Malayaj: A Letter
Sri Rameshchandra Shah
3/2, Professor’s Colony
Dear Ramesh Bhai,
Your letter has arrived “hale and hearty”. I am sending another letter to Jyotsna-ji along with this mail. The kind of uncivilized behavior that I had indulged in earlier by not writing to her may be remedied a little by this note.
Dearest friend of mine, I did not yet receive the book, the survey of international literature. Perhaps it is lost in transit. I also could not detect ‘Kalpana’ in any of the stalls here and hence could not take a look at it. Pray, who has conducted the survey? And what were the main arguments? Actually, Hindi journals and magazines these days are so full of levity that it is impossible to nurture a literary ambience of response and counter-response, analytical survey and response to such reports. Much work is left undone just because there is no such clime and ambience. For instance, suppose you wish to write a good response to that light and frivolous report by Chandrakant Devtale in ‘Filhaal’, you have no avenue. Where will you send your piece? Isn’t that a problem? About Filhaal I fully trust your opinion. I could have written a piece in ‘Dinmaan’ about Filhaal but one can see that Sarveshwarji is extremely enamoured of Ashok with certain old baggage. That becomes apparent from his unfair characterization of that magazine in his recent comments.
Let me now come to the content of your letter. I am happy that you took up my cue about the Agyeya versus Muktibodh issue. After having completed my writing, for a few days now I have been thinking about the accomplishments and personality of Agyeya. Much of that on the same lines as you have suggested too. True, the Hindi-wallahs have turned completely ingrate! You are perhaps not surprised that there is very little or no reaction to my essay. The mujahedeens of the Muktibodh camp must have underlined my name in the black register. One can howl and cry on this one too, just like Ashok has done in Filhaal about the departure of certain values.
I am only reassured by the fact that there are still people like you around who understand the nuances of our material conditions. I am truly indebted to you for the valuable thoughts that you have on my writing. And the way you have been thinking about Agyeya’s prose and poesy—that adds a new dimension to Agyeya scholarship. My friend, please write about this issue in detailed fashion in the future. This your statement, for instance, is full of rare insight I feel: “After experiencing the movement of his sensibility in prose, he seemed to gain more breath. So when he came back to verse, that became somewhat more answering to his needs.” In these two sentences one may detect a new way of looking, a fresh method, in Agyeya scholarship. You have rightly pointed out to the historical necessity of Agyeya’s arrival on the literary scene, and the way he provided an intellectual direction to writing also was the demand of the times. Then you mention a certain sophistication in his diction—this is something I did not write about. So aptly put. My suggestion is that please do not let go of these thoughts about Agyeya in those 15 pages. Consider these pages as early notes for a fuller and larger work on the man and his writings. Particularly this issue about his prose-poetry demands a fuller and longer discussion.
I have so far gone twice through the piece on the creative impulse of feelings. With love. So many things come to my mind. Where do I even begin? It is a living, throbbing piece; hence it has touched me so much at so many levels. There are a few things in my mind as an aside right now. Shamsher’s poetic persona is an enigmatic one. That is the reason everyone is so eager to gauge his work and style. Perhaps the personality of Shamsher, much like Nirala, is the most enigmatic and self-contradictory in the Hindi writing world. I feel that there is a difference between self-contradiction and inner-turmoil. One can see that there are many contradictory applications and theorems that Shamsher wants to connect in his writings. For instance, asti and nasti, that which is and that which is not. This I am painting with a broad brush but this can be explained with examples from his work. Is there such self-contradiction in Agyeya too? There are clashes about philosophies in his writings, no doubt. But that is not a battle between affirmation and negation. Rather, the problem of consistency is a characteristic of Agyeya, not of Shamsher.
Your chief thesis about the poet-personality of Shamsher is that owing to his habitual character he was steadily moving towards equitability in aesthetic tone and consistency of a kind. This observation, I feel, is more germane to Agyeya. Whether Shamsher had progressed towards equitability of taste may be debatable but surely Agyeya had been moving towards such a goal with his intelligence and judgments. In this context, isn’t your comment that indulging in thought leads to clarity and a searching mentality not a simplified generality? I completely agree that Shamsher does not tackle his subject in its full complexity but rather chooses a safe corner of self enclosed mutinous art. But is that only because in his writings there is little clash between thought and feeling? There is a different kind of clash which takes him towards another kind of intricate and unsafe form of art: that is the collision between one end of feeling and the other end. The affirmative and the negative strains are part of the same stream of a felt-process. Not thought process but the two aspects of the felt-form. One has to read Shamsher’s surrealistic poems in order to appreciate this collision, where he altogether abandons the known linguistic domain of human communication. Imagine what tornadoes, what dark hidden battles there would be where no one is certain about the divergent camps that fight; that is emotion pure, just and only an emotive quest. The ones in which the poet is conscious about this warring confrontation, those become a ground for a strange melancholy. Such melancholy, as if it carries a bullet born of the flames that had burnt the epidermis of the collision. His tooti hui, bikhri hui is such a poem. The end result of such a collision is not resolution but a tiredness, whose language is silence.
Therefore, whenever the contradictory elements clash in Shamsher, it does not take the shape of fire and brimstone, it does not overtly take the shape a certain struggle—naked, mute and dauntless as we witness in Agyeya and in a more fiery and animated sense in Nirala. Shamsher, with his contradictions does not traverse towards equitability but towards meditation. You have given a fine name to this meditative condition: self-sufficient art. Shamsher’s journey is not monochromatic. He stands where he began his journey; as is. From such a viewpoint it is useless to talk about the evolution of Shamsher’s writerly persona. His journey has been towards a certain depth which is the sign of deepening and intensifying of feeling. On a different plane, this speaks of his contradictions getting rapidly crystallized and palpable. The impact of such density on the art-form and the aesthetic manifestations of such an art-form have been aptly discussed by you in your essay.
Yesterday I could write this much. Today I read your piece one more time. Now I feel that your naming of Shamsher as ‘the poet of habit’ is completely justified. In the category of habit one has to hone imagination, intelligence and the senses rather than emotion and self-centeredness. Habit does not welcome intricacy. You have made a valuable point that winning truth through the struggles of contradiction is the mark of creative brilliance; not that of habit.
Yesterday I had read Nirala too as a poet of self-contradictions, quite akin to Shamsher. This has been careless. Nirala is actually a poet of such remarkable creativity which moves through the immense inner-collision between thought and feeling. Self-contradiction is perhaps a more homely and affectionate construction that is applicable to Shamsher. Since the flame remains within himself.
In these my welcoming words do you detect some remedies to your thesis and constructions? Clearly, I have a bias. Of my own views. Perhaps we shall reach the same goal though our paths are different. Do you also feel thus?
The way you have close read two poems in order to show the creative sparks of feeling is remarkable. One rarely sees such minute and literary analysis. It is evident that you are mired in such intricacies. One noticed such intricacies in the write-up on Prasad. And the amazing example that you conclude with is still fresh in my mind—भाव थे जो शक्ति-साधन के लिए/ लूट गए किस आंदोलन के लिए ?
In order to buttress your points about musicality, you have used secular criticism. I am not wholly sure that it works. Is it not about a collective spirit, say like the Vaishnav bhavna. But this is a minor point. The way you have underlined a certain Hindu imagination is quite deep and fulsome. I particularly liked your analysis of ‘ये लहरें’. Someone who is immersed in poetry can only come up with such analysis. This is something that you possess, like Shamsher. To enter a scenario. To put one’s composure and self into oblivion.
The way you have placed Shamsher alongside Nirala from time to time is very symbolic. And Agyeya with Prasad. Is it therefore that you cannot say that Shamsher seems more immediate than Agyeya? There has been much written on Shamsher but then, much has not much touched too as yet. In comparison, Agyeya has not been commented upon too much. One cannot discover Agyeya; he must be judged and analyzed. His historical position has not yet been marked fully. Prasad too is not worked upon in detail. You have been working towards such an evaluation. Muktibodh, too, one has to read in and through a much more diverse lens. So far only a stupa, a statue of Muktibodh has been erected. Given time and opportunity I have a wish to conduct such a reading.
My friend, the point is that your write-up seemed quite solid and fundamental to me. It helps one’s mind nurture raw thought. Particularly I loved your poetic example. But your overall constructions I did not find too original. For example, your discussion on Mallarme seems to be hasty and lacks connection to your overall argument. You could not build up those connections. So you had to be content with the critique. The point about the dichotomy in Shamsher’s thought is also not new. But regardless, your arguments and the thrust of the piece is something truly fresh and thought-provoking.
Yesterday I had gone to the university to imprison Shamsher-ji. But the bird had flown away. Today I plan to visit Lajpat Nagar. I shall carry your essay with me.
My friend, I have already sent you my comments about your poetry. I shall not waste my time commenting on individual poems here. Ah, to be lost in reverie after reading poetry; is that not sufficient? Why do you turn so nervous and high-strung? Why are you so unsure about yourself? Poetry is not something that you can come up with from your enclosed self. It is either there in you or not! And I know you do have those fountainheads. Your wariness shall be detrimental to your poetry. See, I just write poetry and dump them to the sea. I have not even asked someone so learned and wise like you to make some comments about my poetry. Though, how I crave to make such a request only my heart knows.
All right, do tell me how went the Hindustan Academy convention in Allahabad? I am told that Ashok-ji too was a participant? How were the discussions? What news of Ashok-ji? Do the signs of ‘Pehchan’ look a bit clearer now?
I hope this letter reaches you before you travel to Rewa. I shall expect a reply once you return.
I shall try to get hold of Indian Writing Today. I have to figure out from where this journal is published. Seems like I have heard the name before.
Rest goes fine.
PS: My friend, whatever I have written above is just my reaction. I now feel that I have not able to justify my viewpoints correctly and with sufficient illustrations. Please consider my critical references about your essay from such a viewpoint.