‘And night transforms All that is…’—Meena Kumari, the poet

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‘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

Mauhoom saye

Paharon ke hayule

Tarah-tarah ki khusbuen –

Sub kuch badla-badla hua sa tha

Shayad isliye

Ki ra’t thi

Aur ra’t

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,

–Sari raten

Purfusun hoti hain jab

Jani-Pahchani cheezen

Kuch

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

Spectral shadows

Magic mountains

Sundry fragrances –

Everything stood altered

Perhaps because

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.

All nights

When they exert their magic

Lend familiar things such shapes

That they’re hard to recognize.

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About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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