Category Archives: Literature

Paean – A Song for Triumphs, For Usha Ganguly and Irrfan Khan: The Mocking Birds

Guest Post by the group THE MOCKING BIRDS

आज की रात न फ़ुट-पाथ पे नींद आएगी
सब उठो, मैं भी उठूँ तुम भी उठो, तुम भी उठो
कोई खिड़की इसी दीवार में खुल जाएगी
ये ज़मीं तब भी निगल लेने पे आमादा थी
पाँव जब टूटती शाख़ों से उतारे हम ने
उन मकानों को ख़बर है न मकीनों को ख़बर
उन दिनों की जो गुफाओं में गुज़ारे हम ने ( कैफ़ी आज़मी )
              सच है इस लॉक डॉउन में हमने लगभग गुफाओं में दिन गुजारे है, कुछ आब ला पा सड़क पर दर ब दर है, कुछ ऐसे है जो इस फानी दुनिया से चले गए, ऐसा लगता है जैसे उनको इस आगत का इलहाम हो गया था आज के ग़म का, और जल्द ही चले गए …. फ़ैज़ से कुछ पंक्तियां लेकर

Continue reading Paean – A Song for Triumphs, For Usha Ganguly and Irrfan Khan: The Mocking Birds

Talking Faiz: ‘In This Hour of Madness’

( Note : To be published in the Annual Number of ‘Mainstream’)

In this conversation academician, writer and social activist Zaheer Ali talks about his latest book ‘Romancing With Revolution : Life and Works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’ (Aakar Books, Delhi, 2019) and why Faiz is ‘ extremely relevant in today’s India’

This is the hour of madness, this too the hour of chain and noose You may hold the cage in your control, but you don’t command The bright season when a flower blooms in the garden. So, what if we didn’t see it? For others after us will see The garden’s brightness, will hear the nightingale sing

(This Hour of Chain and Noose (Faiz, Tauq o dar ka Mausam, 1951)

Continue reading Talking Faiz: ‘In This Hour of Madness’

Still Life, Aflutter – Harold Bloom and an Old Incantation: Prasanta Chakravarty


Harold Bloom had made it clear many times that his investment in the Greek literary critic Dionysius Longinus, writing in the first century AD, was a way to address and revisit the fundamental encounter of the sublime in our living. Commentators have noticed a remarkable ‘agon’ being played out in Bloom’s career: between his idealizing enthusiasm in romantic-messianic visions and his equal investment in gnostic wisdom and stoic classicism. This agon, or contestation, was his way of addressing a certain space of the uncanny in dealing with art and literature, in contrast to the modernizers and tropologists who, he believed, rejected subjectivity itself as a fallacy. Not Bloom—who had always claimed that the ‘strong critic’ is a kind of poet. As he saw it, literary criticism is an ongoing tussle between the pathos of the heroic will and the ‘literalizers’ who deal in tropes and textual juggleries. But has he been successful in strictly distinguishing the daemonic from the analytic? Are the uncanny and surpassing moments entirely separable from the sensory and the figurative? 

Here is a singular song, penned and sung by Suman Chattopadhyay (now Kabir Suman) decades ago. Continue reading Still Life, Aflutter – Harold Bloom and an Old Incantation: Prasanta Chakravarty

Books About Wars in Your Country

A brief history of books, resistance, the police and politicians.

War and Peace

It is humanly impossible for even the most learned judge to have read every book referred to in their court. For a brief while this week, the judge conducting the trial of activist Vernon Gonsalves, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon incident of 2018, became an example of this. That was until the judge clarified that he is, in fact, aware of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy and his epical novel War and Peace.

His response when the Bhima Koregaon charge sheet was placed before his court proves he knew of the provenance and contents of War and Peace. The confusion, it now appears, arose because the charge sheet had mentioned another book with a similar title. That is how the judge had ended up asking Gonsalves’ lawyers why their client possessed a book about wars in “other countries.”

It is not the judge’s knowledge of great literature but his belief that books about wars in other countries should not be owned (or read) by Indians that is a bigger surprise. Of course, since that remark, many commentators have pointed out that Tolstoy’s writings supported peace and not war. Accordingly, Mahatma Gandhi’s long correspondence with the literary legend is being highlighted afresh.

That said, this is not the first time that judges have expressed a curious indifference to the value of the written word, whether fictional or literary. The question arises, how can we tell if this incident is an aberration or the tip of an iceberg of flimsy excuses to keep people behind bars.

( Read the full article here :

Marx in Brussels

The most remarkable development during his time in Brussels was the penning down of the Communist Manifesto, which firmly established Marx as well as Engels as the intellectual leaders of the working class movement.

Marx in Brussels

Karl Marx

Lived in Brussels from February 1845 to March 1848

He celebrated New Year’s Eve 1947/48 together with the “Deutscher Arbeiterverein” and the “Association Democratique” in this place

The plaque put on a building which housed a restaurant ‘Le Cygne, The Swan’ now is the only memory left of the days when history was ‘made’ here. According to legend, it is the same place ‘[w]here the First International had convened’  and Marx and his lifelong friend and comrade Engels ‘[h]ad written the Communist Manifesto’.

No doubt it was the same place when Marx, Engels, Mozes Hess – who was another early luminary of socialism and who supposedly had influenced Engels about communism – and other associates of the surging workers movement pondered over many of those ideas which have been memorialised in the opening sentences of the Manifesto, “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism….”

May be the historic slogan ‘Workers of the World Unite, You have nothing to lose but your chains’ which later reverberated throughout the world – whose echoes are still heard – had its ‘humble’ beginning in one of those very rooms, where Marx and his close associates used to educate workers about their exploitation.

Scores of people sitting in this particular restaurant which was serving them sumptuous food and choicest drinks were completely oblivious of all those details. Few of them rather looked at us with a sense of disbelief and dismay, when they witnessed us taking photos of the nondescript wall which had the plaque put on it. Perhaps they looked more satisfied that they are enjoying food at a place which is situated on the Grand Place or Grote Markt, which is the central square of Brussels and is considered one of the most beautiful squares in Europe and is also part of UN Heritage.

( Read the full article here :

In Imagination, in Resistance, in Solidarity and Rage – People’s Literary Festival in Kolkata: Tamoghna Halder


“It was the unlikeliest setting for a ‘literature festival’. A run-down auditorium with rickety chairs secured with rope. Noisy ceiling and pedestal fans. Battle scarred tables covered with threadbare cloth. But the first edition of the People’s Lit Fest, held in Kolkata, was designed to be just that – a radically different interpretation of literature and its role in modern India”

These were the opening lines of a report by, on the 1st edition of People’s Literary Festival, 2018. In less than a couple of weeks, the 2nd edition of People’s Literary Festival (henceforth, PLF) will commence, once again at that run-down auditorium with rickety chairs, namely ‘Sukanta Mancha’ in Kolkata. The present article hopes to shed some light on the reasons why those rickety chairs or the noisy fans are related to PLF, but before that, as a member of Bastar Solidarity Network (Kolkata Chapter), I feel compelled to explain why we even organize PLF in the first place.

Continue reading In Imagination, in Resistance, in Solidarity and Rage – People’s Literary Festival in Kolkata: Tamoghna Halder

Adam, Eve, Art – Neither Belief Nor Unbelief: Prasanta Chakravarty


Stephen Greenblatt has struck upon a sheer and stupendous idea: to retell the tale of the first couple of the Christian world, Adam and Eve. The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve is a sweeping work with a remarkably ranging scholarship, galloping through centuries in minutes. The tone and the expanse of the book successfully hide the vertical depth of laborious research that has gone into bringing such an ambitious endeavour into culmination.  This is also a book of reliving an ancient art: the bare act of telling a story, holding up the full panoply of its rich narrative contours. The book jauntily speculates as much as it reveals. The very subject matter allows Greenblatt to do so. But there is yet another dimension to this project— a life-long, intense personal engagement with the idea of how conscious human intervention may have altered man’s relationship with whatever is cosmic, mythical and animistic. To that end it is also an ideological book that tells the story of Adam and Eve as it tries to grapple with our modern condition.

Continue reading Adam, Eve, Art – Neither Belief Nor Unbelief: Prasanta Chakravarty

‘Why Ghalib appears so contemporary even today ?’ : Interview with Hasan Abdullah

Ghalib has fascinated generations of people and they have tried to understand/ interpret his poetry in their own way. For any such individual it is really difficult to recollect when and how Ghalib entered her/ his life and ensconced himself comfortably in one’s heart.

This wanderer still faintly remembers how many of Ghalib’s shers were part of common parlance even in an area whose lingua franca is not Hindustani. His andaaz-e-bayaan, his hazaron khwahishein, his making fun of the priest etc. could be discerned in people’s exchanges – without most of them even knowing that they were quoting the great poet.

To be very frank, to me, it is bewildering that a poet – who died over 150 years back – looks so contemporary or at times even a little ahead of our own times. Is it because, he talks about primacy of human being, at times philosophising about life,  and on occasions talking about rebelling against the existing taboos in very many ways? But then have not many other great poets have dealt with the same subjects/ topics? Continue reading ‘Why Ghalib appears so contemporary even today ?’ : Interview with Hasan Abdullah

Jignesh Mevani, The Meltdown of Modi-Men and Dadhichi’s Bones

[ This post is based on updates posted by me on my Facebook wall ]

Jignesh Mevani. Photograph by Siddharaj Solanki, HT (Hindustan Times) File Photo, accessed from the HT website

A great kerfuffle has ensued ever since the recently elected independent MLA from Vadgam, Gujarat and Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch activist Jignesh Mevani gave an interview in which he had some choice things to say about the Prime Minister and BJP leader Narendra Modi. Mr. Mevani made some positive and gentle suggestions, to the effect that because Mr. Modi has stopped being relevant, has not delivered on even one of the promises made by him, he should retire, proceed towards the Himalayas, and in the phrase that has caused the greatest commotion, ‘melt his bones’.

Predictably, Mr. Modi’s personal broadcasting service, known as Republic TV has kicked up the greatest fuss. Arnab Goswami has been especially indignant, and he was joined in his rage by BJP spokesperson, the orotund television commentator and historical photo-shop scam artist, Mr. Sambit Patra. Mr. Mevani offered a robust and dignified  refusal to apologize for what he said about Mr. Modi, when Republic TV demanded that he do so. Continue reading Jignesh Mevani, The Meltdown of Modi-Men and Dadhichi’s Bones

Literature and Silence: Prasanta Chakravarty


“Then is Now. The star you steer by is gone, its tremulous thread spun in the hurricane spider floss on my cheek.”
~ Basil Bunting, Briggflatts


“He who writes the work is set aside; he who has written it is dismissed. He who is dismissed, moreover, doesn’t know it. This ignorance preserves him.”
~Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature


“Blanchot is even greater waste of time than Proust,” Georges Poulet had famously remarked. Poulet was hinting at the grandeur of wasted time. A ruthless negativity, a rigorous retreat must take on all forms of reparation and facile optimism of human agency. Unconcern must be at the front and centre of our concern. The work of art is. Nothing more. The very idea of elucidation—to dwell upon the actual object that a writer has to offer us—is aesthetically vulgar and politically reactionary. A deep futility marks all perfection. A creation, like Eurydice when Orpheus looks at her, must disappear. The work is remote from itself. It is the incapacity to stop feeling what is not there to be felt.

All quests are echoes. Foreign to presence. Any presence. Quests grasp us rather. But they exclude the writer. He is stupefied. He is idled out of his own work—hence he must go back to work, tirelessly. The lucidity of his insomniac regression keeps on emerging infernally in what we call art. Write he must. But only and solely by being on the verge of his ruinous look back.

Continue reading Literature and Silence: Prasanta Chakravarty

अरुंधति का निर्वासन: वैभव सिंह

Guest post by VAIBHAV SINGH

अरुंधति राय के खिलाफ अपशब्दों की, गाली-गलौच की, आरोपों की हिंसा ने हमें एक बार फिर यह प्रश्न पूछने के लिए विवश कर दिया है – क्या हमने सचमुच अपने देश में सभ्यता व सहिष्णुता के महान मूल्यों की रक्षा करने के दायित्व से छुटकारा पा लिया है? कहीं हम पूरे राष्ट्र को ‘डिसोसिएटिव आइडेंटिटी डिसआर्डर’ (खंडित व्यक्तित्व मनोरोग) का शिकार बनते तो नहीं देख रहे हैं जिसमें किसी व्यक्ति नहीं बल्कि पूरे राष्ट्र के चरित्र में परस्पर विरोधी मूल्य इस प्रकार विषैले कांटों की तरह उग आते हैं कि राष्ट्र का पूरा व्यक्तित्व चरमराने या दिग्भ्रमित होने लगता है! एक सभ्य-लोकतांत्रिक देश के रूप में आत्मछवि और हिंसक बाहरी आचरण में जितना गहरा भेद पैदा हो जाता है, वह राष्ट्र की आत्मा मार देता है। जिसने भी स्वयं में अनूठी लेखिका को जीप के बोनट से बांधने की कल्पना की, उसे संभवतः अंदाजा भी नहीं था कि वह केवल एक वक्तव्य नहीं दे रहा है, बल्कि मनुष्यता के सभी संभव परिकल्पनाओं के विरुद्ध अपराध कर रहा है। ऐसी कल्पना में बीमार विचारशून्यता ही नहीं बल्कि भयानक सड़ांध, विकृति और मनोरोग की झलक मिलती है। परेश रावल के अरुंधति के विरोध में लिखे ट्वीट से उल्लसित सोशल मीडिया के एक समूह ने तो अरुंधति राय की सामूहिक ढंग से हत्या कर उनके शव को पाकिस्तान में दफनाने की वकालत भी कर डाली।

Continue reading अरुंधति का निर्वासन: वैभव सिंह

कट्टरता के खिलाफ अज्ञेय: वैभव सिंह

Guest post by VAIBHAV SINGH

सच्चिदानंद हीरानंद वात्स्यायन अज्ञेय हिंदी के ही नहीं वरन समूचे भारतीय साहित्य में निरंतर जिज्ञासा और पाठकीय आकर्षण पैदा करने वाले रचनाकार के रूप में देखे जाते हैं। विभिन्न किस्म की दासता-वृत्तियों, परजीवीपन और क्षुद्र खुशामद से भरे मुल्क में उनका स्वाधीनता बोध जितना गरिमावान लगता है, उतना ही चौंकाने वाला भी। इसी स्वाधीनता बोध ने अज्ञेय की दृष्टि को भारत के लोकतांत्रिक मिजाज के अनुसार ज्यादा खुला व अपने रचना संसार को स्वेच्छा से निर्मित करने लायक बनाया। उनके इस स्वाधीनता बोध का प्रभाव व्यापक रूप से सृजन के बहुत सारे आयामों पर पड़ा है।

अज्ञेय के साहित्य पर लिखने वाले कई आलोचकों ने इस प्रभाव के मूल्यांकन का प्रयास किया है। जैसे कि निर्मल वर्मा ने स्वाधीनता बोध से उत्पन्न उनकी इसी खुली, व्यापक दृष्टि को उनके संपादन कर्म से जोड़कर देखा था। अपने द्वारा संपादित पत्र प्रतीक व दिनमान  में उन्होंने मुक्तिबोध, शमशेर बहादुर सिंह व सज्जाद जहीर को जोड़ा तो तार सप्तक के विविध खंडों में अपने से पूर्णतया भिन्न दृष्टिकोण वाले कवियों को। स्वाधीनता के प्रति तीव्र संवेदनशीलता को व्यक्तिवाद के दायरे में रखकर समझने की सरल चिंतन-प्रक्रिया साहित्य में बहुतायत से मौजूद रही है। ऐसा मानने वालों की सीमा प्रकट करते हुए निर्मल वर्मा ने कहा है कि स्वाधीनता के प्रति अत्यंत सचेत अज्ञेय के प्रति लोगों को झुंझलाहट उस समाज में स्वाभाविक थी जहां लोगों को हर समय किसी ‘ऊपर वाले’ का मुंह जोहना पड़ता है। इन ऊपर वालों में परिवार, जाति, रूढ़ि, पार्टी, विचारधारा, संगठन आदि सभी कुछ शामिल रहा है। यहां तक कि गांव में जातिवाद-परिवार की गुलामी करने वाले लोग जब शहर आए तो उन्होंने विभिन्न पार्टियों, संगठनों व विचारधाराओं की गुलामी को बिना किसी आलोचना के स्वीकार कर लिया। जिन्होंने नहीं स्वीकारा उन्हें कुलद्रोही, जनविरोधी, परंपराद्वेषी, धर्मविरोधी, व्यक्तिवादी आदि आरोपों का सामना करना पड़ा।

Continue reading कट्टरता के खिलाफ अज्ञेय: वैभव सिंह

Erdogan Gets A Degree from Jamia Millia Islamia and Everyone Else’s Father is in Prison in Istanbul

Everyone else’s father is in prison in Istanbul,
they want to hang everyone else’s son
in the middle of the road, in broad daylight
People there are willing to risk the gallows
so that everyone else’s son won’t be hanged
so that everyone else’s father won’t die
and bring home a loaf of bread and a kite.
People, good people,
Call out from the four corners of the world,
say stop it,
Don’t let the executioner tighten the rope
[ Nazim Hikmet, 1954 ]

Its best to stay as far aways as possible when two mafia dons meet to talk business. Especially when their deep state security detail has a disturbing tendency to shoot first and ask questions after. Today, Delhi’s roads are emptier than usual, even on a Sunday. And I am reading Nazim Hikmet, because a thug is coming to town.

Continue reading Erdogan Gets A Degree from Jamia Millia Islamia and Everyone Else’s Father is in Prison in Istanbul

A Children’s Tale: Fistful-of-Cumin and Fistful-of-Mustard go on a Pilgrimage

I wrote this story for children sometime back, improving on a vaguely-remembered story my grandmother told me, and gave it an end. This is my translation of it in memory of all pilgrimages and boat journeys of childhood: Continue reading A Children’s Tale: Fistful-of-Cumin and Fistful-of-Mustard go on a Pilgrimage

Alchemies of Art and Resistance in Kashmir

Bertolt Brecht, was to write

“In the dark times

Will there also be singing?

Yes, there will also be singing.

About the dark times.”

Violence, persistent and unending, creates an alternative reality, a festering, perverted, horrible, surreal reality. Violence, unending and unrelenting erases all memories of times past, Memories of times when another reality existed, It is this alternative reality that begins to redefine imagery, ideas, sensibilities and begins to creates a new grotesque discourse, a discourse in which the ugly face of fear and death becomes the normative. I’ll give you one example of how this works. Continue reading Alchemies of Art and Resistance in Kashmir

Anguish and Insurrection – Travelling with Shubha’s Poem: Prasanta Chakravarty


अतिमानवीय दुख


इतना दुख आंसुओं से नहीं उठाया जाता
वे हार गए कब के
चीख़ इसे और वीभत्स बनाती है
गुस्सा तो सिर्फ राख पैदा करता है

कुछ देर इसे ख़ामोशी ने उठाया
कभी उठाया कविता ने
विचार ने उठाया इसे
इसे उठाया दोस्तों ने
मिलकर गीत गाते हुए

कम्युनिस्ट पार्टियां बिखरीं
कितनी बार इसे उठाते हुए

इसे उठाने के लिए
कुछ और चाहिये
इन सबके साथ
उठाने का कोई नया ढब
इतिहास ने इसे उठाया कभी-कभी

अब इसकी चिन्दियां बिखरी हैं
इन्हें बच्चे उठा रहे हैं
यह पहुंच रहा है प्रकृति तक
तूफान और कन्दराएं
उठायेंगी इसका बोझ

अगर धरती इसे न उठा सकी
अन्तरिक्ष में नाचेंगी इसकी चिन्दियां




Tears cannot bear such a burden of grief
They gave up a while ago
A scream makes it even more horrid
And anger gives birth only to ash

For a while silence bore it
Occasionally it was borne by poetry
Thought bore it
It was borne by friends
As they sang songs together

Communist parties scattered
so many times as they bore it

To be able to bear it
Something more is needed
along with all of these
a new way to bear it
History bore it on occasion

Now its scraps are scattered
Children are gathering them
It is now reaching nature
Storms and ravines
Will bear its weight
If the earth cannot bear it
Its scraps will dance in the cosmos

(Tr. Suvir Kaul)

* * *




A grief that is way beyond human
Is too hard for tears to hold
Defeated, they dry up before long
Howling makes it only worse, more horrendous
Anger yields nothing but ash

Silence shouldered this grief for sometime
As did poetry
As did ideas now and then
As did comrades singing in unison
History has carried it too

Communist parties fell apart so often
Carrying this burden

Surely we need something different now
To carry it any farther

Grief is everywhere now
Little children are carrying its shredded pieces
It has overcome nature
Caves and storms will bear it

If the planet too fails to contain this grief
Its shreds will swirl and spread
Into empty space beyond

(Tr. Bhupinder Brar)

* * *




So much sorrow cannot be borne by tears
They gave up a while ago
A shriek makes it more grisly
And anger only births ash

For a while silence bore it
And sometimes poetry did
Thought carried it
And friends too
Singing along together

Communist parties disintegrated
so often while carrying it

Something more is needed
Some new bearing
with the rest to carry it
Now and then history lifted it

Now its bits lie scattered
Children are picking them up
Now it’s reaching into nature
Storms and caves will
bear its burden

If the earth is unable to bear it
The bits will dance in the cosmos

(Tr. Aishwarya Iyer)

* * *




Tears can’t bear this much grief
They had been defeated long ago
A scream makes it more grotesque
Anger can only turn to ashes

For a time silence carried the burden
sometimes poetry tried it
Ideas bore it for a bit
And then the friends
singing together

Communist parties disintegrated
trying to carry it ahead

To bear it
one needs something else
A new way
Beyond the known ones
Occasionally history too tried its hand

Now it lies scattered
And children pick up the pieces

It now enters the nature itself
Storms & Caves
Shall lift its burden
If the earth can not bear it
Universe shall see the pieces dance

(Tr. Tarun Bharatiya )




Tears cannot bear this burden
They have dried up long ago
A scream makes it bizarre
And anger can only produce so much ash

Silence bore it for some time
Sometimes poetry
Thought carried it
As did friends
singing in unison

Communist parties disintegrated
Umpteen times under its weight

Something else is needed
To lift it
A new way
Along with the familiar ones
History lifted it occasionally

It is scattered into tiny strips now
Kids are picking and carrying them
It is now reaching the nature itself
Storms and caves and ravines
Will bear it

If the earth couldn’t carry its weight
The strips will dance in outer space.

(Tr. Asad Zaidi)


Five translations of a single poem, by five leading poets, activists, artists and/or literary scholars. A rare occasion in contemporary translation on the subcontinent. A special poem it is indeed. Every single one of these attentive readers seems to have been scorched by the primitive, enunciatory power of its pure voice. Every single translation extends the afterlife of the original and shows how Shubha has been able to successfully communicate the force of a guttural shriek into something coherent and universally felt. Continue reading Anguish and Insurrection – Travelling with Shubha’s Poem: Prasanta Chakravarty

Slow Rendering of an Ache & Mahesh Verma’s Translation : Prasanta Chakravarty

This is a guest post by PRASANTA CHAKRAVARTY


“If the translation of poetry is impossible, then the translation of poetry is a genuine art.”

~Nasos Vayenas, Eight Positions on the Translation of Poetry


Translation is an act in the wake of literature. Both the languages – source and target – are variations on literary themes, with neither having priority. But translation depends on an essential paradox: a collision between restlessness and poise, detachment and recreation. In the best translations of poetry this paradox turns into a synthesis that must remain unfinished. Continue reading Slow Rendering of an Ache & Mahesh Verma’s Translation : Prasanta Chakravarty