Harivansh Rai Bachchan was born in 1907 in Allahabad, where he also went to school. He was strongly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s Congress movement, which had its unofficial headquarters in Allahabad. Social unity against the British Raj would become the major theme of his greatest poetry collection, Madhushala, published in 1935. It is considered one of the most enduring works of Hindi literature, and was translated into English and many regional Indian languages. (Madhushala is a part of the famous trilogy – Madhushala, Madhubala and Madhukalash, noted for its profound sensitivity and simple diction)
Bachchan taught English at Allahabad University from 1941 to 1952, and then moved to Cambridge where he was the first Indian to become a doctor of philosophy in English. Returning from Cambridge, Bachchan became involved in Indian politics. He became close friends with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In the 1970s, he published a four volume autobiography, In the Afternoon of Time, beginning with "Kya bhoolun kya yaad karoon" ("What to forget and what to remember"), regarded till date as a literary masterpiece.
For Bachchan, who whipped up a literary frenzy and pleasant intoxication through his classic work Madhushala, poetry had always been a reflection of his own life tempered by poverty, tragedies, achievements and bouts of bliss. His strong leaning towards literature saw him translate eminent Urdu poet Omar Khayyam's Rubayyat into Hindi while his love for English poetry saw him penning a thesis on the work of William Butler Yeats. He also translated Shakespeare into Hindi.
In recognition of his contribution to the world of literature and Hindi language, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1966. He was also presented the Padma Bhushan, the K K Birla Foundation's first Saraswati Samman, Sahitya Akademy award, the Soviet Land Nehru Prize and the Afro-Asian Writers' Conference Lotus Prize.