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Between Fear and Courage

Mrinal Pande

By Raghuvir Sahai
National Publishing House, 1975, 9.00

VOLUME I NUMBER 4 October - December 1976

This is Raghuvir Sahai’s third volume of poems. His two previous ones: Seedhiyon Par Dhoop Mein (1960) and Atmahatya Ke Viruddha (1967) have al­ready established him as a major Hindi poet of the post-sixties. As in his earlier poems, the poet once again deals with the dialectics of a peculiarly (post-Independence) Indian socio-political situation where democracy ‘has pinned us down between the glories of human existence on the one hand and a dog’s death on the other’. And out of the absurdity and pathos of these tensions comes his poetry: The armies kill the man, then dig up the soil and patch up their tents somehow the mango tree survives. The armies then formulate a pact to go fight elsewhere and then a celebration (to mark occasion of the land being vacated) takes place under the same tree.   The question that comes to mind naturally is, at what level does the poet fight and resist the pres­sures of his environment, ‘the world where we are now being compelled to live even more than we did in the past’. For Raghuvir Sahai’s poet these insidious pressures are mostly intellectual: Laugh, you are under observation Laugh, but not at yourself for it will be rather obviously bitter and get     you caught. Laugh, so that you do not seem to be happy or else you will be suspect of not participating in the general shame and be destroyed ... Laugh, but avoid jokes for they have words and the words might have meanings centuries old ... Hanso hanso jaldi hanso anso hanso jaldi hanso   Obviously in tackling a theme of this magnitude, the temptation to fight the Establishment with linguistic weapons of its own forging: the catchy vehemence of the news media and the authoritative phrases of the politicians is too great. But where the use of their language may give the poems a certain ephemeral relevance to the times, it also deprives them of their credibility in the long run. Also, by succumbing to the prophet-martyr posture of the public man, the poet unavoidably links his poetry to definitive value judgments regarding what is good or bad, viable or otherwise. This eventually stunts the entire range of his poetic expressiveness, however genuine his vehemence. I have found Raghuvir Sahai’s poetry especially admirable in that by and large the poems skirt round these pitfalls, by choosing the only viable option of ...

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