Hindi Belt Authors

Refusing to fade away

Ek aadami roti belata hai

Ek aadami roti khaata hai

Ek teesra aadami bhi hai

Jo na roti belata hai, na roti khaata hai

Vah sırf roti se khelata hai

Main poochhata hoon —-

“Yah teesara aadami kaun hai?”

Mere desh ki sansad maun hai.

(“Roti aur Sansad”)

One man rolls out bread

One man eats it

There is a third man too

Who neither rolls out bread nor eats it

He merely plays with it

I ask: “Who is this third man?”

The parliament of my country maintains silence.

(“Bread and Parliament”)

Is this poem, written by Dhoomil in the early 1970s, not as relevant today as it was at the time of its writing?

The Hindi world suffers from short memory syndrome. It is true that remembering all the relevant writers all the time is just not possible, but it is also true that certain writers are remembered all the time while certain others are pushed into oblivion despite the fact that they enjoyed an iconic status not too long ago. Dhoomil, whose real name Sudama Pandey was known only to a few, belongs to the latter category. While he was alive, he was hailed as one of the most significant voices of protest in the world of Hindi literature. His genius lay in his ability to fashion a largely unfamiliar poetic language that gave a jolt to traditional literary sensibility and his gift to coin phrases that gleamed like gems was the envy of many of his fellow poets.

In the beginning of the 1960s, he exploded on the Hindi literary scene like a powerful cracker and, despite his rustic mannerisms, compelled the literary establishment to recognise his originality and talent. The support of influential Marxist critic Namwar Singh too played a big role in propelling him to the front ranks of contemporary poets, much to the discomfiture of many a well known writers. A few days after his sudden death on February 10, 1975 at the age of 38, a condolence meeting was organised at Uttar Pradesh Information Centre in Delhi’s Connaught Place. I have vivid recollection of that meeting where Agyeya, one of the top Hindi writers, grudgingly acknowledged that Dhoomil too had his flock of “admirers”, leaving a distinct impression that he was not among them.

Rebellious nature

Cover of “Sansad Se Sadak Tak”

Cover of “Sansad Se Sadak Tak”  

Dhoomil was born in Khevali near Banaras on November 9, 1936 where his father was a munim (accountant) with a businessman. However, when he was barely 15, he lost his father and had to struggle a lot to move ahead in life. He did a diploma in electrical engineering from Industrial Training Institute and became an Instructor in the same institution.

Because of his rebellious nature and an acute sense of self-respect, he was transferred to several places including Balia and Saharanpur. After the death of Muktibodh in 1964, Dhoomil emerged as the most prominent poet of protest and rebellion who exposed the glaring contradictions of Indian democracy and the system that it had put in place.

This was also the time when language politics was at its peak and misguided Lohiaites had launched a movement for removal of English while Tamil Nadu and other south Indian states had risen in opposition to the imposition on Hindi. As Arvind Krishna Mehrotra has pointed out, Dhoomil in his poem Bhasha ki Raat (The Night of Language) described the politician as the ‘true butcher’ and ‘hungry beast’ who raises the emotive issue of language for his own selfish ends, leaving the real issues untouched.

Mehrotra, an eminent poet, and translator renders a few lines from this poem: “In the eyes of the true butcher/ Your Tamil misery/ And my Bhojpuri grief/ Are one and the same/ In the mouth of that beast/ Who is one thing in the street/ And another in parliament/ Language is a piece of meat.” Is today’s India any different from the one Dhoomil described so evocatively in his poems?

In a poem titled “Bees Saal Baad” (After Twenty Years), the poet asks himself: “Kya azadi sirf teen thake hue rangon ka naam hai/ Jinhen ek pahiya dhotaa hai/ Yaa iskaa koi khaas matlab hota hai?” (Is Independence merely the name of three tired colours/ That a wheel carries along/ Or, does it have a special meaning?) And another poem called “Patkatha” (Screen-play) prophetically ends with these words: “Ghrina mein dooba hua saara ka saara desh/ Pahle ki tarah hi aaj bhi/ mera karaagar hai” (The country soaking in its hatred/ Holds me a prisoner/ Today, as always).

When Dhoomil was writing his poetry of political protest, other kinds of protests were also taking place in Hindi poetry in the form of Akavita (Anti-Poetry), Bhookhi Peedhi (Hungry Generation) and Left-wing poetry. Sexual norms were also being challenged in a mostly chaotic manner. Consequently, there are strong male chauvinist sexist resonances in his poetry and they sound rather jarring. Dhoomil could publish only one collection containing 25 poems during his lifetime. Titled “Sansad Se Sadak Tak” (From the parliament to the street), it was published by Rajkamal Prakashan. His other books “Kal Sunana Mujhe” (Listen to Me Tomorrow), “Dhoomil ki Kavitaen” (Poems of Dhoomil) and “Sudama Pandey Ka Prajatantra” (The Democracy of Sudama Pandey) were published posthumously.

The writer is a senior literary critic

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 6:50:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/refusing-to-fade-away/article29785902.ece

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