Nature and evolution has programmed us to pay close attention to things that strike us as different. While it empowered our ancestors who had to defend their turf from unknown predators, in modern life, this ability is perhaps no longer a gift. Often, it embroils us in meaningless ‘us’ versus ‘them’ disputes based on markers like skin colour, attire and social customs. What if we woke up one day and found these differences dissolving? What if we found our hearts full of love for those that we perceive to be different from us?
Kunwar Narain images this beautiful utopia in his humourous poem “Ek Ajeeb Si Mushkil” (A Strange Problem).
A contemporary of poets like Muktibodh and Agyeya, Kunwar Narain (1927 – 2017) began writing at a time when Hindi Literature was on the cusp of a critical transformation – the New Poetry movement. While he drew inspiration from Indian mythology and literary motifs, his work also reflected his travels and engagement with intellectual giants from Europe, Russia and China.
A curious and wandering soul, Narain embraced the world and all the creative stimulus it had to offer. He is one of the rare Hindi poets who translated international poets including French symbolist poets like Mallarmé and Valery, Greek poet Cavafy and Argentinian writer Borges. In turn, he drew inspiration from their writing, experimenting with various genres and styles including poetry, short stories, literary criticism, translations, and essays on world cinema, history, music and human interest events. His home was a famous hub for mehfils and sabhas (gatherings) of intellectuals and artists.
In this particular poem, Narain talks about a baffling affliction that fills him with love for those hitherto thought of as ‘the other’. As much as he resists this love disease, he ends up finding someone in every community that his heart lovingly embraces. In the end, he is certain that this sickness will land him at the gates of paradise!
Here is the full poem:
Ek Ajeeb Si Mushkil
Ek ajeeb si mushkil me hoon in dino
Meri bharpoor nafrat kar sakne ki taakat
Dino din sheen padti ja rahi!
Angrezon se nafrat karna chaha
(Jinhone do sadi hum par raaj kiya)
Toh Shakespeare aage aa jaate
Jinke mujh par na jaane kitne ehsaan hain.
Musalmano se nafrat karne chalta
Toh saamne Ghalib aakar khade ho jaate.
Ab aap batayiye – kisi ki kuch chalti hai
Sikhon se nafrat karna chaha
Toh Gurunank aankhon me chha jaate
Aur sar apne aap jhuk jaata
Aur ye Kamban, Thyagaraj, Muktuswami…
Laakh samjhata apne ko
Ki ve mere nahi
Door kahin dakshin ke hain
Par man hai ki maanta hi nahi
Bina inhe apnaaye
Aur vah premika
Jisse mujhe pehla dhokha hua
Mil jaaye toh uska khoon kar doon!
Milti bhi hai, magar
Kabhi behen ki tarah
Toh pyar ka ghoont peekar reh jaata!
Paagalon ki tarah bhatakta rehta
Ki kahin koi aisa mil jaaye
Jisse bharpoor nafrat karke
Apna ji halka kar loon!
Par hota hai iska theek ulta
Koi na koi, kahin na kahin, kabhi na kabi
Aisa mil jaata
Jisse pyar kiye bina reh hi nahi paata!
Dino din mera yah prem rog badhta hi jaa raha
Aur iss waham ne pakki jad pakad li hai
Ki yah prem kisi din mujhe
Swarg dikhakar hi rahega
A Strange Problem
I have a strange problem these days
The power to passionately hate
Is ebbing away day by day
I want to hate the English
(Who ruled over us for two centuries)
But then Shakespeare appears in front of me
To whom I owe so much
I try to hate the Muslims
But Ghalib gets in the way
You tell me – can anyone stand up
I want to hate the Sikhs
But Guru Nanak fills my vision
And my head bows of its own accord
And this Kamban, Thyagaraja, Muthuswamy…
A million times I tell myself
They are not mine
They’re from the far South
But my heart does not rest
Until it makes them my own
And that woman I loved
Who betrayed me for the first time
I’ll kill her as soon as I see her!
I do see her, but
Sometimes she meets me as friend
Sometimes a mother
Sometimes like a sister
And I swallow a gulp of love.
All my days
I wander like a madman
Looking for someone I can
Hate to my heart’s content
And feel light!
But the opposite happens
Someone, at some place or time
I find that
I cannot help but love!
Day by day, my love disease is growing
And a suspicion has taken root
That one day this love
Will send me straight to heaven
We thank Shivani Jha for recommending this poem.