Mishras rajvansh goes back a mere 350 years, when Sahadat Ali Khan, Nawab of Avadh, bestowed the riyasat of Ayodhya on his loyal Brahmin soldier Dwijdeo Mishra of the Kasyapa gotra, for quelling revenue rebels in Mehendauna in Eastern UP. The Mishras thus became the last royal rulers of Ramrajya. But a couple of years ago, the prime minister of Korea invited Mishras father to play a ceremonial role in commemorating the national link to Ayodhya: 2,000 years ago, a princess of Ayodhya had been shipped off as a bride to the Khmer prince Suro. They had ten children, of whom nine became Buddhist monks while one built Korea. His descendants now form the 10 million-strong Kim clan.
What Id like my fellow-Indians to realise afresh is that politics has completely wrecked the life of Ayodhyas ordinary people. We have a Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb here. (An euphemism for the mutually participatory co-existence of Hindu and Muslim culture). It is typical of Avadh. The Hanumangarhi temple was built by the Nawab of Avadh. And Sundar Bhavan, the famous Ramji temple, had a devoted caretaker, Munne Mian, who looked after it for fifty years until his death two years ago.
Mishra, who did not study at La Martiniere, Lucknow, but at the downhome Kendriya Vidyalaya, then acquiring an MA in Hindi literature and a degree in microbiology from Lucknow University, says, I plunged into local culture, because it seemed obvious that someone needed to get involved. Today we have a deal with Virgin Records of UK for old archival recordings, whereby royalties go either to the artists themselves or to their survivors. The artists who have passed on include Ustad Amir Khan, Pandit Onkarnath Thakur and Kumar Gandharva. Living artists so far include Girija Devi of Benares on whom I wrote a book in Hindi. It got me noticed in the Hindi literary world. And then, Hans Harder, Professor of Indology at Martin Luther King University, Berlin, saw fit to translate my Ayodhya poems from Hindi to German.
Mishras cultural efforts soon found a focus in the Vimla Devi Foundation Nyas, established in early December 1999, named after his Dadi, to promote and preserve Indian art, literature and philosophy. The foundation has offered an annual Dwijdeo Samman to writers, musicians and singers since 2000. Mishras other work includes a Sangeet Natak Academy (SNA) project on one thousand years of North Indian devotional poetry and concurrently a biography of present SNA Chairman Sonal Mansingh. He is celebratory about legendary Ayodhya artistes like Baba Pagal Das, the pakhavaj player. I can talk forever about Ayodhya, but you wont catch its flavour till you come there yourself, he says. Unlike Benares, which has had its weavers since olden days, Ayodhya has no big business, just small, humble products like khadau (wooden sadhu slippers) and sindhoor. The men and women there are suffocated. They want change, they want their lives to improve, they are ready to work for it. I appeal to corporate India: if you care even a bit about Ayodhya, bring industry there, endow clinics, schools and colleges. Ayodhya has been reduced to a political metaphor. But how it longs to live.