Raza Mir


Gaye dinon ka suraagh lekar kidhar se aaya, kidhar gaya vo

Ajeeb maanoos ajnabi thha, mujhe to hairaan kar gaya vo


Bringing the hint of days past, whither he came from and whither he went?

That remarkable stranger felt like a friend, and astonished me in the end.


I did not know Daya Varma well. But well before I met him, his name would come up in conversations that I would have with friends from the South Asian left. As students who arrived from the sub-continent in the 1990s, we quickly built a loose network of inter-connected quasi-communities that engaged with issues back home, and increasingly, involving immigrant communities. I was a member of FOIL, and helped edit SAMAR magazine. There was an alphabet soup of other outfits such as YSS, CSFH, DRUM and several others, that continue till today, providing a fragmented left space from which we attempted to combat the rightward drift of mainstream sub-continental politics both back home and in the diaspora. Through these groups, I met and became close to several people who had been in North America longer than us, either those who still remained in the West (like Sekhar Ramakrishnan, Abha Sur, Vinod Mubayi and others), or those who had returned (Anand Patwardhan, Ravi Sinha, Pervez Hoodbhoy and others).


Through these people, we heard the stories of IPANA, the group that had been formed in the 1970s to combat the Indian Emergency. It could well be said that IPANA was one outfit that had anticipated and provided a template for diasporic organizing among the South Asian left. And in this context, one heard a lot about Daya Varma, as a stalwart of IPANA, as someone who was connected with urgent issues back home (his work on the post-Bhopal organizing was a good example of how a scientist’s training could be applied to an activist agenda). Over a period of time, I felt that I knew Daya well, though occasionally I’d be shocked to realize I had never met him! I had a few email exchanges with him, and learned a lot more about him from his friends, and from my connections with those closer to him, such as Roli Varma, Deepak Kapur and others.

I eventually did meet Daya, and truly felt that I had known him all my life. I occasionally had some brief disagreements with him, even feeling free to offer him advice when I felt his that online persona came across as a lot sharper than necessary. He was quite responsive to my feedback. He was a true historian of science, and I learned a lot from his work as well.


Over time, I began to pester my older friends to write the brief history of IPANA, lest it be lost to history (the death of Hari Sharma in 2010 was a trigger for such a sentiment). But before that became a reality, we heard the news of Daya’s terminal illness. And now Daya has passed on, and himself become a history. It gives me no small measure of pride to have known him, and to follow in his footsteps as one of the editors of the INSAF bulletin. In looking at the first issue of the post-Daya bulletin, I realized that my wish had been fulfilled, in that the history of IPANA activism had been recorded in these tributes to him. Happy trails, Daya.

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