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