Spring in JNU

Pooja Garg

Vidvaano.n ki is basti mein jahaan ek phool bhi ek sawaal hai
Aur bichchhu bhi ek sawaal
Maine ek din dekhaa ek adhed sa aadmi…
…Aur yeh to baad mein mainey jaana
Uskey chaley jaaney ke kaafi baad
Ki jis samay main chilla rahaa tha
Asal mein main chup thaa
Jaisey sab chup they
Aur meri jagah yeh meri Hindi thi
Jo mere parisar mein akele chillaa rahi thi

– JNU mein Hindi, (Hindi in JNU), Kedarnath Singh

Spring in JNU[In this settlement of intellectuals where each flower poses a question/ And where a scorpion is a question too/ I saw a middle-age man/.…/ And I found this out after he had left/ After he was long gone/ That the time I was screaming/ Actually I was silent/ Just like all others were silent/ And in my place was my Hindi/ Which was alone, and shouting in my compound]

In this poem by Kedarnath Singh, Hindi or language could well be a metaphor for events that have unfolded in JNU in the past few weeks. Reading Kedarnath Singh, himself a JNU stalwart, one is struck by how close some poems are to paraphrasing the cacophony, the deafening silence and the collective dismay we all have felt in the past few weeks.

Kaala sooraj kaaley haath
Jhukey huey hain saaarey maath
Kaali bahasei.n kaala nyay
Khaali mej pee rahi chai
Kaaley akshar kaali raat
Kaun karey ab kissey baat
Kaali jantaa kaala krodh
Kaala-kaala hai yugbodh

– Kaali Mitti (Dark Soil), Kedarnath Singh

[Dark sun, dark hands/ All foreheads are bent/ Dark arguments dark justice/ Empty desk now slurps the tea/ Dark words dark night/ Who is to talk to the other now (Nobody talks to each other now)/ Dark public dark anger/ Dark, yet darker is the understanding of this age]

I was a late convert to Hindi poetry. One of my uncles, then dean of languages with a state university and himself a poet, housed an extensive library filling the entire upper floor of his house. Only a whirring fan recorded its presence there in sweltering summer afternoons and it became a welcome respite for a teenager looking for some downtime from adult scrutiny. ‘Bhar lo (Fill up)’ whispered one of his poems, ‘Suryaast ke Baad Ek Andheri Basti se Guzartey Hue’ (Passing by a Dark Village after Sunset). But it was not the hoarding to the brim of a voluptuous freedom but of a stark emptiness. Of courting restlessness. And in the end, of a path to life.

Bhar lo
Taakti hui aankhon ka
Athaah sannaata
Sivaanon par syaaron ke
Phenkarne ki aawaazein
Bichhuon ke
Uthey hue dankon ki
Saari bechaini
Aatma mein bhar lo

[Fill up/ Fathomless emptiness of/ Staring eyes/On frontiers, the jackals’/ loud howling/ Scorpions’/ Upright sting’s/ Restlessness, all of it/ Fill it up in your soul]

On one of my visits to JNU – I was next door at IIMC – I met Kedarnath Singh one wintry afternoon. We were a gaggle of friends who had wandered into a hall. In that dimly lit room muffled by a hundred shawls and Delhi in mist, his words had been the bat wings that flew around us. He was reading from his poem, Chhotey Shahar Ki Ek Subah (A Morning of a Small Town).

Poochhtaa hai ek chehraa doosrey se maun
Bachaa ho saabut aisaa kahaan hai veh – kaun?
Sirf kauvaa ek mandraata hua-sa vyarth
Samoochey maahaul ko kuchh de rahaa hai arth

[One face asks the other, silent/ Where is the one who has been spared whole (Is there anyone who has been spared whole)?/ Only a crow flying useless/ Is lending some meaning to the atmosphere]

In news today, Kanhaiya got interim bail. Judge quoted Bollywood song, ‘Mere Desh ki Dharti Sona Ugley’ and invoked spring and peace. March is here. Winter is giving way to spring. But will the chill leave us?

From Kedarnath Singh’s poem Basant (Spring):

Aur basant phir aa raha hai
Shaakuntal ka ek pattaa
Meri almaari se nikal kar
Hawaa mein pharpharaa rahaa hai
Pharpharaa rahaa hai ki main uthoon
Aur aas-paas phaili hui cheezon ke kaanon mein
Keh doon ‘naa’
Ek dridh
Aur chhoti-si ‘naa’
Jo saari aawaazon ke viruddh
Mei chhaati mein surakshit hai

[And spring is here again/ A Shaakuntal leaf/ Drops out of my cupboard/ Floats in the wind/ Floats so I may get up/ And in the ears of things scattered around/ I may whisper ‘no’/ A firm/ And a small ‘no’/ Which is against all these voices/ And which lies protected in my breast]

Poems have been loosely translated by the author.
Pooja Garg is a US based writer and poet. She is at poojagargsingh.tumblr.com.