Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bahut din beetay... (बहुत दिन बीते...)

बहुत दिन बीते… कुछ ख़ास कहा लिखा नहीं । एक ढर्रा है जिंदगी, रोज़मर्रा एक आदत है, और वक्त है किसी नदी सा, बस बहे जाता है, बहे  हैं । इस भाग-दौड़ की दुनिया में कोई बैठ कर क्यों लिखे, कोई किसी का लिखा क्यों पढ़े? और पढ़े भी तो हिंदी में लिखा कौन पढ़े?

यूँ सरपट दौड़ते-दौड़ते, ख्यालों के कितने पनघट पीछे छोड़, मैं एक अरसे से निःशब्द रहा हूँ । काव्य एक साधना है, कल्पना और रचना निःशब्द रह कर भी की जा सकती है, पर अनकही, अनसुनी कल्पना और रचना मिथ्या है । चार कदम भी नहीं चलता, जब शब्दों के झुरमुठ आ आ कर, गुनगुनाने लगते हैं । कोई भँवरों की गुँजन सी, कोई पहले प्यार की चुभन सी, किसी हार की अधभूली टीस, कभी करुणा, कभी क्लेश मेरे अंतरमन के भवसागर में शब्द, वाक्य और छंद ऐसे उठा देते हैं, जैसे समंदर-ताल से निकलने को तैयार बुलबुलें हो । पहले यहाँ -तहाँ बैठ झट से इन मचलते, चंचल, क्षणभंगुर भावनाओं को कागज़ों पर जकड़ लिया करता था पर कुछ महीनों से उस आदत को भी विदा दे दी है ।

 क्या करूँ, काव्य को कलह का कारण, कारक कैसे कहूँ? यह दुविधा मेरे लिए नई नहीं, बरसों से  नावों में सवार मैं दो भिन्न से दिखने बाले घाटों की ओर खींचता आया हूँ । आज जैसा कोई दिन आता है, याद दिलाता है कि मेरे अंतर का कवि मेरे पालक और साधक शिक्षक-विज्ञानिक अवतार के जतन या प्रताप से प्रताड़ित या प्रभावित हो मूक हो गया है । इस चुप्पी को तोड़ने के लिए और कवि को कलम और उसके पूरक और प्रेरक पाठकों से जोड़ने के लिए, मैं अपनेआप से वादा करता हूँ, कि कैसे न कैसे हर हफ्ते मैं इसी ब्लॉग पर कोई कविता, कल्पना, टिप्पणी जरूर प्रकाशित करूंगा ।


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Twenty-first Century Buddha

In this century of misquoted Buddha
his statues walk into Las Vegas bars
and stare at the bodies abandoning
their worldly disguises.

Award winning poets
admit spirituality into their poems
by pronouncing his name.

Smiling or sulking, in bronze or wood, Buddha
does not protest when devotees of Herman Hesse
transcend their consciousness
with forlorn fumes.

Always epitomized as good Buddha
leaves his son and wife, midlife
and embraces dhyan-cha'n-Zen,
preaches abandonment.

And ever-idolized Buddha (how ironic!)
finds his monks living under tyrants.
Too meek are lambs, are hunted and must be
by wolves who never turn Buddhists

In our world, the 'Americanized' Buddha
survives in University halls,
in tantric sex talks, in celebrity balls -
stupefied, satirized, stoned.


First appeared in Muse India, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor takes you on an elegiac journey, introducing you to complex personal histories and tragedies. Set in northern Kenyan's dust, darkness and daylight, this novel is a memoir of lives transformed by tribal and political conflicts and colonial processes and imperialistic excesses. The novel presents a tour de force narrative about lost fathers, brothers, sons and women and descends into the labyrinth-like individual stories to present a tale of a family, country, humanity.

A sister Ajany returns to Kenya to find her brother Odidi. She has seen his corpse, but she seeks a closure, an understanding of Odidi's life before his tragic end. The siblings grew up in a dusty Kenyan countryside, in a massive house, where all the books are inscribed with a name of a foreigner or a stranger, Hugo Bolton. Their mother Akai is a mysterious women, who has her own complex narrative of love lost and found, that emerges in bits and parts as we read the novel. Their father Nyipir is a person who in one life acquires many  incarnations, some as he is forced by his own needs, greed and wants, and many to just survive Kenya's turbulent times. Servant of a white man, gravedigger, sepoy, cattle thief, husband, father, a friend to many smugglers and wanderers, a young man who wanted to travel to Burma to retrieve his father and brother's bodies to bury them in their own country. There is a fascinating singer of water songs, Ali Hida Dada, a policemen whose own complex life journey crisscrosses through the personal histories of Nyipir, Akai, Ajany, Odidi and a fifth person, Galgalu who is attached to the Nyipir-Akai household, like a foster son. Isiah Bolton, a son in search of a father who disappeared in Kenya. There are a handful of other characters that complete the list: Justina (Odidi's lady love), Selena (Isiah's mom), a trader (a keeper of secrets) and Chaudhary (a sly shopkeeper). Each character is developed with acute sensibility and sympathy, allowing us to see nuances in their personalities, deceits and shadows, exposing both bitter and sweet versions of their projected and veiled selves.
Dust is beautifully written book. As the narrative advances through present or past, Owour delivers many remarkable, poetic short sentences. Short sentences and paragraphs that puncture your thoughts. You gasp before you carry on reading. You gasp first at the beauty of the wordplay, then you grasp the insight or ache that each needle-shot sentence releases. The novel emerges in all its intricate and articulate richness through lives transformed by a recent colonial experience as well as political upheavals and corruption in an emergent nation. Perhaps you can appreciate this novel more if you have a native sympathy with the fate of people scarred by colonial pasts and a present corrupted, manipulated by economic interests of multinational companies & their local, vocal, powerful, corrupt collaborators. Some very heartbreaking episodes fill this novel, some heartrending scenes, some events that fill you with disgust and disenchantment, and as a counterpoint, there a few passages that bring peace, understanding, pleasure, closure.

Growing up in India I always knew this dust that consumed and subsumed everything, a dust full of broken promises as well as crushed dreams and desires, a dust laced with blood and sweat of the tormented and the tormentors, a dust we miss when we are away from the nation, a dust that masks and hides hurt, longing, feeling and thoughts. As a writer, I struggle to show this dust, capture its prevalence and importance. As a reader, I seek writing that recognizes it, and removes its veil to reveal narratives that remain concealed in our plain sight. Owuor excels as she accomplishes this. In Dust, Owuor delivers a phenomenal saga that touches upon the human condition, deeply appreciative of sibling and parental affection, deeply conscious of tacit and long-lasting friendships, keenly aware of events that shape human destiny. The opening chapter where Odidi runs and runs, the landscapes through which various protagonists walk or night sounds they hear, Ajany's search for her brother's past and especially the scene where she finds the spot on tarmac still covered with his dried blood...  are all crafted with the skill of a seasoned writer.

The overall story, and the novel's many exceptional passages, are so beautifully crafted and delivered that I am convinced that the novel is destined for a long haul, to be read as a classic by our future generations. After the death of Chinua Achebe, I ached to find some other voice in the world literature who could write with his clarity and sympathy about the non-Western world. I always wondered if  Toni Morrison's raw and lucid style can be emulated in fiction written about men and women who live in erstwhile colonized countries. To place Owuor's book on a similar pedestal is perhaps the highest praise I can offer for this work.

Undoubtedly Owuor has delivered a masterpiece, a work of art that inspires and awes you for it touches many a raw nerve, and brings to light events, ideas, thoughts that are too murky to be appreciated otherwise. Though the narrative unfolds in realms and through descriptions unfamiliar to the imaginative and everyday life of many readers (my explanation for harsher reviews), I think Owuor's sparkling writing is capable of awakening many eyes, hearts and minds to such life-stories. Appreciating the novel Dust does require examination of our own biases, created by our readings and upbringings. Perhaps we need more novels like Dust if we really wish to comprehend the cultural and societal changes taking place in many non-Western nations. Even if the novel treads through threads far from your experience and comfort zone, read it for its music, descriptions and haunting prose and marvel at the author for unraveling secrets of human condition, secrets only a writer from a distant, dusty nation knows. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

An Olympian Heart

After he turned thirty, without a breakthrough
or a clue to a Nobel-worthy scientific discovery,
without a bestseller book, a Booker or a Pulitzer,
without even a proper job, with uncertainty
as his daily wake-up call and nightmare,
he began to respect the millions: the also-rans,
the have-beens and the almost-theres, the faceless
ants, and the termites in foreign sweatshops.

He spent an entire week making paper planes
from his unpublished research articles
and poems. Mass circulation of his ideas
using aerodynamics cleared his desk,
ever so cluttered like his mind. Imagine
hundreds of equations and verbs swirling
down to earth like his ideas about science,
art and self! Humbled by the sadhu time,

he grumbled first about the lost rhyme
and reason of his curious, lyrical self.
To this day, he had considered delayed
gratification a virtue. Now a voice,
his own, classed him as a bygone dream.
Not every fermentation ends up as wine.
He consoled himself with a serpentine logic
that mediocrity, after a sustained effort

at glory, is thermodynamically the most
favored outcome. He finally forgave
his grandma for saying that grazing goats
educates better than his pricy school's
English rhymes, and tie & coats.
After a half-life of borrowed idioms,
he began seeing his unoriginal affairs
as a destiny of desires forged

by an overhyped education. His toolbox
contains every artifact of acquired fact
and abstract training. Tentatively he prods
on, blowing a longhorn of dote learning,
but now he knows -- creativity is a jackfruit
dessert that not everyone who plants a sapling
gets to taste. To pack his bags and leave
would be an admission of grief or lack of belief

in his talents and the establishment. No,
he must persist, for existence is an act,
and he resents an exact estimation of his self.
He is a mass of clay-dust like everyone else,
and immortality is earned by getting churned
in the random eddies of life. Whoever yearns
and stakes his elemental self into the kiln
called life, burns... but only a fraction return

as gold or God, which the mirror suggests
might not be his fate. After he turned forty,
he learned that forgiving faults and failings
helps in retaining self-respect. Outcomes
reveal neither neglect nor unworthiness, not
always. Disillusioned by persistent biases
that favor white or black sheep in a flock,
egg-laying hens to an egoistic fighter cock,

he forged for himself a featureless dream-bowl,
then threw it away. To beg or canvass for votes,
or use family connections or political ploys he felt
would destroy his last caricatures of self-respect.
But if every man were to forgo his dreams, live on facts,
we would regress into a song-less, unchanging universe.
He knows he must persist, for all existence is an act,
we are merely players and before the hero/villain is revealed,

all actors on stage (and some backstage) are suspect.
One breakthrough it takes to light a lamp or an epigram,
one breakthrough! He could be but one step away from the finish.
They who don't ask will never know if the answer is yes or no.
He refines his act, but he is circumspect. Victors revise
biographies; wipe out the salt of doubts from their cheeks.
Since he knows he could yet write himself into a myth,
he braves the daily grindstones, and hopes, and persists.


First published in Muse India, Vol1, Jan-Feb, 2014. 
Version 1, Nov 25-28, 2011; V2: July 2012...

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Books read in 2014

Read in 2014 (95 = 60 + 35; NF 23) 
FICTION IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION --  (22): Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov [translated from Russian by David Magarshack], Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz [translated from Hebrew by Nicolas de Lange], The Hen who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang [translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim], Manual of Painting and Calligraphy by Jose Saramago [translated from Portuguese], The Last Day of a Condemned Man by Victor Hugo [translated from French], The Skin by Curzio Malaparte [translated from Italian], The Rebels by Sandor Marai, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez [re-read; translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa], Portraits of a Marriage by Sandor Marai [translated from Hungarian], Hadji Murat by Leo Tolstoy, Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings by Firdausi [translated from Persian by Dick Davis], The History of the Siege of Lisbon by Jose Saramago [translated from Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero], The Universal History of Iniquity and The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges [translated by Andrew Hurley], Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth by Naguib Mahfouz [translated from Arabic by Tagreid Abu-Hassabo], Money by Emile Zola [translated from French], The Story of a Ship-Wrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Leopard by Guiseppe di Lampedusa [translated from Italian by Archibald Colquhuan], Esther's Inheritance by Sandor Marai [translated from Hungarian], The Beginning and the End by Naguib Mahfouz [translated from Arabic], Miser and Other Plays by Moliere [translated from French], The Professor and the Siren by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa [ translated from Italian by Stephen Twilley], 

NOVEL / FICTION IN ENGLISH (12): Home by Toni Morrison, Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Short Stories and Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides, The Lost Girl by D. H. Lawrence, The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K Chesterton, Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri, Middlemarch  by George Eliot, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie .

POETRY IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION (14): (Javednama by Mohammad Iqbal [translated from Persian by Arthur J Arberry]),  Poem of the Deep Song Poema Del Cante Jondo by Federico Garcia Lorca [translated from Spanish by Carlos Bauer], Complete Poems by Catullus, Poems by Sappho [translated from ancient Greek by Willis Barnstone], Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides by Aeschylus [translated from ancient Greek by David R. Slavitt], Speaking of Siva [translated by A.K. Ramanujan], Swallowing the Sun  by Rumi [translated by Franklin D. Lewis], The Solitudes by Luis de Gongora [translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman],  Gulistan by Sa'adi [translated from Persian], Three Chinese Poets includes verses by Wang Wei, Li Bai and Du Fu [Translated by Vikram Seth], The Gypsies and Other Narrative Poems by Alexander Pushkin [translated from Russian by Antony Wood], THE NATURE OF THINGS by LUCRETIUS.

POETRY IN ENGLISH (17): A Village Life by Luise Glück, Broken Span by William Carlos Williams, Everything Begins Elsewhere by Tishani Doshi, 100 Poems: Old and New by Rudyard Kipling [Selected  and edited by Thomas Pinney], The Old Horsefly by Karl Shapiro, Selected Poems by Wallace Stevens, Selected Poems by Rudyard Kipling, Ink and Chalk by Shadab Zeest Hasmi, Seeney Astray by Seamus Heaney (based on an old Galeic poem), The Rusted City by Rochelle Hurt, All You Who Sleep Tonight by Vikram Seth, The Poems of Dylan Thomas, Jackstraws by Charles Simic, Bury My Clothes by Roger Bonair-Agard, Maybe it was So by Reginald Gibbons, Geography of Tongues by Shikha Malviya, Midnight Salvage by Adrienne Rich,

PHILOSOPHY / RELIGION / MYTHOLOGY  (2): Mythology by Edith Hamilton, A Study of Religions by Swami Vivekananda.

POPULAR SCIENCE / ECONOMICS (7): Truth and Beauty: Aesthetics and Motivations in Science by S. Chandrasekhar, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, Warmth Disperses and Time Passes: The History of Heat by Hans Christian von Baeyer, Heat and Thermodynamics: A Historical Perspective by T. Christopher Lewis, Thermodynamics of Pizza: Essays on Science and Everyday Life by Harold Morowitz, The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell by Basil Mahon, Backyard Bugs by Robin K. Laughlin.

NON-FICTION - OTHER (12): In Praise of Shadows by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki [translated by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker], Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation by William H. Gass, Black Boy by Richard Wright, Something of Myself by Rudyard Kipling, (Heretics by GK Chesterton), Mornings in Mexico and Etruscan Places by DH Lawrence, The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, A Matter of Rats by Amitava Kumar, Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel, Dongri to Dubai: Six decades of Mumbai Mafia by S. Hussain Zaidi.

MAHABHARATA (by Mahrishi Ved Vyas; translated from Samskrit into English by Kisari Mohun Ganguly) (0/18):

  • Hindi / Urdu / Punjabi (Fiction/Mythology: 3+ Poetry: 3+ Non-fiction: 2) (Vishnu Puran), Jhoota Sach: Vatan Aur Desh by Yashpal, Basere Se Dour by Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Ajatshatru by Jaishankar Prasad, (Saket by Maithalisharan Gupt), Kurushetra by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Saaye Mein Dhoop by Dushyant Kumar, Apni Apni Beemari by Parsaain

Sanskrit (Fiction: 0+ Poetry: 1): Vishnu Puran

(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 2013, with a selection of my favorite reads in the year past.)

Favorite reads from 2014
1) The Skin by Curzio Malaparte [translated from Italian]
2)  Jhoota Sach: Vatan Aur Desh by Yashpal
3)  Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
4)  Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty
5)  Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation by William H. Gass
6)  Middlemarch  by George Eliot
7)  Basere Se Dour by Harivansh Rai Bachchan
9)  The Poems of Dylan Thomas
10) Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings by Firdausi [translated from Persian by Dick Davis] 
11)  A Matter of Rats by Amitava Kumar
12)  Money by Emile Zola
13) Leopard by Guiseppe di Lampedusa [translated from Italian by Archibald Colquhuan]
14) Portraits of a Marriage and Esther's Inheritance by Sandor Marai
15) The Beginning and the End by Naguib Mahfouz.