My body kept clanging like the tin of your house

Language: Hindi
Poet: Geet Chaturvedi
Translator: Anita Gopalan

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My body kept clanging like the tin of your house

Two poems by Geet Chaturvedi translated by Anita Gopalan

Geet Chaturvedi’s poems are inseparably connected with the cultural history of India and linguistic memories of Hindi, the language in which he writes. The filtration and the sensibility of ideas and imagination make him a delightful, different poet. In a career spanning over two decades with only two books of poems to his credit (the first, a collection of 72 poems published in 2010 and the second, a collection of 63 poems forthcoming this year), he is considered a major poet of present Hindi literature—and, the most imitated. The various adjectives that he has earned, like ‘professor’, ‘master’, ‘avant-garde’ and ‘most-read contemporary Hindi poet,’ reflect the unmistakable aura of his poetry, his strong voice, inner lyrical beauty, multitude of meanings and the ‘text-appeal’. 

The appeal is also of a distinct playfulness with the language that gives the reader immense synesthetic pleasure, and of extraordinary metaphors and unusual imagery. As he wrote in the poem ‘Style’, for example:

The style in which sleep limns
We call it—creases
Making my forehead her bed
Don’t know who’d slept all night

Geet Chaturvedi’s poetics have also been shaped by his high exposure to the world poetry and contemporary poetic designs of the post-modern European literature; at the same time, they give a sense of rootedness to the Sanskrit-Pali poetic tradition of ancient India. Intertextuality is his trait and his poetry is filled with regional plays, which makes translation particularly difficult. On top of that, Hindi and English are two languages that have very different sentence construction, and also, Indian culture is very different from the western culture. Hence, it requires, at times, great effort to retain the same simplicity and meaning and musicality. For example, in the poem ‘Monsoon is a Sip of Water’, words in Hindi like aashad and poos are the Hindu calendar months coinciding with rains and humidity, and of biting cold respectively. I equated them to monsoon and winter. Keeping the words simple yet effective, I constructed the two lines as:

Monsoon is a sip of water
And winter, a mound of dry cough in the chest

The poem ‘Style’ limns in a style that the poet calls an ‘incoherent poetic structure’, a structure that he has been practicing since long, where each line or stanza creates a world of its own; woven around the most mundane things with a deceptive casualness, an emotive and philosophical sublimity is reached, as, for example, in these lines:

On some nights before sleep, my name is Heart
Morning after waking up I find my name History

The poems raise existential, political or philosophical concerns that reflect the candour, the cadences, wit and erudition.

 

Geet Chaturvedi (b. 1977) is a noted Hindi poet and novelist. He has authored six books, including two collections of novellas—Savant Aunty Ki Ladkiyan and Pink Slip Daddy—and a collection of poetry, Alaap Mein Girah (2010). His second collection of poems, Nyoontam Main, will be published soon. Often regarded as an avant-garde, he is considered one of the major poets of India by critics and various periodicals and newspapers. He has translated into Hindi the poems of Pablo Neruda, Lorca, Adonis, Czeslaw Milosz, Adam Zagajewski, Bei Dao, Dunya Mikhail, Iman Mersal and Eduardo Chirinos. His poems have been translated into twelve languages. Geet received the Krishna Pratap Award for fiction in 2014 for Pink Slip Daddy. He was awarded the Bharat Bhushan Agrawal Award for poetry in 2007 and was named one of ‘Ten Best Writers’ of India by English Daily Indian Express in 2011. He is currently working on his first full length novel, Ranikhet Xpress. Geet lives in Bhopal, India. He can be followed on Twitter @geetchaturvedi.

Anita Gopalan, translator, trader, and artist, holds degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics from BITS, Pilani and has translated into English many of Geet Chaturvedi’s poems. Her translated works have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry International RotterdamModern Poetry in TranslationAcumen Literary JournalMantisInternational Poetry ReviewMuse India and elsewhere. She is also a painter. Her collection of translated poems will appear in the book A Cello among the Violins: Selected Poems. She lives in Bangalore, India.

शैली

हृदय का अपना इतिहास होता है
हृदय की अपनी सभ्यता होती है

ऊपर की इन पंक्तियों में रिल्के ने
हृदय की जगह हाथ लिखा था

एक दिन इन हाथों को याद आ जाएगा
कि किसी ज़माने में ये पंख हुआ करते थे

किसी रात सोने से पहले मेरा नाम हृदय होता है
सुबह उठने के बाद पाता हूं कि मेरा नाम इतिहास है

प्रकाश के वृत्त में अंधेरे की त्रिज्या
दार्शनिक स्वतंत्रता है

हर सीढ़ी अंतत: खत्म हो जाती है
ऊपर बहुत सारी ऊंचाई चढ़े जाने से बच जाती है

मैं हमेशा चप्पल पहनता हूं
फिर भी जानता हूं गीली भूमि का स्पर्श

एक पेड़ मौन रह देखता है मुझे
चाहे कितना भी दूर क्यों न चला जाऊं

एक दिन मैं शाम को उठा, पौधों में पानी दिया
मैंने उन्हें कोसा जिन्होंने नींद में मेरे साथ बुरा किया था

मैं उन्हें भूल गया जिन्होंने यथार्थ में मेरे साथ बुरा किया
मेरी प्राथमिकताएं स्पष्ट हैं

नींद जिस शैली में रेखांकन करती है
उसे हम सिलवटें कहते हैं

मेरे माथे को बिस्तर बना
जाने कौन सोया था सारी रात

तुम्हारी स्मृति
मेरे नमक का निबंध है

जागने की मेरी शैली
मेरी अज्ञानताओं के कारण बनती है 

Style

Heart has a history of its own
It has its own civilization

In the lines above, Rilke had 
Written hands in place of heart

These hands would someday remember 
That they at one time were wings

On some nights before sleep, my name is Heart
Morning after waking up I find my name History

The radius of darkness in a circle of light
Is philosophical independence

Every stairway going up eventually ceases
Above, considerable height remains unscaled

I always wear chappals
Yet understand the touch of wet earth

A tree silently watches me 
No matter how far I may wander

I rose one evening, watered the plants
I cursed those who had wronged me in sleep

I forgot those who have wronged me in reality
My preferences are obvious

The style in which sleep limns
We call it—creases

Making my forehead her bed 
Don’t know who’d slept all night

The memory of you
Is an essay of my salt

My style of waking 
Is shaped by my dark ignorance

आषाढ़ पानी का घूंट है

तुम्हारी परछाईं पर गिरती रहीं बारिश की बूंदें
मेरी देह बजती रही जैसे तुम्हारे मकान की टीन
अडोल है मन की बीन

झरती बूंदों का घूंघट था तुम्हारे और मेरे बीच
तुम्हारा निचला होंठ पल-भर को थरथराया था

तुमने पेड़ पर एक निशान बनाया
फिर ठीक वहीं एक चोट दागी
प्रेम में निशानचियों का हुनर पैबस्त था

तुमने कहा प्रेम करना अभ्यास है
मैंने सारी शिकायतें अरब सागर में बहा दीं

धरती को हिचकी आती है
जल से भरा लोटा है आकाश
कौन याद कर रहा है उसे
वह एक-एक कर सारे नाम लेती है
मुझे भूल जाती है
मैं इतना पास था कि कोई यकीन ही नहीं कर सकता
जो इतना पास हो वह भी याद कर सकता है

स्वांग किसी अंग का नाम नहीं

आषाढ़ पानी का घूंट है
छाती में उगा ठसका है पूस

Monsoon is a sip of water

The raindrops kept falling on your shadow
My body kept clanging like the tin of your house
My heart’s music beat unrelenting unwavering

Between you and me, there was the veil of cascading droplets
For a fleeting moment, your lower lip twitched

You made a mark on the bole of the tree
And then shot at it right through
Shooters have an inherent finesse in love

But to love is a matter of practice, you proffered
I released all my grievances into the Arabian Sea

The sky is a potful of water
The earth hiccoughs
Who could be remembering her?
One by one she takes all names
Forgets mine
Nobody could perceive how close I’d been, how near
The one who’s so close so near could also remember

Pretence is not a name 
Of any limb or body part

Monsoon is a sip of water
And winter, a mound of dry cough in the chest

 

 

*When one hiccoughs, it is believed that someone is remembering that person.