Poetry Written By The Javelin

On December 13, 2018 by admin

monica cover


 Prasanta Chakravarty


What the poet produces is akin to the javelin thrower’s act—a bit of the soil from the entrails of the earth, which hides concealed spots of blood. Ephemera it is; mere unearthed bits of soil.  All around us are strewn these passing tableaux of shining ephemera, if we are able to touch their myriad forms, feels Monika Kumar, who is one of the leading contemporary poets writing in Hindi.

Her maiden book is titled आशचर्यवत\ (Ascharyavat—Wondrous. Denotes both the state of wonderment itself/time that causes a state or wonder or the ability to feel wondrous. Just published from Vani Prakashan.

Perhaps we could start from the middle, or stay in the middle, as Kumar does, in one of her finely wrought poems: बीच से शुरू करते हैं (Let us Begin at the Middle).To be attuned to the many miracles that are continually happening around us, perhaps we need to appreciate the role of the ongoing process of living itself—which means the capacity to remain in res medias and appreciate the staying power of things and relationships that bind us.  The middle is neither the zone of hastened invasion nor that of an end which often engenders boredom and shrillness.

मुझे तुम बीच का कौर खिलाना,

न पहले जिसे तुम भूख के मारे निगल जाते हो

न आख़िरी जिसे कहते हुए तुम बिरक्त हो जाते हो

मुझे बीच का निवाला खिलाना,

जिसे तुम बेध्यानी में बमौज खाते हो


Easy marveling at the trivial and the ordinary comes with a sudden realization of this sense of बेध्यानी में बमौज(unselfconscious gaiety)throughout the collection. And we, the readers, acquiesce willfully to this magnetic pull—brought on par with the seeds and the flowers, the fruits and the animals. In fact, the animals that arrive in, and quicken, her poems are often the ones that populate our diurnal existence—ants, lizards, squirrels and rabbits. Do we pay enough attention to our feral neighbours? If we did we would know that—


#  अभी हम खड़े है उस बिंदु पर

जहाँ हम चाहते हैं

यह घर चींटों से मुक्त हो जाये

और चींटे करते हैं कल्पनाएँ

दुनिया की हर चीज़ काश बताशा हो जाये


# छिपकलियाँ एकांत के पार्षद की तरह घर में रहतीं

और मैं व्याकुलता की बन्दी की तरह


# गिलहरियों को अलबत्ता मेरी बातों में कोई रूचि नहीं

उन्हें दिलचस्पी है सिर्फ रोटी के टुकड़ों में

जो स्कुल के बच्चे अपने डब्बे से गिरा देते हैं


# यह नरम- नरम जो बचा हैं खरगोश में

उस मासूमियत का शेष है

जो कछुए के साथ दौड़ लगाने की स्पर्धा में

थक कर नींद बन गयी


In each of these sections Kumar deftly changes the viewpoint from the human to the non-human and the world immediately turns upside down and kaleidoscopic. And then she brings us crashing down to the comic situation where we are seen wallowing and indulging in our exaggerated sense of self-hood. In a similar vein there are some exquisitely refined and intimate portraits of the botanical—flowers, seeds and fruits—which cocoon our daily lives even as we are mostly oblivious to them.

The wondrous comes to us in many forms; and the world that Monika Kumar opens up for us, the unexpected turns that her lines take, are startling indeed.  The local habitations and surroundings turn strikingly vivid. And it is here that she gives us a chance to delve deeper, and vertically, some more: she often begins to take a flight in many of her poems, where the revelation begins to take a truly astonishing shape, and yet often the process then stops short of traversing the whole trajectory of such a flight. This happens, one suspects, owing paradoxically to her deep investment in the local and the communal, though we know that she is an avid reader of poetry from all parts of the world. It is this investment in the common and the earthy—school students and chowkidars, bus conductors, local sportspersons, the housewife, the sweetmeat shop, the petulant lovers in the locality—that keeps  her grounded in the intermediate space of living. She is alive to the equity of life. But it is this same investment in the local that sometimes thwarts her from relating such wondrous everyday situations to two crucial dimensions of living itself.  One: the inscape or the coutours of our inner worlds—a constant journey that happens within. The other: locating all shining objects and relationships with the cosmological and the astral. Those who are able to take cognizance of the wondrous around us have this special ability to string together a thread between the inner and the outer so that all dualism of existence evaporates.  Sometimes Kumar does take a momentous leap and is able to make this vertical connection. The results are truly magical. One such poem is titled बूढ़ा और बच्चा उर्फ़ दादा और पोता(The Elderly and the Child, alias Grandfather and Grandson)

Ostensibly the poem is a commentary on three generations—the elderly, the young adult and the child. But more than that, it is blessed with a remarkable realization that the elderly and the child are threaded together in a deeper relationship of wondrous existence that befuddles the adult world. The elderly reaches that state of childlike naiveté after a lifetime of journeying.

विलम्ब बूढ़े लोगों का गुण है

उनके भीतर स्पंदन है

पर चेहरे स्थिर और विलम्बित है

उनके चेहरे के सामने

समाज अपने बदलाव पटकता है

…बूढ़े लोग शांत चेहरों से युद्ध लड़ते है

लहभग सभी विवादों और दुखों का अंत वे जानते है


The elderly know the final results of all arguments and sorrows. Therefore they realize events intuitively and merely smile about such events—living in hope and curiosity about already known facts. In its his own way, the child naturally tries to sense all that is magical and true within his newly found world and finds the elderly to be the most conducive fellow traveler on that common journey. Thus, the grandfather and the grandchild form the secret, preternatural couple. The adult/father, on the other hand, seeks experience and acquires the secret knowledge of turning worldly-wise after successfully negotiating the many travails and struggles of life, including fantasy (संकेतों की भाषा में पारंगत होकर,/पुत्र अंततः कारोबार में सफल होते हैं/और बहुत सारा गुप्त जीवन लेकर घर लौटते हैं ). The young adult gradually turns wise by the time he arrives at middle-age.

The wise one wishes to explain things. The naïve simply get into the act of playing—विलम्ब सिद्ध और अतीतजीवी बूढ़ा/द्रुत और अविलम्ब खेलता है. Wonderment is certified only through the renewal of the past as it passes through a certain lag in living.  We can feel how the questions of temporality and being are being brilliantly woven together, and juxtaposed against each other, as the poem unfurls. The wise one keeps on recounting his restiveness by eventually turning silent. And who does not know what William Blake has told us long ago, that wisdom is the obverse of wonderment.

Another such poem is कैमरे की आँख (The Eye of the Camera). This is a very complicated and observant poem about the nature of the mechanical gaze and the evasive/hidden. It is about what the camera fails to record. Foremost, the camera cannot gauge the anxiety and unease about the person whose best visage it is eager to capture—that is to say, the camera mediates a relationship without caring to pry open the turmoil of the psyche. The camera does not realize that the subject of the camera is worried sick, and begins to feel as if she is writing an exam. The result is an effect that the beholder never envisaged: every bit of unseemliness, hidden within the subject, as it were, comes to the fore (ऐसे आग्रह पर/कुरूप जो छिपा था कब से/एकदम बलवान हो गया). The eye of the camera is far cleverer than the mirror, since it plays with our innermost pain of being ugly within.  The camera makes us conscious about time’s passage and about our ephemeral existence in this world. But ultimately the camera fails, since it is unable to hold within its frame the trembling legs of the examinee-subject, the true reflection of her anxiety. The camera, similarly, can never capture genuine wonder, since it is a machine about the outer and the partial. The camera misses the form of the marvelous.

Then there is a stunning one about names and pet-names (नाम और लाड़ के नाम). The poem plays upon the idea of anxiety and severance by reflecting on the relationship between given names and pen-names. A distinction is made between the filial anxieties of motherhood around a clear single name and the loverly anxieties of the disappearance of the pet-names and a tapestry unfolds by and by and we reach the crescendo:

प्रेम के न रहने का

दोस्ती के छूट जाने का

पहला संकेत वही रहता

घरु लाड़ला नाम वापिस ले लिया जाता है

और मुझे सुनना पढता है  अपने नाम का

ठंडा और उदासीन उच्चारण

जैसे कोई सुनता है

न्यूज़ रीडर से भूकंप में बच गए लोगों के नाम की सूची

जिन्हें अभी तक कोई घर से लेने नहीं आया है

The sense of wonder that love is gets manifested in the giving/accepting of pet names and the first thing about break-up and detachment is that the pet-names are immediately retracted. Our given names then turn anonymous, as if they are part of a list of survivors that the news-reader announces after an earthquake. Sudden detachments are such earthquakes in our lives. Aimless, loveless survivors, we spend a lifetime looking for pet-names all the time hoping to be moored to wonderment one more time.

The other point about the anthology pertains to the phenomenon that is far too evident now in our lives—the sharp polarization between the votaries of the social and of the natural/transcendental. Such a dissociation of sensibility often turns polemical and begins to operate like an invisible wall that suddenly rises among various interlocutors in a given setting. Sometimes, taking a side is a generational act of stamping the imprimatur of newness in art-practice, so that the old guards are placed on probation at a late age. Often the distinction is pure bravado. Though the poet has made no such claim about the political elements in highlighting wonderment, the introduction written by Wagesh Shukla makes the polemical stakes clear enough. Very early on he makes the claim that contemporary Hindi poetry is invaded by the social, which is actually a mode of political pressure.  And this is turn is a symptom that makes poetry an immediate reaction to an event or happening. Thereafter, the introduction talks about Kumar’s poetry in relationship to fortune (नियति), ethereal gift (नैसर्गिक देन), to rediscover curiosity (इनकी ऊर्जा का स्वाभाव कुछ तोड़ने का नहीं, कुछ खोजने का है). Thereafter a sharp jab at the whole idea whether womanhood (स्त्रीत्व) can ever be about deliberation (विमर्श). Love, and poetic gift, are placed against and prior to such social aims. The lines are sharply drawn between those who indulge in authentic art practice and those who have some hidden agenda of transformative politics playing out within the precincts of cultural practice.One feels that there is really no need for such a proxy battle and shadow turf-warfare, making Kumar’s poetry an excuse. She herself has not gone into any overt critique of the social, since her whole poetic world works at the cusp of the everyday and the natural. Only in two poems does she take a stance about something more pristine and authentic among the wondrous elements that grabs us: जंग लगना(Effects of Rust) and साहित्य का आदिकाल(The Primal Age of Literature). The first poem enunciates these telling lines—

मार्क्स की मूंछ से बाल झड़ रहे हैं

जहाँ बाल गिरता है

श्रमिक पौधा लगा देता है

प्रार्थना की यह कैसी विकृति

हाथ जुड़े हैं की दिल जुड़ा रहे

और जिस दिल में भरा पढ़ा है कांच

वही कह रहा है दिल टूट जाये


The other poem is even more suggestive, making a sharp distinction between a hermeneutics of suspicion in the modern sensibility and the idea of economy of ancient expressions—

आदिकाल का कवी

भाषा का संचय नहीं करता

जितनी आवश्यकता हो

उतनी रोज़ बून लेता है

आदि कवि का श्रम संदिग्ध नहीं

अपनी अभिव्यक्ति के लिए मान्य है


The ossification of political correctness around coteries and circles of patronage is a wondrous fact of life too! That is not likely to go away ever. None of us are exempt from forming groups. We are prone to give in to like-minded fellow feeling. But if we care to think a bit closely we shall see that what we call ‘social’ is nothing but various permutations and combinations of human relationships. There is a possibility that we begin to fall into the hubris of a human centric arrogance that springs thereof. That is ordinary and piteous indeed. But the best of the poets with a penetrative social vision do not make any overt claim of distinguishing culture from nature, immanence from transcendence, the critical from all that is wondrous around us. Similarly, it is amply clear that Kumar’s world is intricately social. She listens most carefully to the undertones of a sub-social which is not fully natural. Her world blesses us by revealing the inner routines of local habitation, the very tapestry that forms the provincial, the everyday, and the twists and turns of a domestic world that always hide some marvelous truths within.  It is a certain habitus that she reveals and brings forth. Her poems have an ameliorating effect on her readers. They help soothe our cares. Though she has not often brought in the workings of debasement, mistrust and the viscera within her ambit, her poems are deeply woven with the very modern sensibility of alienation, poem after poem:

Death (मरना कोई बीमारी नहीं), tedium (जंग लगना), regret (छुट्टियों में पेड़ों को भूल जाना ), sleep contra love (शहरज़ाद उंनींदी पड़ी है), resignation (अवसाद के दिनों),  misfortune (सदमे से पहले उबरने का पहला दिन), loneliness (धोखा होना चाहता है), heaviness of existence (अख़बार), flatness (सब्ज़ी जलना), weight of politeness (आग पानी), ennui (ऊब के बचाव में).

It is true that in each of these poems Kumar tries to distance herself from such ailments of living, and yet she can only do that by being part of the vicissitudes of the contemporary world and modern existence. She can attempt to dissociate from these tiresome and needless repetitions of our living only by acknowledging them.

Finally, a word about Kumar’s style and expressive quality: undoubtedly there is an easy flow of language and intimate tonal quality—what Shukla has called प्रीतिकर और आकर्षक आभा and what I feel is ameliorating. The anthology is also a linguistic act of making language ethical—an act taken into consideration in the first place for a certain atonement to happen through poetry—अपनी आत्मा का कलुष धोने का कर्म. But beneath such a conversational tone, we can also perhaps detect a rigorous craft and an agile mind. Sometimes the mind comes to the fore as the language turns thoughtful and conscious. Naturally the lines then turn analytical, narrativized and finished. At such moments the lyrical takes a backseat.

But more often than not आशचर्यवत\ does remain truly so—wondrous; an achievement that we can only marvel at.


Comments are closed.