Friday, June 25, 2010

Kedarnath Singh

Poem, "Broken Down Truck" Printed in Gestures, An Anthology of South Asian Poetry. (Sahitya Akademi, 1996)

It's been there since the last rains
I've seen it standing there
broken down and astonished looking
and it's sprouting

I see
a little creeper
edging along the steering wheel
A small leaf
hangs down next to the horn
as though it wanted to blow it
The truck creaking and groaning
with a noiseless tinkering
A nut's being loosened
A wire tightened
The broken down truck
has been entrusted
to the grass
and the grass seems eager
to change the wheels now

For me it's quite comforting to imagine
that by tomorrow everything will be fixed
I will wake up
and suddenly hear the blare of the horn
and the truck roaring off
to Tinsukia or Bokajan

Evening sets in
The broken down truck's still standing there
staring at me

I wonder
if it wasn't standing there
how difficult it would've been for me to know
that this is my city
and these are my people
and this
is my home

Trans. from Hindi by Manohar Bandopadhyay/Christi Merill/Daniel Weissbort

Here is K. Satchidanandan on Kedarnath Singh and modernism in Indian literature. From Indian Literature: Positions and Propositions. Delhi: Pencraft International 1999.

Modernism, and later postmodernism, in Indian languages came chiefly from those writers who had been driven to the urban environment by the pressures of day-to-say even while their roots lay in the villages. The alienation, loss of identity, nostalgia, doubt, tension, disenchantment and crisis of confidence all of which have been identified as the hallmarks of modernist literary sensibility are a byproduct of this encounter between the two worlds. Different writers have negotiated this contradiction using different strategies, for no modernist/post-modernist writer can afford to go back to the binary opposition of earlier writing where the rural is associated with simplicity, innocence and peace and the urban, with chaos, corruption and evil. [...] Any authentic expression of India's contemporary experience will have to avoid these extremes; the only way is to pluralize and complexify the representation so that it captures all the nuances of this tension. The fact thta our country's half-way industrialization has not achieved a genuine urbanisation and even for the urban worker, the village is the dream and the nest of kinships while the city is his reality by compulsion rather than by choice, makes the situation even more subtle and complex.

On "Tuta Hua Truck". Quotes from an interview with Kedarnath Singh [from Making it New 1995. Do I have this at home?]:

When I was working in that small town I told you about, I happened to see an abandoned truck beside the road, sprouting all over. A friend of mine commented that it had become a 'natural' phenomenon. Even after coming to Delhi, that theme haunted me. The poem was written in Delhi but it is not a Delhi poem. The whole life it depicts is that of those people who are like broken trucks. A truck is a modern machine but in a peculiar sense, it is a developed form of bullock-cart. I cannot dissociate the bullock-cart from the truck just as I can't separate the wooden boat from the huge concrete bridge. The whole story of development is a historical process from bullock-cart to truck and from boat to bridge. So for me, the broken, abandoned sprouting truck was the whole human life in those small towns. Life is there, as sprouting suggests, but there is also stagnation. The contrast is striking." (Satchidanand, 165)

Here is some of Satchidanand's own reading:

The concluding part of the poem is epiphanic. The truck here takes on a new meaning: it becomes a symbol of recognition, the only mark by which the poet can identify his home, his city and his people. Here the poem becomes the intense expression of an alienation. The advancing disintegration of social ties, the growing atomisation of society, the ever-increasing isolation of individuals from one another and the solitude necessarily inherent in such tendencies of fragmentation and privatization -- which are themselves products of alienation -- mark the predicament of man today, a state of dehumanization the poet finds hard to reconcile with. (166)

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