Hindi Belt Authors

Shamsher Bahadur Singh: A ‘genuine’ poet

A bridge between Hindi and Urdu, Shamsher Bahadur Singh’s poetry has many dimensions

He was called “a poet of poets” because his poetry had raised the bar of the art form so high that it seemed rather difficult to match it or to take it to any higher point. He was one of those few poets who successfully achieved the ideal of setting new aesthetic standards while also giving full expression to their political ideology and world view.

One can have some idea of his place in the Hindi poetry of the 20th century from the fact that when Shamsher Bahadur Singh turned 60, his fellow poets and publisher got together to bring out a collection of his poems, extracts from his diaries and articles of critical appreciation written by them. This slim 144-page commemorative volume was simply titled Shamsher and contained full-length articles on his oeuvre penned by the likes of Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, Vijay Dev Narayan Sahi, Malayaj, Ramvilas Sharma and Dr. Raghuvansh. Raghuvir Sahay too contributed a short piece that analysed and explained “Tooti Hui, Bikhari Hui” (Broken, Scattered), perhaps the most celebrated love poem in modern Hindi poetry. Surprisingly, the book did not carry the name of its editor.

One does not know if Shamsher possessed an ego as a poet but one can say with absolute certainty that he did not have any ego as an individual.

It was difficult to find a more unassuming, self-effacing and humble man than him. I met him for the first time in early 1974 when he was living in Dayanand Colony in South Delhi with poet-journalist Ajay Singh, his wife Shobha and their little daughter Bhasha. My poet friend Pankaj Singh, whose untimely death nearly four years ago shook us all, had taken me along to meet the celebrated poet. I met Shamsher several times in the next seven-eight years but our interactions remained rather formal although his warmth and childlike simplicity always touched me.

Influence of surrealism

Shamsher was born in Dehradun in an educated middle-class Jat family of western Uttar Pradesh on January 3, 1911. Initially named Kuldeep Singh, he received early education in Gonda and Dehradun in Urdu, Hindi and English. He started writing poetry at an early age but also became deeply interested in drawing and painting and studied art for some time at Ukil’s school. He came under the influence of surrealism and his early poems offer a glimpse of this. Like his ideal poet Nirala, he too led a widower’s life, struggled a lot to earn his living, and despite facing unfair criticism from some well-known left wing critics, managed to write sublimely beautiful yet complex poetry.

Shamsher worked in Sumitranandan Pant’s literary magazine “Roopabh”, Sripat Rai’s “Kahani” and other popular magazines like “Maya” and “Manohar Kahaniyan”.

A committed Marxist, he lived in party commune in Bombay (now Mumbai) during 1945-46 and wrote his famous poem “Vam vam vam disha, samay samyavadi” (The direction is left… left… left — these are communist times). His personality could be summed up in these words from another of his famous poem: “Baat bolegi, ham nahi / Bhed kholegi baat hi” (I will not speak, my words will. Only they will reveal the secret.)

Shamsher was a bridge between Hindi and Urdu and his prose was considered to be the ideal specimen of Hindustani. Renowned critic Ramvilas Sharma wrote a full-length article on his prose. He was one of those very few Hindi poets who were familiar with the traditions Urdu literature and could write a ghazal – not the so-called Hindi ghazal – that would meet the literary requirements of this great poetic form. His ghazal on the death of Muktibodh readily comes to mind in this context.

To commemorate his birth centenary, literary journal “Udbhavna” brought out a special number running into more than 610 pages. It was ably edited by eminent poet-critic-film expert Vishnu Khare whose death over a year ago left a void in the Hindi world. Besides offering Shamsher’s poetry, prose and sketches, this volume also contains a large number of excellent articles on his personality and work, penned by the likes of Harivansh Rai ‘Bachchan’, Harishankar Parsai, Namwar Singh, Ashok Vajpeyi, Shrikant Verma, Kunwar Narain, Rajesh Joshi, Mohammad Hasan and Janaki Prasad Sharma. One finds five interviews of Shamsher that throw more light on his personal as well as literary life.

Need for critical appraisal

In his editorial, Vishnu Khare makes a plea for bringing out out complete works of Shamsher so that a comprehensive critical appraisal could become possible. He also warns against turning him into an idol, underlining the fact that as he was a multi-dimensional man, his poetry too has many dimensions and in this respect, he comes closer to great poets like Nirala, Lorca and Neruda. Namwar Singh’s article “Shamsher ki Shamsheriyat” (The Shamsher-ness of Shamsher) draws attention to the intense yet sublime sensuousness that permeates his poetry.

How did Shamsher view himself? What was his own estimation of his self-worth? Nothing can be truer than his own words about himself: “ Perhaps I have not been able to become a very successful poet but I can probably call myself a genuine poet.”

The writer is senior literary critic

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Printable version | Jul 28, 2020 11:35:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/shamsher-bahadur-singh-a-genuine-poet/article29910104.ece

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