Kunwar Narayan: Among the last of the doyens in Hindi literature. WHEN FILMMAKER Satyajit Ray was shooting ‘Shatranj ke Khilaadi’ and wanted to make some changes in Premchand’s story, he did it while staying at Hindi poet Kunwar Narayan’s home in Lucknow. His stay involved long discussions and a dialogue on how precisely to make those changes, and retain what they must. This interaction epitomises the era that Kunwar Narayan, who died at home early Wednesday morning, straddled and represented. One which spoke of many worlds in Hindi — cosmopolitan and confident.
Narayan, poet and literary figure who started writing at a time of great ferment in the Hindi world, did so when Agyey, Nirala and Muktibodh were active. He is seen by younger writers as among the last of the doyens of Hindi literature, who made his mark, wrote, translated and stayed steeped in all kinds of creative expression — especially cinema and classical Hindi music.
He published in Hindi and was prolific but drew from a range of sources. His house was a centre for all kinds of creative sabhas, discussions and mehfils. His deep connection with Indian mythology and the use of literary motifs and characters to focus on love and engage in a dialogue about death (through Yama and Nachiketa, among others) made his modernity unique, and was influential.
“He used language as a prism to look at love and also on death. Through his poems he discussed all its dimensions,” says writer Manglesh Dabral. “In the modern, troubled and uneasy disquiet, he spoke of sanity and serenity and reflected deeply. The ambit of his knowledge was very wide.” Chakravyuh, was his first collection of poems published in 1956. He co-edited magazines; Yug-Chetna, and later Naya Prateek and Chhayanat.
Besides poetry, his translations of poets in several languages — Constantine Cavafy, Jorge Luis-Borges and Ted Hughes, among others — broke new ground in making all this available to Hindi readers. His latest was a collection of world poetry translations, ‘Na Seemayein Na Dooriyan’.
Besides, his dabbling in Indian mythology made him, for writer Apoorvanand, “a truly modern mind who was deeply immersed in Indian tradition, and deeply connected with it. His departure is a great loss.”