Yogesh Puri, A Committed socialist

My friend of sixty years,founder-member of Delhi Socialist Teachers Forum with Manoranjan Mohanty,brother of brave human rights crusader in Kashmir Balraj Puri, has died after a painful struggle with cancer.His friends remember him as a caring and humane person,totally unassuming and yet making a deep impression on his friends with the depth of his knowledge and firmness of his convictions.

He was particular in looking at all aspects of a question before forming an opinion,and capable of expounding it with remarkable cohence.He had realized that things in India do not make for an easy generalization or hasty judgment,but generous in appreciation of others’ views.

I recall my early years as an unfledged young teacher at Kirori Mal college of Delhi University.Under Principal Sarup Singh’s astute leadership the teaching faculty became a vibrant assembly of bright people from all shades of political opinion from card-holding communists to combative rightists to adherents of Hindu Mahasabha.

At that time I was emerging from my cocoon of political naivete and tentatively probing those positions.I was immediately attracted by the communists’ sense of purpose and goal and their conviction that they held the master key to the world’s development and they knew the way forward for our country.But I owe them and Bipan Chandra of Hindu College(later JNU) my initial understanding of Marxism.

Yogesh Puri a Lohiawite socialist went about his work in a characteristic unhurried and quiet way,drawing me into conversation in a casual manner.He lent me issues of MANKIND,the journal founded by Lohia and broached the uniqueness of Indian society which required patient understanding.This humane approach was unlike that of communists who would storm into a person’s mental field and strive to upset his untested beliefs.

When we met again in the nineties he had matured into a consummate scholar cum teacher and his students held him in reverence.Students from other colleges would sometimes crowd into his classroom to taste the logical coherence and wide reach of his lectures,which opened new horizons for them.He would discharge his duties to society principally by trying to be a good teacher,by enlightening and inspiring young minds.

Nor that he neglected his commitments as a socialist.From Prof.Manoranjan Mohanty I learn that he had been along with Mohanty and others a founder-member of Delhi University Socialist Teachers forum and taken part in various teachers’ struggles,not all of them oriented to bread and butter issues.

In my personal discussions with him I always found him sober,level-headed,and cautious in forming judgments,which however were informed with deep and wide knowledge and critical insights.And it was carried on with much friendliness and warmth as though we were fellow pilgrims.The last fifteen years have been for both of us quite challenging and sometimes depressing.But he remained throughout cool and self-possessed,confident that a way forward would be found.

Lacking in any personal ambition he did not care to reach out for academic laurels,but he earned the gratitude and love of his students and his friends.His friendship is something I shall cherish and honor till my last days.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator


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