Friday, October 18, 2013

Picture Poems

My Picture Poems

One poet has defined poetry as a ‘speaking picture’. Another says: ‘Painting is silent poetry, poetry is eloquent painting’. Words in a poem only foreground the meaning, delineating in invisible lines and colours, images and metaphors, the soul of the poem. Photography, a close cousin of painting, is also a creative tool of discovering art in the ordinary. Where poetry suggests and painting invents, photography discovers. They employ similar techniques, though with different materials – words, pigments and light, to create art which communicates significant meaning.
There is much that poetry and photography share with each other. Every good poem is much more than the sum of its words, just as every good photograph is much more than what meets the eye. (Ansel Adams’ photographs can be enjoyed as the finest kind of poetry.) And occasionally, poetry and photography can together construct an interface, a kind of musical ‘jugalbndi’, creating through their parallelism a symphonic effect.One recent poem is given here; some others are down below.

 The Leaf

The Leaf
Look at me
I am only a leaf
Torn from my branch
Where I was born and blossomed
Where I played and sang
Fluttered in the gentle breeze
Now lying torn and lonely here
All alone and musing
For many days now
Days I have lost count, in fact
Here I lie on sodden coaltar
Since the rowdy wind rose
Howled and rattled, jarred and jolted
And tore me off with a single slap
From the topmost branch
Of this old and timeworn tree
Bringing in its wake
Cool monsoon showers
Riding piggyback merrily
Yes, the wind was rude and rowdy
It shook the branches wildly
Swaying them sideways
Upwards and downwards
Wickedly in every which way it will
Tearing at them, at us the leaves
Till we flew helter-skelter in the wind
And fell here on the bluehued coaltar
And then came the burly rain
With huge buckets of water
With grating rasping laughter
And with angry crazy booms
In the dark sparring clouds above
While suddenly, very stealthily
The wind slunk away
Quietly to where it had come from
And then the rain drizzled freely
And whispered and sang cheerily
Throughout the afternoon
Then again fitfully in the small hours
Of the night gone by
And left me in the morning
Totally soaked and shivering
When the sun rose to dry me up
And make me warm and cosy
In my loneliness and brooding,
Till you came and paused
To look at me.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Sheaf of Old Letters
Mangal Murty

Technology seems to be overtaking itself by leaps and bounds. Its now an age of SMS texting and video calls.Letter-writing has been a thing of the antiquity. The telegram is already dead and the postman has now become a ghostly figure. Letter-boxes are no longer familiar landmarks on city streets. But this IT-revolution has also added a special aura and sanctity to old letters of the ‘paper and ink’-era as collectibles for – if we may call them – epistolists, or ‘letter-lovers’.

Literary letters, of course, are a class apart. And the older they be, the more precious they become. There is a whole genre of literary letter-writing, like writing diaries, in world literature. In Hindi literatue, too, there have been two inveterate letter writers - ShivapujanSahay and Banarasi Das Chaturvedi - who were also great collectors and preservers of literary letters. Their own literary and journalistic careers spanned practically more than half of the last century which was also the golden era of modern Hindi literature, and their collections of letters run into several thousands, and are also, luckily, quite well-preserved in national institutions. Recently, a voluminous selection of literary letters (nearly 1,700 letters) from the valuable collection of AcharyaShivapujanSahay have been published in the last three volumes of the ten-volumeShivapujanSahaySahityaSamagra (SS). These three volumes contain a representative selection of letters from all sections and levels of the modern Hindi literary world (c.1910-1970) which reflect not only the literary but also the entire spectrum of the larger concerns of this most important era of Hindi literary and socio-political renaissance (‘Navjagaran’).

Not only in Indian history but also in world history the 20th century was a century of horrendous wars, national revolutions and emancipations. The period of the literary renaissance in Hindi literature especially, and in literatures in the other Indian languages as well, was coeval with the Indian freedom movement. And one of the seminal issues in that national movement was the issue of a national language – a language that could break the stranglehold of the reigning English language that had the stigma of a ‘language of slavery’. The only language among all other regional languages in India, with the most far-reaching spread in the subcontinent, was Hindi that had the full potentiality to serve as the national language.

The story begins in the 30s when Gandhi had launched his Civil Disobedience movement with his Salt Satyagraha. The whole country from one corner to the other was convulsed with the spirit of freedom and patriotic fervour.In Bihar,Rajendra Prasad was in the vanguard of the movement. As early as 1921, he had started a nationalist Hindi weekly ‘Desh’ to propagate the ideals of the freedom movement among the masses. In 1923, a politico-literary Hindi weekly ‘Matwala’had  alsostarted publication in Calcutta. ShivapujanSahay, one of its editors and leader-writer, had earned fame for his scathing editorials and satirical articles, and short witty and sarcastic comments on topical issues of the socio-political sphere. Working generally as a freelance writer and journalist in the early part of his career, he had moved to Banaras by the late 20s, and thenfor a year to Sultanganj in Bihar in 1931, where he was editing ‘Ganga’, a literary monthly published by the Banaili Raja Krishnanand Singh. RajendraBabu must have known Shivji from the ‘Matwala’ days and in the following letter he requests him for his similar satirical notesand articles for ‘Desh’
1.Rajendra Prasad to Shivapujan Sahay [Patna to Sultangunj: 2.7.31]
Dear Shivapujan Bhai :  Your kind letter reflects your generosity just as I had expected. I shall now await a personal meeting also. I know, in ‘Ganga’ you have to do everything. But only hard workers can do more; not the idle lot. Though I hesitate to add to your already heavy burden, yet I can hardly restrain my eagerness to ask for your articles for ‘Desh’. Please write whenever you can for it. ‘Desh’ is in dire need of literary articles. In our country, we are not yet in a position to devote a journal to a single domain. Our poor people can hardly afford to subscribe to one journal for reading. They must get all kinds of mental food from that single journal. ‘Desh’ will be too happy to publish literary articles. If such articles have not been published so far, it’s only because literary writers have never sent such contributions to us till now. And I dislike publishing matter just to fill columns, or add to items; I detest cheating our subscribers by such tricks. If you could send some satirical notes or witticisms of 80-90 lines on a weekly basis – nothing could be better than that. What could be more entertaining than the articles you write in lighter vein!

Published under the patronage of Banaili Maharaja, how does ‘Ganga’ connect with a poor country like ours? Yet ‘Desh’ is ready to help ‘Ganga’ in whatever way you suggest, even in the interest of provincial affinity. But how do you propose to carry on publishing special numbers like ‘Gangank’ and ‘Vedank’? Instead if you could publish ‘Marxank’, that would, of course, be wonderful. The only fear, however, is that you publish ‘Marxank’ today and the Maharaja goes tomorrow!...[Incomplete letter]

Files of ‘Desh’ are not available to confirm whether ShivapujanSahay complied with the request or to what extent, if he did. But he soon left ‘Ganga’ and went back to Banaras to edit the literary fortnightly ‘Jagaran’ which after six months was taken over as a political weekly by Premchand. From Banaras, ShivapujanSahay moved to Laheriasarai in 1933 for editing ‘Balak’, and thence, in 1939, to Rajendra College, Chhapra where he taught as Professor of Hindi till 1949.

The early 40s were a period of great turbulence with the ‘August Revolution’(1942), the Bengal Famine (1943), and the great catastrophic Second World War (1939-45), leading ultimately to India’s independence in 1947. Most of the Congress leaders, including Rajendra Prasad, along with thousands of the rank and file were lodged in jails during 1942-45. The political situation in 1941 was extremely volatile, with the horrors of the War in Europe and Asia. On the national political scene a very large number of young men were deeply involved in political activities, and all journals, even literary ones, were dedicated to the cause of the mass movement.

In Patna, Prafull Chandra Ojha ‘Mukt’, a youngHindi journalist and writer, was editing ‘Arati’ a monthly literary journal. The journal was aggressively nationalist in temper and had RajendraBabu’s patronage. ‘Mukt’ was also serving as a literary assistant to RajenBabu. The ‘Hindi-Hindustani’ controversy was at its peak during this period. The Hindi nationalist press was awash with articles opposing the propagation of the artificially manufactured ‘Hindustani’ in place of Hindi as the national language.ShivapujanSahay also had written a long editorial note on the subject in one of these journals (SS: 3.27) around the same time. All Hindi litterateurs of Bihar like Raja Radhika Raman Singh, Dinkar, Benipuri, et al were all opposing the imposition of ‘Hindustani’ as an artificial substitute for Hindi as the national language. RajendraBabu, though a strong supporter of Gandhiji’s patronage of Hindustani, also had his latent sympathies with the views of the pro-Hindi camp. The two letters sent to RajenBabu are now difficult to trace, but Mukt’s letter to Shivji gives an idea of their content. In 1941, Shivji was Professor of Hindi at Rajendra College, Chhapra.

2.Mukt to ShivpujanSahay [Patna to Chhapra: 31.8.41]
BhaiShivapujanji. I am writing these lines to you as desired by Respected RajendraBabu. He is not in good health to reply to you personally. Yesterday when I went to [Sadaqat] Ashram, he showed and talked to me about the letters of yours and Raja Saheb’s regarding Hindustani. He thinks that any statement issued by him now would only lead to a new controversy. It will serve no good purpose, but may only lend undue importance to the opposite party. Babu says that presently we are only neutral. And it would be better to solve the issue remaining neutral. He agrees with Raja Saheb’s suggestion that we should have a dialogue with the leaders of the opposite party, individually or collectively. Babu proposes to go to Wardha on the 2nd, provided his health and the weather permits it. If he doesn’t go, he would like to meet the opposite party people. By then, may be Raja Saheb also comes and you will also have to be there. And if he goes to Wardha, it can be only when he returns. Your letter has already reached Babu, and Raja Saheb also has sent your letter to him, and  now he is conversant with all the aspects after reading them….Affectionately: Prafull.

ShivapujanSahay had studied Persian and Arabic upto his Tenth class and switched over to Hindi only in his Eleventh class. He was well-versed in Urdu and Persian literture. While teaching in Rajendra College, Chhapra, he had read a paper on the famous Urdu poet ‘Akbar’ Ilahabadi in the annual function of the College Urdu Literary Society that was later published in the College Magazine (1945) which Shivji himself edited. In that paper he had written:

“Hindi and Urdu are like their own sisters. Their relationship is very old and strong. But Urdu has not yet embraced Hindi in its loving arms as much as Hindi has done to Urdu….In Hindi today we have (translations of) a large number of Urdu writings easily available. So much so that we can talk and have interesting discussions about Urdu literature for hours together only through the medium of Hindi…. The history of Urdu literature has been written in Hindi in a commendable manner. Very good editions in Hindi have already been published on famous Urdu poets like Meer, Daag, Ghalib, Zauk, Nazeer, Hali, Akbar, Chakbast, et al.”
And one of the she’irs of Akbar quoted in that paper is particularly relevant in the context of communal amity.

Hindu-Muslim ekhaindono, yani ye dono Asia-eehain.
Hum-watan, hum-zubano, hum-kismat, kyonnakah dun kibhai-bhaihain.

(Hindu-Muslim are one as both are Asians. Living in the same country, speaking the same language, having the same destiny, why should they not be called brothers indeed!)
The following letter refers to that published paper.

3.Rajendra Prasad to ShivapujanSahay[Delhi to Chhapra: 4.4.42]
Dear ShivapujanBabu. I had read your article on poet ‘Akbar’ (Ilahabadi) in the Chhapra College magazine. There you have written that many of the writings of Urdu poets and writers have been published in Hindi in Nagari script. In course of a conversation with  MahatamaGandhiji when I told him that many of the Urdu works have been published in Nagari script, he asked me to give him a list of such publications and the places where they are available. Please send such a list directly to him at the earliest at Sevagram in Wardha or to me at Patna as soon as possible. Mahatmaji wants such a list only because he wants to know how far Hindi-knowing readers, who don’t know the Urdu script, can familiarize themselves with Urdu literature easily. He may even want to get all such books. Hope all is well there. I shall be in Patna in a couple of days. Yours: Rajendra Prasad.

Gandhiji, Rajendra Prasad, Nehru, Patel and all the top Congress leaders were put behind bars for three years (1942-45) during the War, and it was in Bankipur (Patna) jail that RajenBabu continued writing his ‘Atmakatha’ where he devotes a long chapter on the ‘Rashtrabhasha’ question. The issue of a national language had remained of prime importance throughout the past decades of the freedom movement. English never was nor could ever be the language of the common masses in India, especially when more than eighty percent of the population lived in remote, backward rural areas. The question of Hindi as the only viable national link language to replace English had always been uppermost in the Congress agenda.
Rajendra Prasad himself had been one of the most ardent votaries of Hindi as the only feasible national language right from the beginning. As early as in 1926,he had presided over theannual convention of the Bihar Provincial Hindi SahityaSammelan held in Darbhanga, where hehad particularly focused on the essential unity between Hindi and Urdu as two varieties of the same language, not so much as used by common people in their day to day life, as in their written or literary manifestations. And again, in 1936, presiding overthe 25th annual convention of the A.I. Hindi SahityaSammelan, he emphasized the fact thatin most of the northern provinces, in urban or semi-urban areas, both these varieties of the spoken Hindi-Urdu were hardly distinguishable,one from the other, in their use. Naturally, this spoken form of Hindi-Urdu as used in common parlance, with proper popular support, could well be developed within a reasonable time into a link language which even the people in the south could be willing to accept as the national lingua franca.
RajendraPrasad’s  27-page long speech in Hindi at the Nagpur Sammelan was a brilliant exposition of the argument in favour of this widely used Hindi-Urdu variety, of late designated as ‘Hindustanu’, as the most suitable – even in terms of numbers or dispersal of speakers - to be adopted as the national link language or ‘Rashtrabhasha’. As he writes in his Autobiography(Englsh version, Penguin, 2010: p.408) :

“We want one language for the whole country as a practical necessity. English can never be that language. Hindi is the only language, I think, on which the mantle of national language can fall, call it by whatever name you like – Hindi, Urdu or Hindustani. It will not, of course, displace the regional languages which will continue to be developed and hold the field in their respective regions. The national language will be used only in all-India and inter-state affairs…. [And] I reiterate that our national requirements will be best answered by a simple Hindi which will freely adopt words from all the Indian languages and dialects. (p. 408)

For RajendraBabu the new nomenclature of ‘Hindustani’ was less important than the affinity between Hindi and Urdu in their popular form of everyday use. He had, perhaps, deliberately chosen to write his ‘Atmakatha’ in a form of Hindi which could easily be seen as a model of such fusion of Hindi and Urdu.
In 1946, soon after his release in Patna, RajenBabugave the early chapters of his ‘Atmakatha’ for serial publication in the newly launched Hindi literary monthly ‘Himalaya’ edited by ShivapujanSahay and RamvrikshaBenipuri. In the next five issues of the journal, these early chapters from the ‘Atmakatha were published in their un-edited form. Later, he requested ShivapujanSahay to edit the whole book which was to be released during the Meerut Congress (1946). The following letter refers to the first part of the ‘Atmakatha’ published in ‘Himalaya’ in its un-edited form.

4.Banarasi Das Chaturvedi to ShivapujanSahay. [Tikamgarh to Patna: 28.2.46]
Dear ShivapujanSahayji. My regards. Got the inaugural issue of ‘Himalaya’. I am reading it slowly. I don’t believe in a formal response. I shall, of course, review it in ‘Madhukar’ but only after going through it wholly…I liked greatly respected RajendraBabu’s ‘Atmakatha’. It fully reflects his simple personality. I like such style of writing. There is no touch of affectation anywhere. No elaborate pretentiousness. All narration is simple and straightforward. I shall write in detail about it later. But one thing struck me as a little odd. The incidents that happened to the MaulawiSahab  with the gun and the bull were merely practical jokes and it would have been only proper if (respected)Babuji had only added a sentence at the end there that these pranks with the MaulawiSahabwere done only for childish fun at that time and were, perhaps, not in good taste. People in our country have a penchant for attributing motives and bad intention to such incidents, and as the MaulawiSahab was a Muslim, it might easily be misconstrued… I wouldn’t be surprised if some Muslim critic observes that RajendraBabu took pleasure in getting Muslims trampled by bulls or terrorized by sudden gunfire…Benipuriji’s editorial note on ‘Hindi and Hindostani’ in the issue is fully justified

In the rest of the letter Chaturvediji comments on the various other articles and poems published in this issue.And he also refers to Benipuri’s editorial note on ‘Hindi-Hindostani’ published in this same inaugural issue where Benipuri wrote: ‘We should not get flustered by Mahatmaji’s propagation of ‘Hindostani’; on the contrary we must welcome the endeavour because it will only broaden the path of Hindi’s advancement.”
In fact, the national  language controversy had two facets. Besides the Hindi-Hindustani controversy which was rife among the supporters of Hindi as the national language or official rashtrabhasha, there was also a wider and more acrimonious debate that had been going on in the Constituent Assembly from day onebetween members from the north and the south on the issue of Hindi versus English. A compromise formula had been settled upon to allow English to be used along with Hindi in the inter-state affairs till 1965. But the dominance of English, in spite of the compromise settlement, continued to irk the proponents of Hindi. A number of votaries of Hindi, including Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’, had been elected to theRajyaSabha. ‘Dinkar’ was a powerful orator in Hindi, but his experiences as an M.P. in this regard were quite frustrating as he writes in the following letter

5.Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ to ShivapujanSahay [Delhi to Patna: 30.5.52]
Respected Shivji. Your encouraging letter. No importance is given here to a speech in Hindi. Attention is paid only to Hindi speeches of people like, RajendraBabu, Jawaharlal, Tandanji, et al. Owing to the convenience of reporting, people prefer to give their speeches in English. Till now I have been able to speak only once, and scores of people congratulated me on that day. But PTI took only five lines from it and Searchlight not even as much. Hence, our coming here was very necessary. We may have to struggle hard, but there’s no cause for despair. We only need blessings of people like you. Yours: Dinkar.

In 1950 ShivapujanSahay left Chhapra to join as Secretary, Bihar RashtraBhashaParishadin Patna where he served till September, 1959. RajendraBabu also was serving his last term as President, and had been honoured with an Award for his ‘Atmakatha’  by theParishad in 1954, and again with the ‘VayovriddhaSahityakar’ (Senior Litterateur) Award in 1959. He had earlier donated his former Award back to Parishad for charitable purposes, and wanted to do so again with the second Award. His donations of the two Award amounts with some additional amount from his own side were meant to serve the larger cause of Hindi. The following letter and its reply by ShivapujanSahaythow light on RajendraBabu’s abiding love for the cause of Hindi.

6. Rajendra Prasad to ShivapujanSahay [Camp Bhuwaneshwar to Patna: 28.3.59]
Dear ShivapujanBabu. Got your letter and the receipts for the award which I am returning after signing them. I would like to have your advice on one issue. I wish to utilize this award amount in some project that could contribute to the service and propagation of Hindi. It would be better if it could be for the non-Hindi speaking areas. Kindly think over it and suggest some good scheme where this amount could best be utilized. I want your personal advice for this and not any official suggestion from the Parishad. If you could give more than one suggestion, it would be still better, so that I could choose the best idea to utilize this amount. If necessary, I could also add some more amount to it. I will decide only after I get your reply, so please reply soon. Yours: Rajendra Prasad.

7. ShivapujanSahay to Rajendra Prasad [Patna to Delhi: 6.4.59]  
Most Respected [RajendraBabu]. Received your letter of 28 March, 1958, in which you have so kindly asked for my personal suggestion regarding the proper utilization of the award amount. I consider this a great honour and privilege bestowed so graciously on me.
Meanwhile, I would also like to point out that from the‘Atmakatha’ award amount you had gifted back to Parishad, adding Rs one thousand to it from your own side, the Parishad has established a special fund as ‘RajendraNidhi’. The Bihar government was requested to give a matching grant of Rs 10,000 per annum as a supplement and it has, for the present, agreed to give Rs 8,000 per annum. From this special fund the Parishadhas started givingone time financial assistance to indigent literary persons ranging from Rs 250 to 1,500. Rules have been framed for the same in accordance with your expressed wishes when you had gifted the award amount and these rules have also been approved by the Bihar government. Accordingly, after due and proper enquiry, needy literary persons are being given financial assistance for medical treatment, daughter’s marriage, book publication, etc.
This year the Parishad’s Control Board has decided also to give an annual award of Rs 1,000 to a non-Hindi writerfor his deserving book in Hindi, either original or translated in Hindi,  published during the year.

One of the following suggestions may be considered for this year’s award.
1.      A Hindi writer from a non-Hindi area can be honoured with a ‘Rajendra Award’ of Rs 1,000, to be given out of this fund, if he publishes a translation of a well-known and valuable Hindi work in his language of that area.

2.      A ‘Rajendra Award’ of Rs 100 to 250 can be given out of this fund to a non-Hindi student passing and securing the maximum marks in thehighest  Hindi examination conducted by the RashtrabhashaPracharSamitis of the non-Hindi areas, AkhilBharatiya Hindi SahityaSammelan (Prayag), RashtrabhashaPracharSamiti ( Wardha), Hindi Vidyapeeth (Deoghar),Kashi Hindi Vidyapeeth, etc.

3.      A ‘BadrinathSarvabhashaMahavidyalaya has been established in the name of AcharyaBadrinathVarma by the Bihar Hindi SahityaSammelan and has been running for the last two years, in which regular courses are taught in Russian, German, French and Telugu. For this project the Bihar government has given a grant of Rs 17,000. There is also arrangement for teaching Hindi to non-Hindi students under this programme, though no such non-Hindi student is yet enrolled there. However, many students from the non-Hindi areas learn Hindi in the Vidyapeeths at Deoghar and Mandar. A ‘Rajendra Scholarship’ of  Rs 100 per month for only two years can be given to non-Hindi students exclusively taking Hindi courses in those Vidyapeeths. As you had asked for immediate suggestions, I am submitting some ideas that came readily to mind. I hope one of these suggestions would surely suit your intent. Humbly yours: Shiva.

Only five months later ShivapujanSahay was made to retire. But his dedication to the cause of Hindi – its viability as the national language, its continuing struggle against the clout and sway of English in the national sphere, its rapid strides of advancement against the challenges posed by English as a global language, the constant enrichment of its literary stock – deepened further. The fight to secure for Hindi its rightful place as the national language, to popularize it in the non-Hindi areas of the country and to enable it to supplant English as soon as possible went on with increased fervour. But just when the 15-year period of continuance of English as a subsidiary language to Hindi was coming to an end, the government buckled under political pressure to give English a fresh lease of limitless extension, and there was again a clamour in the Hindi world against the move.

Once more, like the last flicker of the lamp, during the last few months of his life, ShivapujanSahay wrote an article, published in 1962 in the famous Hindi weekly ‘Dharmayug’, in which he expressed his anguish about the government’s imprudent move to lend a kind of perpetuity to English. Only a small quotation from that article should suffice here. (Read the full translated article in HINDI, Jul-Sep, 2011.) 

Our heads bow down in shame to find our populist government pleading for the inexorability of English. But those who now rule us, who hold the reins of government in their hands, it’s their logic that must be seen as impeccable. It’s an eternal principle that the power of governance can be held only in an iron fist. Even so, there can be no authoritarianism in a democratic set up. But had this been a reality, the voxpopuli of the Hindi-speakers would not have gone absolutely unheard. One has a distinct feeling of contrition in calling oneself the citizen of a country which holds its language and script to be incapable of national use and shows its helplessness by accepting the efficacy of a foreign language for its domestic purposes.

Published: HINDI, Jul-Sep, 2013

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Victory Hymn

The war-weary Rama stood
With his slackened bow and hushed quiver
Worried in the battlefield of Lanka
In his battle against demon Ravana.

Just then came sage Agastya to him
Chanting the sacred and divine hymn –
Aditya Hriday, the holiest of hymns,
Capable of vanquishing
Even the most powerful of enemies….

O Sun-god!
Dispeller of darkness,
Glowing with the gold-like lamp of light,
Painting the eastern sky
With your myriad coloured rays,
Riding seven green-hued horses
With radiance adorned.
We bow to your majesty.

Ever-radiant Lord of the creation,
Seed of the universe,
Begetter of the world,
Fount of radiance, your rays animating
And sustaining the world’s existence,
And preserving the entire universe,
Appareled in shining beams;
Penetrator of darkness,
Remover of human sorrow.
We bow to you again.

Lord of the skies!
Life-giver to the universe,
Creator of water,
Causer of heavy rains,
Maker of sunshine,
All-pervading form;
Most refulgent of all refulgent things.
Brown-pigmented, red-hued,
Source of all death,
 Seer of past, present and future,
O Lord of the east!
We bow to you again and again.

O lord of planets and stars!
Creator, preserver and destroyer,
You, who exist within the souls of all spirits,
And keep awake even while they sleep,
You are capable of bestowing the fruits
Of all actions in the entire creation.

O king of the day!
Attired in a thousand rays,
You are victory personified,
And the source of all benediction,
O awesome dazzle of the universe,
Who make the lotus-buds bloom,
Overflowing with radiance, you are
Dispeller of darkness and ignorance,
Remover of inertia and cold,
Destroyer of the enemy,
When you assume your terrible anger,
Your aura of brilliance is like melted gold,
O bright-bodied, killer of darkness,
We bow to you yet again.

Having chanted the holy hymn
Thus spoke Agastya -

O heroic, gallant Rama
The very embodiment of Truth and Valour,
Shed this false shadow of inaction.
Here I give you this holy hymn of the Sun-god.
Whoever chants this hymn
In adversity, suffering and in fear,
Is at once rid of all suffering and dread.
The reverent chanting of this holy hymn
Always brings forth victory.
 It is an eternal hymn
Bringing the highest blessings,
Destroying all sins, worries and sorrows,
And bestowing longevity and invincibility.

O Raghav, descendent of Raghu,
By chanting this holy hymn thrice,
You will easily kill Ravana
And all the demons of his vast army.
Victory will bow and kiss your divine feet.
In this great war against Injustice and Evil.

Having given this  holy message
And his divine blessing to Rama,
The sage Agastya then quietly went back
To where he had come from.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Picture Poems

My Picture Poems

The Wall

‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’
It stands there silent and enigmatic.
Between desire and fulfilment.
Who raised it? This ugly wall?
How come it stands here brazenly
With its pockmarked face –
Hard, stony, savage, harsh, pitiless - 
Grimacing with criss-crossed shadows?
Rugged with malice and contumely.
It divides. It hides. It shuts out.
Blocking tear-filled eyes,
From gentle solicitous emotions,
Choking sighing sorrows,
From piercing its concrete barbarity.
Snuffing candles on vigil
For those who perished in pain.
Will it be there forever –this wall -
Indestructible, undemolishable, perpetual?
‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’
That stands forever silent and enigmatic.
Between desire and inertia.

                   Tea with Donne

Good Morning, dear Sun!
Come sit with me
And have a cup of tea.
You look so fresh today,
So radiant, so bright-eyed,
Filling half our world
With your golden ray;
Peering into every window,
Every nook and crevice,
Teasing lazy lovers from their beds;
Writing musical scores
On shimmering cobwebs;
Hastening the yawning buds
To bloom soon before noon,
Whispering to their opening petals
That their tender short story
Has a lovely end by the even-song.
Meanwhile, dear Sun,
Come, sit with me
And have some tea.

                       Hi, Krishna!

Hi, Krishna!
What’re you doing here
Under this tree on my street?
And where is Radha, your beloved beauty?
And all those Gopis
Whom you had left naked in the pool
As you stole their ghanghras and cholis?

Ah, today I am not in a mood for all that
Today I am here in your street
Beneath this tree with my flute…
Today I want to tell you something…

Oh, really? How good of you to think of me!

Today I come to tell you who you are
You are me – none else – me and me alone.
For days I had been watching you
Going on morning strolls, deep in thought.
I knew you were thinking of me
And of the music of my flute.
So I came to tell you I am only you
And you are always in me.

Come, come, Krishna,
You are only taking me round and round
In circles, baffling me with your enigmatic words.
Now, tell me seriously about your true self;
Are you only what you look,
As you stand here under this tree on my street,
Wearing that peacock-feather’d hair-band 
And playing that divine tune on your flute?

Indeed, this is how you see me.
This is how I appear in the mirror of your heart.
But let me make known to you my divine manifestation.
I am the Atman that dwells in the heart of every mortal creature.
I am the beginning, the life-span and the end of all.
I am the beginning, the middle and the end in creation.
I am the Time without end: my face is everywhere.
I am triumph and perseverance: I am the purity of the good.
I am the knowledge of the knower.
I am the divine seed of all lives.
Nothing animate or inanimate exists without me.
Indeed, my divine manifestations are limitless….

Oh, enough, enough, my Krishna.
To me you are best in this enchanting form
With your peacock-feather’d hairband
And that lovely flute on your lips,
Standing beneath this tree on my street
Where daily I take my morning strolls.

Peepbo Sun
Look, the sun comes peeking at my door
Stealthily every morning, playing peepbo,
And stands momentarily transfixed
Scowling at the criss-cross maze
Of sharp angles and rectangles
Cutting into each other in rage
 And creating a fascinating chiaroscuro
Of bright light and deep shadows
Of a magical cryptogram
Written on the perplexed floor
Or is it some visible soundless song
Printed on time’s music sheet


The Fugitive
       Shivapujan Sahay
Translated by Mangal Murty

 [Shivapujan Sahay (1893-1963)  wrote this Hindi story in 1923. It is among a group of only 16 stories that he wrote which were first published in 1935 in a collection named Vibhuti. It also belongs to an interconnected group of four stories based on historical accounts available in James Tod’s celebrated Annals & Antiquities of Rajasthan. The time of these stories falls during the decades in the early 14th century when there were frequent battles between the Mughal rulers in Delhi and the smaller Kingdoms in Rajputana. The plot of this particular story relates to the battle between the Mughal Emperor Allauddin Khilji and Hammir Dev, the King of Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, about 500 miles south-west of Delhi. The romantic love-story that forms the core of the plot seems to have been based on some folk tale as narrated by Tod in his Annals.]

The great Pathan King Allauddin had a passion for hunting. He was so ardent a huntsman   that large expanses of forests were left abandoned in his kingdom specially for this purpose. In his passionate pursuit of hunting he would camp in these forests with his harem of begums for months together.

In India, the Vindhyas are a famous mountain range, sprawling over a wide area, skirting as it were the charming waist of the land mass, with dense natural forests of incomparable beauty. Stretches of sleepy green tranquility lie crisscrossed with dark, fierce swathes of perilous forests. Herds of nimble deer would prance around bower-kissed pools of pristine water, as also there would be lairs of wild lions spattered with the gushing blood of their newly killed prey. There would be numberless trees filled with the music of myriad-coloured birds, as also hissing pythons curling round them.

Royal tents dotted one sequestered grove beneath a hill, some of them decorated with  gorgeous Kashmiri shawls,  tied with multi-coloured tent-pins and silken strings. Ornate bedsteads with starry canopies lay languorously around in these royal tenements. In their centre lay a large circular velvet shamiana surrounded by a flowery garden.

The golden sun was  about to hide its face behind the hills. Allaudin had been out on a hunt. The begums were amusing themselves with chess and card games in the central shamiana. Sometime it would be a nine of Hearts seeming to score, and soon a Jack would try to get the better of a Queen. At another game of Chess at one time a pawn by its devious moves would become the Queen, or the King himself would get cornered into a Checkmate. Lilting laughters would then ring all round the flower-filled gardens. Amidst all those dulcet gigglings, often a soft serene radiant smile would suddenly light up on a pair of lissome lips which had enough tipsiness to make the King sozzled.

The begums decided to go for a swim in a nearby pool, and soon rushed there with their maids. Armed guards readily surrounded the vacant royal harem tents for security. A train of maids followed the queens with their royal clothes, but were soon sent back. The absence of the King had brought a sense of boundless freedom and joie de vivre. Clad only in their loosely worn saris, with their arms round their shoulders, the bevy of beauties walked on their nimble feet into the copse. To savour their unbounded freedom they had not brought even a single bandi with them.
They went chatting, giggling, sprinting ahead, jesting and nudging each other impishly. They would smilingly chide awhile the thorny bushes in which often their anchals would get entangled. One or two would mimic the koels in their cooings, some others would try to chase the fluttering butterflies flying around, looking like flashes of lightning in the darkening evening scene.
Once at the pool they took off their saris and piled them in a lovely heap nearby. The pristine pool of the forest was fragrant with the aroma of lotus flowers, open-petalled or half-opened, and all radiant on the tranquil waters of the pool, teased by the black-bees, as the water fowl cooed around.

Overjoyed, the begums looked at each other, breaking into mischief-mixed smiles. In no time, their happiness and abandon became euphoric and gay. Very soon the nature-nurtured lotuses bowed their blushing heads, petals closed, before those golden lotuses that always lolled in the Pathan King’s pool of consciousness.

Dark clouds filled the horizon. A heavy downpour seemed imminent. But the next moment the clouds disappeared and the sky broke into a glow. Suddenly there was some commotion in a nearby bush as if two venomous snakes were fighting each other. Terror-struck, the begums stopped their water-frolics and gigglings, their ears trained towards the hissing joust in the bush. Mortally afraid, they slowly came out of the pool one by one. The commotion was getting fiercer.  The nearby bushes shook and swayed. They  started running, but a storm had arisen. They couldn’t even see their way ahead. The wicked storm soon blew their saris into the bushes. Helter-skelter, the begums, oblivious of their lost saris, ran for their lives where they could. Velvety skins were rudely pricked and scratched by thorns, but the fear of the King made them heedless of their pain.

Seeing their unclad mistresses trembling in panic and fear, the bandis tried hard to hide their smiles. The price for leaving them behind had been well-paid! But the bandi of the favourite begum was very flustered not to find her darling mistress among the frightened begums. A sudden hush fell all around. All blood froze. Horsemen were quickly dispatched into all directions in the dense forest. But there was no trace anywhere of the new begum. The horsemen came back with their heads bowed in shame. The other begums had their hearts beating dreadfully. The watchmen began tearing their hair. The favourite queen’s bandi pulled out a dagger to plunge into her heart. But the senior begum caught her raised hand – “Stop! The horsemen have returned, but their Sardar hasn’t come back yet. That might augur well!”

The Sardar was still circling around the pool, prying closely into every thicket, every shrub and bush, yet to no avail. Suddenly a strange fragrance filled his nostrils. He was struck with alacrity, focusing all his senses there. All at once he looked askance as his eyebrows lowered in shame, and throwing his silken turban, eyes still lowered, he asked the lissome beauty to wrap it around her nudity. The begum was shivering in cold, her black tresses loosely strewn around her glowing nude body, like snakes curled round a sandalwood sapling in a forest. Languidly she had wrapped the soldier’s turban like a sari around herself. But it had a distinct masculine odour in it which made the begum restive.

“I am shivering with cold. Can’t you do something to bring me comfort?” – wailed the begum.
     “Should I light up some fire here?” said the Sardar.
    “And what about the fire that burns in my heart?”
   “ Order me, and I would do as you say”.
   “Hold me in your arms to love me.”
   The shocked Sardar said, “I would be playing with my life then.”
   “ Anyway, you are now caught in the snare of certain death.”
   “But your royal honour is dearer to me than my life”.
   “But you seem to love my honour more than me.”
   “That to me is still more precious. Otherwise I wouldn’t have dared so far.”
“Then forget the fear for my life. I can take care of that with a twinkle of my eye. But you are needlessly endangering your own life now by opting for a poison chalice and refusing to kiss this cup of nectar hung around your lips. Don’t you know how I can make the King dance to my tunes?”
“My gracious lady, I know everything. But the offence is extremely grievous. My proven integrity, and my diffident soul forbid me to exceed my limits.”
“And you have no care for the turbulence in my heart. No more of hesitancy now. Your promotion to the highest position is assured.”
   “But I would rather shun such an act of disloyalty. Please forgive me.”
  “You have already hurt a she-snake. Don’t retreat now.”
   “ Great lady, there is a limit even to the wildest daring.”
   “Yeah, then let me start the game myself.”
The Sardar was gripped by his qualms. But the begum lost herself in her passionate frenzy. The soft bed of the silence-filled copse soon overflowed with the wild intermingling of two streams of unrestrained desire. A lion emerged from a nearby thicket as the begum reached fulfillment. The Sardar then strung his bow with a smile and killed the animal with a single arrow. The animal was dead and alongside the begum, too, lay supine. Passion was requited into satiety. All nimbleness lapsed into lassitude. All scratches and nicks seemed like the living alphabets of a lifelong bond of union. And all, all was finally enveloped in an enduring embrace, firmly sealed with a passionate kiss.

The begum rode back on the horse to the royal harem. And the Sardar took the string of precious pearls as a gift of love, touched it to his heart, and kissed it smilingly. He only wondered how luck, like a wild storm, had blown his way, bringing him such a rich bounty.
On a moonlit night, Allauddin was on a merry boat-trip with his new begum in the Jamuna river facing his royal palace. The royal boat was surrounded at appropriate distances by other boats of beautiful female singers. On the dark tranquil waters of the deep river the rays of the moon seemed to play a game of diamond dices. It was as if the luminous night-sky was pouring out the milk of a radiant moonlight.
Softly pressing the delicate chin of his favourite begum, Allauddin said – “You, breath of my dear life, seeing your resplendent face, even the moon goes hiding in shame. Look how it is soon about to drown itself into the river out of sheer shame. The begum bent her neck like one of a wine-jar to look that way and smiled. Her eyes reflected the glow of her beauty. The face gleamed with radiance, as her cheeks suddenly flushed rosy.

Allauddin was by now in a stupor of delight. The wine had already roused his dalliance, as the passion-filled begum was totally possessed by fervid desire and the royal boat-ride swayed with the rhythms of love. She was lying embraced in the sinewy arms of the King who was lost in those luscious kisses of his lovely partner.

Suddenly two river-beasts seemed to grapple with each other just there. There was a loud splash as if the river itself had been shuddered awake. The boat shook violently for some moments. The embrace got loosened. The kiss lay broken. And the begum couldn’t help a titter.
“  "What made you laugh so loud, my love”, asked the King.
   “Nothing, my lord; for no particular reason. Believe me”.
   “That can’t be, and you must tell me. I am sure you are lying this time, and it may not be   good for you”, said the exasperated King.
   “Howsoever be it, but there was no reason behind it.”
The King tensed as he took it as a jibe against his manhood. Feeling chagrined and skimpy, he fell into deep annoyance. Nothing would hurt a man more than the derision of his manliness by so beautiful a lover.
    “Tell me the truth, or be ready to die by hanging tomorrow.”
    “How regrettable my lord that you should be so peeved by such a trifle.”
    “Enough of your impertinence now. Go ahead, if you still value your life, and tell me what it’s all about.”
    “If my lord can spare my life, I will tell you…”
 “I give you my word. If you tell me the truth, here and now, I will hold you in my arms again and love you till the dawn.”
    “If your lordship spares one more life… I will tell you all.”
    “Granted, but go ahead at once.”

To cut the long story short, the begum spoke so excitedly about the chivalrous Sardar’s manliness and prowess that Allauddin’s face flushed red. He would only grind his teeth, wring his hands and beat his head in extreme rage. The begum then realized the folly of revealing her deepest secret so naively to the King.

The very next morning, both the begum and the Sardar were thrown into prison. Condemned to hunger and thirst, the day of their execution was fixed. Luckily, the Sardar’s brother was the chief of the jail guards and the brother of the begum was the police chief. By their daring collusion they helped the condemned duo to escape from the prison. When the King came to see, he only found a string of tied clothes hanging across the outer prison wall.

The fugitive duo went round asking for shelter and protection from the various powerful kings in the country, but most of the kings and chieftains even in Rajputana refused to provide refuge to them. Desperate for their safety, they approached King Hammir in his Court. The Sardar begged in a plaintive voice for security. Hammir was deeply stirred by the beseeching prayer of the fugitive couple, his forehead aglow with pride and gallantry. Descending from his throne, he came to the Sardar, and embracing him, said – “No power on earth can harm you now. So long as this Rajput King Hammir is alive you shall have all protection here, in the safe refuge of Rajasthan. Shed all fears henceforth and live with total security within the precincts of my fort. Whoever seeks refuge here shall have full protection under these arms of mine. Now be fearless and give me your full account.”

The astonishing tale of the Sardar cast a spell on the entire Court of King Hammir, and a thousand swords came unsheathed when it ended. The Sardar now became fully assured of his security as he lived within the lofty walls of the royal fort. The begum also was deeply touched by the grace and beneficence of the Rajput ladies of the palace as she lived  under full security among them.

Allauddin’s spies carried all this news to their King who sent a clear threat of total annihilation to the Rajput King. But Hammir declared from the highest tower of his fort – “I don’t care a fig for such hollow threats from a coward King.” And the surrounding hills resonated with the Rajput King’s solemn averment. Even the high walls of the fort echoed back the Rajput’s proclamation – “ Each here shall lay down his life for the honour-bound protection promised to our shelter-seeker.”

In no time, the raging winds carried this grandiloquent message to the ramparts of the Delhi fort. For a moment, Allauddin’s heart shuddered in dread. But the Prime Minister was immediately summoned and an instant proclamation was issued for a devastating attack on Chittorgarh. An army of the elite 50,000 soldiers immediately marched towards Chittorgarh.
On this side, Hammir invested the Sardar with the rank of his Army Chief by tying the designated turban on his head with his own hands. Many of his Rajput courtiers tried to dissuade their King from doing so, but Hammir reposed full faith in the daring and gallantry of a war-hardened fighter.

Fully arrayed in battle dress when Hammir went to seek his mother’s blessings, she kissed his forehead saying – “ Victory in the battle may honour you, my son. I am sure you will prove worthy of my milk and the ideals of Rajput valour with which you were brought up.” But she was startled when Hammir, for a moment, put aside the bow and arrows and his mighty sword and stood rather pensive before her.
“Why this untimely sorrow, my son?”

Hammir then said that  this was a special day when he wouldn’t be satisfied merely with the traditional blessing; he would rather have a blessing filling him with the invincible ferocity of a lion.
“Today, dear Mother,” said he, “I need your special blessing which will enable me to annihilate the enemy totally or sacrifice my proud head at the feet of goddess Durga in the battle.”
“So be it, my son!”, said the proud Rajput queen Mother, as her breasts seeped with milk oozing out of a mother’s love.

The battle went on for weeks. The Rajput army showed its gallantry in ample measure. Allauddin was totally flabbergasted by the valour of his enemy forces. All his arrogance was totally shattered.
In the battle Hammir always kept himself around the Sardar to ensure him full protection. But when the final day arrived, the Sardar found himself completely surrounded in one corner of the battlefield by the Pathan army. He amazed the Pathans by his fierce fighting, killing scores among his enemies, but couldn’t emerge out of the siege. Rushing like a storm Hammir arrived there, leaving the crucial bloody battle that was taking place at the fort’s main entrance. He cut through the enemy siege with his lightning sword and freed the besieged Sardar from the deadly orbit.
But soon both the fugitive and his protector were overwhelmed by a fresh rushing squad of the Pathan army. The battlefield appeared to be flooded by streams of blood. Death itself stood before the two brave heroes to welcome them. It was the Sardar first who seemed to implore Death to take him into its fold before it welcomed his protector. But Hammir himself appeared insistent for Death to take him first into its lap so that the valiant Sardar could follow him into the gates of Heaven. Both the heroes seemed to vie with each other as they prepared for their last journey, but Hammir was able to win precedence. Meanwhile, the Sardar had already brutally slain Hammir’s attacker.

Finally both the Sardar and his protector King lay gasping in the lap of Death who laughingly said to them – “O Maharana, and O Muslim Sardar! Both of you are truly blessed! If both Hindus and Muslims learn from your noble example to live together in harmony and good faith, then this great land which belongs to you both, shall be free from all hatred and violence, bringing some respite to me as well. I feel truly blessed today to have both of you in my lap – one a chivalrous and daring Muslim Sardar, and the other a lion-hearted protector of his shelter-seeker. I don’t know when again I shall have such a good fortune when the likes of you shall adorn this lap of mine.”
                                                * * * * *