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Between Being and Becoming

Tania Mehta

By Kunwar Narain ; Trilochan
Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 2002, pp. 135; pp. 80, Rs. 150.00; Rs. 95.00


In an age of postmodernist utterances, the incessant babble of the hyper-real images on our T.V. screens, the cacophony of ‘discourses’, we are left injured and stupefied by the violence of words. Our word-weary souls seek respite. It is here that poetry comes to our rescue for we need the much deprived ‘quiet peace’ for reflection and introspection. The continuous blizzard of words freeze our responses and we lose the feel of the ‘word’ and its meaning. Poetry, perhaps, may bring back the much needed ‘thaw’.   To review an anthology of poems by a seasoned poet like kunwar Narian, is a task half done or done clumsily. He has been on the Hindi literary scene for almost five decades. These days there is mass production of ‘one book’ wonders, the chosen incarnations of the market gods, who flash and then fizzle out. Kunwar Narain stands apart. He started writing way back in the 1950s (Chakra Vyuh, 1956), when the twin streams of ‘Progressive’ and ‘experimentation’, merged into the crowded movement in Hindi, called Nai Kavita or the ‘new poetry’. Writing for a long span of time is not however in any way a qualification for ‘greatness’. There is a strong commitment to writing poetry, quietly exercised, without fetishizing the very act of writing. A commitment so great comes so rare these days, and this to my mind is a great achievement in itself.   The poems in this anthology, En Dino (135 poems), explore different segments of experience. It is an anthology of rare maturity and encompasses both depth and scope of vision. What draws our attention to this anthology is the ‘calm’ maturity that rebuts the image of juvenile aggression. Girdhar Rathi, in Survival: An Experiment in Translating Modern Hindi Poetry, says that Kunwar Narain’s poetry is mostly ‘meditative’, dwelling on the present through the prism of myth and history. Mythical situations are of course, lifted beyond their religious contexts. Myth in his poetry is not subverted with any postmodernist obsession of inverting the established and the pre-meant. Like many Indian poets writing in English, there is no commodification of ‘ethnicity’ and, no anxiety for ‘Indianness’. The poet is deeply anchored in his native cultural traditions and does not disown mythology to conform to western ideals of empiricism and rationalism. His poetry can be seen as Samkaleen poetry, which is a wide assortment of the old, and new schools and ...

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