By Ankur Biplav
In his magnum opus Magadh acclaimed author and Sahitya Akademi awardee Shrikant Verma delves into the depths of history, transporting readers to the ancient kingdom of Magadh. With meticulous research and masterful storytelling, Verma weaves together a gripping narrative that combines elements of political intrigue, dynastic struggles, and societal transformations.
Apoorvanand, professor of Hindi at the University of Delhi, who has written the foreword for the English-translated version of the book by Rahul Soni, writes: “Magadh is essentially a poem in search of ways to realise the potential of democracy.” Calling it an ‘iconic poem in Hindi literature’ in his note, he adds that Soni’s translation of the poems is ‘faithful’.
While the book primarily talks about the balancing between the desire for power and the search for meaning, Apoorvanand believes that the book is also “about the loneliness of the individual”.
Originally, published in 1984, Magadh stands as a testament to Verma’s skill as a writer and his ability to bring a forgotten era to life. Even though the word ‘Kaal’, which is the central theme of the poem, literally translates into ‘time’ in English, the poet in an interview had said that the closest translation to ‘kaal’ is death in context of this book.
Soni, in an interview with Financial Express, remembers the time when one of his friends had recommended this book to him and he had started translating the book almost immediately, even before he had finished reading the collection in its entirety.
The language of the book is something that strikes readers the most, and this is what happened with Soni too. “I think the most arresting thing about the collection is the almost-paradox of its pared-down vocabulary and repetitions, against the slippery circularity and riddle-like ambiguities of its locutions,” Soni says.
Soni believes that the poems are stark and urgent yet arch and richly allusive. “Verma lays bare their tales of corruption, guilt, ignorance and arrogance. With its spare and haunting cadences, Magadh remains prescient and relevant even today,” Soni says.
Soni further talks about the process of translating these poems into English and says that he first tried to create poems in English out of the words and images of the originals and then, through the process of revision and editing, found his way to the source. “This is a process that helped me, I would like to think, approximate what AK Ramanujan and David Shulman have called the ‘literal force’ of the text,” Soni adds. “I was just so struck by the voice of these poems that I wanted to see if it was possible to achieve those effects in the language I wrote in: English,” Soni says.
Soni calls Shrikant Verma’s Magadh a triumph, and one of the finest collections of poetry he has ever read. “One that moulds language into new locutions and one that illuminates unexamined darknesses in ourselves,” Soni adds.