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Mr Raj Kanwar: Doyen of the Literary World

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Happy Birthday to the one who is forever young!

By SUNITA VIJAY

Raj Kanwar, a legendary writer, author and journalist completes 90 remarkable years today. My first meeting with him was short and crisp, at a Founder’s Day function in SJA, about fourteen years ago. Subsequently, his ubiquitous presence in Doon provided opportunities for further interactions. The special fondness he had for my daughter and family always delighted me. Not once during our umpteen meetings have I found him uninspired. Much like him, his life’s story is spirited – a fine wine that has grown better with age.

Just a decade away from a century, yet Kanwar’s voice and pen both own a vigorously youthful charm. He’s a true gentleman; always dressed prim and proper. The literary luminary has donned many hats – a journalist who shoots straight from his shoulder, a loyal citizen of Dehra Dun who has always yearned to serve the Doon Valley, a compelling writer, a steadfast philanthropist (a side that only few know), a successful entrepreneur, a doting husband and an indulgent father.

His quintessential ‘literary’ humour is untouched by time. Years have rolled since his birth in Lahore on 8th October 1930, but he has kept the spark invigoratingly fresh – incessantly delivered through print. His writing has been admired for being brazen yet sophisticated, with specks of stereotypical British humour. There was a time he was hailed ‘the man with a book’ – always found reading, while travelling, at airport lounges, in an office lobby – nearly everywhere. The reading and writing germ continues to impassion him still.

Appealing writing gets further enkindled when eyes have comprehended different shades of life. Raj has witnessed the gruesome Partition as a young lad. He has lived through 90 falls and 90 springs, good enough to stack him with oodles of connectable manuscripts. Kanwar’s interaction with legions of people from different strata of society lends him an enviably broad perspective. His charm and intellect secures him friends in every circle – bureaucrats, intellectuals, academicians, entrepreneurs and youngsters like me (Mr Kanwar reminds me in each meeting and I too believe that fifty is the youth of old age!).

Raj Kanwar moved to Doon in June 1947, and Dehra Dun has since been his karmabhumi. No one knows Doon better than him, and there is none in Doon who doesn’t know him. His work demanded travelling within India and abroad but Dehra Dun in its bijou allure beckoned him. He has seen Dehra Dun’s transformation from its glorious green richness, with lichi orchards, rice fields surrounding it, sprawling bungalows, renowned education and heritage training institutes, refuge of the retired, to it embracing a modern landscape thriving with spry demeanour that has more of grey and less of green.

In a recently authored book, DATELINE DEHRADUN – a compendium on Dehradun and its multifaceted bearing –he titles his self-profile as ‘From Stringer to Stringer’, speaking volumes for his kittenish frankness and sprightly heart. Two other books authored by him are UPSTREAM INDIA and ONGC: THE UNTOLD STORY, and I’m certain there are more in the pipeline.

The child is father of man – his writing skills were recognised early in college days by veteran Brijen Gupta who nominated Kanwar as the Student Editor of a fortnightly publication, The Academic. Since then, his pen is working overtime. His initial contributions in The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Tribune converted him into a professional writer. He has always worn clear glasses and his conscience has unfailingly enlightened readers.

The reflections of his intrepid reporting and bold journalism were apparent at a nascent stage of his career. “I initially started rattling skeletons in the cupboards of government departments, and took up cudgels against the ordnance factory, a venerable defence establishment, the Survey of India, et al.,” he mentions in his book. The dauntless journey of candid reporting and editorials continued through Vanguard, an English weekly started by him in 1953 that unearthed significant goings-on in prestigious organisations and government departments in Doon. As his exposé disclosed uncomfortable truths, his stories caught the attention of The Indian Express and the job of staff reporter came his way but his father’s health pulled him back to Doon where he began his work as a stringer again for the three newspapers.

Kanwar calls 1959 as ‘A Watershed Year’ in his life when he joined the Himachal government as Editor in the Directorate of Public Relations. He worked as PRO in ONGC for three years, resigned to join as Advertising Manager in a leading corporate house in Calcutta, left it within a year to be back in Doon. Here he started Witness -Newsweekly with a Difference. Witness was popular overnight. The story titles were inspired by titles of Erle Stanley Gardner’s famous novels, like ‘The case of the missing maps’, ‘The case of the crooked pipeline’, ‘The case of the defective registers’, covering shady dealings in various organisations.

Charity should not be a public stunt –Raj follows this. Without any fanfare he is donating substantially to many charitable organisations helping poor students with admission and fees. He has mentored several youngsters, who are now well established in their respective fields; his guidance and training in the wee hours succoured hugely.

Mr Kanwar finds a strong support system in his wife Amber, a loving and warm-hearted person. Their three kids are well-settled. Life has come full circle – SK Oilfield Equipment Co. founded by him in 1970 is now managed by his elder son and he is full-fledged back to work as a freelancer. His columns appear regularly in Garhwal Post, Sunday Midday, Sahara Times, The Tribune, Himachal Times, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, etc., where he is enlightening the readers with his musings coated with hard-hitting punches.

He is not old, he is classic. Even today, his pen tirelessly writes for all the hours God sends. No pressure has ever mellowed his enthusiasm. He has never been an armchair critic, and the most potent weapon of this literary soldier is his pen and voice. Looking back at his unremitting work, he sparklingly affirms, “This is my third innings. WOW!!!”