On the 77th anniversary of Quit India Movement, Newsroom24x7 pays homage to leading freedom fighter late Anant Maral Shastri, who had quit his job as editor of Milap, a front-ranking newspaper published from Lahore, to support Mahatma Gandhi’s call for “Do or Die” and jump into the Quit India Movement in 1942. He was arrested and kept in the Patna camp jail. One of the inmates of his cell was Sitaram Kesri, who was at that time a Congress Seva Dal bugler. Kesri later became the Indian National Congress President and was succeeded by Sonia Gandhi.
Anant Maral Shastri (1912–1999) will always be remembered as a freedom fighter, journalist, literary figure, poet, Sanskrit scholar, linguist and a highly respected administrator. At a very young age, he had left Ambikapur, now in Chhattisgarh, to join Kashi Vidyapeeth, a nationalist institution of learning in Varanasi, where he found a Guru in Acharya Narendra Dev, a renowned freedom fighter, scholar and teacher.
Acharya Narendra Dev, and another renowned freedom fighter Acharya JB Kriplani, were Anant Maral’s teachers at Kashi Vidyapeeth. Lal Bahadur Shastri, who rose to become Prime Minister of India after the death of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and Kamlapati Tripathi, who later became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, were Shastri’s contemporaries at Kashi Vidyapeeth.
There was a two-year period between 1930 and 1932 during the Civil Disobedience Movement, when the British had gagged the press, Anant Maral went underground to evade arrest and published the Congress Bulletin and Congress Samachar from Allahabad. He used to write in his own hand and cut stencils to print copies of the Congress Bulletin. He used to travel on foot from one village to another to distribute it and carry forward the Congress message. Around the same time, he also served as the Youth League secretary in Varanasi.
At the time of Independence, Anant Maral Shastri became the Editor of “Ajkal”- the highest circulated and the most popular Hindi magazine during those days. This magazine had become a platform for many budding and rising poets. Some of the contributors, including Harivansh Rai Bachchan, emerged as India’s greatest poets during the second half of last century.
At Publications Division, Anant Maral also played the key role in compiling and editing Mahatma Gandhi’s Prayer Speeches, jointly with former Union Minister Sushila Nayar. These speeches were recorded earlier by All India Radio. A collection of these speeches was published under the title “Bhaiyon aur Behnon” (Brothers and sisters).
In 1949, Anant Maral Shastri came to Madhya Bharat as Director of Information and Publicity, a post he also held even in Madhya Pradesh after the reorganisation of States in 1956. Under Shastri’s able guidance, art and culture flourished in Madhya Pradesh, the heart of India in the post-Independence era. During his time, area-wise, Madhya Pradesh was the largest State in the country. The State was bifurcated in the year 2000 to create the separate State of Chhattisgarh.
Shastri remained at the helm and managed the culture scene for a long period in Madhya Pradesh (1956–71). During his tenure, two important annual events organised by the State – the famous Tansen Samaroh at Gwalior (music festival to commemorate the memory of Miyan Tansen – one of the nine gems in the court of the Moghul Emperor Akbar) and the Kalidas Samaroh (festival) at Ujjain to salute Kalidas, the great Classical Sanskrit poet and dramatist, had touched the pinnacle of glory. India’s first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad had inaugurated the first Akhil Bharatiya Kalidas Samaroh (National Kalidas Festival) in 1958. Next year, Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had inaugurated this festival. On this occasion, Nehru was presented with Kalidasa’s famous work, Raghuvansh. The epic was especially translated from Sanskrit to Hindi by Anant Maral Shastri to mark the occasion.
It was at the initiative of BV Keskar, the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting (1952–62) that Tansen Samaroh was turned into a national Music festival and has remained a popular platform for maestros to perform. For close to two decades, Anant Maral Shastri also spearheaded Madhya Pradesh Shasan Sahitya Parishad and Kala Parishad (State Councils for Literature and Arts). The Tagore Centenary and Alauddin Khan Centenary celebrations as well as the magnificent event organised in the early 1960s at Khandwa to honour Makhanlal Chaturvedi, the legendary Hindi Poet, were a high water mark of Shastri’s career and shall always add to the pride and glory of Madhya Pradesh.
After Independence, Anant Maral Shastri had refused to accept a house that was being given to him by the government under the refugee quota at Nizamuddin, now a high-end residential colony in New Delhi. This was when he had shifted to Delhi from Lahore on partition and creation of Pakistan.
Shastri had also refused to avail the freedom fighters’ pension and all the benefits that went with it. As head of the department for more than two decades, first in the erstwhile Madhya Bharat State and then in Madhya Pradesh, he remained a fine example of probity in public life. What to talk of making sure that none of his children or relatives ever sat in his official staff car, he also made it a point to always fill his fountain pen only with ink that he had purchased with his own money. His argument was that besides the official noting, he was also using the pen for personal jottings or for writing letters that were not official.