Hindi Language Blog

The Strange One Posted by on Dec 6, 2016 in Hindi Language, Uncategorized

Following on last week’s blog about the famous Hindi writer Mahadevi Varma (महादेवी वर्मा), I’d like to discuss another important Hindi literary figure this week: Nirala (निराला) (1896/99-1961). This writer, whose date of birth is not definitively known, was born Suraj Kumar Tevari (सूरज कुमार तिवारी) (later known as Suryakant Tripathi, सूर्यकान्त त्रिपाठी) into a Brahmin family in Midnapore district, present-day West Bengal. However, his family was originally from a village in central Uttar Pradesh.

The place of Nirala’s (a pen name meaning “the strange or unique one,” which he adopted in 1923) birth as well as his familial heritage almost ensured that he would possess knowledge of numerous languages that most Hindi writers of the day did not have access to. In addition to Bengali, Hindi and Baiswari, the language in which he and his family members spoke, Nirala also became proficient in Sanskrit and English. While reading his work in the original Hindi, one can easily observe the depth of Nirala’s genius and his extensive knowledge of other languages and literary traditions (including contemporary Bengali literature, such as the work of the famous, Nobel prize-winning writer and artist Rabindranath Tagore).

Like Mahadevi Varma, Nirala was part of the “Chhayavad” (छायावाद) or “Neo-Romanticism” movement of Hindi literature; yet, unlike other Chhayavadi (छायावादी) writers, who primarily concerned themselves with emphasizing the individual and the interior world of emotions and experiences, Nirala expressed his passion about current social issues and adamant stance against any type of exploitation in his poetry, novels, essays and stories.

Nirala’s own life was a series of trials, beginning when his mother died when he was only two. Two years after marrying a girl named Manohradevi, who was from a village near his ancestral home in Uttar Pradesh, Nirala failed his high school matriculation examinations. To punish his errant son, Nirala’s father cast him out of the house and sold all of his wife’s jewelry. Without many options at this point, Nirala and wife made the unusual decision to return to his wife’s home, where Nirala’s two children were born (this was unusual in that a newly married couple usually goes to live with the husband’s family after marriage). Interestingly, it was Manohradevi who introduced Nirala to the wonders of Hindi literature through the Awadhi (अवधी, a dialect of Hindi) version of the Hindu epic, the Ramayan (रामायण), known as the Ramcharitmanas (रामचरितमानस) by the poet Tulsidas (तुलसीदास); afterward, Nirala became fascinated with Khari Boli/खड़ी बोली or Modern Standard Hindi and began to learn about it more by reading Hindi literary magazines.

Nirala’s father died in 1917 and, a year after that, Nirala endured a further spate of tragedies due to the influenza epidemic of 1918: his wife, brother and sister-in-law all died in the span of that year. Subsequently, Nirala was the sole provider for not only his own two children, but also his brother’s four children who had somehow survived the epidemic. With Nirala’s strong convictions about social justice and an irrepressible need to express his creativity and genius, he turned to the less than lucrative career of writing. In 1935, Nirala’s only and beloved daughter, Saroj, passed away soon after she was married at the age of 19; one of Nirala’s most emotive and masterful poems, “Remembering Saroj,” (सरोज स्मृति) is a tribute to her life, his love for her and his perceived failure as a father to give her everything in life. Yet, despite all of these tragedies, Nirala and his life are lessons in the indomitability of the human spirit. Nirala worked tirelessly as a distinguished editor on the board of several literary journals and wrote prolifically until his death on the beauties and injustices of this world with startling passion, insight and creativity.

In the words of David Rubin, a scholar of Nirala and a skillful translator of his poetry (published in a volume called A Season on the Earth):

Nirala’s “work was too startling in its originality, his language too difficult, his satire too bitter, his break with the past too offensive to the orthodox, and the depth of his feeling either too troubling or too far beyond the common ken to assure wide popularity.”

I hope you enjoy reading my translation of Nirala’s poem, “Beggar” (भिक्षुक/Bhikshuk) (1921) below:

वह आता–
दो टूक कलेजे के करता पछताता 
पथ पर आता।

Voh aataa–

Do tuuk kaleje ke kartaa pachtaataa

Path par aataa.

He comes–

His heart broken in two,

He walks on the path, regretting.

पेट पीठ दोनों मिलकर हैं एक,
चल रहा लकुटिया टेक,
मुट्ठी भर दाने को– भूख मिटाने को
मुँह फटी पुरानी झोली का फैलाता–
दो टूक कलेजे के करता पछताता पथ पर आता।

Pet pith dono milkar hain ek, 

Chal rahaa lakutiyaa tek, 

Mutthi bhar daane ko–bhuuk mitaane ko

Munh phati puraani jholi ka failaataa–

Do tuk kaleje ke kartaa pachtaataa path par aataa. 

His stomach, his back, both are one,

He goes about with a small cane for support,

To fill his fist with grain—to extinguish his hunger

The mouth of an old, worn bag spreads open—

His heart broken in two, he walks on the path, regretting.

साथ दो बच्चे भी हैं सदा हाथ फैलाये,
बायें से वे मलते हुए पेट को चलते,
और दाहिना दया दृष्टि-पाने की ओर बढ़ाये।
भूख से सूख ओंठ जब जाते
दाता-भाग्य विधाता से क्या पाते?–
घूँट आँसुओं के पीकर रह जाते।
चाट रहे जूठी पत्तल वे सभी सड़क पर खड़े हुए,
और झपट लेने को उनसे कुत्ते भी हैं अड़े हुए! 

Saath do bacche bhi hain sadaa haath failaaye, 

Bayen se ve malte hue pet ko chalte, 

Aur daahinaa dayaa drishti-paane ki or barhaaye. 

Bhuuk se suukh onth jab jaate 

Daataa-bhaagya vidhaataa se kyaa paate?

Ghuunth aasuuon ke pikar reh jaate. 

Chaat rahe jhuuthi pattal ve sabhi sarak par khare hue, 

Aur jhapat lene ko unse kutte bhi hain are hue! 

With him are two children as well, their hands forever outstretched,

With the left hand, they rub their stomachs as they walk,

And the right reaching out to get a pitying gaze.

When the lips dry up from hunger

What will they get from the giver of destinies, the creator?

They will remain drinking their own tears.

They all stand on the street, lapping plates of leftover food,

And dogs jostle against them, ready to pounce!

ठहरो, अहो मेरे ह्रदय में है अमृत,

मैं सींच दूँगा ।

अभिमन्यु जैसे हो सकोगे तुम

तुम्हारे दु:ख मैं अपने ह्रदय में खींच लूँगा । 

Thehro, aho mere hriday me hai amrit, 

Main siinch duunga. 

Abhimanyu jaise ho sakoge tum 

Tumhare dukh main apne hriday me khiinch luunga. 

Wait, there is nectar in my heart,

I will replenish (you with it).

You will become like Abhimanyu*,

I will draw your sadness into my own heart. 

*According to David Rubin, “Abhimanyu was the heroic son of Arjuna [another hero] who died young in the battle of the Kauravas and Pandavas” in the Hindu epic the Mahabharat (महाभारत).

शब्दावली की सूची (Shabdaavali ki Soochi/

Vocabulary List):

  1. कलेजा/Kalejaa (masc. noun): in a literary and figurative context this word means “heart.” Literally, it means “liver” and/or vital organs. A more common word for heart is “दिल/Dil” (masc. noun).
  2. भिक्षुक/Bhikshuk (masc. noun): beggar. A more common word for this is “भिखारी” (Bhikaari, masc. noun).
  3. पथ/path (masc. noun): path or road.
  4. मुट्ठी/Mutthi (fem. noun): fist.
  5. भूख/Bhuukh (fem. noun): hunger.
  6. मिटाना/Mithaanaa (verb): to extinguish, assuage, mitigate.
  7. झोली/Jholi (fem. noun): a small bag.
  8. फैलाना/Failaanaa (verb): to spread (something), stretch out, extend. Usually pronounced with a “F” sound although it is spelled with an initial “Ph.”
  9. सदा/Sadaa (adverb): always. A more common word for this is “हमेशा/Hamesha.”
  10. मलना/Malnaa (verb): to rub.
  11. दया/Dayaa (fem. noun): compassion, pity.
  12. दृष्टी/Drishti (fem. noun): gaze, glance, sight (as in “a beautiful sight”).
  13. सूखना or सूख जाना/Sookhnaa or Sookh jaanaa (verb): to dry up.
  14. अोंठ or होंठ/Onth or Honth (masc. noun): lip(s).
  15. घूँट/Ghoonth (masc. noun): a drink or sip.
  16. आँसू/Aansoo (masc. noun): tear.
  17. ह्रदय/Hriday (masc. noun, formal): heart. See the note on “कलेजा” above.
  18. अमृत/Amrit (masc. noun, formal): nectar, ambrosia. Has the connotation of godly and divine as, in Hindu mythology, it is known as “the nectar of the gods,” which usually confers immortality.
  19. दु:ख or दुख/Duhkh or Dukh (masc. noun): sadness
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About the Author: Rachael

नमस्ते, मेरा नाम रेचल है/السلام علیکم، میرا نام ریچل ہے۔ Hello, my name is Rachael, but I also on occasion go by Richa––an interesting story for another time :) My two great loves are Hindi and Urdu. I first traveled to India (Jaipur, Rajasthan) in college on a Hindi study abroad program. A little over a year later, I returned to the same city to study Hindi in a yearlong program. I've also spent a summer in Kolkata, West Bengal learning Bengali, and I studied Urdu at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a graduate student in South Asian Studies. I hope to share with you the fascinating world of Hindi and Urdu literature, society, culture and film through my blogs!