Friday, November 17, 2017

In Tathagata’s Company

‘Wrapped in my achievements,
I too am my Alternate Time
where I’ll endure
even after me…’

I was introduced to Kunwar Narain when Jitendra Ramprasad kindly sent me the DVD ‘The Poet’s Voice: Kunwar Narain’ (available at two years back. And I was converted. Then I got hold of his Selected Poems in Hindi published by Kitabghar Prakashan. Last year, I was fortunate enough to meet him, and Apurva Narain gave me a copy of Kumarajiva, his last masterpiece. I am yet to fathom the depth of the long philosophical epic, but the prologue of the book had such an impact on me that I had to translation it. Now, thanks to the equally enthusiastic response from Abhimanyu Kumar (what a poem! he says), this is our humble attempt to keep Kunwar Narain among us, for time to come.

from Kumarajiva, a narrative poem by Kunwar Narain
Translated from the Hindi by Dibyajyoti Sarma

[We had such plans. I was lucky enough to meet Kunwar Narain at his home in CR Park on 17 September 2016. He had just completed 89 and his hearing was weak. That did not stop us from discussing poetry, and our favourite poets, Eliot, Yeats, Auden. He had translated almost all the major 20th Western poets into Hindi. He also told us about his trip to Turkey and meeting Nazim Hikmet. The Turkish poet had just been released from one of his jail sentences, and Narain was still a starry-eyed young poet. I can still hear his voice narrating the story. “He (Hikmet) was an imposing personality. He sat next to me and put his hand on my thigh. He had huge hands.”

I identified the awe in the voice because that’s what I felt meeting Narain, hearing him tell the tale. I gave him my book of poems and since he had already lost his eye-sight, Apurva Narain, his son, suggested that I read a few poems from the book to him. I did. And he said he liked them. There couldn’t be a bigger reward.

On leaving, with the promise to meet again, I received a copy of Narain’s last masterpiece, the epic poem (Kavya) Kumarajiva published by Bharatiya Gnanpith. I found the book a tad difficult. A poetic biography of Kumarajiva, the man who introduced Buddhist literature in China, the book tackles deep philosophical questions on existence, life, death and everything in between. But the prologue, ‘In Tathagata’s Company’ moved me beyond words. I read and reread the passages a thousand times until I was ready to attempt a translation. This translation is my humble tribute to the legacy of Kunwar Narain.]

In Tathagata’s Company
from Kumarajiva, a narrative poem by Kunwar Narain
Translated from the Hindi by Dibyajyoti Sarma

I’ve embarked upon a thousand-year journey,
with Tathagata;
we have an eternity together –
on our path we will find who knows
how many cities, how many deserts.

We’ll not stop anywhere;
we'll carry on like the blowing wind.

We’ll leave behind, just a few words –
some reverberation of ideas,
etching on thresholds –
footprints of roving mendicants.

The way trees and leaves soak in
light and air and
carry to the soil
the fertilisers,

the same way will spread
the fire of spiritual ideas – breathing
from flowers to roots.

Digesting ugliness, there will always bloom
the fragrance of beauty in the air,
breaking the walls of darkness,
there will always sparkle joy, and
we will always be visible
in the wholeness of lost past,
sometimes like a star
sometimes like the sun.

Kumarajiva can be resurrected again
the way he resurrected Tathagata;
because no one, Buddha or Kumarajiva,
remains dead.

His was a life of ideas,
which can be experienced any time,
by going to his time
or by bringing him to our time,

the way at one time Kumarajiva
had found completeness,
inhabiting the Buddha’s ideas
in his own time,

the way man inhabits
his memories and past customs
rehabilitating them
in present time.

Every dedicated follower – thinker – artist
draws parallel to the Time where he exists
an Alternate Time of his own.

It is a life at once contemporary
and universal
where resides permanently
the essence of
his ideas and his achievements,
where they grow continuously until eternity.

Read the complete poem here.

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