Hindi writer Vinod Kumar Shukla
It is utterly joyous serendipity to have discovered Hindi poet and writer Vinod Kumar Shukla.
The discovery came this morning via Facebook, courtesy of friend Umesh Pant. Umesh posted an interview with Shukla that was done by Rakesh Shrimal, editor of “Pustak Varta” (roughly ‘Book Talk’). The interview itself was posted on a blog called ‘Pakhi’, which I suppose means bird. So Shukla has had to travel some distance to reach me. It reflects poorly on me that I was unaware of him until today.
I have a weakness for the well-spoken and the well-written, irrespective of whether I agree with the content of what is being spoken or written. I read everything first from the standpoint of whether it is readable. Substance is important, of course, but substance is like a destination and writing is like the path that leads to it. If the path is uneven, strewn with poorly constructed phrases and sentences, one tends to veer away from the substance.
It turns out Shukla is a highly respected writer and poet known for his austere yet deep rumination on life and all that happens within as well outside. A writer who can title one of his books ‘Deewar Mein Ek Khirkee Rahati Thi’ (A Window Lived in a Wall) gets my vote every time.
A very cursory look at Shukla’s works, as available on the net, tells me that he is a man of lucid quietude. He comes across as someone who has a particularly distilled creative expression. He is also someone who is very visual. In his interview with ‘Pustak Varta’he says, “I don’t think in language. Ideas come to me visually. I think visually.”
Watching a two part conversation with him on YouTube, I was struck by the opening lines of part 1. In Hindi it says, “Shuruat ka koi sandarbh nahi hota, Kuchh hona hi us ka sandarbh hai jaise bansuri ka hona hi sangeet ka sandarbh hai.” My free rendition of this would be “A beginning has no context. That it is there is its context quite like the flute is the context for music.” It is a striking thought, particularly the idea that a beginning has no context. That could well be applied to the universe presuming it had what our restricted comprehension calls a beginning. I digress.
I chanced upon some English translation of Shukla’s poetry on Poetry International Rotterdam.
And I, the city man,
separate from nature so
that I leave the tree behind and sit in the bus.
Sitting in the bus, I wish
that there were trees on both sides of the road.
In my room
I have hung a picture of an entire forest
A man sat in desperation
I did not know the man.
But I knew the desperation.
. . . We walked together.
We did not know each other.
But we knew walking together.
In his interview with ‘Pustak Varta’ , Shukla makes a fine point about the difference between writing prose and poetry: “Gadya likhna, likhne mein sahaj shuruat hai, par baad mein kavita ki tarh kathin. Kavita kathin shuruat hai par baad mein gadya ki tarha sahaj.” (To begin writing prose is natural but it later turns out to be difficult like poetry. Writing poetry is difficult in the beginning but becomes as natural later like prose.)
In a remarkable show of democratic generosity, in contrast to literary exclusivism and conceit of many other writers, Shukla says in the same interview, “Ever body should write at least one book. There is no person or life about whom something cannot be written. Everyone can write about themselves and others.” This view comes so frighteningly close to mine that for a moment I thought I had said it.
I find that writing of this kind, by which I mean literary interviews and essays, are infinitely better crafted in Hindi and other Indian languages in India than what one gets to see in the country’s English media. For one, it does not feel grafted. It feels to be part of the habitat and therefore more authentic. English is now an Indian language but it still betrays its otherness when its practitioners fail to indigenize it.