People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 26

June 26, 2011




Profuse Tributes Paid to People’s Poet


Chanchal Chauhan


ON June 15 evening, the Janwadi Lekhak Sangh (JLS), Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT), Jan Natya Manch (JANAM) of Delhi and Act One jointly organised a Nagarjun Birth Centenary festival at Triveni Auditorium in the Mandi House area of New Delhi. On the occasion, the auditorium overflew with writers, artists, cultural activists and intelligentsia of Delhi; some of the audience came from Haryana and other states too. This year is the birth centenary year of Nagarjun, a well-known Hindi and Maithili poet who is considered as a people’s poet. He wrote poems and novels in Hindi, Maithili, Sanskrit and Bangala. 




Nagarjun, whose real name was Vaidyanath Mishra was born, at Tarauni, a small village in Darbhanga (Bihar) in 1911. According to Vikrami calendar, it was on the full moon day of the month of Jyeshtha, that coincided with June 15 that year of the Christian era. He studied Sanskrit and Buddhist literature, travelled far and wide, adopted Buddhist religion for some time and used Nagarjun as his nom de plume. In Maithili he wrote under the pen-name of Yatri (traveller). He wrote more than six novels in Hindi, more than a dozen collections of poems, two epic poems, two collections of poems in Maithili, one novel in Maithili, one epic poem in Sanskrit and some poems in Bangala. He was awarded by the Sahitya Akademi for his collection of poems in Maithili. He died on November 5, 1998.


Nagarjun began writing poems in Maithili at an early age, and in Hindi when he came in contact with Hindi writers at Varanasi where he stayed for learning Sanskrit. After that he wandered from one place to another. In the words of Vishnu Khare, he “continued to write both in Maithili and Hindi and while only two Hindi pamphlet-poems, Shapath (Vow) and Chana Zor Garam (‘Mighty’ Hot Grams) were circulated in 1948 and 1952 respectively, his first, compact yet comprehensive (28 poems) Maithili collection Chitra appeared in 1949 and became perhaps the first modern classic and a standard university textbook in the language. It is a microcosm with poems on the Mithila region and Gandhi and the state-of-the-nation jostling with nature-poems, nostalgia, love and social reform and commitment. Romantic lyricism gradually surrenders to a resolute realism. The longest (169 lines) poem of the collection, Dwandwa (The Duel Within), is uniquely central to the understanding of the poet’s painfully chosen way of life and his awareness of the irrevocable, dynamic dialectics of human history. It is uncannily like the testament of a modern Buddha after the renunciation, vulnerable to accusation of heartlessness, selfishness and escapism, yet resolute and unapologetic in its larger decision.”




If his first collection, in Maithili, was appreciated for its pictorial quality, Yugdhara, the first one in Hindi, was considered as “the Stream of the Age.” By 1953, the year of its publication, Nagarjun had left behind the nostalgic association with his Meghaduta-Kalidasa kind of Sanskrit lyrical romanticism. He became the forerunner of a new wave of writing in Hindi of progressive content and satirical form. To quote Vishnu Khare again, “he is perhaps the only Hindi poet who saw and wrote about the mighty Indus during one of his wanderings in pre-Partition India. His 10-line 1950 poem about “the five worthy sons of Mother India” is a piece of classic satire, which he used to recite like a dancing Baul. The still shorter, 8-line poem on “The Famine and After” remains a masterpiece of tragedy and resurgence, hunger and satiety, gloom and cheer, establishing him as a major talent in Hindi poetry.”


He did not confine himself to the genre of poetry to depict the reality of his land. He took to novel writing and wrote novels in Hindi in the rich tradition of Premchand.


Ratinath Ki Chachi (Ratinath’s Aunt), his novel in Hindi is considered by critics as ‘one of the most realistic --- and feminist --- novels in Hindi.’ This novel depicts adulterous carnality and foeticide, but it is a rich conjuring-up of Maithil society, culture and ecology, interspersed with irony and humour so characteristic of the region.


Balchanma, his second novel in Hindi, was published in 1952. This novel also depicts the social reality telling the harrowing tale of abject poverty and naked exploitation; it promises liberation to such rebellious youngsters as Balchanma, only to end in his brutal murder by the mercenaries hired by the upper-caste kulaks and landowners.


Varun ke Bete (The Sons of the Water-God Varuna), written in 1954 and published in 1956, is yet another unconventional work. It is a story of the (low-caste) village fishermen fighting for their fishing rights and trying to form a fishermen’s cooperative.


Nagarjun wrote 13 novels --- 11 in Hindi and two in Maithili --- and each of them centres around a socio-economic-political theme, making him one of the most ‘programmatic’ novelists in Indian literature. His stories are invariably set in rural or semi-urban Bihar and tell the story of the downtrodden and the exploited, amongst them women and children.


While writing on his death, Vishnu Khare wrote, “Nagarjun remains predominantly a poet of politics and people, of the peasantry and of the proletariat. He was angrier than any angry young poet but also possessed a typically robust Maithil-Bihari sense of humour and savage satire..… His poetry and fiction are polyphonic; they have more than one sub-text and can be read as subaltern sociology and history but there is nothing subordinate about them --- they belong to the real, dominant mainstream of Hindi literature. On the other hand, he is at core a vulnerable individual, with love, yearning, guilt and tenderness, tormenting and ennobling his soul. Its inner demons turned him into a tireless traveller --- he was no profligate philanderer..…To those who read him, he is a deeply committed humanist with a rare mastery over language(s), style and craft. Now that the canonised and mobbed “Baba” is gone, one hopes that his devotees will turn to his works where he lives as the ever-readable, relevant and breathless Nagarjun.”




In the beginning of the Nagarjun festival, Murli Manohar Prasad Singh, general secretary of the Janwadi Lekhak Sangh, welcomed the audience and said that emerging writers would get inspiration from the writings of Nagarjun who always sided with the downtrodden and remained committed to the cause of revolution. After the welcome address, the artistes of Jan Natya Manch, Kurukshetra, sang a chorus based on three poems of Nagarjun --- Lal Bhavani, Lajwanti, and Shashan ki Bandook. Then began a session of discourse on Nagarjun’s contribution to literature and culture. First, Rajesh Joshi, an eminent Hindi poet, briefly spoke on the creative process of Nagarjun who kept with him a magnifying glass and a radio transistor. By referring to these two gadgets, Rajesh explained the element of progressive thinking in Nagarjun who kept a vigilant eye on every event related in press and radio. Then the special number of Naya Path, Hindi quarterly, on Nagarjun was released. Renowned Hindi critic Shiv Kumar Mishra spoke on various literary aspects of Nagarjun’s poetry and also his memoirs. In his brief presidential address, Namwar Singh said that Nagarjun was an experimentalist par excellence, whether it was the choice of metre, rhythm, content or form. The range of his poetry was very vast and thus he was really a people’s poet.


The most attractive part of the festival was the presentation of Nagarjun’s poems in classical music by Anjana Puri. Madan Gopal Singh, an eminent singer and composer of Sufi poetry, presented a programme of music, singing some of the best poems of Nagarjun, and earned high applause from the audience. In between the variety of programmes, some poems of Nagarjun were recited by well-known Hindi and Urdu writers such as Zubair Razvi, Matraiyee Pushpa, Leeladhar Mandloi, Mangalesh Dabral, Dinesh Kumar Shukla and Ashok Tiwari.


In the end Bigul drama group enacted a collage containing seven stages based on Nagarjun’s poems and then the JANAM, Kurukshetra, sang a poem, ‘Megh Baje Hain’ in classical mode. The programme was conducted by Chanchal Chauhan, general secretary of the Janwadi Lekhak Sangh.