Giridhari (Giri) Lal Tikku - A Tribute

By Autar K. Mattoo

On August 14, 1996, we lost a dear friend and the world a great scholar, linguist and teacher, Professor Giridhari Tikku. Giri, as he was fondly called by his friends, would have celebrated his seventy-second birthday four days later but the unrelenting lung cancer finally overpowered the will of this giant of a man. Till the very end Giri was active in writing and sharing his philosophy of not only comparative literature of which he was a known scholar but also of life itself. He continued to teach at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana which remained his abode for 28 years. He leaves behind a host of close friends and relatives, and in this country his wife Rima, son Asok, daughter Anahita, and niece Nancy.

Giri was born in Kashmir in a Pandit family very familiar with Arabic, English, Hindi, Persian, Sanskrit, Urdu and Kashmiri. Early on in his childhood he was exposed to religious multi-lingual verses and religious hymns introducing him to the limitless boundaries of the written verse. The mystical magic in Eastern thought and poetry totally engulfed his interests. He rejoiced in them and, in turn, enriched the literature with his own creative poetry and writings. Giri graduated in Mathematics and Persian, earning M.A. in Persian Language and Literature from the University of Panjab, Lahore. After a brief stint as a Lecturer at the D.A.V. College, Srinagar, Kashmir, he joined the Indian Foreign Service, working in Kabul (1948-52), New Delhi (1952-54) and Teheran (1954-61). While at Teheran, he obtained another M.A. in Indo-Persian Literature and a Ph.D. in Persian Poetry in Kashmir (13th-19th centuries) with distinction from the University of Teheran, and served as a Liaison Officer to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on his visit to Iran in 1959. He brought his innate linguistic talents to the fore when he published a selection of Tagore's poems in Persian, writing original poems in that language, and translating and publishing others from English and Urdu.

From Persia Giri moved in 1961 to the United States and taught at the University of California, Los Angeles and Berkeley campuses, and Indiana University of Bloomington before permanently moving to the University of Illinois where he was Professor of Persian and Asian Studies for 28 years. He wrote regularly and presented over 40 lectures and poetry readings in the USA, India, Romania and France. Among the honors bestowed upon him include J&K Cultural Academy Award, member of celebration of the 2400th anniversary of the Foundation of the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great, Midwest Universities Consortium International Award, American Institute of Indian Studies Senior Fellowship Award, Advisor, Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, and University of Illinois Trustee to the American Institute of Indian Studies. Giri was a leader in his field

M.K. Paranjape in his Introduction to Giri's "In Confidence: Dreams and Dialogues" sums up: 'Professor Tikku is one of the few people I know who has direct access to the three major cultural traditions which constitute what India is today: the Sanskritic and Hindu, the Persio-Arabic and Indo-Islamic, and the English or Indo-Western. This variety of cultural and linguistic experience makes his poetry quite different from the prevailing mode of Indian English Poetry. In addition, the primacy that he accords to the symbol and suggestion makes his poetry much more than an intellectual or semantic exercise'.

Giri's poems were by and large introspective, expressing his emotions and perception of life. In his own words (invocation from his "Nineteen+Ten" which covers his poems from 1963-1974, 19 in English and 10 in Persian) "...it was the magicality, the facial gestures, and conviction underlying ...musical feeling of poetry that left a lasting impression on the mind and the psyche. I see these poems primarily as examples of the working of an individual mind and feeling, and individual who has lived in a multilinguistic and multicultural framework, and has felt among other things an identity with more than one culture. And these cultures and languages have been different from the mother tongue. From a different angle they appear to be problems of identity. Living in Urbana, I do not know if the movement will stop or continue in the direction of a full cycle to a return to Kashmiri; the basic mother-culture!

Giri was a good person. I met him accidentally. I was attending a meeting at his University and with a friend wandered in the Department of Linguistics in search of another leader in linguistics, Prof. Braj Kachru. I did not find Prof. Kachru but ventured to knock at the door carrying the sign, G.L. Tikku. He welcomed us, was very happy to see us, and conversed with us in fluent Kashmiri. He insisted that we have dinner at his home, which we did. Ever since he became a very dear friend. Three years ago he visited Washington, D.C. just after the cherry blossoms had peaked around the tidal basin. We visited the tidal basin and the Thomas Jefferson memorial. He was captivated with the blossoms that were still on the trees and immersed in this delight. The memory of the treat remained with him till after he returned to Urbana so much that he asked me to mail him the twigs with the cherry blossoms attached. Another episode of that evening that I can never forget was his teaching me how to cook fish, Iranian style, with least amount of oil. Indeed, he showed me his cooking art with a delicious consequence.

Giri loved Kashmir and her beauty enthralled him. His boyish charm and contagious innocent smile which he radiated transformed any scene into which he walked. His honest and loving disposition won him many hearts and he remains etched in them. Giri loved life with passion and lightheartedness - he brought smile into the faces of those he met and left his exuberance of mystical magic to last eons of time. He befriended me and I feel blessed.

One of his poems:

In the anguish of joy
create
and be a witness
and see
how one can
and be
one and two . . .
and nothing
and all the thing
and beyond
the form and yet
the form.

And speak with dance
dance of eyes.
and shape forms.
circles, squares;
and confuse shapes
geometry; and
call the bluff
for they say one can't
but in shape be.

Tribute to Gasha (Dr. G. L. Tikku)

by Nancy Zutshi

In silence
I sit and wait for you
at the portals of Eternity
and wonder at your quiet courage and strength

Memories well up,
images, sharp and blurry
Endearingly their voices will call you
Girijanandhan, Girdhari, Giri, Gasha.

Radiantly you smile
with dignity and humility,
yet with an arrogance.

Triumphs and losses,
unclear, yet necessary.

A man so powerful, so majestic,
in his own ways
in his own days,
reaching out to the Mother with
a hope and a prayer --

"Mother, embrace me.
For I am your child.
Protect those I leave behind.

"Grieve not, but release me.
I won't be far, but in your hearts.
All my love will surround you."

- I am humbled by your dignity.
I will try to live as bravely as you did.