My body kept clanging like the tin of your house

Two poems by Geet Chaturvedi translated by Anita Gopalan


GeetChaturvedi   AnitaGopalanGeet 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.

—Anita Gopalan



by Geet Chaturvedi

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 


by Geet Chaturvedi

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

translated from Hindi by Anita Gopalan

आषाढ़ पानी का घूंट है

by Geet Chaturvedi

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

by Geet Chaturvedi

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.

translated from Hindi by Anita Gopalan

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