Pre-text

In a curiously compelling characteristic of Roland Barthes’ 2,291- word text The Death of The Author, the word ‘Author’ surfaces on thirty-one occasions, with capital ‘A’ capturing as many as eighteen instances, and considering the tone and tenor of the text it can be reasonably assumed that he used small case at remaining places without intending to undermine the authority of capital A [1].  So we have a theorist, who refers to an entity with a reverential capital letter (‘Author’ acquires greater respect on printed paper than ‘author’) and then denounces her authority. Note, those wishing to refute god use ‘g’, not ‘G’. 

***

Barthes uses two broad arguments to mount the much-mouthed missile of the last century on literary creator. First, every text (he uses the neutered and neutralised nomenclature ‘text’ instead of potent and pregnant ‘literary creation’ [2]) is a tissue of quotations drawn from innumerable centres of culture [3] and hence cannot be attributed to a single author; second, absence of an authorial voice in a text.
Before we examine the legitimacy of these propositions in the constitution of Krishna Baldev Vaid, interesting it is to observe that while Barthes asserts the inevitable presence of earlier works and cultures in a text, he neither admits nor acknowledges the authoritative stamp of his predecessors on his work.

Much before the edifice of intertextuality and consequent birth of the reader came to be based on the assertion that the reader, guided by his intertextual memories, converts a work into an ‘open text’ , reading, in fact and in effect, was termed a function of reader’s memory and experience.
Taking the baton from Mikhael Bakhtin who called the novel polyphonic [4], Julia Kristeva coined “intertextuality” in 1966, two years before Barthes, explaining a text in terms of vertical and horizontal axis, the former joining it with other texts and the latter the reader with the text [5].
Even if we were not told by the Frenchman, who does not express gratitude towards the Russian, memory and external references constituted the epistemic epicenter of a person’s comprehension of a literary work, though that wouldn’t warrant concluding the ‘death’ of its creator.

*** 

Two opposing forces, centripetal and centrifugal, simultaneously operate on a work, generated by its inherent strength and a reader’s memories, respectively. In Vaid’s oeuvre, one witnesses almost absence of the centrifugal force due to the inability of the reader to locate her memory and she is dragged along with a formidable gravitational pull towards the centre of his novels, which assume the form and magnitude of a black hole (One of his novels is named Kala Kolaj) — an all-devouring space of no return. 

Does it mean I am incurable and if I know I am how come I haven’t experienced the Emptiness akin to Emancipation and I if won’t ever does it mean I am insensitive and if I am how come I can’t cut this Wertherism out but does it mean I have reached a point if it can be called a point if it can be called reaching. (6)

What makes Vaid’s fiction a near-impregnable fortress, refuting Barthean proposition, are not his unyielding monologues or unrelenting metaphors, but the absence of signposts by which a reader locates her way through a work. The prevailing instruments to unlock and uncover a work — characters, plot, story, dialogue, conflict, various ‘isms’  — are either absent in him or at variance with their usual forms, formations and formulations, as he challenges and subverts literary norms, grammar and syntax to construct his narrative.
He does narrate a story, but its strands are so minute and fragile that touch them and they disappear. He has characters, but one is highly unlikely to witness even their faded facsimile in life or art. Bimal, the old man of Dying Alone, the middle-aged man-in-waiting of Dard La Dava do not ruffle even the faintest corner of a reader’s memory. Their obsessions are unflappable, idiosyncrasies unpredictable, movements undetectable. They defy definitions, reject conclusions. Try confining them in a bracket — unconventional, mystic, cynic, eccentric — and they break out the next moment by sheer force of inquisitive negation.

Question, negation and counter-negation decide and define Vaid’s work. He questions every phenomenon, everything visible, invisible, known, unknown, noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, adverb, proposition, conjunction and as he appears reaching an answer, springs up another question by challenging the solution itself. If this corresponds with the Adwait’s Neti Neti, wherein a seeker reaches the final truth by denying all what comes his way; it also marks the quest of a scientist, who in his relentless urge to experiment is not averse to refute his conclusions.
Confronting himself and his prejudices in a closed home or on a deserted road — the other is virtually absent in his work as his narrator is his own other (we shall approach this other soon) — his protagonist appears to be a primeval seeker in meditation or a scientist immersed in experimentation, hence, to denote time uses phrases like since agesepochslong time passed

Vaid doesn’t have the final solace of a mystic or a scientist though. A creative artist, he revels in questions and never gets satisfaction of reaching any solution. Every affirmation remains a negation, and leads to a new question.

I think that words are not my enemy that word is not my enemy that word alone is not my real enemy that what I say whatever I say that what I can say that whatever I can say that I can say nothing nothing at all no this is wrong absolutely wrong no this is also wrong…. [7]

Self-doubt and negation are visible in other writers too, in Vaid they culminate into an epistemic enquiry — the limitations on our knowledge and irredeemable inadequacy of our cognitive abilities. His protagonist reminds of a person who knows more than he can tell [8], and his entire quest is to retrieve his knowledge in exact words that have always eluded him.
His inquiry, like that of Ludwig Wittgenstein, is essentially linguistic. If all philosophy is critique of language[9], then for Vaid, all writing is the critique and search of the right language to express his universe, and precisely therefore it’s not the language that speaks, as Barthes claims, but Vaid the Author expresses himself through the language. Vaid sure does not precede the language, but he is not produced by it either. The language, admittedly, is given to him a priori, but his Authorial bodh (consciousness) takes it to the extreme few are capable of.

****

Wit is an important tool of this quest. He challenges and teases your perceptions, and never ceases to throw imperceptibly funny and mischievously witty alternatives to your cognition even when he is searching for answers.

 This  house looks like a bloated monster. That I’ve been dying alone in it for decades is not unusual in this place. Everybody my age dies alone here. Like the old woman next door. The exquisite woman next door.

Perhaps I should ask myself why I have dragged in the old woman into all this. Well, I am asking. I answer I get is why not. I am ever surprised by any of my answers to any of my questions. At my age only bastards desire surprises. I should right here. There is no fun any more in flogging every dead sentence. There never was any. I have stopped. 

I must have come into this monster of a house centuries ago. It seems I have died numerous deaths since then. But the memories of my life before I came here are still alive and around. Like old dogs with their odours. There was a time when I used to mistake the stink for fragrance. Dogs do not have long lives. I shouldn’t have compared my memories to dogs.  [10]

These words baffle a reader, leaving her dislocated and disarmed. What to make of an Author who uses the metaphor of sick dogs for nostalgic memory? Which tissues of which culture speak here?
Does not it mark the downright departure from prevailing modes of reading, hence the Barthean hypothesis, and thus prompting us to take this Author on his own terms?
To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on the text, Barthes declares, adding there is nothing original in a text. The assertion could be perfectly legitimate with writers, whose works suffer from a cumbersome creative lineage; but can one read the inventive metaphor of sick dogs for memory without asking — Who is this Author?
There could be certain works, Barthes ignores, whose authors by their sheer authorial force remain ingrained with their persona within their works.
The Frenchman is rightly apprehensive that the ‘discovery’ of the author can close the text by proclaiming it as explained, but his concern is exaggerated, possibly misplaced, as a work need not get closed with the establishment of its author. A reader CAN still interpret it in myriad manners, which may well be at variance with what the author desired ( in fact, one has no method to discover the author’s intention); but that wouldn’t conclude the author’s death. For, an interpretation or decoding of a work presumes the creator’s existence, and if the work shuts out external references, demanding its metaphors be read on their own terms, one is necessiated to locate its author.

***

Vaid’s metaphors if establish a restless search for the right word, they also underline the irony ingrained in his work and the consequent and conclusive chasm among action, recorded word and meaning.

If, when learning a language, speech, as it were, is connected up to action, can these connections possibly break down? If so, what means have I for comparing the original arrangement with the subsequent action? [11]

Nowhere one finds this breakdown of the bond between action and speech so overwhelming and helplessness of the seeker-speaker so haunting than in Vaid’s works.
But aren’t we told that epistemic quests are usually dull and dour? Why does a seeker indulge in wit? It serves two purposes. First, it establishes his narrator as an archetypal mischievous Indian seeker, not a stoic or dour Christian saint. Second, reflecting his quirky take on the world, it underlines the inherent irony of this cosmos.

He, significantly, uses negation and irony both as ontological and narrative tools; his tales build and move as his narrator-protagonist goes on to question and then deny his observations, converting the novel into an epistemic adventure. Of An Old Monk. Located in a cave or cage. Performing imperceptible actions, uttering incomprehensible words, doodling impalpable figures.

Sentences sans verb extending into paragraphs into pages accentuated and punctuated by endless series of epic similes complemented and cohabited by rhythm and music even in roughest of the syntax, his questions take unexpected, unexplored routes, become more baffling with each sentence as he devises seductive similes, mesmeric metaphors and addictive alliterations to phrase and paraphrase his queries — and ends up without any answer.
His irony thus becomes overwhelming, all-annihilating, Kierkegaardian swallowing of its own tail, underlining the permanent disjuncture between the visible and its meaning, and the emptiness of action.

The question may be raised…Ah! This silly clause has revisited me after a long time. I shall punish it for its return by repeating it to death. Whenever an old forgotten clause or word or a metaphor recaptures my pen, while I am ungaurded, I feel as if an old forgotten friend were trying to embrace me. I feel pleased as well as nauseated by this cloying fidelity. I cherish my lust for my language. People of my age generally feel compelled to cling to God. I am clinging to my language. Even though my innermost desire still is to cling to nothing. Since I have this desire, I cannot free myself of this desire. I am well aware of this tautology. [12]

Note the irresistible desire to transcend, despite being aware of its impossibility. His narrator knows the final frivolity and futility of all explanations and motions, but still remains in a perennial search of exact words as his narrative chases and confronts irony to its final frontier.

****

What further sets him apart is the D. A crucial protein of his oeuvre’s DNA, possibly also of his personal DNA.
Vaid’s quest is furthered, again both on ontological and narratorial planes (He deftly employs literary tools for both purposes), by an overwhelming presence of the ‘other’ — the Doppelganger — an apparition that trails, questions and denies his narrator. A metaphysical entity asserting itself, the D is the opponent of his narrator. The D is neither the villain, nor the anti-hero, it’s the post-hero.
Who is D, like Kafka’s cop in the head figuring in almost every work of Vaid? A modern equivalent of soul? The consciousness (aatm-bodh) of the hero? An inevitable recluse of a modern atheist Author, who refuses to accept supernatural entities like god and soul, but is still haunted by their presence?
Vaid realised that to portray the irony of a modern man he needed a different narrator, who not only knows what he knows and does not know and cannot know, but also knows, and hence suffers from this knowledge, what he knows and cannot make the entire world know; who with all his secret sins and shortcomings is the only person capable to view himself in absolute gaze and hence the only one to judge or evaluate himself.
Confronting his irredeemable and irreparable incompleteness and simultaneously relishing his incurable and invincible idiosyncrasies, this narrator could have been complemented and cohabited only by D — an apparition hovering around him, never leaving him alone for a moment.

***
Another puzzle that grips the reader is the pulsating life in his works with all its obsessions and cravings. How can there be a narrator, meditating in desolation, who is in search of knowledge but does not renounce the world? His concerns are metaphysical, but metaphors to mark these musings musical and deliciously corporeal.
Why is a monk in a quest often seen playing with his gentials, manipulating a matrix of mercurial and mischievous metaphors for his motions?

When it becomes imperative or impossible to straighten out an awkard analogy or caress a sulky sentence or rid a period of its pride —- I have not been able to discard my habit of saying the same thing in at least three different and defective ways; will I ever? — instead of scratching my skull or dragging my feet about I let my hand loose in my private jungle. It is not much of a jungle now and my hand gets no immediate rise out of it. But as my fingers play with the undergrowth I sometimes sense a surprise in that neglected area. More frequently, however, I am reminded that my pubic region has become as soggy as my skull, that soon it will become as bare too, that soon my limp lord will look as bald as my head.

The question may be raised: But why don’t you play with your other toy? My answer is: who says I don’t, for I do, all the time, while writing as well as writhing. When I am not playing with it, I’m staring at it as I sit on my haunches with my head hanging between my knees — like an old dog asking its older master: which one of us is going to go first? I must add that I never get any answer from it as it continues to stare at the floor. [13]

Vaid is accused of being vulgar. He, in fact and in effect, subverts sexuality and creates a post-sexual universe, wherein the protagonist mocks at and parodies sexual inclinations. Compare his escapades with Mahatma Gandhi’s experiments with truth, also termed eccentric by the uninitiated, and one finds a mischievous monk in a quest, who plays and teases with his body and sexual desires only to overcome the overpowering ennui (another of his major thematic occupation) — with all his alliterations, pun, similes intact.
Note this parody of Hindi novelists’ desire of an ideal woman that overturns sexual politics and exposes hypocrisy by inverting the language:

 Let me give you my specifications then. I want a girl whose eyes are askance. And her front full. I want her breasts to be hard. Like rocks. At the same time soft. Paradoxical protuberances. I will test them by breaking almonds on them. Her trunk should remind me of a Hindu temple and her torso of a Muslim mosque. I want a girl like Sita. I’ll test her fidelity by disguising myself as a deer. She should know her Kama Sutra and Ananga Ranga. I’ll be happy if she is competent enough to open an International School of India Erotica. She should be a saint during the day and a nurse at night. I mean a wet nurse. Suppose I tell her to squat and piss on the rug in front of company she should do so without a moment’s mental hesitation. I don’t want her to be tight-assed. At the same time she should not be too wide in her hips. That’s what is wrong with the Anglo-saxon sexpots. [14]

His details don’t tickle or titillate, instead suggest that his narrator uses Kama for liberation, follows Pravritti Marga. Interestingly, in most of the sexual references of Vaid’s work, the hero is seen amusing himself alone and only exceptionaly in copulation.
Why does he convert an essentially copulatory act into one-person’s game? It cannot be deduced that he is afraid of women, considering their lots of mercurial references not just in his fiction but diaries too. ( His diaries are crucial also to counter Barthes’ another proposition who speaks through a character in a work — the author, the character or someone else.)

Some women loved me with such madness and hated my work with such intensity that I get surprised how I got along with them for long…On many occasions I tore myself apart in an attempt to find all women of the world in a woman and one woman in all the women of the world and concluded that like other infinite attempts this attempt is also futile.  [15]
A diary entry when he was in twenties and staying in hilly town Ranikhet for writing his first novel Steps In Darkness, refers to his wife Champa — If Champa were here, each corner of this forest would become our romping ground. [16]

Even as he describes ‘his women’, he is not blinded by the final futility of copulation. Not for a moment his irony takes leave of him.

Does it relate to his attempts to remove the ‘other’ from his work, considering the D, his sole companion, does not let him remain alone or with any other person? We can believe that the self-appeasing acts of the narrator aim at the search of a self-contained existence.

***

Returning to where we begin, two opposing forces, simultaneously operate on a work. In Vaid, one encounters almost absence of the centrifugal force.
In a distant comparison, marking an ‘opening into his texts’, it can be said that Joyce, Dostoyvesky and Beckett, not to forget the Hamlet, also develop their narrative through monologues, the Irish-Frenchman has dark humour too, and these have been among Vaid’s favourites too, besides the master Henry James, from whom he learnt the craft of inculcating point of view in a narrative. And that they did constitute the tissues of quotations drawn from innumerable centres of culture.
Of greater significance, however, is not the question if these tools are visible in other writers, but how does Vaid employ them, and a realization that in his works they appear unalloyed and pristine. Vaid does look up to the past masters but charts his own path, his work is not contaminated or alloyed by outside influences, does not evoke memories and past references, and he remains the sole Author of his universe.

After settling that intertexuality doesn’t hold water in majority of Vaid’s oeuvre (except in a few like Badchalan Biviyon Ka Dweep written with a clear intention to emulate the Kathasaritsagar), we now move onto Barthes’ another contention — the authorial voice. That since it is impossible to ascertain who speaks in a text — the narrator, the hero, the reader or the culture, the writer cannot be credited with the work.

In Vaid’s works, there are two clear evidence to establish his Authorship: the uniform and unvarying narratorial voice through his work and the striking similarity between his diaries and fiction.

The tone and tenor, cadence and countenance of his narrator remains almost the same in his stories and novels from Mera Dushman to Pita Ki ParchhaiyaanUska Bachpan to Maya Lok. The doggedly fixed gaze, cruelly focussed viewpoint, epistemic concerns, use of irony as a tool, the presence of the D, subverted and inverted syntax — these elements irrefutably suggest the working of a single mind. An inherent strand runs through the entire oeuvre, presuming the existence of an unshared and unalloyed voice.
If Vaid wrote a single novel, say Maya Lok, identifying his voice could be nearly impossible; if he spoke in many tones through many characters like Dostoyvesky, locating his personal voice could have been extremely difficult; but if there is only one voice, clear and loud, affirming and asserting the Authorship word after word, sentence after sentence, Barthean proposition stands no chance and one would accept that this uniform voice emanating from his works must be of the same person —- the Author.

Barthean hypothesis that writing is a neutral space where all identity is lost could hold true in cases where an author doesn’t want to assert his identity, maintains an absolute distance from the narrator, takes all possible steps to obliterate his traces from the work, keeps the narratorial voice distinct from his own; Nirmal Verma for instance, in whose novels and essays lies a distinct gap, in the former he comes across as an inventive story teller, in the latter a profound civilizational critic; or the God-like Joycean narrator paring nails in a corner; but certainly not with Vaid, who not only seeps and peeps through his words be it his tales or journals, but a major element of whose craft lies in making the narrator his own self and the D his own D. [17]

Barthean assertion that an author takes birth with a text and does not precede its existence does not apply to the Author, who in his journals writes extensively about the struggle he underwent to achieve the point of view writing his first novel, when he confronted Henry James and strived to move away from an omnipresent narratorial voice.

Before achieving the final draft, like my other works Steps In Darkness also became a victim of wrong or false beginnings. The biggest challenge and confrontation I faced were in deciding and following the point of view. The first incomplete draft lacked a definite point of view and “I”, my omnipresent narrator, moved in and out through unrestrictedly through all characters and spoke whatever struck his tongue and showed whatever he wanted.

For the first time in my life I worked with absolute passion in Ranikhet and there I had the “epiphany” that the narrator of Steps In Darkness should neither be the omnipresent “I”, nor young Biru, but the kid Biru. Steps In Darkness contains many seeds of my future works.  [18]

A fledgling Author struggling with narratorial voice — To deny him Authorship is to deny the word its fundamental right to exist.

Cruel economy, mischievous metaphors, addictive alliterations, instinctive irony, ability to locate humour amid darkest situations, ruthless concentration on point of view —- the defining features of his writings can be traced in the meandering gaze of Beeru, the hero of Steps In Darkness.

His diaries are full of ontological moorings on writing and life — the text and texture, concerns and concepts of his journals echo through his novels. At many instances, difficult it would be to distinguish between a novel extract and a journal entry.

The real support I will obtain, do obtain from the belief that my all endeavors would remain almost futile, all desires almost deficient, that all endeavors go almost useless, that no success would console me, living without any consolation is probably my destiny. [19]

I have no particular interest in anyone. I have no particular interest even in myself. Except work only ennui and women attract me. Body and soul of women; those many questions emerging out of ennui whose Cross I carry around —- death, life, god, absence, grief! Women with soul no longer around, difficult it is to chase a mere body. Work and ennui, hence, only remain for me. [20]

My ideal writer —- who writes only that without which he cannot live, who does not speak at all, who prefers language over subject, who is ready to die over his every sentence, who constantly suspects his status, who is sombre but never worldly, who is always aware of death.  [21]

—-

The question may be raised —- even if it has been before: Why do you keep filling these notebooks? My answer would be — even if it has been given before: What should I do instead; what can I? This answer is rude and unsatisfactory. Also ambiguous. Also dishonest.

One reason is that it helps me to pass the time. Just as some other equally absurd occupations do. I can, if I like, call this whole process, my dedication to the word. Or my version of the raid on the inarticulate. I can degrade my absurdity with obvious allusions. My major reason, however, remains, that it helps me to pass the time. Or kill it. I know that time is neither passed nor killed.

I am irredeemable wordmonger. Which is another indication of my basic ordinariess. Paradoxically, also, my only medium of rising above it. Just as some people are fond of their private parts, which they take to be marvellous, or of caressing their private experiences, which they take to be singular, I am fond of fondling my private words.

The question may be raised: Do you really think it is necessary for every old exile to keep a record of his wrath and writing? My answer would be: Nothing, perhaps, is really necessary but, after a certain limit is reached or crossed, it helps to pretend that one’s addictions are necessary. [22]

Note the similarity among the above extracts from his diaries and a novel. He comes across as the Author-Monk at both instances, his writings metafiction-meditation, carrying an unflinching, unflappable and unassailable faith in the word, that the word alone can take him to salvation.
Linguistically, Barthes would stop us, the author is never more than the instance writing, just as I is nothing more than the instance saying I: language knows a ‘subject’ not a ‘person’.
Precisely here, accompanied by his stylistic struggle and existential endeavour, Vaid with his assertive personal presence can be read as the ‘subject’ of his works —- he eavesdrops on every word someone else says about him, he looks at himself, as it were, in all the mirrors of other people’s consciousness, he knows all the possible refractions of his image in those mirrors. [23]

Performing at the pinnacle of self-consciousness, Vaid who repeatedly asserts his presence and existence through his works, speaks through his words, whose writings ponder over and at times parody the writing process; by no hyper-stretch of literary imagination can such an Author be considered ‘dead’ or existing ‘not preceding his works’. He remains enshrined in his works, his narrator in his cave, seemingly still and motionless, only to become alive and animated as you approach him. Pouncing on you with a formidable force at first, like the Fasting Artist, but, soon calming down to narrate his adventures with art.

***********************

1. This piece also uses both ‘A’ and ‘a’ for the author — ‘A’ to denote Vaid, and ‘a’ as a common noun. This distinction, nevertheless, was not possible in Barthes — he did not build his case around a particular author, and was not expected to show reverence for this species either.
2. The impact of replacing ‘literary creation’ by ‘text’ can be a separate topic of enquiry, especially considering the growing use of the Barthean terminology by writers.
3. Images, Music and Text by Roland Barthes.
4. Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics by Mikhail Bakhtin.
5. The Kristeva Reader.
6. Bimal In Bog. (Novel)
7. Dard La Dava. (Novel)
8. The Tacit Dimension by Michael Polanyi
9. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein.
10. From Dying Alone (Novel). This extract is not in continuity, the sequence has been changed.
11. Philosophical Remarks by Ludwig Wittgenstein.
12. Dying Alone.
13. Dying Alone.
14. Bimal in Bog. This extract is not in continuity, the sequence has been changed.
15. Uske Bayan. (Diary). This extract is not in continuity, the sequence has been changed.
16. Shikast Ki Awaaj. (Prose pieces.)
17. Is D a mere fictional tool or an actual phenomenon which Vaid experiences day and night, and all his writings are an attempt to confront this overbearing entity? PB Shelly’s writings also suggest he had encountered his doppelganger.
18. Shikast Ki Awaaj.
19. Khwab Hai Deewane Ka. (Diary)
20. Sham’A Har Rang Mein. (Diary)
21. Khwab Hai Deewane Ka. (Diary)
22. From Dusra Na Koi. This extract is not in continuity, the sequence has been changed.
23. We gratefully use this expression from Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics, which originally referred to the Russian master.

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मृत्यु से दो साल पहले फ्रांत्स काफ्का की 1922 में प्रकाशित इस कहानी की कई व्याख्यायें हुईं हैं–मृत्यु आकांक्षा, एकाकी कलाकार, आध्यात्मिक शून्यता भी। चालीस दिन के उपवास की अधिकतम सीमा को मूसा, एलिजा और जीसस क्राइस्ट के इतनी ही अवधि के उपवास से जोड़ कर भी पढ़ा गया है। समूची बाइबिल में यह महज तीन ही अवसर हैं जब उपवास इतने दिन तक गया है। ये तो पता नहीं कि काफ्का के जेहन में यह संदर्भ था या नहीं लेकिन हाॅं उनका नायक चालीस दिन की सीमा से कहीं परे निकल जाना चाहता है। एक अमरीकी बौद्ध ने इस अनुवादक को यह भी बताया था कि यह कहानी बौद्ध धर्म की एक शाखा के मठों में रहते बौद्ध भिक्षुओं के ‘पाठ्यक्रम‘ में भी है। प्रौढ़ भिक्षु एक नवजात बौद्ध के समक्ष उपवासी कलाकार का पाठ करते हैं, उसे अपनी रूह में उतारने को प्रेरित करते हैं।
 

 

                             उपवासी कलाकार

उपवास कला में जनता की दिलचस्पी पिछले कुछ दशकों से काफी घटती जा रही है। पहले इस कला का बड़े स्तर पर सार्वजनिक प्रदर्शन हुआ करता था, इन दिनों यह बिल्कुल असंभव है। समय बदल गया है। उन दिनों पूरा शहर उपवासी कलाकार की कला में रुचि लेता था,दर्शकों की भीड़ उसके उपवास के पहले दिन से ही बढ़ने लगती थी, हर इंसान कलाकार को दिन में कम अस कम एक बार तो देखना चाहता ही था। उसके उपवास के अंतिम दिनों में लोग सीजन टिकिट लेकर सलाखों वाले उसके छोटे से पिंजरे के सामने दिन भर बैठे रहते थे। लोग रात में भी उसे देखने आया करते थे, जब लपटती मशाल की आंच में उसका पिंजरा चमका करता था।

अच्छे मौसम में उसका पिंजरा खुले मैदान में ले जाया जाता था,जहाॅं बच्चों के लिये उसका विशेष प्रदर्शन होता था। बड़ों के लिये जहाॅं वह एक जोकर, मसखरे से अधिक न था जिसे चूॅकि सभी देखने आते थे वे खुद भी आ जाते थे, वहीं बच्चे विस्मय से उसे देखते रहते थे। डरे-सहमे से बच्चे एक दूसरे का हाथ थामे, देखते रहते काले कपड़ों में लिपटी उस मरियल काया को,जिसके पेट की हड्डियाॅं डरावनी तरह से उभरी रहतीं थीं,जो भूसे के ढेर में धंसकर बैठे रहने के लिये कुर्सी तक को हटा दिया करता था। जब वह दर्शकों के प्रश्नों के जवाब देता उसके होंठों पर कसक भरी मुस्कान उभर आती और उसका सिर धीमे धीमे हिलता रहता। कभी कभी वह अपनी बाॅंहें सलाखों से निकाल बाहर फैला देता कि लोग महसूस कर सकें वह कितना पतला है।

लेकिन अक्सर वह अपने में सिमटा रहता था, किसी पर ध्यान नहीं देता। उस घड़ी पर भी नहीं जो पिंजरे में रखी अकेली वस्तु थी और उसके लिये बड़ी ही महत्वपूर्ण थी। बस अधखुली आॅंखों से सामने ताकता रहता,कभी कभार छोटे से गिलास से पानी का बस इतना घॅूंट लेता कि होंठ भीग सकें।

आते जाते दर्शकों के अलावा,वहाॅं जनता द्वारा नियुक्त संतरी भी तैनात रहते थे जो, दिलचस्प है कि, अक्सर पेशे से कसाई हुआ करते थे। उनकी तीन शिफ्ट में ड्यूटी हुआ करती थी और वे दिन-रात उपवासी कलाकार पर नजर रखते थे कि कहीं वह बेईमानी से चोर छुपा कर कुछ खा न ले। यद्यपि यह जनता को पुर्नआश्वस्त करने के लिये महज औपचारिकता ही थी। सभी जानते थे अपने उपवास के दौरान वह कलाकार किसी भी सूरत में, यहाॅं तक कि दवाब या धमकी में आकर भी कुछ नहीं खायेगा आखिर यह उसकी कला की गरिमा के विरुद्ध जो था।

हालाॅंकि सभी  संतरी इसे नहीं समझ पाते थे और कभी कभी रात की पाली में ढिलाई दे देते, सोचते कि उस कलाकार ने खाने की कोई चीज चोरी से जुगाड़ कर ली होगी। और जानबूझकर किसी कोने में सरक जाते,ताश खेलने लगते ताकि उपवासी कलाकार कुछ खा सके।
यह शक उपवासी कलाकार को भीतर से तोड़ देता था। उसके लिये इससे बड़ी प्रताड़ना और कुछ न थी। वे उसका जीवन नर्क बना देते थे, उसके लिये उपवास दुष्कर हो जाता था। कभी कभी वह रातों में अपनी कमजोरी भुला गाना शुरु कर देता, देर रात तक गाता रहता कि संतरियों को जता सके उनका शक कितना गलत था। लेकिन इसका कोई असर न पड़ता। वे उसकी मक्कारी की तारीफ करते कि वह गाना गाते हुये भी खाना खा सकता है।

इसलिये कलाकार को सलाखों के नजदीक बैठने वाले संतरी पसंद थे जो सभागृह की मद्धिम रोशनी अपर्याप्त मान, मैनेजर द्वारा दी हाई बीम टाॅर्च रात भर उस पर कौंधियाते रहते थे। तेज रोशनी से कलाकार को कोई फर्क नहीं पड़ता था। वह तो वैसे भी सो नहीं पाता था। रोशनी,भीड़,शोरगुल में जरा सा उॅंघ भर लेता था। ऐसे चैकीदारों के साथ वह पूरी रात जागने को हमेशा तैयार रहता। उन्हें चुटकुले और अपनी ढेर सारी यात्राओं के किस्से सुनाता और उनकी कहानियाॅं भी सुनता रहता। सिर्फ इसलिये कि वे जागते रहें और वह उनके सामने निरंतर यह साबित करता जाये कि उसके पिंजरे में खाने को कुछ भी नहीं है और जिस तरह वह कई दिनों तक भूखा रह सकता है वैसा कोई भी नहीं कर सकता।

उसके लिये सबसे अच्छा समय सुबह का होता था, जब उसके खर्चे पर मॅंहगा नाश्ता मंगाया जाता था जिस पर संतरी टूट कर पड़ते मानो रात भर की कड़ी मेहनत के बाद भूख से छटपटा रहे हांे। हांलांकि कुछ संतरी यह भी मानते थे कि इस नाश्ते के जरिये उपवासी कलाकार उन्हें फुसलाया करता था ताकि वे अपनी पाली में ढील दे दें और वह थोड़ा सा खा सके। परंतु यह बिलावजह का शक था। क्योंकि जब भी संतरियों से पूछा जाता कि अगर उनको नाश्ता नहीं मिले तो क्या वे रात की पाली में आना चाहेंगे तो वे काम तो तुरंत छोड़ चले जाते थे, लेकिन हाॅं, फिर भी संदेह करना नहीं छोड़ते थे।

दरअसल यह और ऐसे अन्य शक इस उपवास का अभिन्न अंग थे। किसी के बस में नहीं था उपवासी कलाकार पर चैबीस घंटे नजर रख सके। सही मायनों में कलाकार के अलावा कोई पक्के तौर पर नहीं जान सकता था कि उसका उपवास अनवरत व अक्षुण्ण रहा आया है या नहीं और इसलिये सिर्फ वह ही अपने उपवास का एकमात्र साक्षी था, सिर्फ वह ही उपवास की गरिमा से संतुष्ट या असंतुष्ट हो सकता था।

लेकिन एक वजह से कलाकार कभी भी संतुष्ट नहीं हो पाता था–वह इतना मरियल हो गया था कि बहुत से लोग उसकी डरावनी काया को देखने तक में सहम जाते थे और उसकी कला के प्रदर्शन को देखने नहीं आ पाते थे। लेकिन यह भी हो सकता था कि वह इतना मरगिल्ला अपने भूखे रहे आने की वजह से नहीं हुआ हो कि उसकी इस हालत की वजह अपने आप से घनघोर असंतुष्टि रही हो। क्योंकि सिर्फ उसे ही पता था, उसके करीबी लोग तक नहीं जानते थे, उसके लिये उपवास कितना आसान था। यह उसके लिये दुनिया का सबसे आसान काम था। वह इसके बारे में लोगों को बताता भी था लेकिन वे उस पर भरोसा नहीं करते थे। उसके दावे को कभी-कभी उसकी विनम्रता और अक्सर सस्ती लोकप्रियता बटोरने का जरिया बताया करते थे। कुछ लोग उसे बेईमान भी कहा करते थे जिसके लिये उपवास बहुत आसान इसलिये था क्योंकि उसने इसका एक आसान तरीका चुपके से खोज निकाला था लेकिन इसके बावजूद इसे आसान कहने की टुच्ची हिमाकत करता था।

यह सब उसे सहना पड़ता था। असल में वह इन कटाक्षों का आदी हो गया था। लेकिन कहीं भीतर निराशा का कीड़ा उसकी रूह को कुलबुलाता रहता था। उपवास पूरा होने के बाद अपना पिंजरा उसने एक भी बार स्वेच्छा से नहीं छोड़ा था। मैनेजर ने उपवास के लिये चालीस दिनों का अधिकतम समय तय कर रखा था और उपवास को कभी भी उसके आगे नहीं जाने देता था। बड़े शहरों तक में नहीं। उसने अनुभव से यह जान लिया था कि विज्ञापन दे देकर अधिकाधिक चालीस दिनों ही तक उपवास कला में दर्शकों की दिलचस्पी जगाई जा सकती थी; उसके बाद लोकप्रियता गिरने लगती थी, दर्शकों की भीड़ कम होने लगती थी। किसी-किसी शहर या देश में कुछ मामूली अंतर हो सकता था लेकिन चालीस दिन अमूमन अधिकतम समय सीमा मानी जाती थी। और चालीसवें दिन, जब उत्साही दर्शक मैदान में इकठ्ा होने लगते थे, पिंजरे को घेर लेते थे,सेना का बैंड बजाया जाता। फूलमालाओं से लदे पिंजरे को खोला जाता। दो डाॅक्टर उपवासी कलाकार का परीक्षण करने अंदर जाते। लाउडस्पीकर पर दर्शकों को परिणाम घोषित किया जाता और दो संुदर लड़कियाॅं कलाकार को सहारा देकर पिंजरे से बाहर लातीं, सीढ़ियों से नीचे उतारतीं, नजदीक सजी खाने की मेज तक ले जातीं, जिस पर आहार के कड़े नियमानुसार खाने की चीजें सजी रहती थीं।

ठीक इसी बिंदु पर, कलाकार हमेशा प्रतिवाद किया करता था। जैसे ही लड़कियाॅं उसकी ओर आतीं, वह अपनी सूखी बाॅंहें लड़कियों के सहायता को फैले हाथों में तो दे देता लेकिन खड़े होने से इंकार कर देता–आखिर चालीस दिन बाद अब क्यों रोकते हो?
आखिर जब वह और अधिक समय तक उपवास किये जा सकता था–अनंत तक; तब अभी से ही उसे क्यों रोका जा रहा है जब वह अपना सर्वश्रेष्ठ प्रदर्शन कर ही रहा है? नहीं नहीं, सर्वश्रेष्ठ पर तो अभी वह पहॅंुचा नहीं है–वे उसे और अधिक दिनों तक भूखा रहे आने की गरिमा से क्यों वंचित करना चाहते हैं? सर्वकालिक महानतम उपवासी कलाकार होना भर नहीं, यह महिमा तो वह संभवतः हासिल कर ही चुका था; वह तो अपने ही द्वारा रचे प्रतिमानों को पार कर अनछुई उॅंचाईयों तक पहुॅंचना चाहता था क्योंकि उसका दृढ़ विश्वास था कि उसमें भूखा रहे आने की अप्रतिम क्षमता है।
ये दर्शक जो उसकी इतनी प्रशंसा करते थे, उसके कर्म को ले इतने अधीर क्यों थे? अगर वह उपवास किये जा सकता था तो वे इसके लिये तैयार क्यों नहीं थे?
और इसलिये वह थका-थका सा भी महसूस करता था। पिंजरे के भूसे में बैठे रहना उसके लिये कहीं आरामदायक था जबकि दर्शक अपेक्षा करते थे कि वह जैसे तैसे उठ कर आये और खाना खा ले। खाना — जिसके ख्याल भर ही से उसे मितली आने लगतीं थीं और वह अपनी घबराहट उन लड़कियों के वहाॅं होने की वजह से जैसे तैसे रोक भर पाता था। वह उन लड़कियों की आॅंखों में देखता जो भले ही करूणामयी सी लगती थीं लेकिन असलियत में निरी बेरहम थीं। वह अपनी सूकड़ी गरदन पर जैसे-तैसे अटकी भारी सी खोपड़ी सहमति की सी मुद्रा में हिला देता।

हर बार यही होता था। मैनेजर आता, बैंड के शोर में आवाज सुनाई नहीं पड़ती थीं, वह चुपचाप अपनी बांहें उपवासी कलाकार की ओर बढ़ा देता मानो देवताओं का आह्वान कर रहा हो कि वे भूसे के ढेर में सिकुड़ी बैठी अपनी इस निर्मिति को देखें..एक दयनीय शहीद…….शायद वह कलाकार कहीं न कहीं एक हुतात्मा ही था।
मैनेजर उपवासी कलाकार की सुखचिल्ली कमर बड़े अचकते हुये पकड़ता ताकि लोगों को उस जंतु का मरगिल्लापन जता सके। फिर उसे हल्का सा झिंझोड़ता, उसकी टाॅंगें और धड़ हाउबिलाउ से झूल जाते और मैनेजर उसकी काया लकड़ियों को पकड़ा देता जो अब तक मारे डर के पीली पड़ चुकी होतीं थीं।
उपवासी कलाकार चुपचाप यह सहता रहता था। उसका चेहरा छाती पर ढह आता,मानो लुढ़कता हुआ खुद ही बेवजह वहाॅं आ थम गया हो। उसकी खोखली देह किसी बड़े सा गढ़हे का भ्रम कराती थी। उसकी टाॅंगें आत्मरक्षा की सी मुद्रा में पेट में सिकुड़ जातीं, यहाॅं वहाॅं ढुलकती भी रहतीं, अपनी असली जगह ढूॅंढ़ रहीं हों शायद। और वह अपने पूरे वजन के साथ, जो भले ही बहुत अधिक नहीं था, उस लड़की पर ढह जाता। लड़की की सांसें अटकने लगतीं थीं, वह मदद के लिये चिल्लाने को हो आती, उसने नहीं ही सोचा था कि उसे यह सब भी करना पड़ेगा। जितना हो सके वह अपनी गरदन पीछे हटाने की कोशिश करती ताकि उसका चेहरा उपवासी कलाकार से न छुल पाये, लेकिन इसमें असफल रहती और यह देखकर कि दूसरी लड़की को यह नहीं झेलना पड़ा है वह तो दूर से ही हड्डियों के ढेरी से उपवासी कलाकार का हाथ जैसे तैसे पकड़े खड़ी रही आयी है,पहली लड़की आॅसुओं में फूट पड़ती, वहाॅं तैनात एक मुस्तैद प्रहरी को उसे संभालना पड़ता। उसकी हालत देख दर्शक ठहाका मार कर हॅंस पड़ते।

इसके बाद खाने का समय होता था। मैनेजर बूॅंद भर खाना लगभग बेहोश हो चुके कलाकार को चम्मच से खिलाता, दर्शकों से बातें भी करता रहता ताकि किसी का ध्यान उपवासी कलाकार की बिगड़ती हालत पर न जाये। इसके बाद दर्शकों के लिये शैंपेन भी खोली जाती, जिसके लिये शायद उपवासी कलाकार ने ही मैनेजर को फुसफुसाते हुये कहा था। इस दौरान बजता बैंड हर लम्हे को पूरी मुस्तैदी से संगीत की धुनों में पिरोता जाता। फिर सभी वापस लौट लेते, इस प्रदर्शन को ले किसी के भी पास असंतुष्ट होने की कोई वजह न था,किसी के पास भी नहीं।
सिवाय उपवासी कलाकार के।

वह वर्षों से इसी तरह रहता आया था। बीच बीच में थोड़ा बहुत विश्राम और एक विलक्षण सफलता जिसके आगे सभी सर झुकाते थे। लेकिन इसके बावजूद वह अक्सर अंधियारी निराशा में डूबा रहता, जो और अधिक स्याह हो जाती जब लोग उसकी पीड़ा को जरा भी तवज्जो नहीं देते थे। कोई आखिर कैसे उसे खुश कर सकता था? वह आखिर और क्या चाहता था? जब कोई संवेदनशील व्यक्ति उस पर तरस खाकर उसे समझाने की कोशिश करता कि उसकी उदासी दरअसल उसके भूखे रहे आने की वजह से ही उपजती है,तो कभी कभी, खासकर उपवास की चरमावस्था में, वह कलाकार फुफकारता हुआ आगे बढ़ आता,पिंजरे की सलाखें किसी हिंसक जानवर की तरह खड़खड़ाने लगता, दर्शक सहम जाते।
इस तरह के जंगली और असभ्य व्यवहार पर मैनेजर ने एक खास सजा तय कर रखी थी,जिसे लागू करने से वह जरा भी नहीं हिचकता था। वह उपवासी कलाकार की ओर से दर्शकों से माफी माॅंगता कि उसका यह जंगलीपना लंबे समय तक भूखा रहे आने का परिणाम है जो किसी पेट भरे संतुष्ट इंसान को भले ही समझ नहीं आये लेकिन इसके लिये उन्हें कलाकार को माफ कर देना चाहिये। फिर मैनेजर कलाकार के दावे को भी बताता कि वह कई दिनों तक भूखा रहा आ सकता है और उसकी उच्च आकांक्षा, महान इरादों व उस दावे में अंतर्निहित आत्मतर्पण की भी तारीफ करता। लेकिन इसके बाद वह कुछ तस्वीरें भी दिखाकर बड़ी सहजता से उस दावे को झुठला भी देता। यह तस्वीरें नजदीक ही बिक्री के लिये रखी होतीं थीं जिनमें वह कलाकार उपवास के चालीसवें दिन भूख के मारे बिस्तर पर ढेर, लगभग मुर्दा पड़ा होता था।

भले ही सच्चाई को यों विकृत कर दिखाया जाना कलाकार के लिये नयी बात नहीं थी लेकिन फिर भी वह हर बार इससे झुंझला उठता था –जो उसके उपवास को असमय खत्म कर दिये जाने का प्रभाव था उसे कारण की तरह बताया जा रहा था! इस तरह की मक्कारी से नहीं ही निपटा जा सकता था, यह उसकी रूह को लहूलुहान छोड़ जाती थी। वह पिंजरे की सलाखें पकड़े गौर से सुनता रहता था कि मैनेजर क्या कह रहा था लेकिन जैसे ही तस्वीरों को दिखाया जाता उसकी पकड़ ढीली पड़ती जाती और वह एक गहरी आह भर भूसे के ढेर में ढह जाता। दर्शक आगे बढ़ उसकी ढह चुकी काया देखते, मैनेजर की बात पर उनका यकीन पुख्ता हो जाता।

इन घटनाओं के गवाह कुछेक साल बाद जब मुड़कर उन दृश्यों को याद करने पर चैंक जाने वाले थे। क्योंकि अचानक से बहुत बड़ा परिवर्तन आ गया था। यह लगभग रातों रात हुआ था। इसकी कई वजह हो सकतीं थीं लेकिन उन्हें जानने में किसी की कोई दिलचस्पी न थी। अब तक आकर्षण और प्रशंसा का केंद्र बने रहे उपवासी कलाकार ने सहसा पाया था कि वे दर्शक जो उसके करतब देखने उमड़ आया करते थे सहसा दूसरी चीजों की ओर मुड़ने लगे थे। उसका मैनेजर उसे ले यूरोप का चक्कर लगा आया था कि उपवास कला में दर्शकों की दिलचस्पी अभी भी है या नहीं। लेकिन इससे कुछ न हुआ था। उपवास कला के प्रति उब और अरुचि एक झटके से पूरे में फैलती गयी थी मानो सभी दर्शकों ने आपस में तय करके यह फैसला किया हो।

लेकिन फिर यह भी सही है कि यह एकदम ही अप्रत्याशित न था। पिछले दिनों को अगर याद किया जाये तो कई सारे ऐसे लक्षण दिखने लगे थे जिन्हें उपवासी कलाकार की सफलता के जुनून में अनदेखा किया जाता रहा था और इसीलिये उनसे निबटने के लिये कुछ नहीं किया गया था। लेकिन अब बहुत देर हो चुकी थी। सही था कि अन्य चीजों की तरह उपवास कला भी एक न एक दिन फिर से प्रचलन में आ ही जाती, लेकिन यह ख्याल उपवासी कलाकार को कोई सांत्वना नहीं देता था। और फिर तब तक वह आखिर क्या करता? वह इंसान जिसकी कला को हजारों दर्शकों ने सराहा हो, गाॅंव देहात के छोटे मेलों में आखिर कैसे छुटकल्ले करतब दिखाता ? और फिर जहाॅं तक कोई दूसरा कर्म अपनाने का प्रश्न था न सिर्फ उस कलाकार की उम्र अधिक हो चुकी थी बल्कि उपवास कर्म के लिये उसमें उन्मादी प्रतिबद्धता भी थी। और इसलिये उसने अपने तत्कालीन मैनेजेर और कंपनी को छोड़ कर एक बड़े सर्कस से अनुबंध कर लिया और नया काम मिलने की जल्दबाजी में अनुबंध की शर्तें तक नहीं पढ़ीं।  

एक बड़े से सर्कस में जहाॅं ढेर सारे कलाकार, जानवर व उपकरण हों, तरह-तरह के प्रदर्शन होते रहते हों, वहाॅं किसी को कभी भी, उपवासी कलाकार को भी, जिसकी तो जरूरतें वैसे भी बहुत अधिक न थीं, काम मिल सकता था। और फिर यहाॅं तो यह भी था कि कलाकार ही नहीं उसकी लंबी ख्याति भी सर्कस के साथ जुड़ रही थी। वैसे यह उसकी कला की विशेषता ही थी कि फनकार की क्षमता उम्र के साथ घटती नहीं थी। कोई नहीं कह सकता था कि वह अपने अच्छे दिनों को पीछे छोड़ आया एक सेवानिवृत्त कलाकार है जो किसी सर्कस के एक बेगार से काम में शरण ले रहा है। सच ये था कि उपवासी कलाकार ने घोषणा कर दी थी–और कोई उस पर अविश्वास कर ही नहीं सकता था–कि वह पहले की ही तरह उपवास कर रहा है। उसने यह दावा भी कर दिया था कि अगर उसे अपनी इच्छानुसार काम करने दिया जाये–और सबने बेहिचक यह वायदा भी कर दिया था–तो एक दिन आयेगा जब वह दुनिया को अपनी विलक्षण कला दिखला हतप्रभ कर देगा। हाॅं अपने उत्साह में वह यह अनदेखा कर देता था कि उस समय के मिजाज को देखते हुये उसकी इन बातों पर पर विशेषज्ञ महज मुस्कुरा कर रह जाते थे।

परंतु भीतर ही कहीं उपवासी कलाकर भी यह समझता था कि उसे और उसके करतब को सर्कस में बहुत थोड़ी ही जगह मिली थी। भले ही उसके पिंजरे के चारों ओर उपवास की घोषणा वाले बड़े-बड़े साइनबोर्ड लगा दिये गये थे, लेकिन बजाय रिंग के बीच में रखने के पिंजरे को अस्तबल के नजदीक टिका दिया गया था।
मध्यांतर के दौरान दर्शक जब सर्कस से बाहर निकल जानवरों को देखने अस्तबल की ओर आते तो अक्सर ही पिंजरे के करीब से गुजरते हुये ठिठक जाते। अगर वह रस्ता संकरा नहीं होता तो वे शायद कुछ देर और वहीं ठहर कर कलाकार को देखते रह सकते थे। लेकिन पीछे से आती भीड़ को वहाॅं खड़े रहने में कोई दिलचस्पी न थी, वह जल्दी से रिंग तक पहुॅंचना चाहती थी, वहाॅं खड़े लोगों को हटाने के लिये धक्कामुक्की करती, दर्शकों को आगे बढ़ना पड़ता और वे कलाकार को देर तक, निगाह भर नहीं देख पाते थे।

इसीलिये अगर वह कलाकार एक ओर दर्शकों का बड़ी बेसब्री से इंतजार किया करता था क्योंकि उनकी उपस्थिति आखिर उसके अस्तित्व को अर्थ दे पाती थी तो वहीं वह उन्हें देखकर सहम भी जाता था। शुरुआत में वह बड़ी बेकरारी से मध्यांतर का इंतजार करता था, बढ़ती आती भीड़ को
देख उत्साहित हो जाया करता था लेकिन बहुत जल्दी ही वह निराशा में डूबने लगा था। वह भले ही अपने को एक जिद्दी छलावे में रखे था लेकिन अनुभव ने जल्दी ही उसे सिखा दिया था कि भीड़ के लिये वह महज अस्तबल तक आने वाला एक रास्ता भर था और इसलिये वे लोग उसे तभी तक सुहाते थे जब वे उसे दूर से दिखायी देते थे। जैसे ही वे नजदीक आते, उसके कान बनती-बिखरती भीड़ के दो समूहों से आती चीख पुकार और फटकार से फट पड़ते थे। वे जो सिर्फ अस्तबल में कैद जानवरों को ही देखने के लिये वहाॅं आते थे और दूसरे वे जो उसे ठहर कर तो देखते लेकिन उनकी निगाहों में उसके कर्म के प्रति लगाव के बजाय उचटती हुई क्रूरता और ठंडी सनक होती– जाहिरी तौर पर ये उसे कहीं अधिक अपमानित छोड़ जाते थे।
भीड़ के छंट जाने के बाद पीछे रह गये कुछेक लोग आते थे और हाॅलांकि उन्हें वहाॅ देर तक खड़े रहने से कोई रोकता न था लेकिन वे बगल में रखे पिंजरे की ओर झांके बिना तेजी से निकलते जाते थे ताकि जानवरों को देख सकें। हाॅं, ऐसा कभी-कभार ही होता था जब कोई व्यक्ति, मसलन एक पिता अपने बच्चों के साथ वहाॅं से निकलते में उपवासी कलाकार की ओर इंगित करता, विस्तार से समझाता कि आखिर यह होता क्या है और ऐसे लेकिन इससे कहीं उत्कृष्ट प्रदर्शनों के बारे में बताता जो उसने कई साल पहले देखे थे। नादान, मासूम बच्चे देर तक खड़े रहते, समझने की कोशिश करते कि आखिर उपवास कला होती क्या है। और तभी उनकी प्रश्नाकुल निगाहों के सामने आने वाले बेहतर समय की एक
झलक कौंध जाती–क्या उपवास कला का सुनहरा भविष्य फिर से लौटने वाला था?

शायद यह सच था। उपवासी कलाकार कभी कभी अपने से कहा करता था कि चीजें कहीं बेहतर होतीं, अगर उसका पिंजरा अस्तबल के इतना नजदीक न होता तो शायद वह दर्शकों की उपेक्षा न झेलता होता। अस्तबल से आती चिर्रांध, रात भर गुर्राते जानवर, उनके लिये ले जाये जाते कच्चे मांस के लोथड़े और खाना डकारते समय की चिंघाड– ये सारी चीजें खुद कलाकार के लिये असहनीय हुआ करती थीं, उसे रत्ती भर भी चैन से नहीं रहने देतीं थीं। लेकिन इसके बावजूद वह सर्कस के मालिक से शिकायत करने की हिम्मत नहीं कर पाता था। क्योंकि आखिर इन जानवरों की वजह से ही तो इतने सारे दर्शक वहाॅं से गुजर पाते थे कि हो सकता था इन्हीं में से कोई सिर्फ उसे देखने के लिये वहाॅं आया होता। फिर यह भी तय नहीं था कि अगर वह मैनेजर को अपनी स्थिति के बारे में बताता तो न जाने उसे किस भूले-अंधेरे कोने में पटक दिया जाता। आखिर में वह अस्तबल के रास्ते में पड़ी एक अड़चन से अधिक न था।

एक गैर-जरूरी बाधा जो समय के साथ और भी क्षुद्र व अनुल्लेखनीय होती जा रही थी। लोग किसी उपवासी कलाकार जैसी चीज के दावों के आदी होते गये थे और इसी के साथ उसकी नियति तय होती जा रही थी। भले ही वह उपवास किये जा सकता था–आखिर सिर्फ वही तो इस कला में निपुण था– लेकिन अब उसे कोई बचा नहीं सकता था। लोग उसे अनदेखा करते निकलते जाते थे। आप चाहे कितना ही किसी को उपवास कला समझाने की कोशिश कीजिये, लेकिन जब तक उसने इसे महसूस न किया हो वह इसे समझ नहीं सकता था। साइनबोर्ड, जो कभी चमकते रहा करते थे, गंदले हो चले थे, उनके अक्षर पढ़े नहीं जाते थे, चिटखने भी लगे थे लेकिन किसी ने उन्हें बदलने की नहीं सोची थी। वह छोटी तख्ती जिस पर उपवास के दिनों का हिसाब रखा जाता था, जिस पर शुरुआत में बड़ी ही मेहनत से तारीखें बदली जातीं थीं, एक लंबे अर्से से अब वही पुराने आंकड़े दिखा रही थी क्योंकि कुछ ही हफ्तों बाद यह छोटा सा काम भी कर्मचारियों के लिये एक इल्लत बन गया था। और इसलिये भले ही अपनी पगलाई आकांक्षा का पीछा करते-करते वह कलाकार भूखा रहे जाता था और बड़ी आसानी से उपवास की अनछुई उॅंचाईयों को हासिल भी किये जा रहा था जिनका उसने कभी दावा किया था, लेकिन चूॅंकि कोई उपवास के दिनों को नहीं ही गिन रहा था इसलिये कोई भी, खुद उपवासी कलाकार भी नहीं, उसकी उपलब्धियों को नहीं समझ पाता था। इसी वजह से उसका दिल डूबता जाता था।
जब कभी कोई गुजरता इंसान पिंजरे के सामने ठिठक जाता, उस कृशकाय जीव का मजाक उड़ाता और उस पर बेइमानी का आरोप भी लगाता तो इससे बड़ा बेहूदा झूठ कुछ नहीं हो सकता था जो घनघोर उपेक्षा और दुर्भाव से ही उपज सकता था क्योंकि धोखा उपवासी कलाकार ने नहीं किया था वह तो पूरी निष्ठा से अपना कर्म कर रहा था, वो तो इस दुनिया ने फरेब से उससे उसकी गरिमा छीन ली थी।

कई दिन बीतते गये और एक दिन अंत भी आ ही गया। एक दिन मैनेजर ने उस पिंजरे को वहाॅं देख कर्मचारियों से पूछा कि इतना अच्छा पिंजरा आखिर क्यों भूसे से भरा, बेकार पड़ा है। लेकिन कोई भी इसका जवाब नहीं दे पाया और तब एक कर्मचारी की निगाह दिनों का हिसाब रखती उस तख्ती पर पड़ी थी और उसकी स्मृति अचानक कुलबुला पड़ी। उन्होंने डंडियों से भूसे को उल्टा पल्टा जिसके नीचे उपवासी कलाकार दबा पड़ा था। 
‘तुम अभी भी उपवास रखे हो भाई?‘ मैनेजर ने पूछा,‘ क्या तुम अपना ये करतब कभी खत्म नहीं करोगे?‘
‘कृपया..मुझे माफ कर दीजिये।‘ कलाकार उन सभी को संबोधित कर फुसफुसाया हाॅंलाॅंकि सिर्फ पहरेदार ही, जिसके कान सलाखों से सटे थे, इसे सुन पाया। ‘जरूर।‘ मैनेजर ने एक उंगली अपनी कनपटी पर रख कहा मानो अपने साथियों को यह इशारा कर रहा हो कि उपवासी कलाकार किस मनोस्थिति में जी रहा था। ‘विश्वास मानो हमने तुम्हें माफ कर दिया है।‘ ‘मैं सिर्फ इतना चाहता था कि आप लोग मेरे उपवास की प्रशंसा करें।‘ कलाकार बोला। ‘वो तो हम करते ही हैं।‘ मैनेजर ने विनम्रता से कहा। ‘लेकिन आपको इसकी तारीफ नहीं करनी चाहिये।‘ उपवासी कलाकार ने कहा। ‘अच्छा..चलो ठीक है, नहीं करते हम तारीफ,‘ मैनेजर बोला,‘ लेकिन क्यों नहीं करनी चाहिये हमें तारीफ?‘ ‘क्योंकि मुझे तो उपवास करना ही है, मैं इसके बगैर नहीं रह सकता।‘ उपवासी कलाकार बोला। ‘तुम्हारी बकवास मुझे समझ नहीं आ रही है,‘मैनेजर ने कहा,‘ तुम भूखे रहे बगैर क्यों नहीं रह सकते?‘
‘क्योंकि….,‘ उपवासी कलाकार ने बोलना शुरु किया। सिर को थोड़ा सा उठाया, उसके होंठ मानो चूमने की मुद्रा मे भिंच गये थे और वह मैनेजर के कान में धीमे से फुसफुसाया कि कहीं कोई शब्द हवा मे खो न जाये,‘…क्योंकि मुझे कभी भी अपनी पंसद का भोजन नहीं मिल पाया, विश्वास मानिये अगर मुझ वह मिल जाता तो मैं कभी भी ये झमेला खड़ा नहीं करता और आप सबकी तरह अपना पेट भर लिया करता।‘
यह उसके अंतिम शब्द थे और उसकी छितरायी निगाहों में अभिमान की चमक न सही यह दृढ़ विश्वास अभी भी शेष था कि वह अभी भी उपवास किये जा रहा था।
‘खेल खत्म। चलो ये कूड़ा साफ कर दो।‘ मैनेजर बोला और सभी ने उपवासी कलाकार को उस भूसे के साथ ही दफना दिया। उस पिंजरे में अब एक मांसल तेंदुआ रख दिया गया था। किसी निरे भावशून्य इंसान के लिये भी यह बड़ी ही राहत की बात थी कि उस पिंजरे में जो कुछ समय पहले तक एकदम निर्जीव सा पड़ा था, अब एक दुर्दम्य जानवर दहाड़ता था। इस जानवर के पास सबकुछ था। कर्मचारी उसकी पसंद का खाना उसे तुरंत दे दिया करते थे। और ऐसा भी नहीं लगता था कि उसकी आजादी छीनी जा चुकी थी। लगता था उसकी उन्मुक्त, मांसल देह जो उफन-उफन कर बिखर रही थी, अपनी आजादी अपने साथ, शायद अपने खंूखार जबड़ों में लिये घूम रही थी। धड़कते जिंदा यौवन के इस उल्लास का जुनून उस नरभक्षी की फुंकार से ऐसे अंगारे बरसा देता था कि दर्शकों को उसके सामने खड़े रहने में डर लगा करता था। लेकिन फिर भी वे हिम्मत कर, पिंजरे के चारों ओर सिमट आते थे और एक बार वहाॅं आकर फिर हटते नहीं थे।

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

कृति व पाठक एक अनिवार्य द्वंद्व में विन्यस्त होते हैं। अगर अपने पाठकीय अहम् से संचालित होता पाठक कृति को वह अवकाश नहीं देना चाहता कि वह उसे परास्त कर सके तो रचना इस घात में निरंतर रहती है कि पाठक को अपने शब्द-पाश में फांस उसे पस्त कर दे। कम ही पाठक खुद को रचना के सम्मुख समर्पण कर देना चाहता है। गीत चतुर्वेदी की उभयचर ऐसी ही कृति है। अपनी निरीहता छुपाने को  प्रयासरत इसके आख्यायक-नायक का समस्त क्षुद्रताओं के मध्य अपनी गरिमा सहेजे ले जाने का संघर्ष आपको विनम्र बनाता है।
हमारे सामूहिक मिथकों की प्रतिनिधि यह कविता आख्यायक को कविता में स्थापित करती है, हमारी ढहती कायनात के विरुद्ध आ ठहरी एक ईमानदार पुकार की मानिंद पाठक की रूह पर निनादित होती है।

 A journey through Ubayachar, especially in sultry summer nights, constitutes an epic experience of a battered and bruised soldier who has stranded into the enemy territory, and now tries to crawl his way out. Underneath the ground lies a maze of minefields, a slight step (mis) and he will be blown over. Word after word, line after line, the reader-soldier comes across landmines — a script waiting to be exploded. As he attempts to creep to safety amid the swooning darkness, suddenly he finds that he has stepped onto a mine and if he now moves ahead, it’s all over.
No Man’s Land.

How he negotiates this alien territory from now onwards forms an amazingly adventurous experience for which he cannot but express gratitude for the colonel who laid this labyrinthine network of mines — Geet Chaturvedi.
A trapped soldier expressing gratitude to his enemy? He will. For this is a text quintessentially for the reader, which, since it leaves you in such a treacherous terrain with little space to move and maneuver, inspires and intimidates you, teases and threatens you, pushes and provokes you to plod your way out.
On surface, it is a fable narrated in twenty-seven episodes by an unnamed, unidentified narrator — an amphibian. Scratch the surface, it yearns to be an epic. But aren’t we told by Dryden that an epic is the greatest feat human soul is capable of achieving? Can an epic be narrated by such a petty hero like an amphibian?

Geet subverts many comfortably-placed propositions, discards ensconced hypotheses, as he announces that the hero of our time, can, at best, be an amphibian. (Whether he is able to make a major rupture and mark a departure from the literary standards, especially those of an epic, we shall explore elsewhere, being unable to do so due to limited space here. We shall then also deliberate over its narrative and the efficacy of a maze of references — what does Geet achieve or lose by loading his text with references that may not have any apparent relation with the text? The occasion will also be of discovering inherent and ingrained inconsistencies, if any, concealed under these references.)
So who is this hero whose honest intensity and intense honesty make you restless and how he develops in the narrative?
In the third episode, the narrator suggests he eats potatoes containing DNA of lobsters, an amphibian. (Why only potatoes, the staple vegetable of poor in India?)
In the tenth episode, a hint that he lives both in water and on land. In the twenty-third episode, you realize his absolute dependence on the authorities to validate his existence — Vah apni prajati ka pehla tha jiski vyapak utpatti ke liye sarkaar ki manjuri darkaar thi.
And finally in the last, you learn that he was born during an unusually tumultuous period of Indian politics — 1975-1977 — as he sums up by questioning his own nervous existence — hamara garbhadhan ek baar-baar duhrayi bhul ke tehat hua tha ya ek suniyojit uttejak rajnetik virodh ke karan?

Linking the moment of birth with politics. Some Kundera here? In a masterstroke accompanied by acute political understanding, Geet becomes the advocate of an entire generation, which was able to take birth despite repeated attempts of the authorities to force their parents for vasectomy. Taking birth during the Emergency, this generation faced the fate worst than foeticide — even its foetus was not allowed to form. The sperm of their father was not allowed to travel to their mother’s womb. Still they, courtesy their defiant parents,  tiptoed into the universe. They were not privileged like ‘normal’ children to have their births announced and celebrated. Operating under fear and secrecy, their delivery was effected in dark cellar by a midwife trembling with trepidation, the umbilical cord was removed with a rusted blade, the news of their birth was suppressed —- not to speak of their turbulent upbringing.

Could such a child have assumed any form except that of an Ubhaychar, Geet seems to ask.

Also compare the uncanny, though a bit different, similarity of this narrator’s misgivings about his birth with Tristram Shandy. “I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing… Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly — I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that in which the reader is likely to see me.”
As Geet transcends history, geography and takes his narrative back and forth from the Biblical Original Sin to the ‘constipation of globalization’, he creates a hero, like Tristram Shandy, who reveals himself not through what he is but what’s his take about life.

With the advent of novel and shorter fiction, we almost lost the hero of poetry. A poem, critics told us, should be read and evaluated for its texture, composition, emotion and layers. There may be an occasional discourse on the hero of a Ram Ki Shakti Pooja or an Asadhya Veena, but over the last hundred years rarely you will find a text dedicated to the hero of a poem. Bizarre? After all, each expression presupposes a narrator, and without comprehending his stance, manners and gestures one is least likely to locate the text. Such has been the intimidation of prose fiction, which of course gives lot more space to its narrator to develop and delve, that it was ignored that a poem, too, has a narrator.

Geet retrieves and relocates this lost hero, who is able to see himself in the blinding light of clarity and establish his frailties to the minutest of the tissue.
The narrator of Ubhayachar, in his multi-layered complexities, matches that of a novel. So you get a hero, suffering from split personality, perceptive but incapacitated to take decisions, keen to comprehend the life but ever seen grappling with its incomprehensible maze. Such is the baffling narrative, a formidable strength of the text, that you are left groping for clues who this unnamed hero could be?

Memory is among the major themes of the text. A recurring motif, it develops in many episodes through different instances….
Apmaan jo jhele the unko bhul jane ka sankoch nasht hua
Ek din men bhul jaonga kyuki yahi meri prakriti hai
Bhulna hi sabse prakritik kriya hai yaad rakhne ko kitne kartab karne padte hain
Smriti ka ek khand is kaam ke liye surakshit ki dhire-dhire sab kuch bhul jana hai

Geet meditates as he writes and like a hammer on the nail, he repeatedly hits against our consciousness, jostling our memories.

Each episode is a meditation on an aspect of life — love, death, forgetting, women, tradition, politics — and together they form a collage, a narrative whose beads, uncover the surface, are woven into a series. In some episodes this narrator is coherent, in other switches over to gibberish.

Some of his utterances do appear political prattle and clumsy crackle, and the author could well have trimmed those, but not for a moment he fails to question, unrelentingly. Observe, unfailingly. This inquisitive eye of the narrator, indeed, rescues this inordinately ambitious and audacious text from crumbling at some instances. An oblique observation, a nuanced opinion, peppered through the text hold its fort in troubled waters.

 

A fascination towards the episodic narrative, visible in Geet’s fiction too, shows the understanding of the poet that his fractured and fragmented time can be comprehended and captured only through episodes in which each tissue, despite having an apparent independent existence, is a part of larger organic system, over which it does not have any control.

The realization of his insignificance makes him equate himself, in a remarkable metaphor, with a hesitant cello, which doesn’t let its echoes spread across. At times he attempts to be an inhabitant of all islands to end the loneliness pervading his being and those of the islands.

Never afraid of taking stances and stands, this narrator is burdened with history, aware of his political responsibilities, yearns to locate the rightful place of art in the world and believes that by writing we decimate our petty grievances and knows the methods to overcome the regret of forgetting our humiliations. If his unusually formidable propositions intimidates you with the wisdom contained, his vulnerability and frailties in love leaves you with a subtle tinge of sadness. Never, however, he seeks sympathy.

Still, he doesn’t suggest to what extent he is involved in the ‘battle’, and comes across, at best, as a Milan Kunderian narrator who, with due regard to Francois Ricard, has sidestepped from the battlefield, and cannot be persuaded to take the guard.
Was it a tactical error by Geet? Could he have taken his hero at least a few notches up by making him ‘directly participate’ instead of mere indulging in ponderings?
No.

For, then the text would have lost its claim over representing an Ubhayachar — a creature who has lived the best and the worst of both the worlds but has been maimed to take to the weapon. Remember Babruvahan? The mythical hero of Mahabharta, who had come to take part in the battle but was beheaded by Krishna — condemned to see the battle in its blinding glaze but incapaciated to act.
Representing our collective myths, Ubhayachar is the unknown fear of our soul, an unidentified tear of eyes, a smile waiting to explode on lips, a love lost in childhood, a grandmother died long ago, a memory struggling against time, an honest expression perched against the crumbling universe.

As mentioned in the beginning, each episode is a live minefield, which cannot be defused even by the best of the anti-mine expert as he finds himself hopelessly ill-equipped before this text loaded with meanings and references.
Precisely this aspect makes the journey of the reader-soldier, as indicated in the beginning, epic. Offering an acute realization of human existence, the text is a wonderfully perceptive commentary on the contemporary life and its enfeebling limitations and simultaneous glorious escapes…
 

Mujhse chini gayi pehli chij thi mera adhyatmik vivek uske baad chini chijon ki fehrist hi na bana paya
Men aise batata apna naam jese arthi ke piche koi marne wale ka naam bata raha ho
Mujhmen arth mat khojna, men kisi pratik men pravisht ho nasht nahi hona chahta
Main kisi pratispardha men nahi raha isliye sabse aage raha

A journey through a text marks an intense confrontation between its words and the reader, with none keen to oblige the other. Rarely a reader wants to give up her being before a text, ready to pawn her life, to be blown up by the RDX contained in the words. As you reach the fading end of Ubhayachar after a long crawl with blood oozing from your fresh wounds, you, knowing well you’re on a mine, find yourself gripped with an irresistible temptation to step ahead and blow yourself up, surrender yourself to the text, for which the author, as if in providence anticipating this moment, has already worded a seductive description — Us laash ki aankhen khuli thin jese koi computer ko shutdown karna bhul gaya ho.

 

 

The cosmos of colour

Posted: June 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

(पीयूष दईया की शब्द-वीप्सा व रंग-वीक्षा विस्मित करती हैं। घनघोर अनुशासन से उन्होंने प्रकाशन के प्रलोभन से बचते हुये अपनी लिपि में इन गुणों को अर्जित किया है। अखिलेश व हकु शाह के साथ संवादरत उनकी किताबें अगर महज साक्षात्कार के बजाय इन शीर्षस्थ चित्रकारों के रंगों की रूह में प्रवेश कर पाती हैं तो इसका श्रेय पीयूष को ही दीजिये कि वह इनके कैनवास की सतह पर उभरते रंगाकारों को चिन्हित कर, अमूर्तन में अंतर्निहित आख्यान अनावृत कर पाते हैं। पीयूष इन रंगकारों को वह अवकाश देते हैं जहॉं वे अपने कैनवास पर एक आत्मीय विमर्श में सम्मिलित हो जाते हैं। रंग-सृष्टि पर केंद्रित यह किताबें भारतीय गुरु-शिष्य परंपरा का भी सुखद स्मरण कराती है — गुरु अपने शिष्य की चेतना को आलोकित करता है तो एक ज्ञानेप्सु शिष्य अपने गुरु को उन राहों पर ले जाता है जहॉं गुरु अपने ज्ञान का पुनःअन्वीक्षण कर पाता है। आधुनिक, खासकर अमूर्त कला पर पश्चिमप्रेरित होने का अशिक्षित आरोप लगाने वालों को इन किताबों से इसलिये भी गुजरना चाहिये कि इन चित्रकारों की भारतीयता का साक्षात हो सके)

Among the many qualities of Piyush Daiya’s books of conversations with two of India’s leading artists, Haku Shah and Akhilesh, the most inspiring is his ability to efface the minutest traces of himself from the text. How he engaged the artists in conversation, we never know. We can only surmise that he must have been quite prodding, if the intense responses are anything to go by. He rarely reveals himself and the entire text comes across as a self-revelation by the artists, as if they conversed with their selves in the darkness of a summer night, or standing against their canvas, and Piyush merely overheard them.

He does give the artists absolute space. Still, he is not a Joycean narrator, paring his nails in a corner. Despite keeping his ‘questions’ invisible (Manush) or converting the questions into a tool for the artist’s self-exploration (Akhilesh: Ek Samvaad), uncover the text and he will emerge as the guiding force, prompting the artists to unravel the soul of their canvas, and weaving the meandering conversation into a narrative. And notice the contrast: Shah a master of figurative art, Akhilesh a giant of abstraction.

Piyush begins with the query – How does the interplay of colors and canvas create a form? Is it the passionate copulation of an artist with colors, or a violent act, or meditation performed in solitude?

And this is how Akhilesh responds:

Yes, there is violence… and it lies in aggressively bringing the colors into context… it is mental, not physical. Wherever there is creation, there is violence. One color indulges in violence another, only then do they find a harmony.

Rarely has conversation on art been so engrossing and overwhelming, exploding onto a wider horizon. “Chak Par Lila”, a chapter from Manush, is a similar rarity as it explores how an artist creates his chromatic code:

Just now, I applied the color brown to my painting – it can now remain there for days.(Note the hesitant definitude in the usage, can remain) One needs to be very careful when converting a light shade into dark and dark into light on the canvas… just as big and small spaces transform colors, mixing colors also transforms colors.

Here you learn and locate the centrality of colors for an artist, that the dab of a hue on the canvas is not a tool to create a figure or discover an abstraction, but a realization that in the kingdom of art, colors rule supreme.

I never strive to construct shapes in a painting. I never endeavor to realize any form. I create a color and a shape of that color forms in the painting… this is the innate condition of forms in a painting and it is possible that they are not found anywhere else, only here… what you term as forms, I’d rather call chromatic forms.

As Akhilesh proposes and establishes his constitution of art, he uncovers before you a universe of pure and pristine forms. Colors emerge as the centripetal force, pulling the artist from all temptations to the canvas.

Abstract artists have been facing the perennial complaint of operating in a virtual world, a world that has no semblance to ‘reality’ and exists, in an exclusivist manner, only for a select few. Akhilesh registers his protest here. His universe is as real as could be. Not devoid of forms, his abstractions instead discover hitherto unknown forms through his colors, as he is reluctant to capture existing or known ones. This is also an attempt to transcend memory in the creative process.

The young Franz Kafka wrote his first novel, Amerika, with elaborate details of a land where he had never gone, nor would ever go. This, in a way, was an attempt by the great writer to escape from the trap of memory which many writers so often find themselves in. Akhilesh has a wonderful experience to share here: Once, he went to Banaras with a distinct desire to visit Tulsi Ghat. Unfortunately, despite staying for ten days, he couldn’t visit the place. Still, he went on to paint it on the basis of his imagination and exhibited his work. The result? Everyone exclaimed that it was exactly like Tulsi Ghat!

Reading through these texts makes for great learning in colors and the artistic process – how a hue situates and reinvents itself on the canvas to mark its distinct existence. It also sensitizes us towards the possibilities embedded in the chromatic code represented through a sheer visual. After internalizing these texts, when passing through a visual, howsoever ‘banal’, you will begin attempting to locate the inherent Maya caused by the interplay of colors and forms that you ignored earlier – reminded and guided by Akhilesh’s words, that beneath this visible form lives a subtle abstraction that yearns to be given form.

I am impressed by the drama inherent in the visual… this drama lies in colors… whatever you view and feel in the Mona Lisa is like reality and dream. The concrete form of the Mona Lisa invokes an abstract feeling within you.

Akhilesh emerges as an extraordinarily perceptive painter, who lends pristine phrases to his abstractions and situates his colors in their exactitude. Such authority over words, amply visible in his other works, complements his impeccable strokes on the canvas. He is among those rare artists who actually ponder over their work – for whom the painterly world is as much conceptual as it is perceptual. And, of course, sensual too.

A significant component of Akhilesh’s painterly grammar is his insistence that there is nothing original and experimental in art.

Experimentalism is a notion that has no connection to the art of painting. When I paint, I am not conducting an experiment… I am trying to impart color-coordination from my experience, in which my imagination accompanies me.

A provocative proposition. But here, unfortunately, Piyush doesn’t prod deeply enough, like he does elsewhere. Doesn’t an attempt to fashion ‘rang sangati’ (color-coordination) constitute an experiment? Akhilesh may have a particular aversion for this nomenclature and use a different one – nevertheless, he tests and applies his experience and imagination, a process that in itself is experimentation.

These texts are primers for anyone desiring to initiate a conversation with a master. And the texts would not have been half as good without Piyush’s unrelenting groundwork – his questions are as enlightening as the responses. If these works should be read to immerse oneself in the sheer pleasure of an odyssey of form and hue, to learn that when an artist moves from one composition to another, he does so only by refuting his existing works – the distinct narration Piyush devises offers ample signposts along the journey. But can something like an interview, a mere exchange of questions and answers, have a narrative? Sure, when you consider the long tradition of ‘samvaad’ in Indian thought – Yam-Nachiketa, for instance. Like any great narrative, you can enter these texts from anywhere. Open the book, begin from any chapter, any paragraph, and you are on the journey. There is no beginning or end here. A special language and narrative was needed to express the inner self of the artist, and Piyush realizes it in its exactitude. The exploration and the narration, in their nuanced impact, go further in Akhilesh: Ek Samvaad thanManush.

The conversations, though, suffer from an overwhelming cerebral presence. Their unusually polished form – great for a novel or a text on literary theory – deprive the conversations of breathing space. With an arduous tilt towards deliberations on art and aesthetics, Piyush ignores that, in any great conversation, responses must not appear tailor-made. He doesn’t record those hesitant moments when he, or the artists, fumbled for the right words. Piyush doesn’t retain the lighter moments either, of which I’m sure there were many. Like a great canvas, such conversations are best left with a little spot on their texture, a tiny peck here, a subtle freckle there. The books yearn for a few shades of wit, as the elements that make a conversation lively and animated are missing.

That said, appearing in the first decade of the 21st century, Akhilesh: Ek Samvaad should easily rank among the works of this decade. It cultivates a culture of colors within its readers, makes them civilized towards the canvas, transforms their eyes from a mere visual tool into an organ to capture the Maya of the visual and, in the process, decisively alters their universe.

By suggesting that his journey began from the external world and found its culmination within his own self, Akhilesh underscores that strand of the Indian thought which asserts that an artist merely manifests himself through his art. You discover, not the ephemeral external, but the eternal entity through your self.

When I started out, I wanted to learn from nature… I’d run after nature. Now I do not have an urge to paint nature. Now I am a part of it. My manifestation is the manifestation of nature.

विरोध की भी नैतिकता होती है। खासकर तब जब वह लिखे शब्द में दर्ज होता है। शब्द विरोध को संयमित-संस्कारित, विरोध प्रकट करने वाले को अनुशासित-मर्यादित करता है। अपनी मर्यादा भूल विरोध उच्छृंखल, अश्लील हो वह अधिकार खो देता है कि किसी के आचरण पर टिप्पणी कर सके।

दिल्ली हिंदी अकादमी सम्मान पर मई में जनसत्ता में मेरा एक आलेख प्रकाशित हुआ था जिसमें मैंने उन लेखकों पर सवाल उठाया था जो ग्यारह मई की शाम दिल्ली सचिवालय के सभाग्रह में चोरी-छुपे हुये सम्मान समारोह में पहुँच गये थे। मैं प्रिंट का शायद अकेला पत्रकार था जो वहॉं पहुँच सका था व सब कुछ होते देख रहा था।

हाल ही मुझे मालूम हुआ कि मेरे उस आलेख में गगन गिल पर लिखे कुछ शब्दों को पूरी तरह मिसक्वोट कर कई महानुभावों ने उन पर निहायत ही बेहूदे और अश्लील प्रहार किये हैं। मेरा समूचा विरोध उस मानसिकता से था जब हम अपनी भाषा की अस्मिता दॉव पर लगा उस सत्ता का हिस्सा बन जाते हैं जो लेखक को महज एक हथियार समझती है उसके जरिये अपने हित साधती है और लेखक चुप अपनी हस्ती को लुटते देखते हैं।
दुर्भाग्य कि इन महानुभावों ने भाषा के इस पहलू को एकदम नजरअंदाज किया और इसे हिंदी बनाम गगन की लड़ाई बना दिया। इस प्रक्रिया में उन्होंने न सिर्फ अपने विरोध को अवमूल्यित बल्कि खुद भाषा को भी स्खलित किया।

मुझे स्वीकारने में कोई हिचक नहीं कि मुझे मालूम होता कि गगन के प्रति मेरे उस शब्द को, जो घटनास्थल पर होने की वजह से मेरे आलेख में सहज ही चला आया था उसकी बारीक डिटेल्स देने के उद्देश्य से, इस कदर अवमूल्यित किया जायेगा तो मैं उसे नहीं प्रयुक्त करता। कि मेरे उस लिखे का दुर्नियोजन हो सका व लिखने से पूर्व उसमें अंतर्निहित दुरुपयोग की संभावनायें न चीन्ह सकने के लिये मेरी अदूरदर्शिता ही जिम्मेदार है ऐसा भी स्वीकारता हॅंू।

क्या हम इतने विपन्न समाज हैं कि हमे मसले नहीं मसाले अधिक प्रलोभित करते हैं? हम दूसरों के शब्दों को हड़प उन्हें मनचाहा अर्थ देने की जुगत में रहते हैं? अपने साथी रचनाकार पर ‘बिलो द बैल्ट‘ प्रहार कर एक क्रूर सैडिस्टिक सुकून हासिल करते हैं?

गगन व उन सभी लेखकों के प्रति मेरा विरोध अभी भी है जिन्होंने उस शाम सचिवालय में उपस्थिति दर्ज कराना स्वीकार किया लेकिन एक कवियित्री पर इतने बेहूदे व व्यक्तिगत प्रहार कर हम वह अधिकार खो चुके हैं कि दिल्ली अकादमी के मुद्दे पर अपना विरोध दर्ज करायें या किसी लेखक पर कोई टिप्पणी करें। हमारे इस आचरण ने सत्ता के समक्ष हमारी स्थिति और अधिक हास्यास्पद बना दी है— सार्वजनिक रूप से एक दूसरे पर कीचड़ उछालता एक समुदाय।

यह आत्मचिंतन के लम्हे हैं, दोषारोपण के नहीं; मौन होकर ही हम इस विवाद से तिरस्कृत-निर्वासित हुयी अपनी भाषा को उसकी मातृभूमि में प्राणप्रतिष्ठित कर पायेंगे।

Ah, that doppelganger…

Posted: June 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

Narrated in the first person and, as is usually the case with such narration, holding a seemingly singular point of view, which, in fact, is only deceptively singular here— there can be multiple entry points for the Murder of Marx. Tussle with one’s alter ego; fumbling-grappling with and finally dropping the ideology; and a frenzied network of human relations punctuated and accentuated by a jarred and jerky but remarkably lucid plot, confirming the writer’s command over his form.

The writer? No. One must avoid using this nomenclature here, as Giriraj Kiradoo requests in the beginning that we treat him as a fictional character. Aapki badi kripa hogi agar aap is kahani ke lekhak aur uske naam Giriraj Kiradoo ko bhi kalpnik maan len.

Now, one can put it aside as mere rhetoric but it also raises an ontological problem. For, if he is a fictional being, denouncing all his rights over the text, who then wrote the Murder of Marx? Who created the blog http://girirajk.wordpress.com, where I read this fable? (It’s not a short story, at least that’s what Kiradoo would like to make us believe. It’s a modern parable, he’d say)

Or should I also call myself a fictional being and claim that this text I write now and post on my blog was written and posted by a fictional Ashutosh Bhardwaj, and let the two fictional beings — Ashutosh Bhardwaj and Giriraj Kiradoo— and their texts coexist or collide against each other in this virtual space?

Who writes and who reads, the eternal question can easily be resolved by asserting no one wrote, no one read, or better still, everyone wrote and everyone read.

Besides the ontological concern, arises the epistemological issue— what is the epistemic legitimacy of a text which was written and read by none or everyone?

Before that, what is this Murder all about?

First the frenzied relations, which, in their inconsequential namelessness become the victim of great adjectives— Akhmatova, Muktibodh, Shergill.

Hum mahan naamon ko wese hi pehan lete the jese hamari naamhinta humen.

Ironically here, Kiradoo, who earlier denounces his and others’ names (Hegel, Marx, Muktibodh et al) as fictional, is now concerned about the righteousness of the exercise of carrying certain names. What accounts for this sudden reverence towards these adjectives? Shouldn’t he have considered that in a realm where he claims every proper noun is fictional, it makes absolute no sense in lamenting at using such names as adjectives?

Precisely here, the author, Kiradoo, who is trying hard to obliterate his traces from the text, sneaks in from the backdoor. One cannot take his request (Aapki badi kripa hogi agar aap is kahani ke lekhak aur uske naam Giriraj Kiradoo ko bhi kalpnik maan len) at face value. The text bears his genetic helix and it can be deciphered only in that light.

A slight inconsistency in the text reduces what could otherwise have been an epistemic problem to a mere rambling rhetoric. Not that the inconsistency constitutes a flaw in the text or snatches its legitimacy, it remains valid as ever but loses the right to make us accept its request.

And it will also later emerge that despite Kiradoo’s attempts it remains a story, though aspiring to be a parable.

Cut to the frenzied relations now.

As the narrator discovers an innate gadyaatmak formation in the figure and face of his ‘innocent-face’ cousin Anshu Akhmatova when she is engaged in what has usually been termed an essentially poetic act — invoking many to devise and contrive metaphors, mostly silly though — with his alter ego painter Dhiraj Benjamin, Kiradoo unearths a fresh bionomics, in which tissues of fiction are not weighed down by remorse and remembrances, and instead, go ahead to embrace the moment— an anecdotic moment.

Not that his characters are free of encumbrances; a distinct melancholy hovers over the entire narrative as the narrator first spots Anshu with Benjamin and then finds him christening another girl as Shabnam Shergill. If he could never forgive Benjamin for naming his cousin Akhmatova in a lumpen affair, conscious he is that he also named someone Manisha Tsvetaeva.

This melancholy, however, never comes on the surface and Kiradoo carefully hides it among several layers of his jerky plot, he seems to have devised to give the reader a slip. Not that he deliberately wants to complicate the structure and gain a few brownie points over the reader. Kiradoo, indeed, is a mischievous writer, who creates a labyrinthine narrative to hoodwink the reader. With an almost childlike mischief of playing hide-and-seek with the reader (a technique he uses in his other fictions too), he never develops his themes or characters and merely drops a few hints, so subtle that you almost miss these in first instance, and which never surface in the narration.

‘Delayed development’ is a usual technique a writer employs to establish his motifs and keep suspense alive in the story. The idea of eternal return and the tale of Tomas, which Kundera sets out in the opening pages of The Unbearable Lightness of Being find recurring echoes throughout the novel. In Kiradoo, contrarily, there is almost no development. His narration zooms in for awhile, bringing the reader on the edge in hope of some clues in the narrative, and then with a suddenly-developed reluctance moves elsewhere.

All he offers a few anecdotes through which a reader has to plough her way across the 20 paragraph-length chapters, many of those can be read as separates tales.

But. Though Murder of Marx moves and develops in small episodic anecdotes, reminding of early Godard, Kiradoo is not an episodic narrator. Like Tarantino, he only fragments the arrangement of his episodes. A cryptic jigsaw puzzle waiting for its reader to be explored. Arrange them to achieve a fairly linear plot containing an utterly realistic story of a youth located in the Bhujia town of the desert state.

Within the realm of plot, story and realism, Kiradoo creates a near-surreal impact by breaking the sequence and using cinematic technique of jump cuts.

Interesting it can be to decipher, how being a native of the desert state has shaped Kiradoo’s ‘uni-verse’, which he so beautifully terms as ‘di-verse’. Does the mirage-like melancholy in his fiction and poems, where grief comes in glimpses, reflect the constantly forming-disappearing dunes in vast dry sand? Remember Manorama Six Feet Under — subtle, cryptic and located in sand dunes of Rajasthan.

Had Murder of Marx been a mere formal achievement, Kiradoo wouldn’t have merited this space. In this puzzled narrative, he manages to portray the narrator’s confrontation with his ideological leanings and adventures of his alter ego, before whom he feels repeatedly belittled.

And this is remarkable.

For, form can be a great entrapment. An obsession. Especially when the writer is young, he is susceptible to derive a formidable excitement from his form.

Highly possible it was for Kiradoo to be ambushed by his formal trap, consumed by his own cryptic character. Godard’s later works, after all, became the victim of his episodic narrative he had once invented to narrate his tales but eventually lacked the earlier vivacity. One can also find Nirmal Verma, in some of his weakest moments, being trapped in the form of his silently creeping narrative.

Kiradoo transcends his temptations, though how long can he resist is yet to be seen, and ends up writing a poignant tribute to Marxism, and possibly to the ideology itself.

Oscillating between Marx and Derrida and later repudiating both, the narrator gets attracted to the German thinker after being suggested by his alter ego and shuns it after knowing that Benjamin has suddenly realised that first and foremost ‘he is a Dalit’.

That a young writer chooses the theme of doppelganger to portray his confrontations with world and ideology suggests his maturity. Without understanding the paintings of Benjamin, the narrator writes brochures of his exhibitions, possibly in an effort to hold ground before him. One can hear echoes of contemporary art world in this subtle observation about the relation between an artist and a brochure writer (read, art critic!).

Mere gopan uttar-adhuniktavaad ke dino men ek shaam vo vodka ki ek gifted bottle lekar aya aur mujhe latadne laga… mujhe pata tha main apne Marx aur apne Derida ko khone wala hu. Dhiraj un dono se jyada powerful hai.

 (In the want of space ( long online posts can be clumsy reading), this text is forced to zoom out from the doppelganger theme now.)

In between, the narration is interspersed by meandering reflections of the narrator on Marx, modernity and post-modernity. He is disturbed by the absence of adjective ‘Marxist’ for Muktibodh in the preface written by Shamsher Bahadur Singh, who is also not termed a Marxist by Muktibodh.

These chapters provide ample space for the narration to deviate and delve in dull details, as we have seen in many of the recent fictions of Uday Prakash. But Kiradoo reflects a near-perfect sense of timing and brevity as his narrative never loses focus. He knows exactly when and for how long he can let his narrator meander, and tighten the rope when required. Does this eye on timing come from his being a poet?

The narrator, incidentally, is also a poet, called Muktibodh by Shergill. He accuses the German thinker, though with reverence, of patricide, of killing his ideological father Hegel, but, ironically, ends up committing the same offence, suggesting the bloodied hands of an artist, who is condemned to kill his own ideals to move ahead.

Note the last scene. The narrator is at the Delhi railway station. Ready to leave for Kolkata to become the editor of the mouthpiece of a political party, owened by a relative of Akhmatova (Some irony here? Seems so, but again in want of space, cannot deliberate further). He has an English newspaper having photographs of a ‘converted’ and tonsured Benjamin and his latest painting Murder of Marx, which like his other paintings he couldn’t comprehend a bit. As he spreads out the newspaper to eat puri and sabji on it and bursts into an unpremeditated laughter (maine us par pudi sabji failayi aur kuch utne jor se hansne laga), he writes a poignant obituary to the ideology. As if in the final moment, his soul finds a release, possibly false and deceptive, from the clutches of his alter ego and begins a new journey of self-exploration.

Precisely therefore, this murder and the accompanying tribute merit recognition as they come not from a cynic or a quarterback critic, but articulated by a vulnerable narrator, who, with all his failures refuses to reveal chinks in his veneer.

To think of it, Kiradoo accomplished all this in mere 4,301 words, which were not, according to him, written by him.

 

Minutes before his execution, a convict of a killing, in a frenzied confession before his lawyer, tells about his minor sister, he and his friend had run over under a tractor long ago. Minutes before the killing, the would-be convict gives a crumpled old b/w snap of the angelic girl to a photographer for blow-up, spits in his coffee cup in a cafe lest someone takes it as he has been doing with others’ leftovers, even as he attempts wrapping the ‘killer rope’ around his wrist.

It’s, to be sure, not a film about murder, a premeditated act governed by motive and intention; it’s plain killing, an unalloyed, immediate and instinctive desire to kill someone, to transpose the inner matrix of despair and outrage onto a different platform, here the victim. The moment, the instinct, in which an undefined and absolutely abstract emotion becomes so unbearable that its culmination, its release results in a killing.

In an stunning shot of Ma saison préférée (My Favourite Season), a dejected but equally magnetic Catherine Deneuve, who was stalked by a lumpen youth for long, finally succumbs to his entreaties in a park, in a moment when she sees herself all lost and her smouldering soul finds an altogether different avenue to explode.

As he explores-exposes the sub-conscious of killing—- is killing an act or a concept, the movie repeatedly questions— Kieslowski grapples with the cityscape, its underbelly and freaky characters, suggesting violence is inherently rooted in Gothic buildings and vastfields, reminding of spooky cellars of Edgar Allan Poe and carrying an arrestingly appealing and elliptical colour palette.

For, the distinct chromatic code, which at some frames goes all sooty, at others is drenched with mystical shades of yellow and green, elevates the movie to myriad stills of impressionistic paintings. Note the traces of Van Gough in the trail of open field the lens captures with varied angles after the killing. The camera, remarkably, maintains an intimate distance from characters, never encroaching or intruding into their space, yet without being indifferent to their guilt, gives them ample space to explode. Mark the camera, terse yet fluid, as it captures the final conversation of the convict with his lawyer.

In contrast stands the immediate shot after the killing — a cyclist pedals past the fields and fades against a sepia sun. Without any intention to comment, the camera only situates various characters in their nativity.
Moving on a sword’s edge, the movie develops an unpredictable tension from the first shot itself when a cat is shown hanging from an altar-like structure and a few giggling-running children, whose faces the detached camera has no interest to trace. Treading through the anecdotic life of three strangers — a jerky youth, a near-cynical taxi driver and an idealistic lawyer—Kieslowski weaves a multilayered narrative, in which desires are not founded upon reason and morals consistently challenged and confronted.

Juxtapose the convict with Poe’s characters or Camus’s Outsider to derive fascinating comparisons. For, with Kieslowski too, the primary concern is human, locating the space of outrage and obsession in an indifferent universe. Despite gory details of killing and the seemingly subvert hero, who, many will say, obtains a pervert frisson from scaring pigeons, throwing stones at passing cars; the script assumes a sudden, unbelievable indeed, humanistic twist as he confesses his past. Aptly then, the only binding thread in the entire narrative becomes his sister.

By making the deceased taxi driver assert, ‘I don’t like cats, they can’t be trusted. Like people,’ Kieslowski confirms futile it could be to trust the artist. The movie that for most of the reels explores a non-premeditated killing by an unpredictable hero, possibly making one believe the director is advocating an extra-moral, supra-censoral authority, cocking a snook at the system; with its perfunctory details of execution and description of overzealous jail officers becomes a case against capital punishment, making it a worthy case study in law courses.

Made as a commentary on one of the Ten Commandments (Thou Shalt Not Kill), the movie, in effect, subverts theology. For, who was the victim, the taxi driver or the youth, Kieslowski doesn’t even suggest, least gives an answer.