Hindi writer, translator of Czech modern writers, Nirmal Verma passes away

Nirmal Verma, photo: www.loc.gov

The Indian writer Nirmal Verma, who died in New Delhi on Tuesday at the age of 75, was considered one of India's best fiction writers but he was also a translator from Czech into Hindi. He introduced such writers as Karel Capek, Josef Skvorecky, Milan Kundera and Bohumil Hrabal to Indian readers.

A passionate activist and idealist since his student days, Verma was a card-holding member of the Communist Party of India. He studied history and also Czech, and in 1959 he was invited by the Oriental Institute in Prague to start a programme of translation of modern Czech writers. He stayed for about nine years. The news of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia reached Verma in London and made him resign from the Communist Party.

In a 2003 interview for The Indian Express, Nirmal Verma said Czechoslovakia was for him "a window, a sort of a threshold to go into another world, into another experience". Verma's first novel "Ve Din" (Those Days) describes the life of an Indian student in Prague. He said that while Czech writers did not influence his own writing, "reading Karel Capek was a great experience. How the inner depths and secrets of life can change your life is something which I learnt from Karel Capek and his book 'An Ordinary Life'," Nirmal Verma told The Indian Express.

Described as a luminary of Hindi prose, Nirmal Verma published a total of five novels, eight collections of short stories and nine books of essays and travelogues, which have been translated into several European languages, and was awarded a number of prestigious prizes both in his native India and internationally.