Major turns in history are said to be marked by the change in modes of production. All such changes get filtered in the language of the masses, which contemporary poetry absorbs with the sensitivity of a seismograph.
It goes without saying that people in the Hindi /Urdu belt are talkative. Even amidst the deepest of turmoils, they have sung and composed poems in a rather relaxed tone. This line from a famous folksong catches their singing spree—‘aag lagi humri jhoparia mein/hum gaven malhaar’ (Our hut is on fire/And here we sit singing Malhar to appease the Rain God).This also explains why the mushairas and Kavi sammelans too never lost ground here.
For centuries people from this belt have been a floating population in search of jobs and better avenues of life. Because they are essentially a migrant lot, a neo-nomad surviving on adhoc jobs and contractual relationships, their huts are always either on fire or on the point of being bulldozed and they have been used to this kind of treatment for so long that now they don’t care anymore. One may recall the classic illustration of this perpetual situation in Premchand’s Ranghbhoomi where the mill-owner threatens the people in the Basti:‘We shall knock your huts down’, and Soordas, the Dalit hero, replies with Gandhian determination, ‘We shall raise them again.’ ‘We shall fell them again.’‘And we raise them again…. and again…and again…’.
This vivacity and survival instinct still persists in the Hindi masses. Also, the ongoing migrations have erased the division between the classes and the masses. The comparatively affluent ones too are what Rajendra Yadav calls ‘Ukhde Hue Log’ (The Uprooted/Dislodged People). Living in their own country they are mostly treated as second class citizens by their own people not only in the chawls of Mumbai and the sublet ‘badies’of Kolkata but also in the jhuggi-cluster/barsatis and PG accommodations of Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore and all such places where they are mostly absorbed either as menial staff or as ‘cyber coolies’.
It is these very cyber coolies, people working in the call centres, and their bosses from the different IITs, NITs, IIMs and other elite institutions of India who have discovered not only Hindi Poetry but also World Poetry in Hindi translation freely available on websites and e-Journals like Kavita-Kosh, Padhte-Padhte, Tarpan, Khush-gappian and Hindi Yugm. Run mainly by the underemployed and unemployed comrades and fellow-travellers from other walks of life, these poetry websites, e-journals and WhatsApp groups keep uploading poetry the whole night with the enthusiasm of guerrilla fighters uploading their guns. (In the middle of the night one can easily hear these young poets shooting poetry on different WhatsApp groups).
My own informal chit-chat with a large number of contemporary poets in Hindi bears witness to the fact that in addition to the high-minded (mother tongue minded), rooted kind of mothers and grandmothers, Hindi teachers at Central schools, Navodaya and Sarvodaya schools and a few of the residential government schools like Netarhat have done the most for developing in their pupils a creative and critical insight into the poetic legacy of Hindi. Most of the Hindi poets have been to these schools.
Public schools in the Hindi belt offer Hindi only as an optional subject, and most of the pupils from the science and commerce sections discard this ‘option’in favour of the more scoring options like Sanskrit, French and German. These ‘marks securing’, scoring options end up giving them only a basic knowledge of the new language and this too fades away soon from their memory because none of these is the language of the immediate surroundings. Products of public schools speak and comprehend Hindi well but the confidence of writing poetry in Hindi is seriously challenged till they discover their Ali Baba Ka Khazana sites like Kavita Kosh (run by Lalit), Tarpan (produced by Kumar Vishwas) and Khush-guppiyan (sung and curated by Chinmayee Tripathi) on the Internet. Here they either read poems aloud or listen to their powerful renditions in hours of deep depression when there is no one else to turn to in the alien city.
Usually at the peak of utter loneliness when they have just lost a job or a parent or have had an ugly break-up with someone, they turn to poetry on the Internet. That’s why most of the poetic texts published in e-journals, little magazines (and later anthologized by the Small Press) are so deeply dialogic or inter-textual. Reading poetry easily available on Internet becomes some kind of a foreplay for getting the new poets in the right mood for writing their own stuff.
Every year in the World Book Fair hundreds of these new poets are published and lauded in different Lokarpan Samarohs (book launches) by publishers like Bodhi, Sahitya Akademi and Bharatiya Jnanpith and beaming institutions like the Raza Foundation, Bharatbhushan Agrawal Smriti Nyas and a few others who have the credit of unearthing outstanding poetic voices like Leena Malhotra Rao, Monika Kumar, Ambar Pandey, Babushka Kohli, Anuradha Singh, Sujata, Rashmi Bhardwaj, Avinash Mishra, Sandeep Kaushal and many others. They, along with other outstanding poets like Geet Chaturvedi, Lovely Goswami, Ashok Pandey, Pranjal Dhar, Dr Vinay, Sriprakash Shukla,Vyomesh Shukla, Pankaj Chaturvedi, Pramod, Arunabh, Sudhanshu Firdaus and Achyutanand Mishra are the most well-read among the young poets whose inter-textual dialogues with not only world classics but also with the Sanskrit, Persian, Tamil texts have created interesting departures and tonal variations in poetic diction.
The sharp divide between the Chhayavadi and Pragatiwadi or even between the modernist poets of the Agyeya camp and the progressive poets like Muktibodh, Trilochan, Nagarjun had started subsiding way back in the seventies and eighties. Poets like Shamsher, Kunwar Narayan, Raghuveer Sahay, Kedarnath Singh, Leeladhar Jagoori, Alok Dhanwa, Rituraj, Chandrakant Deotale, Vishnu Khare, Rajesh Joshi, Arun Kamal, Uday Prakash, Mangalesh Dabral, Madan Kashyap, Leeladhar Mandaloi, Kumar Ambuj, Devi Prasad Mishra and Ashutosh Dubey on one hand and Srikant Varma, Ashok Vajpeyi, Kailash Vajpayee, Udayan Vajpeyi, Gagan Gill, Teji Grover, Prayag Shukla and Pankaj Singh on the other had transcended boundaries of the formalist and the non-formalist long time back. Well-grounded in classical music, painting, sculpture and sibling art forms, they were the first to notice that aesthetics and ethics are no binaries because their foundational principles are the same, call it curbing of excesses, equipoise or sthitpragyata. They were the first to breathe the music of otherness in their own beings and write poetry of porous boundaries where the rural could easily penetrate into the urban and the macro into micro.
As for the women poets, they came first in twos and threes and thereafter in a large number, flocking together like birds, descending and covering the ground with the push and joy of words and images gushing forth from a hitherto unexplored and complex range of experience rooted in their ethical code, their model of social justice and also in the different dimensions of their body (which happens to be the prime site both of un bound josuissance and of all kinds of women centric crimes). The informal chit-chat tone of their non-ending talk stories too contributed a great deal in changing the tone and timber of contemporary Hindi poetry.
It is a happy coincidence indeed that at the turn of the century a large number of first generation migrants from Bihar, U.P. and Madhya Pradesh sprung up on the horizon of Hindi poetry. Katyayani, Nirmala Garg, Anita Varma, Ashutosh Dubey, Savita Singh, Neelesh, Rajat Rani Meenu, Shivraj Singh Bechain, Pragati, Badrinarayan, Ekant Srivastava, Bodhisattwa, Jitendra, Yateendra Mishra, Nilay Upadhyaya, Sanjay Kundan, Vimal Kumar, Sriprakash Shukla, Nirmala Putal, Anuj Lugoon, Shubhashree and a few others appeared on the scene almost together. In their writings all boundaries were broken down and with a full force the personal started flowing into the political, the cosmic into the commonplace, the real into the surreal, the home into the world and tatsam into the deshaj and videshaj.
Humour is a great leveller, we all know, and the wit in women’s poetry is specially successful in quashing the hierarchy between the so-called higher and the lower forms of reality (‘I was a door/the more they banged me/the more I opened up’/‘With my rolling pin I roll the earth’and many such images reverberate in my mind as an illustration.).
Today when even the Dalit, Advasi and subaltern women suffering through multiple migrations, women hounded out from war prone, terror, riot and even ‘development’-hit areas (like Chattisgarh, Singhoor and the Narmada Valley) have also gained a voice, one can read even their ‘Sangathin Yatras’(oral narrative jointly drafted by women of letters). One of the interesting observations that one hits upon while examining poetry occasioned by riots is that the subaltern women are even subtler in their hinting at the ironies of the riot-torn areas. Anita Bharti, a young Dalit Hindi poet has woven a fabulous poem on the experience of a Lohar Bahu, a blacksmith’s wife during Muzaffarnagar riots who is looking at the sickle she had herself sharpened for sale at the Somwar Haat (weekly market) . While moulding the sickle in the furnace she had not imagined that the same sickle would be used by the fundamentalists for slashing off the head of her own ailing husband and child!
Even the non-Dalit, non-Adivasi women poets now are weaving together the terror at the war front with the terror in the bedroom, the hurly-burly in the kitchen with the chaos at the World Trade Centre and even in Iraq and the Ghaza Strip. A case in point would be the series of poems Katyayani wrote after the Gujrat riot, where in the rage of a Kali she inverts the language of traditional hymn chanting into a proper parody.
For Babushka Kohli, another young poet very popular on WhatsApp Groups, God is a peanut-munching fellow traveller in the local bus. Leena Malhotra Rao has beautifully internalized Hussain’s painting for washing out the charge against Hussain that in depicting the women deities scantily clad, he had the ulterior motive of hurting Hindu sentiments. Superbly subtle are the symbolic dimensions of her ‘Prasooti Snan’, the ritualistic bathing after nine days of delivery, where amidst all gods and goddesses, Hussain too comes to bathe with the new mother in the labour-room. The labour that the artist puts in while painting or writing a poem or during a dance has been beautifully merged with the labour that a woman undergoes while delivering a baby. The muck and sweat that she is covered with gain metaphysical dimensions when she paints the first ritual bathing after the delivery thus:
Seated on steps (of the ghat) are Christ, Mohammad,
Krishna and Moosa
And the thirty crores of devi-devtas to bless her !
Her face looks quite like Durga’s
And her womb is quite like Mariyam’s,
Her aura is quite like Gabriel’s
She has delivered a baby.
This is your new birth, Hussain,
With many a colour in eyes
You have descended on the earth this time
To be exiled to the moon.
(Leena M Rao, Translation Mine)
To conclude, one could say that Hindi poetry today is poetry of porous boundaries, and it has internalized the fact that religion/nation/citizenship/even fantasy is too serious an issue to be left in the hands of fundamentalists. So, freely, it questions, inverts, pooh-poohs, pounds and thrashes, winks and smiles, does all that it can to gear up tired linguistic bones and alter ‘structures’. A grand mocktail of ‘rasas’ and ‘dhwanies’, memory and desire—it tries its best to draw you into a meditative silence.
Anamika is an Associate Professor at the Department of English, Satyavati College, University of Delhi. She is a Hindi poet, novelist and translator. Her award winning poetry collections Khurduri Hatheliyan, Doob-Dhan and Tokri Mein Digant are prescribed at national universities such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, SNDT University, Cochi University, and also at University of Moscow. Her novels include Dus Dwaare Ka Peenjara and Tinka Tinke Paas. Her writing have been translated into many languages. Her translations of Rilke, Neruda, Doris Lessing, Octavio Paz and fellow women poets have been published by Sahitya Academy, Harper Collins, Katha and Penguin. She is a trained Kathak dancer and has a PhD in Hindi too.