Indian literature in general and Hindi poetry in particular occupies a strange place in world literature. India's20th century literary identity at the time when Tagore came to notice and the more recent Indian writing in English found voice of a very high quality regional Indian literature in much the same way as East European or Latin American literature did in the same period. Yet, this fact was somehow lost because one found old Sanskrit texts, some medieval ones, Tagore and a few others and then the more market-savvy Indian writing in English, but little in between. That Hindi was the fourth or fifth largest language spoken in the world was glaring in this light and poetry, a market casualty across literatures was no saviour.
This book is a collection of Kunwar Narain'spoems in English translation, with poems selected from five volumes across five decades and spread over more than half a century of Hindi literature in India'scrucial post-Independence stage. The poems are not sequenced (or translated) chronologically. They evoke a poeticism that does not lend itself to any real categorisation. The poems of Chakravyuh are intensely personal and metaphysical, typical of the romance in a first collection yet unusually mature and born as much from the experience of love as from that of death. Some simultaneously evoke a veiled eroticism and some are shrouded in meditative quality. The title poem, based on a Mahabharata episode, wherein the young warrior Abhimanyu penetrates an enemy camp aware of the impossibility of exiting from it?his predicament as chanced upon in the womb'sexistential closure?sets a sort of tenor. Read the following lines to savour the flavour:
The epic battle,
The Mahabharata come down from age to age
hidden in a million wars, tales, sermons
Where some undaunted Abhimanyu
liberated from the terror of fears
broke the unbreakable age-old siege
to find in the last throes of victory
that the brave guardians of the siege
who sided with their own, not truth,
were cowards bent on deception
that, encircled in death, life has many sides
and time'seternal circular siege.
sides with none.
Fellow-writer Nirmal Verma has said about Kunwar Narain that he is a lonely poet and ?many poems of Chakravyuh are deeply imbued with the spirit of quest for a faith in a world disintegrating values.? Yet others are more experimental in flavour in contrast to the preceding romantic Chhayavad period of Hindi poetry.
In the collection entitled Rough Roads of History Kunwar talks of Delhi and says:
The same perhaps has come back again
calling and waking me up at my door –
the epoch of slaves and sultans.
There is a huge din at Chandni Chowk
from the Red Fort to the Jama Masjid.
Arrangements are being made
that people may stand on one foot
for the salute.
The poet sometimes alludes to a range of topics, sometimes poignantly topical. Some come from intense revision over time, some stay spontaneous. Influences have been varied on him, both eastern and western. In these poems, they range from the Upanishads and the Indian epics to Kabir and Amir Khusro, Buddhism and Marxism to history and mythology, Cavafy and Kafka to Ghalib and Gandhi.
Across the rumble of Indian poetry, in its pageantry and its politics, he is the one to have stood out, not for pageantry or politics, but for poetry itself. The impact of his poetry derives, in a sense, from its unfettered honesty. There is a certain ?poised vulnerability? about it that is at once detached and attached; its doors opening up for the reader and poet alike, outwards and inwards. For him, words do not have just meanings but memories too – touched, they give a poem an ulterior dimension where its fuller life finds room to echo. Ashok Vajpeyi says about Kunwar that his poetry ?is under total creative pressures and from inner imperatives that the special language of a particular poem is generated.? He sees reality as ?a continuum in time, the remembered as real as the daily, and like this composite reality, the search for a ?total? poem too is beautiful in all its biological complexity,? says the translator, Apurva Narain about this compilation.
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