‘Meena Kumari-The Poet’—A Life Beyond Cinema’ published by Rolli Books, India.
I have long been aware of the poetry of the late Meena Kumari, one of India’s preeminent actresses. I once heard a recording of her reciting her poems in Urdu. That was quite a while ago but it is still vivid in my mind how melancholic her voice sounded. My sense then was that she harbored an epic grievance whose redress was not to be found in this world. Perhaps I was fusing her screen persona of a woman deeply injured with what she was saying in her poetry. I don’t quite remember precisely what but melancholy is the predominant memory.
Now that I discover that Rolli Books of India is bringing out an English version of her poetry, I am curious to read it soon. The website scroll.in carries excerpts from the poetry translated by the eminent scholar and historian Noorul Hasan. As someone who has dabbled in poetry for close to 40 years, I look for a combination of an inventive vision/thought and a compelling turn of phrase in any poetry. On both fronts, Meena Kumari emerges successfully.
Although it is reckless to judge a writer or a poet on the basis of just a few lines or a couple paragraphs, they at least have the merit of letting you know their potential. There can always be an element of fluke when someone comes up with an arresting literary construct but more often than not it it is indicative of something deeper. That appears to be the case in Meena Kumari’s poetry. She had the inventiveness of vision and compelling turn of phrase so essential for a genuine poet.
I do not have either Rolli Books’ or Scroll’s permission to reproduce one poem and its translation from the book but I am going to do it here anyway in the hope that neither will punish me for trying to promote the cause of poetry. In her poem titled ‘Badli hui Ra’t’ (The Altered Night) she creates a captivating picture of the night. One particular idea grabbed me here—that of how night transforms the way everything appears.
Going by the poetry reproduced on Scroll, Professor Hasan has done a superb job of not just translating but finding the essence of Meena Kumari’s writing.
Badli Hui Ra’t
Kuch ajeeb sa maloom ho raha tha
Abr a’lood a’sman ki mauhoom raushni
Paharon ke hayule
Tarah-tarah ki khusbuen –
Sub kuch badla-badla hua sa tha
Ki ra’t thi
Har shai ko badal deti hai
Barfbari ki weeran ra’t ho – ya
Sa’ns leti hui mahakti chandni ra’t – ki
Andhion ki udas ghamnak ra’t,
Purfusun hoti hain jab
Aisi shaklen akhtayar kar leti hain ki
Pahchani nahin jati’n!
The Altered Night
There was a sense of eeriness
The illusory light of the cloudy skies
Sundry fragrances –
Everything stood altered
It was night.
And night transforms
All that is
Be it the snowing, solitary night
Or the breathing, fragrant, moonlit night
Or the sad, forlorn, stormy night.
When they exert their magic
Lend familiar things such shapes
That they’re hard to recognize.