Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book Review: The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck

The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck is a phenomenally engaging and complex account of a scientific expedition by one of the greatest American novelists. The science itself makes it a worthwhile read, but what tugs most at your heartstrings, and fires most sparks in your head is exceptional prose that serves a cocktail of science, philosophy, anthropology and history. The Log from the Sea of Cortez succinctly presents Steinbeck's beliefs about humanity, vanity, intellect, progress, technology, morality and society, and thus this book provides a key to deeper understanding of Steinbeck's novels, life and work.

At the simplest level, the book recounts a 4,000 mile voyage on a sardine boat out of Monterey, California around the Baja peninsula into the Sea of Cortez. This expedition, undertaken by Steinbeck with his biologist friend Edward Ricketts, was aimed at collecting a wide range of marine animals and observing them in their pristine condition. The curiosity-driven adventure provided Steinbeck and Ricketts an opportunity to explore marine lifeforms and their subtle adaptations in various gulfs, bays, estuaries and reefs along the shores of the Sea of Cortez. The book describes daily events and labor that contributed to a rich harvest (or collection) of many species of crabs, shrimps, anemones, corals, sea cucumbers, sharks, string rays, mussels, clams, and other marine animals.

Many critics and in fact, Steinbeck himself, have recognized that the biologist Ricketts exercised a great deal of influence on the creative and imaginative life of Steinbeck. This log and the complete text of The Sea of Cortez are obvious examples of their collaboration. Based on self-consistent evidence, it is clear that Steinbeck himself was a seeker of deeper knowledge of the scientific and biological world around him, and that his interaction and friendship with Ricketts broadened his perspective on science, life and humanity. In our contemporary world, there are fewer than ever individuals who are equally comfortable in discussions that involve bot literature and science. Steinbeck seems equally deft in writing about both realms.
The book is full of passages about research and science that are gems in their own right, and I am sure many scientists would enjoy reading these. Example sentences: "There is a curious idea among the unscientific men that in scientific writing there is a common plateau of perfectionism. Nothing could be more untrue. The reports of biologists are the measure, not of the science, but of the men themselves." Or these sentences from another chapter: "It is difficult, when watching the little beasts, not to trace human parallels. The greatest danger to a speculative biologist is analogy. It is a pitfall to be avoided -- the industry of the bee, the economics of the ant, the villainy of snake, all i human terms have given us profound misconceptions of animals." Somewhere else in the book, Steinback writes: "There is one great difficulty with a good hypothesis. When it is completed and rounded, the corners smooth and the content cohesive and coherent, it is likely to become a thing in itself, a work of art. It is then like a finished sonnet or a painting completed. One hates to disturb it."

There are particularly powerful and evocative discussions and passages about the distance and difference between the timeless, archaic culture of the Native American (aka American Indians) and the hasty, wasteful, money-minded culture of urban Americans. Steinbeck explored similar themes in his other books and in the script he wrote for a documentary titled "The Forgotten Village" (1941).

Steinbeck the writer is as soul stirring here as he was in The Grapes of Wrath. Likewise, his world view expressed in this log will be in conflict with the same people who labeled him as a socialist or a communist. Though many people see Steinbeck as a propagandist who spews venom against the rich and the ruling elite, a critical examination of Steinbeck's writing here shows him as a person who wants to see reality as it 'is'. This reality, be it socio-political realm or biosphere, contains weak and strong, preys and predators, survivors and dead. Though Steinbeck writes about humans or marine animals like a detached observer, his sympathies seem to lie with the underdog. Perhaps that is the reason for his popularity around the world.

The book reaffirms my belief that great scientists and artists have both caliber and appetite for acquiring knowledge in diverse realms. I think the travelogue is an inspirational text and a valuable resource that should be read by all practicing or aspiring marine biologists.  It is a must read for anyone who really cares about the writing of Steinbeck, and I dare say, for all scientifically-minded people.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book Review: Jospeh Anton by Salman Rushdie

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie is a memoir of his alias-being, a shadow-identity that allowed the author to exist in spite of threats, insults, stress and the fatwa that followed the publication of The Satanic Verses. Shadows are two-dimensional, and their form, size and intensity changes as a day progresses. Shadows are visible only when light is blocked. For years Salman Rushdie lead the life of Joseph Anton, a shadow, haunted by justified fears for his life and the life for his loved ones. The memoir revisits the psychological, social, political, personal, national, international, literary and imaginary landscapes Salman Rushdie inhabited for nearly twelve years. The name Joseph Anton, we learn, was forged by combining the names of two of Salman's favorite authors: Joesph (Conrad) and Anton (Chekov).

For readers like me acquainted with nearly every book and essay Salman has written as a novelist and an essayist, the memoir provides a rare voyeuristic perspective into the workings of a fascinating author. The conception of each novel and essay, especially the ones he wrote during his years spend in hiding, involve stories made poignant and almost tragic-comic in the retelling by the protagonist. We learn about many other authors, their eccentricities and foibles, and the behavioral and political choices authors, politicians and the majority among us make when faced with a death sentence hanging over the head of a writer, thinker, intellectual like Salman Rushdie.

Is it possible to write an autobiographical text without appearing self-obsessed and self-congratulatory? Maybe, maybe not. Let me pick three autobiographical texts from Indian sub-continent to compare with Joseph Anton: Mahatma Gandhi's My Experiments with Truth, Harivansh Rai Bachchan's autobiography in four parts and Baburnama. Gandhiji text provides a glimpse into the development of a leader whose impact on humankind has given this text a stature beyond its literary worth. History will note that his ideas and writing influenced the course of the Indian freedom struggle and served as inspiration to Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr as well as countless leaders and commoners in Africa, Asia and Americas. Baburnama, which is supposedly the first autobiographical text by a Muslim author, provides an exceptional account of the life and rise of Babur from a small chieftain in and around Samarkand and Kabul to the founder of the Mughal Empire in India. The richness of the text is perhaps in its catalog of defeats and victories, families and feuds, customs and comments, wines and fruits and landscape and lifestyle of a bygone era, but the longevity of text rests primarily on the exploits of an emperor.

In contrast, Bachchan's autobiography is perhaps the only one that is both a literary masterpiece and a personal testimony, and at both levels it is full of otherwise inaccessible perspective about the author, his life & work, and his world. Rushdie's Joseph Anton succeeds like Babur's and Gandhiji's text do, as notes that will be remembered primarily in contexts of other deeds and words enacted off the page. Unlike Bachchan's autobiography, where the author explores his own weaknesses and incongruities, along with those of his friends and family, Rushdie's writing is aimed at setting a record straight about the impact of fatwa on his being and writing. In Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie shows (not tells) how his personal life was altered completely, irreversibly and how the writer came to terms with a relentless barrage of opinions and counter-opinions that considered him a trouble-maker rather than a victim. Though the larger issues about artistic values, freedom of speech, religious fundamentalism, political ambivalence, national security, terrorism and exile are all integral to the narrative of Joseph Anton, the personal struggle of Salman Rushdie is too distant from the experiences of even his most ardent readers, giving it a flavor of "unmagical unrealism", if such a phrase can be used to describe Joseph Anton. They who condemn him for writing The Satanic Verses believe he  launched himself into an orbit of nearly no return by writing what they consider blasphemous book, and unfortunately, the people who condemned him earlier would neither show empathy towards the author nor compunction for their behavior after reading Joseph Anton, if they ever read Joseph Anton.
By writing Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie reinforces his demand on all intellectuals, liberal and otherwise, to take a stand against the practice of silencing voices, banishing authors and burning books. Salman's own survival we learn here has been made possible by the efforts of multiple governments, efficient and nameless security officers & guards, staunch friends and a great deal of expenditure. Attacks on ideas and writers have continued nearly unabated in our times. Unfortunately, even after so many authors have been sacrificed at the altar of literature and truth, most of us continue to bide time in silence. Jospeh Anton is a strong and a soul-stirring reminder of how even the most advanced and liberal nations (and citizens) can be held hostage by a small group with strong opinions or by the threat of religion-related or sometimes superstition-related violence. 
Though we must feel free to disagree with writers like Salman on many issues and take time to criticize their words or choices, we owe it to the humanity to provide safe passage to all ideas and ideologues. Even though it is convenient to believe that the callous and shallow ideas, harmful and deceitful writings and the power or influence of dishonest and vicious writers/politicians will disappear in time, it is only through free speech and active engagement with all facets of an argument that we can turn tables sooner rather than later. Read Joseph Anton and see how many spark plugs in your mind are set ringing by Salman Rushdie, who I love to call a blasphemous apostle. If you haven't read him already before, to really appreciate the extraordinary skill, wit and intellect of Salman Rushdie the writer, pick Midnight's Children or Haroun and the Sea of Stories, for these will be valuable reads even a thousand years from now.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

To Sachin Tendulkar, my hero

My dear Sachin Tendulkar,

I bid you farewell today with a lot of emotion. I am every Indian cricket fan who watched you perform for 24 years (gloriously on days, doggedly when chips were down). I am every person who respects great accomplishments that come with honest effort, perseverance and cultured skill. I am every fan who has admired the grace and the gravity of your on the ground, and off-the-ground words and deeds. You are a worthy hero in your own right, and you have been an inspiration to all of us in more ways and on more days than can be enumerated. I so wish we had more like you in every field. There is more to write and say but we will leave that for another day, as great emotions leave little room for words.

Thank you for every burst of hope and inspiration to provided to me and the nation, and for a career full of accomplishment.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

In English

Do we, westernize desi sentiments, when we write in English?
Do we, our longings, appear bastardized or contrite in English?

I concur, puns lack the cultural context. Metaphors lack that bite.
Don't we Indians suffer from a self-imposed exile in English?

In Hindi and Urdu lie the battles of Sanskrit and Farsi roots,
I escape Indian divisions but territorial wars I fight in English.

More Indians speak/read it, than Americans plus British do.
Why is the universe surprised if I choose to delight in English?

Blacks, Southerners speak in drawl, British have an accent!
Should I worry if we can't count syllables right in English?

Can I become a revered poet-prophet without writing in Hindi?
Even my mother insists, I sound foreign, uptight in English.

Restrain, veils, euphemisms, religious propriety, traditions:
I break chains; let my Muse celebrate her respite in English.

Even the most illiterate in the East sing verses of the great poets.
I seek that ideal, immortality. Can I scale that height in English?

For ten centuries, the East has glowed in the candlelight of Ghazals.
Vivek blazes with the passions Shahid too sought to ignite in English.


Published first in Contemporary Ghazals, 2013

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Seven thousand a day stillborn

Seven thousand a day stillborn worldwide
says the headline, forgetting seven thousand
a day mothers with voids in their wombs,
infected by slurs bursting like pus from hackneyed lips
of their own kin. Seven thousand a day mother-hoods
stillborn, destined to bear a viscous grief in their eyes
while their own flesh turns into a monument of mud.
Seven thousand a day fathers ushering doubt into doors
beyond which science and religion appear futile;
only an angry pain gnaws at the soul with stillborn
claws of memory. Seven thousand a day nearly-parents
resuming with a dreadful rancor, a bitterness unmitigated
by gossip, tv, cricket, a fury concealed within their breasts.
The countless aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors keep
reminding them that pity has a tenor which like a rake
keeps scratching at the surface, while the worms of sorrow
penetrate the deeps within. Seven thousand a day questions
forsaken by an age-old habit of accepting a stillborn future
as fate. Seven thousand less is like an absent ripple
unnoticed by the ocean that sloshes and surges; the shells
and sand left in its wake become new ground for feet to sink in,
for hands to build fragile dream-houses, and forget
how each day, seven thousand disappear without a word
or a smile or a tear. Seven thousand a day stillborn souls
recalled to the base-station or wherever they come from.
While two-and-a-half million per year retreat without a syllable,
to have each one of us alive, day after day, isn't it, a miracle? 


Appeared first in Reading Hour, July-Aug 2012.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Nadi, Baandh, Baad Aur Kavi : नदी, बाँध, बाड़ और कवि

नदी, बाँध, बाड़ और कवि 


हिमाचल, हिमालय का सौंदर्य मात्र चोटियों में नहीं 
उसकी घाटियों और वादियों में है 
उसके जंगलों, मंदिरों, निवासियों से है
घाटियों में घर हैं, घरों में स्वपन और घाव हैं 
फाके और चाव हैं, कूलें, चूल्हे और गाँव हैं 

और मध्य तेजधार, रफ़्तार, होशियार नदी 
बलखाती, मुड़ती, फिर मुड़ती, नदी 

नदी चली रचती, चुनती आकृतियाँ उस स्मृति की
जो बरसे, बहते जल से कहे, जा तेरी राह सही
नदी नाद वाली, संवाद वाली, दादा की दाद वाली
चावल के खेत वाली, बजरी और रेत वाली
नदी देवों के वरदान वाली, 
जन्म और शमशान वाली
भैंसों के जमघट वाली, 
बाट वाली, घाट और घराट वाली

और यह क्या भव्य भवन-सा उठ रहा उसके हृदय में, 
रुद्ध कर रहा उसका स्वर, जो चट्टानें 
बिखरा देती थी उसकी उन्मुक्त लहर
अब मौन 
क्यूँ है? 



डूब गयी हर घाटी,
बाँध दीया गति को कैसे, मानव की यह मति है कैसे
अब कहाँ से आये और जाए किधर, पूछे नदी 
क्यूँ, किसी व्यक्ति से कैसे?

डूब गयी हर घाटी, 
और हर बाँध के आगे नदी सूखी-सी
क्षीण-सी चली, बादल तक भटक गए, 
और धरातल के गर्भ के भीतर दरारें,
दरारों में आये हैं हलचल के उपक्रम नए,
पहाड़ों के देवों तक में जागे हैं अब भय, भाव नए,

डूब गयी हर घाटी,
लो निंगल ले गया बाँध जंगल, 
आया अब अप्राकृतिक सरोवर,
लीन, जलमगन यादों के मधुवन, 
अब विद्युत अद्भुत चमकेगी दूर 
और जुगनू सारे संशय में हैं, 
पक्षी, पशु अनकहे भय में हैं |


किस समृधि क्या ध्यान धरते हो मित्र,
कैसे निर्मित करते हो संभावनाओं  का चलचित्र, 
कैसे जानते हो कि नदी नहीं प्रहार करेगी, 
अपनी प्रकृति से स्वयं अपने अधिकार का
क्यूँ नहीं वह हलचल से, भूकंपन से, बाड़ की आड़ में,
क्यूँ नहीं वह अपनी धमनियों के रोड़ों का उपचार करेगी ?



पर कवि तुम क्यूँ प्रगति में हलाहल देखा करते हो?
प्रगति विद्युत से है, विद्युत बाँध से है, 
विद्युत से प्रकाश है, प्रकाश में बैठे तुम लिखते हो
क्यूँ बाँध में आतंक देखा करते हो?
क्या वैज्ञानिक, अभियंता-इंजीनियर बाबु ग्यानी नहीं?
बाँध निर्माताओं-कंट्राक्टटरों, इंजीनियर बाबुओं के प्रणेता 
कोई और नहीं, चुनाव के चूर्ण जो समाजसेवी नेता हैं, 
उनको भी अपनी जनता, जन्मभूमि का चेता है,
प्रगति विद्युत से है, विद्युत बाँध से है, 
पर कवि तुम क्यूँ प्रगति में हलाहल देखा करते हो?

कहूँ, क्यूँ मुझसे कवि-बुद्धिजीवी 
समस्याओं का व्याख्यान करते हैं,
उन्हें सुलझाने का प्रयास करते हैं?
ज्ञान आये अध्ययन, मनन, चिंतन, तपस से, 
प्राण-प्रेरणा, अंतरात्मा की उपज से,
और हम सीख सकते हैं अतीत से, दूसरों की 
आपबीती से, वैज्ञानिकों की रीती से ।
कहूँ, क्यूँ कवि भविष्यफल का तर्क दे
या भूत की कथनी का आह्वान कर, 
दूसरों के लिए सही-गलत गुनते हैं?
कवि की कृति - पुरुष और प्रकृति, हृदय और मति,
लोकनृत्य और संस्कृति, भविष्यदृष्टि और स्मृति -
की है एक झलकी, धुन, खनक, मूर्ति, सूक्ति, संवाद-सी 
जो देख, कह, सोच, सुन, गा न पाए कोई
वह अक्षरों और सुरों में बिंध जाए कवि ।

हाँ सुना हमने भी पुरखों से कुछ ऐसा ही है कवि,
पर वाल्मीकि की दिव्य-दृष्टि कहाँ कलयुग में पनपेगी,
वाद छोड़ो, प्रकृति-पुरुष की सोचो,
प्रगति की सोचो, विद्युत बाँध से है, 
कवि तुम क्यूँ  प्रगति में हलाहल देखा करते हो?
सोचो मित्र, सरकार, नेता कर रहे हैं इतना व्यय
तो बाँधों में लाभों का पुलिंदा होगा, 
सरकार ने सब कुछ सोचा होगा 
क्या तुम क्या स्वयं को सही, 
उन्हें असक्षम समझते हो?
तुम बस बैठे बैठे मुद्दे कुरेदा करते हो, 
प्रगति में दुर्गति डकेला करते हो 
कहो कैसे इन परिवर्तनों की, 
तकनिकी बारीकियों की बाते समझते हो?
या ऐंवें ही, प्रगति में हलाहल देखा करते हो?



मेरी बात सुनो,
मैं वैज्ञानिक-गति का चिंतक, 
निःस्वार्थ सत्य-दृष्टा, सजग,
मानवीय ज्ञान का महासागर,
तुम्हारी अंतरात्मा में बसा
महामुनि हूँ ।

मैं हर पहलु को परखता हूँ, पहाड़ों की नींव, 
नदी के बदलते तीर, चट्टानों की चपलता,
वर्षा के सारे आंकड़े, भूगर्भीय दरारें, दर्द, 
दबाब, द्रव्य, और भ्रष्टाचार की आय,
सम्पूर्ण मानवता की तकनिकी शिक्षा, 
भौतिकी और पदार्थ विज्ञान के ज्ञान के दम पर,
निःस्वार्थ लेखनी, कृति के स्वाभिमान के उद्यम पर,
मैं शुभचिंतक, महामुनी करता हूँ आंकलन 
तो इन पहाड़ी प्रान्तों  की धमनियों पर बंधते 
मानवीय अदूरदर्शिता के स्मारकों से डूबे हुए
बिलासपुरों से पलायन करते हुए क्षुब्ध, 
भूमिहीन कृषकों से स्वयं को एक मत पाता हूँ,
जल के बल, थल के नीचे की हलचल, 
और नदियों में बड़ते मानवीय हलालाल
और कर्मों से उत्पन्न होने वाले क्षय और प्रलय 
के भय से 
अपने को खिन्न, चिंतित, आकुल, आशंकित, 
असहयोगी, विवश, विद्रोही-सा पाता हूँ,

प्रगति, उन्नति, समृद्धि का गान 
मैं भी सुनाता हूँ, पर कुछ विकल्पों को,
डगमग या अनभिज्ञ नीति, स्वार्थी, 
संकीर्ण या भ्रष्ट राजनीति के संकल्पों को,
प्रान्त, जन्मभूमि, धरा के प्रति, 
पूर्वजों, प्रियजनों, आनेवाली पीड़ियों के प्रति
संभवतः हानिकारक, अहितकारी क्रिया-कल्पों को,   
विवेक की कसौटी पर रखता हूँ, 
सृष्टि की सुख-शांति के लिए अनुचित 
आचरण, विचारण को तजता हूँ
और छेड़ कर तार सभी भावनाओं के, 
मस्तिष्क की संभावनाओं के,
जन-जन के उत्थान, मुस्कान, 
मोक्ष के लिए उपयुक्त विकल्प चुनता हूँ |    

मेरी बात सुनो,
मैं वैज्ञानिक-गति का चिंतक, 
निःस्वार्थ सत्य-दृष्टा, सजग,
मानवीय ज्ञान का महासागर,
तुम्हारी अंतरात्मा में बसा
महामुनि हूँ ।

हिमाचल, हिमालय का सौंदर्य मात्र चोटियों में नहीं 
उसकी घाटियों और वादियों में है 
उसके जंगलों, मंदिरों, निवासियों से है
घाटियों में घर हैं, घरों में स्वपन और घाव हैं 
फाके और चाव हैं, कूलें, चूल्हे और गाँव हैं 

और मध्य तेजधार, रफ़्तार, होशियार नदी 
बलखाती, मुड़ती, फिर मुड़ती, नदी 

यह थम गयी तो मिट जायेगी सारी वनस्पति,
घाट भी, घराट भी, और मानव समाज भी,
और फिर न कोई अराधन, कोई समाधि जल को
ला पाएगी भागीरथी के रूप में धरातल को,

कहीं बची 
श्रधा जो मनुपुत्र को दिशा देगी?

(2011 में विवेक शर्मा रचित अधूरी कविता पर अनूप सेठी जी और अवनीश कटोच जी की टिप्पणियों का आभारी हूँ )

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Maa ki Buni Swaaterein -- माँ की बुनी स्वाटरें

माँ की बुनी स्वाटरें  
      - विवेक शर्मा

मासिक तनख्वाह मिलती, पर हफ्ते भर में
फाकों की फरहिस्त छुपाने के लिए माँ
स्वाटरें बुन-बुन कर बेचा करती |

एक अफसर की बीबी के हाथ 
इमानदारी की बस एक अंगूठी आई 
और बर्तनों की सफाई, कपड़ों की धुलाई 
करते हुए भी, झाग तक का हिसाब करके
फाकों की फरहिस्त छुपाने के लिए माँ
रद्दी के बदले मिले नोटों से ऊन खरीद 
स्वाटरें बुन-बुन कर बेचा करती |

शिक्षा के स्वपन अधूरे लिए जब मेरी माँ
एक पिताविहीन चौथे दर्जे के मुलाजिम 
से ब्याही, तो नाना बड़ी संवेदना से बोले:
लड़का गरीब है, होनहार है, होशियार है,
अब तेरे संस्कार उभरेंगे, तो दोनों उभरोगे |
पिता ने कलर्की की, वनस्पति, पुष्प-फल विभाग,
तुइशन पढ़ाई और सुबह से नींद चुराकर यदा-कदा
लिख पढ़ कर, एक दिन प्रदेशस्तर 
इम्तिहानों में अव्वल आकर
खुद को अफसर कर लिया, 
और हर सीड़ी की संगिनी 
फाकों की फरहिस्त छुपाने के लिए माँ
स्वाटरें बुन-बुन कर बेचा करती |

मैं आया निस्स्वर, हाँ, 
न रुदन, न स्मित-रेखा, 
न सांस ही साथ लाया, 
यह दिए और सब स्वपन भी तो
दोनों ने हर यत्न से मुझको दिए 
सब साधन, जीवन | 
भाइयों और बहनों की पढ़ाई, विवाह 
सब थे पिता ने धर्म समझे, 
सो सहधर्मिणी स्वयं की सारी कामनाएं 
स्वाह करके, खुद फाकों में निर्वाह करके,
निभाती गयी फ़र्ज़ जो मेरे पिता ने धर्म समझे,
और दोनों ने मेरे लिए चाहे 
संघर्ष से मिल सकने वाले सारे ध्येय,
और किशोर भी नहीं था जब जान चुका था 
मेरी हर कृति, उन्नति का पुष्प 
उस व्रतधारिणी की समूची आराधना 
और पिता के लहू-पसीने से पल्लवित हुआ है, 
किशोर भी नहीं था जब जान चुका था 
फाकों की फरहिस्त छुपाने के लिए माँ
अनेकों रंगों, डिजाइनों, फैशनों में तैयार
स्वाटरें बुन-बुन कर बेचा करती |

वर्ष धीरे धीरे ढलते है, पर किशोर युवा होते ही
बहुत तीव्रता से घर से दूर निकलते हैं,
मैं परीक्षाओं के हल सैंकड़ो सवाल करके 
होशियार निकला घर से कुछ कर दिखाने के विचार करके
उधर पिता ने अपनी पीड़ी और उसके पहले के प्रति सब कृत्य 
रीती-रिवाज़ से मुताबिक़ अपनी तनख्वाह के अधिक
माँ की बंध मुट्ठी विश्वास के सहारे पूरे कर दिए
मैं यूँ तो निकला था घर से कुछ कर दिखाने के विचार करके
पर मोह मुझे था खींच रहा और मैं, स्वार्थी, एक कामिनी के
जीह्वा से सस्वर हुए हर इच्छित खर्च को 
जीत कर कोई नवाबी ख्याति क्या पाना चाहता था ?
फरवरी का ज्वर बड़ा, बीते मार्च, सावन और सितम्बर
फिर कार्तिक आया, कोहरा जाने छाया कि हटा 
जब आधी-बाजू वाला बुना स्वाटर पहनते ही 
स्मरण हो आया कैसे आजीवन अब तक 
फाकों की फरहिस्त छुपाने के लिए माँ
बिना थके, बिना रुके, बिना किसी से सुने-कहे 
स्वाटरें बुन-बुन कर बेचा करती |

युवा बहुत तीव्रता से घर से दूर निकलते हैं,
मैं भी गया हूँ दूर इतना के इन जिलों में
हाथों से बुनकर पहने जाने वाले स्वटरों का रिवाज़ नहीं
पर याद करता हूँ कि माँ के हाथों को था आराम नहीं, 
अब बुनाई नहीं है, कोई कमी नहीं है, पर माँ के निकट
रह पाना इस सदी में आसान नहीं, सो हर वर्ष
सर्दी की तहों से खींच कर एक काला और एक भूरा
एक पूरी बाजू का, एक आधी का, हाँ, यह वही भूरा है
जो मेरे कालेज के आखिरी वर्ष में माँ ने जब बुना 
पिता को भा गया, माँ का हृदय उन दिनों
था हर बात पर बाप-बेटे के सिल-बट्टे में पिसते 
घिसते रिसते अरमानों और ख्यालों की तरह,
पर मैं देश से दूर चला, तो चुपचाप पिता ने 
एक तह कर तनाव को उस घर से दूर कर दिया,
और मैं कर आया प्रण यह कि जब श्रेय से
पूज्य कर दूंगा उस दंपत्ति की स्मृति को,
हाँ आधी बाजू का यह भूरा स्वेटर पहन 
अकसर उन उधेड़-बुनों का विस्मरण करता हूँ,
कैसे फाकों की फरहिस्त छुपाने के लिए माँ
स्वाटरें बुन-बुन कर बेचा करती |

वाक्य हैं बस, वाक्य हैं, मात्र शब्द, 
रोगशय्या पर माँ है, बेटा कहाँ है 
हाथों में माँ के बस ऊन के कारवां 
के निशान हैं, बेटा कहाँ है,  
क्या वह अपने माता पिता की सच्ची 
संतान है? बेटा कहाँ है?
दूर जाना तय था यह जन्म से ही, क्यूंकि बेटा
एक संघर्ष की ही तो संतान है
अब नए जलूसों में धक्के खाता अरमान है,
पर एक शुद्ध सदा उसके मन में भावना है,
ईमान की सब देशों में रहती कोई माँ है
जिसके हाथों में बस ऊन के कारवां हैं 
दर्ज़नों को देती वह स्नेह की ऊष्मा है,
गम-चुप गलियों में उसका छुपा ब्यान है,
ईमान की सब देशों में रहती कोई माँ है
फाकों की फरहिस्त छुपाने के लिए माँ
स्वाटरें बुन-बुन कर बेचा करती |

सात सौ सत्तासी स्वाटरें जो अनेकों घरों में
बिखरीं हैं, मैं तलाशने निकला हूँ,
यही मेरे बचपन की स्तुतियाँ हैं,
यही मेरे यौवन की आयतें हैं,
सात सौ सत्तासी स्वाटरें जो अनेकों घरों में
बिखरीं हैं, मेरी माँ की सजीव ख्वाईशें हैं,
सात सौ सत्तासी स्वटरों की ऊन के हर रेशे में
ममता के स्पर्श की, माँ के संकल्प की 
छाप है, प्रतिध्वनी है, जयघोष है, 
ऐसा मेरे देश की विवशता है, संस्कार है,
यह मेरा नहीं कई बेटों का इतिहास है,
फाकों की फरहिस्त छुपाने के लिए माँ
स्वाटरें बुन-बुन कर बेचा करती |

२० १ १  में रचित 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Apravasi Sooktiyan I -- अप्रवासी सूक्तियाँ १

आड़े-तिरछे हो कर हम
आते हैं परदेश
झुग्गी-झौंपड़ी में रहते हैं
पर कहते उसे विशेष

उदासी चाहे दिल में हो
फोन पे कौन सुनाये
दूर के दर्द दिखाई के
हम पूछें क्या उपाय

अंग्रेजी चाहे आती हो
पर गैहुआं अपना रंग
सोचा छूटेगा जाती-भेद
पर गैहुआं अपना रंग

थाली भर का खाया पर
पेट रहा खाली
तड़का पूरा मारा पर
स्वाद रहा फाकी

माटी से यह कैसा मोह
माटी है माटी
गाँव में भूखे सो
धूल ही थी चाटी

जवानी बीती फुर्ती से
बुड़ापा कलंक
न गाँव न घराती हैं
एकलो सत्संग

आड़े-तिरछे हो कर हम
आते हैं परदेश
जीवन भर मेहनत कर
पाते हैं क्लेश

महँगा यहाँ डाक्टर है
बिजी हैं माय सन
दुनिया भर के कर्जों का
टेक इस इजी माय सन

कौन रहा वहाँ पर है
तेरा जहाँ यहाँ पर है
पर माटी करे पुकार
पर माटी करे दुलार

माटी तो माँ सी है
गोद में ले बिठाए
चाहे कैसे हों  दुःख-दोष
पल में दे भुलाए

जीकर के फ़ौरन में
क्या पाए तूने सुख
गर देश में रहता
चुगता वहाँ भी दुःख

दुःख मानवीय दशा है
कुर्ता पहनो चाहे कोट
खानी होंगी चोट पे चोट
फ्रेंची पहनो चाहे लंगोट

दूर के ढोल सुहावने
दूर से फूहड़ लगे हूर
प्रतिबिम्ब कैसे देखें
अक्खियों में है धूड़

अकल आई देर से
बुड्डा हुआ बुद्धा
विदेशी ठाठ त्याग के
काठ पर बैठा

ज्ञान बड़ा घाघ है
ज्ञान से रहियो सतर्क
अच्छे खासे तर्क दे
करदे स्वर्ग - नरक

लगाये पावडर क्रीम पर
रंग बदले न ढंग
कब चूने से नहाये के
हूर  बनयो बदरंक

हल्दी के रंग और स्वाद से
पीछा कैसे छुड़ाय
जे जेनेटिक रोग-दोष
जनम से मिल जाए

विलायती खा, विलायती पी,
चाहे विलायती से ब्याह जा,
पर जब माटी पुकारे अंत काल
वापिस गाँव-घर आ जा

ज्यादा नौस्टेलजिक करेगी
खाएगी चपेड़
दिन भर ताना-बाना बुना
न रात में उधेड़

बेटा जिद न किया कर
समझाकर हम हैं अलग
नागरिक हैं हम भी बेशक
पर गैहुआं अपना रंग

जायज मांग किया कर
जो बीके-बेचे बाजार
कैसे तुझे समझाएं
यही विदेसी संस्कार

घर जाय के नबाब दिख
यहाँ चला रिक्शा
घाट-घाट पर बदल रुख
यूज़ अपनी शिक्षा

क्या खोया क्या पाया
किसके हाथ क्या आया
सोच शोक से क्या होय
गर यह सब है माया

वजूद तेरा क्या है
चिंता की भूख
जिंदगी है गन्ना चूस
चबा चबा के थूक ।

 विवेक शर्मा
(२ ० १ २ )

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Berangi Holi बेरंगी होली (Hindi Kavita)

यार बेरंगी बनायी इस बार होली,
न गुलाल मला, न पिचकारी मारी
न गालों पर रगड़ी आहें, निगाहें
न शोर-गुल था, न हल्ला-मोहल्ला,
बस पुराने दिनों की धुंधली चुनौती,

साहिब जी के माथे पर सिर्फ तिलक
चंचला के ठहाके और धक्-धक् धक्-धक्
मोड़ पर भांग-भरी ठंडाई, पकौड़े,
चौक पर चौकन्ने पुलसिये, छिछोरे
अब बस पुराने दिनों की धुंधली चुनौती,

कौन साल था वो कीचड़ से लथपथ
बेसुध नाले में पड़ौसी का नौकर
वो कौन घर से भागी थी रंगी स्यार-सी
क्या लोकगीत की पंक्ति थी मुझे याद-सी
अब बस पुराने दिनों की धुंधली चुनौती

वो जलती होलिका और विस्मित बच्चे
बाप ह्रिन्यकश्यप हुआ तो? सोचते बच्चे
प्रहलाद-सी अच्छाई तब भी कहाँ थी
रंग-भंग के भुलावे में तब भी जान थी
अब बस पुराने दिनों की धुंधली चुनौती

विदेशी है जीवन यादें, आहें है देसी
क्या चाव से आज हर बात होती
थके आते शाम को नहाते देर तक
नदियों में भी आज इन्द्रधनुष बसते
अब बस पुराने दिनों की धुंधली चुनौती,

वसंत की उमंग और प्रीत के सब रंग
लालिमा शर्म की, सनेह की, सनक की,
कालिख लिए मव्वाली छुपकर बैठे
घर में नजरबन्द नवविधवा और बेटे,
दूर पुराने दिनों की धुंधली चुनौती,

हर वर्ष नया हाथ, नया ढंग, नया रंग,
हर पर्व से ऊंचा हास्य, प्रीत, हड़कंप,
रंगों की रौनक तिलस्मी उपचार-सी
हर लेती खुश्कियाँ, रुष्टियाँ फुहार-सी 
अब बस पुराने दिनों की धुंधली चुनौती

न माँ, न पिता, न बहन-भाई, भतीजे,
न माटी से उठते धूल-धूसरित किस्से,
न मंदिर की घंटी, न महफ़िल, न छुट्टी,
न मिठाई खाई, और चाय तक फीकी,
ऐसे में पुराने दिनों की धुंधली चुनौती

फिर लौट आऊंगा एक दिन मनाऊँगा होली,
पर क्या वो बचपन और जवानी सी होगी
न मैं वो हूँ, न प्रियजन हैं वैसे, हाय राम कैसे
फिर से बनाऊं वैसी अल्ल्हड़ उल्लास की टोली
क्या अजय रहेगी पुराने दिनों की धुंधली चुनौती ।

विवेक शर्मा
मार्च २०१३

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (translated by Royall Tyler, Penguin Classics)

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, in an impressive translation by Royall Tyler, is a classic of world literature. The tale from eleventh century Japan recreates (in over eleven hundred pages) a time and a region long lost, distant from memory and everyday life, and yet full of timeless and contemporary human passions and feelings. Before talking about the tale itself, we must commend the translator for imbibing prose and poetry within text with a clarity and a fluidity rare in translations. The elegant, lucid and engaging English translation provides ample footnotes to guide readers unfamiliar with names, places, idioms, customs, laws, culture and court life of the eleventh century Japan.  While reading a massive novel from another language, written in another century, we always worry about how much is left untranslated or is not communicated at all. Most translations from Indian languages into English give me a massive heartburn. Here the original is far beyond my reach, and I admire the quality of both the text and translation. Maybe I know it is best to gain what I can by reading the translation, than not read it at all. Perhaps the whole process of reading The Tale of Genji for me resembles a typical passionate communication between a suitor and a beloved described over and over again in the book. Two bodies sit separated by many blinds and customs; the conversation is carried on through calligraphed messages and through intermediaries. When one puts his or her heart into it, this conversation, however indirect, provides relief, knowledge, insight, understanding, pleasure and peace, exactly as The Tale of Genji manages to do for me, possibly for any reader.

The Tale of Genjii is a magnificent work of art, full of romances and songs, music and poetry, and yin and yang. It is a highly readable saga of princes and commoners who rise in regard and rank through their own actions and through influence of whoever holds them dear. The talks and deeds related to renunciation of the world and Buddhist penances are interspersed with a narrative where characters display a strong attachment to the world stemming from their family ties & cares and beloveds. Genji, called the Shining Prince for his exceptional beauty and charm, is a son of the emperor. His life is the centerpiece of the tale, and the narrative is primarily built around his trials and triumphs in politics, love and religion. The list of romances described in the book runs long, and on every page, appears a phrase or a verse, often a line or a couplet, mostly inspired by some famous poem seemingly known to one and all, written as part of banter between lovers, or as complaint or praise by suitors. Several different string instruments (biwa, kin, etc) and flute are held in great regard, and exceptional musical ability is admired and encourages in princes, women and nobles. Painting, dance, calligraphy, poetry and dress-making are all integral to the tale. There are no wars, no duels, there is almost no blood-shed, and there are no peasants, few commoners, no armies. The Tale of Genji has many memorable, moving and majestic sentences and passages on or about: the vagaries of weather, the charms & effects of changing seasons, festivals full of regal splendor, pilgrimages, impromptu or planned concerts and performances, monks and monasteries, births and deaths, dresses and fragrances, gifts and messages, the meanings and resonances of symbols like cherry blossoms, pine trees, acorn, bridges, rivers, mountains and wisteria leaves, admiration for Chinese tales and dresses, silks, and so on.

Some of the most striking things in The Tale of Genji for me are about the role of women in family and society. Women are secluded and hardly meet any men, they are seen only by their lovers (ideally their husbands), while the princes and the nobles grab every chance to go after anyone they get even a faint whiff or glimpse of. Often a prince appears in the bed of a woman without warning, (usually with the help from trusted associates/ helpers/ nurses of the woman) and by returning back on the next two nights, makes the chosen (fortunate or unfortunate) woman his bride. Finding good husbands for daughters is a big concern for fathers, and the progress in rank at court requires strong support of a wife's family. There are a few positions at court available only to women, and multiple wives who surround the powerful princes vie for his attention. Perhaps I note how women lived behind blinds and curtains, away from eyes of any men, including their close relatives, as it is often assumed that such practices exist or existed only in the Near-Eastern, South Asian or in the Middle-Eastern cultures. Also by reading the tale you discover how committed the Japanese men were (maybe still are) to the so-called gallantry. The men go shooting-off love poems to anyone they take a fancy to, including wives of others (including close relations), and when courtship fails, they sometimes end up taking them by force. Given how men behave, the need to seclude and protect the women seems to be justified.  A lot of action in the novel happens at night, behind closed doors, in forbidden chambers, and the author often leaves off a description by saying the details did not reach her, or the details or verses spoken were trite enough to be left out. Such remarks however never break the narrative. Another striking thing in
The Tale of Genji is the mention of spirits who take hold of other peoples bodies (minds), afflicting them, and how Buddhists priests drive such spirits out with prayer and chants, after making them to confess their whims. I grew up seeing such things in the Himalayan villages and towns, and a mention of every appellation and rites like that in the book drew my attention.

In the world literature written between eighth to fourteenth century AD, a few other exceptional books come to my mind. The Conference of Birds by Attar is a Persian classic, a sufi composition, full of fables and instruction, is very inspirational and to my eyes, it is also sensational in how sexuality is described therein. Geet-Govinda by Jayadeva in Sanskrit is probably the most important text among many that are counted in Radha-Krishan romance, Krishan-bhakti or God-as-a-beloved tradition. Decameron by Boccaccio in Italian has a string of tales, and some are quite risque, and yet many have moral connotations as well. After reading
The Tale of Genji, and thinking about all the classic medieval texts I have read, I conclude that though our ancestors were quite given to romance, there was always a stream of spiritual aspirations within them. Perhaps we have become more hypocritical and prudish than our ancestors when it comes to sexuality, and at the same time, we have become more withdrawn from religion and spirituality. The classics mentioned here, along with TThe Tale of Genji in respective cultures have influence every writer and poet who came after them, and thus these continue to influence the corpus of human thought, feeling, morality and memory.

The Tale of Genji, like War of Peace, Mahabharata, Shahnameh or Odyssey, is endless and immortal. Murasaki paints a masterpiece with a wide canvass that continues the stories through multiple generations, including hundreds of characters, developed quite remarkably within this story, portrayed with beauty and grace. The author named Genji's most beloved Murasaki. Though Genji and Murasaki attract our deepest interest and sympathies, the book is like a garden with many characters, each prone to seasonal changes in favor and form, and though all trees have their own stories of spring blossoms and autumn leaves, and  snow or rain drops or dew, the narrative binds them together quite nicely. Murasaki seemed to have written the tale with a lot of empathy for human condition. To love who must not be loved, to carry guilt of yielding to a forbidden desire, to raise another's child as your own, to love a lookalike sister or a cousin in lieu of the lost or dead beloved, to leave safety of palace and guards and go out on escapades that can destroy reputations, to steal your best friend's love interest, to become a monk and yet keep worrying about renounced relations, or to haunt your beloved after your death: there are many dark shades to the characters and their thoughts and actions in this tale. The characters often talk of cherry & plum blossoms, of fleeting life, of nature of beauty and romance, of poetry and skill, of music, and wile reading The Tale of Genji the reader begins to respond to the thoughts and words of the ancient world. Reading The Tale of Genji then becomes an experience rich in mixed emotions, of tenderness, joy, sympathy, melancholy, sorrow, nostalgia and enchantment. Wonderful and overwhelming tale, highly recommended!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Books read in 2013

Read in 2013 (96 = 59 + 37; NF 19) 

FICTION IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION --  (21): The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu [translated by Royall Tyler], Casanova in Bolzano by Sandor Marai, Decameron by Giovani Boccaccio [translated by G. H. McWilliam], The Masterpiece by Emile Zola, Palace of Desire by Naquib Mahfouz (translated by William Maynard Hutchins), The Master and the Margarita by Michail Bughalov, The Unknown Masterpiece and Gambara by Honore Balzac, An Elephant's Journey by Jose Saramago, The Fall by Albert Camus (translated by Justin O'Brien), The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende, Trouble in Gangtok and The Secret of the Cemetry (Adventures of Feluda) by Satyajit Ray (translated by Gopa Majumdar), Sugar Street by Naquib Mahfouz, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco, The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekov (adapted by David Mamet), The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata, A Hero of Our Times by Mikhail Lermontov, The Gospel According to the Jesus Christ by Jose Saramago (translated by Giovanni Pontiero), Monkey: A Folk Novel of China by Wu Che'ng-en (translated by Arthur Waley), Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami,

NOVEL / FICTION IN ENGLISH (16): The Man Who Would be the King and other stories by Rudyard Kipling, The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Gent by Washington Irving, Beethoven was One Sixteenth Black and Other Stories by Nadine Gordimer, Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe, (Captain Courageous by Rudyard Kipling), Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell, Deception by Philip Roth, Love and Mr Lewisham by H. G. Wells, Tar Baby by Toni Morrison, Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding, Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Painter of Signs by RK Narayan, Summer Crossing by Truman Capote, Vanity of Duluoz by Jack Kerouac, Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee.

ENGLISH POETRY (35): The Odes of Horace or Quintas Horatius Flacus in Latin & in English: Book 1, 2, 3, 4 & The Ceremonial Hymn (translated by Len Krisak), Collected Poems by Nissim Ezekiel (including A Time to Change, Sixty Poems, The Third, The Unfinished Man, The Exact Name, Hymns in Darkness & Later Day Psalms), The Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of the Poetry Magazine edited by Don Share and Christian Wiman, A Further Range, A Witness Tree, Steeple Bush, In the Clearing, A Masque of Reason and A Masque of Mercy by Robert Frost, The Art of Writing: Lu Chi's Wen Fu (translated by Sam Hamill), Islamic Mystical Poetry Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi by Mahmood Jamal, Cemetery Nights by Stephen Dobyns, Hymns from Adi Granth (included in Khushwant Singh's A History of Sikhs), Your Native Land, Your Life by Adrienne Rich, Sonnets to Orpheus by Ranier Maria Rilke, Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso: The Divine Comedy by Dante (Translated by Henry Longfellow), The Coney Island State of Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Blood Orange by Angela Narciso Torres, King Me by Roger Reeves, Diving into the Wreck and Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth by Adrienne Rich.

Hindi / Urdu / Punjabi (3+2+1) Raag Darbari by Shrilal Shukla, Uttaradhikari by Yashpal, Mansarovar: Bhaag 1 by Munsi Premchand, Awaazon ke Ghere by Dushyant Kumar, Deepshikha by Mahadevi Verma
Nepali Kranti Katha by Phanishwarnath Renu, 

Sanskrit (0+0): 

MAHABHARATA (by Mahrishi Ved Vyas; tr. by Kisari Mohun Ganguly) (0/18): 


NON-FICTION (13): India: A Wounded Civilization by V. S. Naipaul, The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, Sor Juana  by Octavio Paz, Red Sun by Sudeep Chakravarti, (Crying by Tom Lutz), The Education of a British-Protected Child by Chinua Achebe, A History of Sikhs, Volume 1: 1469-1839 and Volume II: 1839-2004 by Khushwant Singh, Soldier Sahibs by Charles Allen, Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, Of Africa by Wole Soyinka, The Test of My Life: From Cricket to Cancer and Back by Yuvraj Singh with Sharda Ugra and Nishant Jeet Arora,

POPULAR SCIENCE / ECONOMICS (5): Chaos by James Gleick, Froth by Mike Denny, Soap Bubbles by C. V. Boys, (Soap, Science and Flat Screen TVs: A History of Liquid Crystals by David Dunmur and Tim Sluckin),  The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck.

 Favorite reads of the year (Fiction / Novels /Short Stories/ Non-Fiction)
(1) The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu [translated by Royall Tyler]
(2) The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz (translated by William Maynard Hutchins)
(3) Monkey: A Folk Novel of China by Wu Che'ng-en (translated by Arthur Waley)
(4) The Man Who Would be the King and other stories by Rudyard Kipling
(5) Collected Poems by Nissim Ezekiel
(6) Decameron by Giovani Boccaccio [translated by G. H. McWilliam]
(7) The Divine Comedy by Dante [translated by Longfellow]
(8) Raag Darbari by Shrilal Shukla
(9) A History of Sikhs, Volume 1: 1469-1839 and Volume II: 1839-2004 by Khushwant Singh
(10) The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck
(11) Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
(12) The Masterpiece by Emile Zola
(13) Your Native Land, Your Life, Diving into the Wreck and Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth by Adrienne Rich
(14) Sor Juana  by Octavio Paz,  
(15) Red Sun by Sudeep Chakravarti,  
(16) The Education of a British-Protected Child by Chinua Achebe

(If I am through more  than 50% of the book, it goes into the list of the year past, otherwise it appears in the new list next year. See here for the books read in 2012, with a selection of my favorite reads in the year past.)