November marks the beginning of the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Hindi poet Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh. The fates of the two, however, have taken divergent trajectories. The life of the revolution turned out to be very short; it couldn’t last the century it was born in. The poet, on the other hand, though he died when he wasn’t even 46, has seen his significance constantly growing.
Muktibodh was a Marxist, considered a poet who longed for revolution. But the revolution demanded from its followers they surrender themselves to the Party, which was absolute. They were expected to be a mere reflection of this absolute self. Yet, Muktibodh is interested in the life history of each soul. He seeks to create a community of selves in which each will be autonomous.
This self is a creation — or a striving. More important than the destination is the journey. For Muktibodh, “journey” was the favourite metaphor. He describes his poems as endless journeys. It is not pleasure or accomplishment that his poems look for. They seek the joy of searching, getting lost in the process of creation of this self.
This struggle is solitary — and collective. More important than the end are the companionships forged in this endeavour. The value of a self can only be measured by the nature of relationships it creates; the human self is thus a relational entity.
This relationship doesn’t allow you to rest. Muktibodh calls for awareness of the agony of a blazing relationship. In one of his poems, Lakshman tells Urmila the human predicaments of the 20th century brought him to the jungle. This exile has transformed us — we are now new. The temptation to forge a new man has caused immense human tragedy. For Muktibodh, human lives could not be mere means to an end, however sublime the end might be.
The newness, according to the poet, is an attempt to transcend one’s confines, be aware of the other’s individuality, break free of the ordinariness of our robotic lives. In a poem Mujhe nahi maloom, he laments that this earth and planets keep revolving in the same orbits. They cannot break free. If only they had the courage to roam, to get lost in the unknown, it could result in new, unfamiliar graphs and maps of errors. It would have shattered impuissant totalities. Human liberation is another abiding theme in Muktibodh’s writings. There is no final point in this quest, the ultimate always eludes us. One achieves oneself in this voyage — but the search is eternal.
Muktibodh has been described as a poet of darkness, of horror. Talking about his first book, Ashok Vajpeyi writes Muktibodh wanted it to be named Saharsh sweekaara hai (I embrace with joy) but he felt it most inappropriate, given the dark nature of the writings. There is neither joy, nor acceptance in him, he felt, and the first collection of his poetry was titled Chand ka munh tedha hai (The face of the moon is crooked). This act misled generations — he is seen as a poet of foreboding, emergencies, failures. He is also seen as a poet of human frailties, of guilt.
It is true that darkness prevails in his poems; but this is not always an abode of human fears. Mostly, the darkness is pregnant with possibilities. Plans are made, unknown corners discovered, friendships forged in this darkness, which becomes an expanse to be traversed by crossing unseen paths. Muktibodh’s writings are full of the excitement of discovering co-travellers. His characters are constantly in motion but not on fixed paths; they wander.
The bodies of Muktibodh’s characters are full of hurt. Scarred, wounded, bleeding, they try to break open the crevice of dailyness to find the meaning of human life. They are labouring, but also thinking and feeling bodies. They are not merely subjects of philosophy, they are philosophers.
Muktibodh talks about knowledge and sentiments. We fear knowledge; we also shun real feelings because they ask us to come out of our secure confines, in fact, prisons of our souls. This is too risky. But human existence is an adventure. How can you claim humanity if you don’t accept the challenge of knowledge and sentiments?
Muktibodh remained a Marxist but his destination, like for Marx, wasn’t a socialist state. He wanted to reach a state where he could say, “I want to trust every human being.” The yearning is for intimacy, of understanding, of love. But it is an ethical intimacy which is not exclusive, not restrictive, but rather, ever-expanding. The question that lingers in the iconic poem Andhere mein is: “Will a lover ever be found?”