It gives me great delight to write a foreword to Waves,
a collection of thirty poems of Arjan Dev Majboor, selected and very ably
translated into English by Arvind Gigoo of the Camp College for Migrants
Udhampur (J&K). This book won an award from the Poets' Foundation, Calcutta,
which was presented to Majboor by Chief Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen of the
Calcutta High Court on 20 December, 1999. Before this he had received an award
from the J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages in 1993 for his
collection of poems, Pady Samayik (Footprints of Time). However, awards
do not make a man; they are only a visible and legitimate recognition of the
stature that he has already attained.
Arjan Dev Majboor (real name Arjan Nath Koul) of Zainapura in
Pulwama District (b.1924) saw many vicissitudes in his early life. His calm
exterior, which Moti Lal Saqi has called deceptive, belies the turmoil his heart
has passed through. He has had a chequered career. Orphaned very early, his life
was a courageous and determined struggle against want. Having to keep the
kitchen fire alive when he matriculated, he worked for some time in a
co-operative bank, then got a job in the court but the experience wasn't very
encouraging. In desperation he left for Lahore, where he gained in two ways; he
started learning Sanskrit, and meetings with Rahul Sankritayan gave him a
knowledge of Marxism, and both these stood him in good stead. He appeared on the
literary scene in a turbulent time when a new age was being born, an age which
all the writers hailed as the promised millennium. The consequent change it
fathered was visible in poetry not only in the mental attitude but also in form
and techniques. The ghazal was being dropped and some western forms were
ushered in. In fact it looked like Kashmiri literature was casting off the
slough of old, ossified decadent traditions of thought and technique and
acquiring a resurgence of life it had never known before. Not that great poets
and writers never existed in the happy valley. In fact the history of our
literature starts with a poet who has always remained and will perhaps ever
remain unmatched for all time, i.e., Lal Ded. What I mean is that never before
did the whole community of writers and all artists, collectively, have a
rejuvenating bath at a new helicon, a new fountain of the muses. It is this
atmosphere that Majboor found himself in and was led most powerfully into the
vortex. True, from Rahul Sankritayan he had acquired a knowledge of how matter
shapes mind, but a knowledge of dialectical materialism is not enough to make
you a poet. In the new environment he found himself very powerfully influenced
by the creators of the new age-Mahjoor, Nadim and the other writers of the new
community of progressive writers, and he also plunged in. On his return from
Lahore he worked in Prem Nath Bazaz's standard till it closed down and
unemployment greeted him again till he equipped himself with a teaching degree
and was absorbed in the Education Department.
But despite joining the Progressive movement in fact he also
worked as an assistant editor of its journal Kwong Posh for some time-he
never actually belonged to the movement as a committed progressive writer like
Nadim, Roshan, Zutshi, etc. but was like most followers of the movement, drawn
in but always
outside the ring of political commitments, though his firm
belief was that literature cannot be divorced from society. His involvement with
the problem of the workers and the peasants was unquestionable and always
remained, but not in the sloganeering manner. The sighs of the poor and the
beauty of nature-forests, rivers, meadows, mountain peaks - are blended in his
His poems, short stories and critical essays have been
published in the various journals in Kashmir and outside. He has translated
Kalidasa's Meghadootam into Kashmiri (Obra Shechh), published
on Krishna Razdan and Rahul Sankiritayan (Sahitya Akademi),
to mention only the most notable of his compositions. He is not only a poet but
also a seasoned scholar and writer who has a number of published material- books
and critical articles- to his credit.
"The publication of Waves bears testimony to
Majboor's serious concern as a scholarly poet for the projection of Kashmir'
literary works across the globe. The present volume is a laudable effort
specially to serve the objective of reaching a wider readership across the
country and abroad. This gives an access to the cultural content of the original
poems.” (A.N. Dhar). This is what any poet writing in a language with limited
readership would invariably desire. But before focussing on the poems presented
in this selection, it would be appropriate to have a look at all his poems from
the day he wrote his first anthologized poem Shongaan Yeli Raat to the
present day and how he has evolved as an artist during the last half century.
He has experimented with various forms, and emerged as an
essentially nazam writer. And he is most certainly a nature poet. His deep
rooted love for the sights and sounds of this Paradise on Earth (which bewitched
Jahangir once and continues to leave lesser mortals too spellbound) is easily
understood. I find it necessary to mention it right in the beginning to
emphasise the fact that it forms the basic theme of whatever he wrote. It
remains the backdrop even when he is talking about something else.
His first collection of poems Kalaam-e-Majboor was
published in 1955. This was followed by Dashahaar in 1983, Dazavuny
Kosam in 1987, Pady Samayik in 1993 and Tyol in 1995. His
creative talent did not confine itself to the field of poetry alone but ranged
form short stories to literary criticism, his most notable set of essays being Tehqeeq.
However, at present we are concentrating on his evolution as a poet. It was
a long journey from Kalam-e-Majboor (1955) to Dashahaar (1983), in
which we find Majboor having matured as an artist and having developed a liking
for the short poem, which the great poets like Nadim and Rahi had already
inaugurated in Kashmir. You find in this collection, simplicity of ideas
combined with technical dexterity. One of the significant poems in this series
is Tamaashaa (presented as A Juggler's Trick in English
translation in Waves). The juggler comes with the usual tabor and
entertains the spectators with what is essentially an illusion. The poet wants
to convey that life itself is an illusion, a grand show compeered by a master
The poems translated by Arvind Gigoo bear 'eye-catching and
appropriate titles' and have been selected from the various publications of
Majboor. Prof. A.N. Dhar says that "the translations capture both the
essence and broad details of the original pieces. Happily the author of the
poems and the translator complement each other. As a final fine product, Waves
not only reflects the rich content of the originals, but also reproduces the
free verse form of most Kashmiri lyrics."
The very first poem, Portrait of a Child, where he
presents a contrast between innocence and experience is strongly reminiscent of
Grown-ups don't remember purity
children don't know defilement.
The Topsy-turvy Tree is a picture of the present urban
culture depicting a steady collapse of time-honoured values. The following
satirical lines convey the poet's idea of the topsy-turvydom of a system with
people facing urgent problems like deforestation. water scarcity and pollution:
The tree said:
'Why need water when all are mad?
flowers will bloom up in the sky,
a whirlpool will trap all,
it will rain acid,
beauty will be auctioned,
the wise will weep,
the ignorant will multiply,
greenery will disappear,
stones will cover the fields,
the lakes will turn into sand
moans will resound.
Even memory will end.'
In fact the poem doesn't look like a satire but an
unembellished dark prophecy. The Fowl presents the stubborn irrationality
of the Kashmiri intelligentsia which provides an excellent opportunity to the
sensible practical man to have a field day. There are quite a few poems
referring to the poet's loss of home, the land of his birth, the land of his
culture, the land of his forefathers. He has for the last eleven years now lived
a migrant's life at Udhampur, just as others of his community too were uprooted
on a fateful black night in 1990 and flung across the Banihal to the arid land
beyond. The Prison is one such place, a migrant camp in Jammu with two
neighbours by its side-the state prison and the cremation ground. The condition
of those in the camp is worse than that of those who inhabit the other jail,
where fellows are sent for a specific period after having committed crimes, and
are set free after that to join their families. Those who come to the camp are
absolutely innocent, but their imprisonment is for life, and there is no hope of
them going back to where they belonged. The "blossoms" mentioned in
the poem are Kashmiri Pandits in exile, living in 'the dark cells' in the camp.
Having left the valley when the `marigold was the last flower of the year in
bloom', they have been a monument of patience in exile. The Snowman is a
picture of their condition. It keeps on melting slowly and silently.
In Wilderness the poet has a hope that the period of
this ghastly existence in the wilderness will end one day. The City gives
you briefly a picture of what happened when "the wisest among the
"Now every-body is to himself;
I am no one to show the way."
It is a fact. It happened in Srinagar. It was this rather
than the strong arm of the militant that created a community of refugees. And
this community is doomed to exist in a rootless state. The only thing that
floods ones mind is endless nostalgia:
Each warm evening
transfix my heart and
Hopelessness floods the room,
My existence is a knot.
Home and river and rustle
flit and pass.
To The Swan is part of a poem in Majboor’s collection
entitled Tyol. The swan is the mount of goddess Saraswati and has the magical
faculty of seeing and knowing everything, and sifting truth from illusion. It is
of this mythological character that the poet employs to reveal the present
predicament of the suffering people. But more than anything else, the poet
describes the beauty of the valley which he has lost.
In Chiselled Words the poet speaks as the literary
craftsman. One sees his preoccupation with the problem of language and meaning.
It depicts the poet as a conscious craftsman, operating as a nonconformist in
the realm of language, wrestling with words to accommodate them to his purpose.
So also in Sign he dwells on the evocative power of words.
In the end, I would quote Prof. Dhar again:
"Many poems employ words (as phrasal clusters) that
function as images and symbols-a fact that also accounts for their tautness and
density of meaning. The poems reflect the poet's broad humanitarian outlook and
his serious concern for the preservation of our age-old culture. Waves is most
welcome as a volume that is innovative in several respects. A lovable book, it
makes pleasant reading."
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