With very heavy heart I am forced to announce that Verrier Elwin of Modern
India, as I used to call him, our Iqbal bhai is no more with us. He passed away yesterday at his Bastar home in Asna village near Jagdalpur. He was suffering from kidney failure and had returned home after doctors in Raipur could not give much hope.
Iqbal bhai came to Bastar in the 1980s from Nagpur as a Governmentt employee and never went back ( He was a member of the Indian Accounts and Audit Service but resigned from it to pursue his passion when he was posted back to Nagpur). He married Kalawati an adivasi woman and lived like an adivasi. He was a journalist, he was an artist, he was a poet, he was a teacher, he was a friend, he was a guide, he was a philosopher, he was an
anthropologist, he was a human being of a very fine nature.
I remember many meetings with him, also with Mahua liquor. He would recite from his Mahua Puran which he wrote describing the role of Mahua in adivasi life. He would tell stories of his encounters with adivasi life, many humorous ones often involving Kalawati. He would also tell stories of many struggles including the ones about Tendu, Imli and many more over the years.
In his last years he went back to the Chitrakoot falls where Verrier Elwin had
also made a hut and written. Iqbal bhai had told me that he also wanted to write what he had learnt in life sitting on the bank of Indravati, as Elwin did. But local politics will not allow that to happen as it had stopped many of their previous projects. Iqbal bhai and Kala also had a room filled with Bastar artifacts there and were developing that as an art room. There was room for all of us in their home and heart always.
I met Iqbal bhai last in his Asna home near Jagdalpur a few months back, where I had met him first many years ago and where he was forced to go back after the demolition of their Chitrakoot home. He was sad but full of life as he always was. We discussed Tadi trees in his Asna home and many more. We also discussed how we would work together on Swara the mobile news network. I can not believe that was our last meeting...
Iqbal bhai was a bridge between the two world's of adivasis and mainstream India, which we have lost today. It will be a real tribute to Iqbal bhai if we continue his work on strengthening the same bridge which is one of the "biggest" challenges of our time. May his soul rest in peace as he wished for all of us.
Here is the link to another beautiful obituary written by the anthropologist Nandini Sundar that also has a photo of Iqbalbhai and his wife and daughter when they were all young around the year 1982.