Friday, May 25, 2018


By Dr Mangal Murty

Kedar Nath Singh
(20 Nov 1934 - 19 Mar 2018)
Death whispered to the poet –
‘Let’s go!’
His story had just ended.
The listeners had dispersed.
The poet went arm in arm with Death,
Leaving his story behind.

Kedarnath Singh now remains a famed name in contemporary Hindi poetry. He is a poet who touches the innermost chords in your heart, but his music is more of poetic communication than complex poetic meaning. Each poem is more like a trance. Here we are reading his most celebrated long poem ‘Tiger’ in the wake of his departure, translated into English by me, as a tribute to his memory. The translation of this sequence was begun on 21 March, 2018, two days after the poet’s demise. This translated sequence started appearing on my Facebook Wall intermittently since then and is still continuing. It is now also being posted on my blog : –  in its entirety, which will ultimately have the sequence completed, in course of time. The dates of their appearance on my FB Wall are given at the end of each poem. The series will continue on my Facebook Wall with regular appearance as an invitation to the reader to visit this blog –- to read the full series (gradually appearing there), along with some commentary by me (given on the blog at the end of the sequence) to help the reader absorb the significance of the poem-sequence as a whole. We begin here with the first poem in the series. And it continues.  

Tiger : 1
There’s a small boxed news
In this morning’s paper -
That last night in the city
Had entered a tiger!

No one saw him,
No one heard the sound
Of his paws in the dark,
Nor was any drop of blood
Found on any of the roads;

But everyone knows
That the news in the morning paper
Cannot be false, that last night in the city
Had entered a tiger.

The truth is, we cannot have doubts
On the coming of the tiger.
The season as it is,
And as the wind blows;
Any time and anywhere
The tiger may come.

But the question is, after all,
After so many days,
And in so big a city,
Why had the tiger come?

Was he hungry?
Was he ill?
Had his thinking changed
About the city?

How strange that he came,
Saw the entire city
With a sneer of deep hatred,
And went away from the city
 In silence and in total unconcern!

Everyone sitting on their doorsteps
In the morning sun seems silent
But I can hear them speaking,
The shoes asking the feet,
The hair asking the neck,
Shoulders asking the nails,
The skin asking the body –
When will he come again?
When again will the tiger come?                                

[21 Mar,’18]

Tiger : 2
In this land full of stories
I am also a story
The tiger, too, is a story
So, quite often when
He would have nowhere –
No proper place to hide
He would arise slowly
And go sit behind a story.

Then however much
You search for him,
Look behind each and every
Leaf in the jungle
He’ll be found nowhere.
The poor buffalo will remain tied
From morning till evening
With a thin rope of water
But the tiger would have no thirst
Nor would he come there
For days together
Even to see his reflection
He had left in the water.

And when the king comes
To the jungle with the hunters
With guns cocked and ready,
Tracking the tiger,
 Wherever he is likely to hide,
The truth is, at that moment,
The tiger is neither there nor here.

Having guzzled all the blood
Out of his prey’s neck,
The tiger would be sitting
At ease behind some story.

[ 28 March,’18]

Tiger : 3
A huge and handsome tractor
Stood there in the outlying field.
Having worked for the whole day
It had grown so tired
That -  neither more nor less
Than the measure of its shadow -
It just stood there still.

The flushed red rays of the setting sun,
Sieved through the thorns of a babool tree,
Fell straight on its engine;
And since the tiger could be anywhere,
At the moment it was in a cane field
Watching the entire scene.
And when it could bear it no more
It growled loud from there
Wow, buddy! Excellent!

He saw it as a big bit of grain,
A red, robust grain aglow in the sun,
Lying in the midst of all the greenery.
And the tiger felt elated about it,
Because – he thought – now will come
An old woman to pick up that grain
And put it into her bag
And take it home and cook it
In her dark boiling vessel.

Then with a suppressed feeling of envy
He stared at the tractor in its wholeness
Turning red all by himself
In his desire to be cooked
In the old woman’s vessel.

[ 2 Apr,’18]

Tiger : 4
“These men – nowadays,
Why do they keep so glum ?” –
The tiger asked the fox one day.
The fox had hardly any idea,
But shook her head in agreement;
All the while staring at the tiger’s jaws,
Still warm and reeking with blood.
Then she spoke musingly after a while
“May be – they have some sorrow”.

“What sorrow?” –
The tiger asked in agony.
“That I don’t know.
But sorrow can happen
By itself, any time.”
The fox said.

The tiger mulled over –
“May be a thorn pricked him!”
“May be” – whispered the fox.
“Or, may be, the man himself
Pricked the thorn.”
This time the tiger
Could understand nothing.
Yet he nodded in agreement.
Then he muttered slowly.
“Do these men
Drink water?”
“They do” – said the fox.
“But not like us,
Only - morning and evening;
And as many times as they will,
Throughout the day.”

“But why do they
Drink so much water?” –
Asked the tiger in wonder.
“For sorrow !- I told you."
Said the fox
Once again the tiger
Could understand nothing.
He stood there thinking
With his head lowered.
‘Sorrow’ was such a word
That made the tiger
Totally helpless.

[ 23 Apr,’18]

Tiger : 5
The tiger saw an amazing scene
Beneath a huge banyan tree, he saw,
A man and a bird,
Lying down there unafraid
With their axe and the wing
Laid side by side.

At first he growled
Then fell silent
Because he could hear
The banyan tree leaning to his ears
And singing slowly
Some very old song
Which was,perhaps, about a king
Who had lost her queen in the forest.

The tiger, however,
Would neither shake itself
Nor growl
But would just stand there
Facing the scene in silence
And fascination.

[May 15,’18]

Tiger : 6

I know a woman
Who lived in a small town
She had many stories to tell
About the tiger and about rivers
And about many other towns
Whose names are not in books

She believed that
The tiger is a magic
And so powerful
That call his name in darkness
And he would suddenly appear
Out of nowhere

She believed that
The thing called love
What we do with each other
Or don’t do
That too is a tiger
And so near to you
That if you listen carefully
You can hear in your chest
The sound of its
Heavy stalking paws

Hence in darkness
She would generally be silent
Or would be shivering mostly
And if she had to say anything
Her quivering lips
Would say something slowly
Only some words
Which could mean anything
Or could mean nothing.

[25 May, 2018]

Ongoing commentary:

In the first sequence of the poem ‘Tiger’, we only learn from the newspaper about the ‘Tiger’ coming stealthily into the city, unseen, unheard, leaving no bloodspots anywhere, and quietly retreating into darkness, showing his hatred and unconcern for the city; The people are shaken by the news of its coming : ‘skin asking the body – When will he come again?’ The poet, with us, asks in perplexity, had the tiger’s ‘thinking changed/About the city?’
In the second sequence, the poet identifies himself with the tiger: ‘In this land full of stories/ I am also a story / The tiger, too, is a story’. Even in the jungle, the tiger is not to be found. He would not return - even to the tied buffalo near the pond – ‘to see his reflection/ He had left in the water’. This invisibility, this unnoticed, mysterious visit of the tiger to the city, marked by ‘hatred and unconcern’, this likeness to a story, or to the story of the poet, - these are the only uncertain indicators by which he can be vaguely defined for us. At the end of the day, it is the story of a tiger – or a poet’s story - framed within a long sequenced story.
In the third sequence, the poem gains in symbolic density. Hiding in a cane field, the tiger looks with envy at a tractor standing still in the farm and identifies himself with it – as if primal nature is envying an artifact of modern technology. The sequence advances further in the fourth part where the tiger and the fox, representing the primal energy in nature are pitted against and perplexed by human sorrow. In the shorter fifth part of the story we discover some new symbols – the singing bunyan tree, the axe and the wing, the king and the queen lost in a forest – as if the poet is dabbing new colours into the painted story – all in a story to be fully understood or communicated as the poem prolongs its sequence. The continuing symbolic juxtaposition of the primal energy in nature and the human sorrow and bafflement works as an allegorical underpinning in the long sequence of poems constituting a ‘larger poem’. In the sixth poem we are closer to the poet’s central symbol, the Tiger - ‘And so near to you/That if you listen carefully/You can hear in your chest/The sound of its/ Heavy stalking paws’. The the teller and the tale are gradually becoming one with the listener – the reader.

[The sequence of poems in the larger poem ‘Tiger’ will continue in my translation, along with the ongoing commentary. Readers are requested to to record their comments.]

(C) Dr BSM Murty
Photos: Courtsey Google images