Screamed after stabbing a knife:
Har Har Shankar
Screamed after stabbing a knife:

After the screams died down
What remained
Was a knife
And flowing blood

This time, the riot was huge
The rain of blood was ample
Next year the crop of votes will be good.

— Excerpted from 'Riots', translated by Saudamini Deo

It was right after stepping out into the hot and humid afternoon from my father’s somewhat cooler apartment in Patna that I’d first read the startling poetry of Gorakh Pandey. It was like stepping out into a hot and humid outside from the cooler, isolated spaces of my mind.

Born in 1945 in the village of Devariya in Uttar Pradesh, specific details of Pandey’s life are somewhat hard to come by but one can piece together a tentative mindscape of the man who spent his life obsessively fighting against oppressive structures of power, making him live on in the collective memory as a true jankavi, or people’s poet.

Influenced by the Naxal and the farmers’ movements, he dissociated himself from the both the feudal roots of his family and the bourgeois Hindi writing circle. Some time in the mid-1970s, he wrote in his diary:

...poetry and love – these are two places where I feel fully human. I receive love from society and in turn give society my poetry. Because the primary conditions of my life – food, clothing, and housing – are fulfilled by the working class and all of the bourgeoisie is writing in order to deny that, because the working class is fighting for its rights everywhere, because it is only by contributing to this struggle that my life can have some meaning. This is why I write poetry only for the working class and its allies. It’s not a big thing to write poetry but then it is not a big thing to sew on a button either. Yes, it’s just that without buttons, shirts and trousers will be useless.

Radical views

His family belonged to the landowning class of Uttar Pradesh and his nephew once reminisced to a journalist about Pandey’s radical views and ways and that he often encouraged the farmers working on his father’s land to revolt against him and occupy the land they were working on. When his father asked him why he was instigating the farmers, he replied, “What will you do with so much land? Everything should be distributed equally.”

In our memory
Writhe the chopped hands
Of workers

Tongues chopped for truth
Scream in our memory

In our memory suffers
The love masoned into walls.

Our experiences are filled with clashes
With oppressors

Right there,
In our terminal dreams
An old gardener
Places flowers and hope.

— 'Flowers and hope', translated by Saudamini Deo

Pandey studied for some time at the Banaras Hindu University but, feeling restless, he moved to Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. He returned from Delhi for a visit to his village, having broken the sacred thread of Upanayana, a fact that deeply hurt his father.

A lasting protest

Back in Delhi, he was treated with electroconvulsive therapy without consent for his schizophrenia and on January 28, 1989, he died by suicide in the Jhelum hostel of JNU, where he then worked as a research scholar, sending a wave of grief across the literary society and his village, where he was particularly beloved by farmers. He wrote in his suicide note that he was tired of his worsening mental health.

Pandey wrote both in Hindi and Bhojpuri – he published four collections of poetry in Hindi (Jaagte Raho Sone Walon, Swarg Se Bidaai, Loha Garam Ho Gaya, Samay Ka Pahiya – three of which were published posthumously), one collection of songs in Bhojpuri (Bhojpuri Ke Nau Geet) and an essay dealing with a Marxist analysis of religion. Even now his verses can be heard during protests and in the evening gathering of poets in unknown corners.

There is news of murders
In the papers
Murders in Punjab
Murders in Bihar
Murders in Lanka
In Libya, murders

The 20th century is reaching its end
Through murders
In the morning of the 21st century
What will be in the papers?

Or doves
What will be written
On the beginning of
The next 100 years?

— 'Murder upon murder', translated by Saudamini Deo

We cannot know through which path the 21st century will reach its end but it’s not difficult to know that at the beginning of each century, the world will write the death of a poet waiting for doves.

Also read the first three pieces in the series:

Dineshnandini: The writer who lost more from love and life than she gained from literature

Re-reading Bhuvaneshwar, the absurdist Hindi writer who lived in railway stations and trains

Revisiting the works of Rajkamal Chowdhary, the writer whom Hindi literature could never categorise