‘Irreparable Loss Should Be Forgotten As Soon As Possible’

On May 30, 2014 by admin

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In a conversation with Anil Sinha, Vamik Jaunpuri also says, ‘Poems should not be slogans but they must be loud enough.’

The interview appeared in a Commemorative volume for Anil Sinha, published by the Anil Sinha Memorial Foundation in 2014.

Translation: HUG. 

 

Introduction: Anil Sinha

The 85 year old Urdu poet (born: February 23, 1910) has seen many ups and downs in life, poetry and in organizational politics. He has an in-depth understanding of the role of the poet, the poet’s craft and his relationship to society. To have an audience with him is like traversing through a few eras all at once. He has published five books so far, four among those are books of poetry—Cheekh( 1948), Jaras (1950), Shab Charag (1978) and Safre Na Tamam. His autobiography is titled—Guftani Ka Guftani, which I had read in Patna’s Khuda Baksh Khan Library. He believes that a poet’s journey is never-ending, since humanity and society never come to an end. He joined the Progressive Writer’s Association in 1972. His poem ‘Bhukha Hai Bangal’ became a great hit. It had instantly spread byword-of-mouth and was on everyone’s lips at that time.  He was formally associated with the collective till 1950 until his straight talk, and obligation towards poetry and society,led to his marginalization. To date, his position in the organization is not very sound and yet all his love and lore has always centred on the P.W.A.  The ideal, that he ought not to abandon an organization with which he has been associated right from inception, never left him.

Most of his poems are the finest of treasures and a bequest of the home grown Indian thought process. He was quite unknown to the Hindi world. Usually Vamik Sa’ab was a man of few words, but whenever he did decide to speak—he would go all the way. Ajay Kumar of Jaunpur has helped me in appreciating and making sense of the Urdu lafz that he has often used in the course of our discussion. This conversation dwells on poetry and politics, and their relationship. We also discuss poets and litterateurs and their intellectual role in matters social.

As we enter through the enormous gate of the almost 200 year old Lal Kothi I remember a snippet of Ghalib’s famous sher –उग रहा है दरो-दीवार पर सबजा ग़ालिब“…germinating vegetables on the walls and portals Ghalib.” But these walls and entrances were not marked with decay and loss; they opened us up to a throbbing, transformative, great and living poet, forever eager and restless to dream and instantiate a happier, freer and egalitarian life for his fellow beings. Vamik Jaunpuri, at 85—seeking and searching Urdu’s real spread and enlargement, is very much the same creative persona that we have known for so many decades.

Vamik Sa’ab, who has forever tried to take poetry to an elevated height, thinks that to be a poet is to be a paigambar—a prophet. If a prophet means someone who, for the betterment of the world, for the sake of a peaceful future, works toward bringing forth an equitable world into existence, so does the poet. By presenting before us testimonies of daily struggles, the poet stirs us with energy and furore so that one may imagine a more equitable and just society. This idea of the poet as a prophet is much of Vamik Sa’ab’s belief and it means that in his own way he is aware of his responsibility to contribute to nation building. So, he would often draw portraits of those higher prophets with china ink—the likes of Tagore or Ghalib, for instance.

We reach a veranda in Lal Kothi.  The rain soaked sun shines lightly and the spotless sky is reflected in the green grass and brambles on the walls. On the other side of the veranda a greying poet with his paan-dabba sits on his easy chair.  The dabba is placed over an old, dilapidated chowki.

The poet’s eyes burn. I am with Ajay Kumar, I say, and the poet greets him—“Come Ajay, if  Begum was alive, she would have offered you paan right now.” In his thoughts I could see his begum—his homemaker, sakhi, secretary too perhaps.  And as he stands up and makes us comfortable—he says; “Irreparable loss should be forgotten as soon as possible.” One can see why Vamik Sa’ab, in spite of relentless pressure from his sons and friends, is beholden to his soil, his world.

“ए मेरे प्यारी ज़मी / नौर सो नाज़ आफ़रीं/तेरे चमनजन पर/हुस्न की सरशारियां /फ़िक्र की महमेज़ पर /फन से तो जन्नत निशाँ /गगन ज़लज़लों के क़र्ज़ में, जन तुझे ठंडक मिली /आदमी की भी बनी/आशिके मज़दूर तू …”

This zamin begins in Lal Kothi but spreads all over India.  He says, thinking deeply, dreamily —that a new mutiny is needed now. Fresh and fecund.The ones who are dividing the nation and are hell bent on keeping the poor in their rightful place—it’s they whoshould be worried instead, not the poor. Their dreams must never be fulfilled. One should think of a fresh blueprint.

Ever optimistic, he believes that such a future is not very far, that such sentiments might again stir our nation, especially in the rural sector. Mutiny itself is a sentiment and a powerful, hidden one too. One who understands this sentiment might work towards shahadat(martyrdom). This sentiment was very much present in Ashfaqulla Khan and Bhagat Singh, he ponders. In my ancestry too, there has been a tradition of such sentiments. One can use the very idea of being a shahid (martyr) in making a surat (representation/face)—that is, for composing art and literature. This very idea of inquilabi poetry should be the basis of our writing, he feels. Now, more than ever. Otherwise we are destined to fall into a bottomless pit.

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Anil Sinha: Can you please tell us a bit more about these powers that are trying to get the country into a morass?

Vamik Jaunpuri: Do I need to explain it after all that has happened?  You too have been watching closely the patterns of governance and models of government. I have been seeing things from even more ancient times. The homegrown capitalists are providing relentless fillip to the modes of British colonialism in every which way, in newer guise, more robustly. Humans have simply turned into things. Capitalist motivations combine with communalism—a poisonous cocktail. A revolting, anti human malaise, this.

A.S: Is communalism being used as a cultural weapon?

V.J.: In a cruder manner than a mere cultural weapon, I’d say.The poison of communalism has been accumulating for a while and now that ready-made bank is being used for political purpose. It is being highlighted in a well worked out manner so that the market value of social discrimination augments; so that humans get bloodthirsty about other religious dispositions and so that people in the top echelons who fan and incite such feelings can rule. The face of the future is bleak indeed and we should prepare for terrible days ahead.

A.S. Would you like to comment more on the politicization of such emotions? Any new message to the new generation? How can one get rid of such a scourge?

V.J.:  See, I do not think a realist writer’s job is to give running commentaries and statements on daily incidents. A creative writer acutely notices every bit of happening all around him and spends his days with a lot of pang. And this pang is expressed in his writings. Yes, there cannot be any dishonesty between artistic creation and life. One cannot also indulge in ostentation or fashionable excesses.  I had written a poem Rakshe Bismil—on the contemporary degenerated and reactionary persona. Goes like this:

“इंतज़ार और अभी और अभी और अभी /…वही बेनूर दमाग और वही चेहरों पर गुबार /हसरतों का वही पामाल सनम खान-ए-दिल /…बेक़रार और अभी और अभी और अभी |”

To this, comrades and sathis had registered reservations and complaints. One can of course register complaints and charges on anything and everything. The straightforward and honest creative writer is not worried about charges. It happens like this: the dark bilious clouds gather around us and the writer keeps observing, tracking its minutia and its turnings and meanderings. And he gets influenced. The whole world’s pain the writer has to drink down, with no performative excess. And then give it back to the world so that it might help recreate a new, better world. There is a tipping point when poetry happens. It cannot be made to order. But Rakshe Bismil was published in P.W.A..

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A.S.: Was there any direction or dictum by the CPI party for such a fate to have befallen your poem(s)? We hear that at that time the party used to interfere in the work and methods of creative writers?

V.J.: I don’t know what the party’s role might have been in forwarding the ‘appeal’ against my poetry. But some comrades must have been disgruntled and over enthusiastic. Poetry was perhaps taken at the personal level.

I cannot say that the party directly intervened in creative pursuits but the situation was not too heart-warming either. The party leaders endeavoured to make sure that creative people were not given much sway or status. One tried to be creative and above the rest even in political pamphleteering and other literary output and such writers who realized the value of creativity in writing were never deterred by dicta. These people never allowed the party leaders’ reasoning or opinions to get an upper hand over their better judgement. They remained immersed in their world of creativity and became independent whenever they felt suffocated beyond a point.

A.S.: Did the party people want that the creative writers write pamphlets, posters, compose slogans or write such poetry that approximates these other modes in nature and tone?

V. J.: I have tried not to worry about this aspect. That would have been a waste of time.  Even if they wanted one to toe a particular line, the creative people would not have done it. The writers would only do that after considering that the circumstances demand such analytical frameworks.  I think that poems should not be slogans but they must be loud enough. Poetry must somewhere analyse our socio-political situation and give the kernel back to us—it is only thus that its task nears completion. It fulfils its mandate by giving back to society its own dreams. Therein lies its responsibility. But the hard bargain with poetry is that it must say what it has to say and yet continue to remain poetry. Most of my poems are voluble but I’d like to think that first and foremost they are poems. The poet’s success lies in the marking off this difficult balance.  I think I was one of the first Urdu poets to have written on the nuclear holocaust and when I did, I was acutely conscious of this fine tuning.

A.S.:Can poetry, with its dignity intact, be voluble and demanding? Or is it the prose form that is more conducive for such a function?

V.J.:See, prose and fiction serve an important purpose. It is said that the real can be more effectively depicted in fiction but that does not diminish the status of poetry.  The ways of each genre are independent and self-sufficient. But each actually leads to artistic acts that have similar purpose. Poetry is a more perfected art form. But it is not that those who craft poems are not expressing the hard realities of life.

The poetic craft can become loud and powerful by maintaining its mien and ways, though it might be a subtle and difficult task to handle. But none can evade this difficult act too. Life and realities of life will continue to be part of poetry. There cannot be any fiction or poetry without reflecting the vagaries of truth and reality. Literature does reflect social realities.  My own work testifies to this fact—with all its balancing.

See, we get into this turmoil, this moment of mad furore by watching the real. But not much has changed and in fact things are getting worse after so many years of our political independence.  The whole dream of an independent India stands shattered and such a situation cannot allow an artist to remain nonchalant, can it? I am a very rebellious poet. Very angry. What I have been seeing for a long time has filled me with dejection and restlessness. This is no independence at all. Successive inane and compromised governments have made common people into a virtual enemy formation. People vs government—that has become the equation. So, one must have an inquilab through which Hindustan might become a nation where people who are actually equal.

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A.S.:What kind of climate do you sense now and what are the chances of coming out of it?

V.J:  All around a large section of people seem to be wandering, helpless and defeated.  A section of the population is indifferent, cut off from the nation, comradeship and ideas of humanism—as if all these things do not matter!The cultural world seems to be bereft of conscience—culture being used as a tool merely.A dark situation indeed.

Those who are troubled by this attitude must seriously think about why a section of society has turned insensitive—how come they have distanced themselves from love, sensitivity and human ideas of equality?  How can such monstrous habits be exorcised?

National leadership is bankrupt today—without any doubt. Small nations around the world have been able to transform themselves positively. Ideas have germinated there – though sometimes those ideas developed and stayed at some distance from the common people. This has troubled me too.  But India could not do even this much. There is only one way, I think: to directly go to the people and be with those who are fighting and struggling with life at a very fundamental level. Yes, that is the only way.  We can only learn from such wins and losses.  Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, the North East of India, Madhya Pradesh and such other places have witnessed people struggling for a modicum of dignity, fighting for equitability. The insensitive section of our people must be brought to this other half of our population and we all can learn from such struggles. We have to realize the necessity and sensitivity of such struggles.

A.S.: How can one fulfil such a task?  What responsibility do writers, poets and those connected to culture have?

V.J.: The nature of our intervention ought to be two pronged, I feel. The economic structure should be transformed first. For this to happen, a new generation must come up which will relinquish every bit of its security drive and jump into movements that support equitability of all kinds. If they want it to, the sun will rise in the right direction. Our antagonistic impulses need to be sharpened actually. Our areas of struggle must increase so that we can produce a new breed of national leaders.

And the other front is cultural, of course. Like-minded poets, writers and intellectuals can come together if they can disown their individual ego. We must appeal to all important cultural voices to come under one head—protest and reconstruct. The organic intellectuals must show us a way. It is their responsibility.

Writers must observe keenly and track shortcomings. And also read carefully the positive strategies of the other side. What are the opposing ideas? How can they be illuminated?  And one must relentlessly critique obscurantist and divisive ideals—ideals that are likely to foment an uglier future society. Writers must summon their imaginative potential to make the conflicts of the nation as crystal clear as a shining mirror to their readers. Only then will people get a sense of the job at hand for them—both political and artistic.Writers will have understood their responsibility, as writers always have, whenever exploitative ideals have triumphed in different parts of the world.

Our writers must see and know about such interventions. And if they do so, they will have taken the right writerly responsibilities. From every writer’s own location, a unique vantage point must come with certain interventions. That will be his culturally constructive gift.

A.S.: Please give us an inkling of some concrete steps in this direction?

V.J.:  The first task of artists and writers is to write—believable and unostentatious writing. May be we can have a kind of advisory council of writers and artists and intellectuals beholden to such ideals? And leverage ideas and conclusions to government bodies? The council must be active and plan its actions. Intellectuals do and can make a difference—notice how effective they have been in helping choose the Pope, from the wings. Writers and artists are no neutral beings. They must think about positively about transforming the nation.

Scientific ideas too must not be overlooked by the writers. Let us try and apply progressive scientific thought in our life and work. How can one think of people’s leadership with no trial and error at all?One must take risks. If we want to change things we must face authoritarian forces. That is a given.

Today we witness that those who run the society have changed from being Duke to being Dracula. If a pro-people leadership emerges—we must use our artistic tools to intervene too.  Change demands some sacrifice.  Gandhian rural ideology is not effective any more. The man has been co-opted. The urban field cannot be ignored and progressive ideas should be highlighted.

A.S. : You are projecting as if there these times are terrible and even writers must think again about their role in such times?

V.J: Yes, it is a terribly perilous time indeed. Our very beings are in danger—our very common existence is in jeopardy. We are unable to communicate and consequently the anti-intellectual and inane brigade has been very effective in making nefarious changes. The poets and those associated with fine arts can be intellectuals provided they are connected to the ground. They can give us cultural directions. Their tools are shaped by the society and they have to once again sharpen those tools, as I have been maintaining.

Poetry demands perfection. But it can never become perfect since it trudges forever in pursuit of perfection. It is an application. An act of tending towards. The endless effort to subtly inspire and express our own human condition is its job. If writers lose this power, they will have lost their very restlessness as creative people. Thinking, sensitivity, peace loving society—these ideals will have no meaning anymore. Therefore, I believe that artists and poets and thinking people have a central role within the social ferment, the foremost role in fact—given such times. If they cannot rise to the occasion, they too, like everyone else, will become the prisoners of a dumb and inane political world.

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Gham Ka Naav (Vamik Jaunpuri) :

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