Harivanshrai Srivastav (November 27, 1907 – January 18, 2003) was a Hindi poet.
He born in an ordinary Kayasth family in a small town near Allahabad. He was called “bachchan” at home, which means “child.” He received his formal schooling in a municipal school and attended Kayasth Paathshaalas to learn Urdu, which was the family tradition so as to help getting jobs in court. He completed his later education both at the Allahabad University and Banaras Hindu University. Since he gave up his university education to participate in the great upsurge of nationalism that began in 1930.
Realizing that this was not the path he wanted to follow, he went back to university. However from 1941 to 1952 he taught in the English Department at the Allahabad University and after that he spent the next two years at Cambridge University doing his doctoral thesis on W.B. Yeats. It was then, that he used ‘Bachchan’ as his last name instead of Srivasta. Harivanshrai’s thesis got him his PhD at Cambridge. He however is the second Indian to get his doctorate in English literature from Cambridge. After returning to India he again took to teaching and also served at All India Radio, Allahabad.
In 1955, Harivanshrai shifted to Delhi to join the External Affairs Ministry as an officer on Special duty and during the period of 10 years that he served he was also associated with the evolution of Hindi as the official language. He also enriched Hindi through his translations of major writings. As a poet is famous for his poem Madhushala (a bar selling alcoholic drinks). Besides Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, he will also be remembered for his Hindi translations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Othello and also the Bhagvad Gita. However in Nov 1984 he wrote his last poem ‘Ek November1984’ on Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
He got married to Shyama his first wife in 1926. She was just 14 yrs old. But she died 10 yrs later after suffering from a long spell of TB. Shortly after her death Harivanshrai married Teji Suri in 1942. The birth of his two sons Amitabh and Ajitabh changed the course of his life as his days of hardship ended when both his sons did extremely well in their careers – Amitabh became a superstar and a multi billionaire and Ajitab turned out to be a successful business magnate in England.
Harivanshrai was nominated to the Indian Rajya Sabha in 1966 and received the Sahitya Akademi award three years later. In 1976 he was honoured with the Padma Bhushan for his immense contribution to Hindi literature. He was also honoured with the Saraswati Samman, the Sovietland Nehru Award and the Lotus Award of the Afro-Asian writers’ conference, for his unique contribution to the world of letters. But if ever asked to introduce himself, he had a simple introduction: Mitti ka tan, masti ka man, kshan-bhar jivan — mera parichay. (A body of clay, a mind full of play, a moment’s life – that is me.).
Dr. Harivanshrai Bachchan’ passed away on January 18, 2003, Dr Bachchan was 94 years old and had been suffering from serious respiratory ailments.