POETRY AND POLITICS: Jyoti Basu, Fehmida Riaz, Khushwant Singh, Badri Raina

Prof. Badri Raina <badri.raina@gmail.com> sent this heartfelt tribute to Jyoti Basu, the veteran Communist leader of West Bengal, on the night of Jan 17 – which is how I learnt of Basu’s demise. Over to Badri Raina: “a humble tribute with a heavy heart”

Jyoti Basu

Jyoti  Basu

As I write,  you  seem set
To bid adieu—
Your life’s work more than done.
We would be truly greedy
To ask more of you.

What man walked so straight
And for so long
With a single thought in mind—
To do what you could
For  fellow  men and women
At the end of the line.

You solved what you could solve;
Neither birth nor accomplishment
Vitiated  that  simple resolve.
Your stern, Spartan selflessness
Made no song and dance;
No sophisticated  twist  of  theory
Stymied  your advance.

Communist beyond compare,
You  knew your  country
As  cannily
As the bird knows his tree.
And, doing so, you did not
Ask  for the  moon,
But gave to the morning  and the afternoon
Appropriate  remedy.
Never did your worst adversary
For  a moment  doubt
That your life was never your own,
But given  wholly
To  those  that  were  down.

Every one’s  Jyoti  Babu,
It will be no fault of yours
If  those  that  grew  into  sentience
During your precious longevity
Sometimes  fail  to  see
The straight and narrow, running,
Instead, round and round
The mulberry  tree.

Your counsel would still be:
“however starstruck  the  neo-liberal world,
Be not among the  busybodies,
But  the  destitute  majority.”

As  we  say  most grateful  bye,
Beloved  comrade  leader,
Smile upon us  just one last time
So we may know
That you hope  in our strivings
As you depart in flesh,
t never ever from the people’s  heart.

Fehmida Riaz (photo: Aliya Nisar)

Badri Raina copied his email to Fehmida Riaz, who replied:

I wept as I read this poem. I had once written a poem after reading about Nazrul Islam.

Tareek, darawna raasta
Jis par chaltey hain sar jhukaey
Andhiara khatam naheen hota
Aur rah katti naheen
aik dam jo palat key main ney dekha
Ajab sama tha
Ganga pey bahain chiragh jaisey
Ik noor ka qafla rawan tha
Thithki hui main dekh rahi thii
is rah ka bhed khul raha tha
Itney mayoos qafley ka
Paon ka nishan jahan jahan tha
Aik noor ki kaman ban gai thi
Hairan zameen pey tan gai thi

About Badri Raina: we have been in touch for a couple of years – he writes a regular column for ZNet – you can see his archives here, which include courageous, thought-provoking pieces on ‘religious’ fanaticisms and violence, in Pakistan and India, especially Babri Masjid, & Gujarat etc.

The great Khushwant Singh noted his contribution in words worth sharing, extracted below from his column THIS ABOVE ALL, in Chandigarh Tribune, June 13, 2009. He writes:

…I have known Prof Badri Raina over the years without ever having met him. As his name indicates, he is a Kashmiri Pandit. He is an MA in English from Jammu and Kashmir University, and was captain of the J & K cricket X1, competing for the Ranji Trophy in 1961-62. He won a Fulbright scholarship to Wisconsin University, and got a doctorate in literature for his work on Charles Dickens, which was later published by the Wisconsin University press, entitled Dickens & The Dialectic of Growth.

He got offers to teach in American universities and decided to return home to India. After 30 years as professor of English literature in Kirori Mal College (Delhi), he retired from teaching three years ago. Badri Raina is deeply involved with Mirza Ghalib’s poetry. His translations of selections from Ghalib’s Diwan were published nine years ago. He has also written and published a lot of poetry in English. I take the liberty of reproducing some version from a longish poem, Frozen in Birth:

First we are born to man and wife;
Then they give us our names;
Those names then our prison make;
Of inflexible religious frames;
But I that a Hindu am;
Might well have a Muslim been;
Had the sperm and egg that wrought me;
Come from an Aslam and Nasreen;
What sense that we should thus invest;
Our lifelong loves and hates;
To an instant we had no inkling of;
And consign to that our fates;
Must we in loyalty embrace;
What darkness made of us?
Or should our selfhood discriminate;
A `maybe’, a `no’, a `yes’?

2 Responses

  1. UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh, the founder of South Asia Foundation, reminisces about his association with Jyoti Basu in this op-ed in ‘The Statesman‘ – “Dreams and realities“, published Jan 20, 2010 (A briefer version in The Hindu, Jan 18, 2010)


  2. “We r not born to be exclusivist ideaologues of any religion. But straight on the path of nature.” This is free rendering of a prophetic tradition. All paths are straight according to the Quran as interpreted by Ibn Arabi. Let us invest our loves n hates in truth vs falsehood, life versus death, suprapersonal vs personal, intellect vs reason, saintly vs utilitarian or hedonist values. Impeccable logic in the poem to which neither the heart nor the head has any answer.


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