onset of diabetes at the age of 40-42 years. Barely had he begun to cope with this condition when he sustained a paralytic stroke on his face. But then, he was Manager Pandey – he transcended all trials and tribulations. In the years ahead, his innocent son was brutally killed by the Bihar police which caused him the deepest of anguish. The sight of his dead son, his young daughter-in-law and infant granddaughter would have broken anybody but Manager Pandey. His indomitable spirit, his intellectual prowess, his critical assertions and writing acumen remained steadfast. He was never weakened by any other allurements and he lived life on his own terms. 

Prof. Manager Pandey was among the few literary critics who believed that the responsibility of literary criticism was to struggle for the creation of a new culture. His critical methods not only interpreted literary works but also their social identity because every literary work acquires significance through its social context and identity. From around 1972-73, Prof Pandey’s literary criticsm acquired greater intensity. The sources of his inspiration were the ordinary citizens grappling with the daily-life struggles, the Dalit community fighting for its identity and the heart-rending battle by women searching for their own visages. Other pressing challenges in the country also contributed to sharpening his critical acumen and led him to champion the cause of the deprived and down-trodden masses.

Prof. Pandey firmly believed that any movement could only become meaningful by becoming a part of larger social transformation for which new thinking and perceptions were necessary. Those who are familiar with the multidimensional facets of his life, writings and teaching, would be able to grasp his struggles better. He stressed the importance of a sense of history, sociological perspectives and dalit and gender sensitivity in the study of Hindi LIterature. But, he equally emphasised the use of primary sources and textual study in his injuctions to the new generation of scholars.

Notwithstanding his intellectual rigour, Prof Manager Pandey was always generous and big-hearted towards the students who were keen to learn. Those who interacted with him closely would be aware that he was extremely disciplined in studies and expected the same from those who worked with him. The seeker of knowledge never left disappointed after meeting him. He undoubtedly became enraged by unruly behaviour but his anger was like that of boiling milk which subsides no sooner than it arises; so that no one could guess that he had been but a short while back, furious. It is difficult to assess whether he was more of a great critic or great teacher and scholar. 

Prof. Manager Pandey was of the view that the Bhakti Movement was not just about Poetry. Along with being a cultural and religious movement, it was also a movement which witnessed the awakening of native languages as well as the dawning of a new world view. This involved the active participation of various classes and communities, which led to both convergences and conflict between their individual and collective perspectives.

In his essay titled “Aaj ka Samay aur Marxwaad” he explored various ideas with regard to Marxism  and used a quotation from Muktibodh towards the end of the essay. He pointed out that Muktibodh had said that he would not go to work in Ravan’s (the enemy’s) house but present day Marxist intellectuals were not only ready to work but were prepared to go further than that. He also cited some lines from the famous German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s poem titled “Karl Marx” to highlight the fact that revolutionary ideas are not destroyed by ideologiacl attacks from the opponents but from the opportunism of its adherents. In the Indian context, this is precisely what happened with the ideas of Gautam Buddha and Kabir and Marxism was no exception.  

Steadfast in his ideological commitment and dedicated to the spread of knowledge, Prof Pandey left behind a rich legacy of his ideas in his writings which has inspired the new generations of literary critics by their ideological rigour, social relevance and stylistic precision and will continue to pave their way in the years to come.

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