General Information

Miraji’s poetry was about man and woman in the universe; the universe was the inner, chaotic self buffeted by the external forces of Time and Nature. Although sometimes sex appears to dominate Miraji’s themes, he was not a sex-obsessed obscure poet, as his detractors often said. Both he and Rashid were assiduous experimentalists and did much to modernize and almost internationalize the tone of modern Urdu poetry.

The universal popularity of Faiz not withstanding, it was actually Rashid and Miraji whose influence dominated the course of modern Urdu poetry from the 1940s. Miraji looked for sources to rejuvenate the tradition; he turned to Sanskrit and medieval Hindi, and at the saame time learned from French symbolism. In Miraji, Urdu also found a perspicacious critic and an editor who promoted and interpreted, on highly individualistic grounds, new poetry.The ‘early modernist movement’ (if a movement it was, rather than a new wave) spearheaded by Miraji was a target of ignonimy for various reasons, most of them non-literary, even personal. All the same, the movement found a response among the young writers and poets who wanted to understand and appreciate the past in its pristine hues, and looked suspiciously at the warped picture that they saw of their literary heritage through the intellectual spectacles provided by the promoters of western literary thought and perceptions as exemplified by what they described as ‘natural poetry’ (necharal sha’iri). Classical Urdu poetry, especially the ghazal, spoke of experience in universal terms and did not encourage references to the individual contexts of human existence. Miraji showed how a poet could be himself, not necessarily by following the western paradigms as advocated by Hali and other modernizers (Iqbal not excluded), but by connecting to and branching from one’s own literary tradition and inner experience as a person, and not just a ‘poetic narrator.’

— Mehr Afshan Farooqi, The Oxford India Anthology of Modern Urdu Literature: Poetry and Prose Miscellany (2011)

Klark Kā Nagmā-e-Mohabbat

In “Love Song of the Clerk,” Miraji’s only poem that ventures the historical specifities of a laboring body, the clerk’s dailiness is spent in the verities of the ordinary — eating the half slice of bread left over from yesterday, walking past carriages and cars on the way to work, extracting a file, listening to the baqvās of his boss — and soaked in forlorn desire for a “you,” the imagined beloved who he talks to all day, and whose class places him or her outside the clerk’s provenance (makes the beloved the inaccessible locus of the clerk’s desire). The clerk’s body is a body that walks along the street, saturated by longing that must be deferred because of his class.

— Geeta Patel, Lyrical Movements, Historical Hauntings (2002)

Mrinal Sen

Bhuvan Shome

Bhuvan Shome is a true representative of the bureaucratic tradition of the Raj. A senior office in the railways in the late forties, and raised in colonial mores, he is strict, self-righteous, and completely lacking in the human failing of laughter. A stern disciplinarian, he sacked his own son for “gross negligence of duty” when he was found guilty of a minor misdemeanor. But being a dedicated civil servant is a tiresome job, andd bored with his routine, Shome decides to take a duck-shooting holiday. He plans to go to a remote shoreline of Gujarat where there would be opportunities for bird watching as well. As if to atone for his weakness in seeking a holiday, he issues orders at the last minute to sack Jadav patel, a young ticket collector, for accepting a bribe.

For the middle-aged, lonely widower, his sudden entry into a carefree new world is fraught with discomfort. Accustomed to the dreary confines of his office, Shome treads warily in his new environment. He bears the hazards of a speedy bullock-cart with fortitude, listens perforce to the homely philosophy of its driver, makes an undignified dash for a tree faced by a marauding buffalo, and meets Gauri—casual, graceful, and vivacious—a cheeky young village belle who worms her way into his heart. He soon finds out that by some absurd coincidence, she is the wife of Jadav Patel, the heinous acceptor of bribes. But her youthful exuberance, her novel approach to weighty moral issues, her mischievous smile, all combine to become the first humanizing influence in Shome’s life.

Harbinger of the “new Indian cinema,” Bhuvan Shome” was one of the first low-budget films, made by a director outside the mainstream, that destroyed the myth that the Indian audience asks for nothing but fairy tales. With a boring middle-aged bureaucrat as its hero, who has absolutely no romantic inclinations towards the heart-warming young heroine of the film, Bhuvan Shome* was greeted by the masses with encouraging enthusiasm.

For Mrinal Sen it was no flash in the pan. This was his ninth feature film. He had already established himself as a serious director, with sevel films in Bengali and one in Oriya before he took on the challenge of the Hindi screen. Four years before Bhuvan Shome, Sen had made Akash Kusum in Bengali, where his Walter Mitty like hero entangles himself in a series of lies till all his dreams crash and he walks away a sadder and wiser young man. Akash Kusum marked a definite change in Sen’s style, from the straightforward narrative to a whimsical, playful story-telling, released from the constraints of time and space, where the narrative illusion is deliberately broken by a seemingly irrational editing pattern.

In Bhuvan Shome the style gains maturity, adding to the nuances of the protagonists rueful awareness of the humour and pathos of his predicament. Writing about the riotous last sequence, Sen says: “It is difficult to find any earthly logic to support the bureaucrat’s action in the concluding sequencce unless you grant Mr. Shome a certain touch of insanity. As you examine the sequence, you will see that the same can be said about the editing pattern, all erratic and illogical.

“But all this has been very much planned, all done with utmost care and precision. And this is what I believe Jaques Tati meant by that delightful expression ‘inspired nonsense.’

“I, as the maker of the film, indulge in such nonsense as much as the protagonist does… I wish someone were there to watch andsee how, twenty years ago, I also had a mad kick of an experience not dissimilar to my protagonists’s…. I wonder if Utpal Dutt who invented his action all by himself also re-enacted one of his private experiences.”

Utpal Dutt, Bhuvan Shome in the film, is a well-known stage director and playwright, with his own repertory which has had a long and successful career on the Bengali stage, presenting Bengali classics, original plays and adaptations from modern western drama. Suhasini Mulay, young Gauri in the film, did not become a star in spite of her obvious beauty and personality, but after training in Canada, went on to make her own documentaries on controversial contemporary themes. She is occasionally seen in films by other directors of the new Indian cinema movement.

— Srivastava Bannerjee, One Hundred Indian Feature Films: An Annotated Filmography

B. R. Ambedkar

[Ambedkar] explained ‘body politics’ to women during the Mahad conference: “You should abandon all junya [old] and galichha [filthy] customs and chaliriti [literally ‘rituals’ but here ‘ways of living’], that provide olakhnyachi khun [recognisable markers] of untouchability. Certainly, Untouchables do not have a stamp of their Untouchable status on their foreheads. But Untouchables can be immediately identified due to their chaliriti, [which] I think have been forced upon us. Hence, you should abandon all markers that will identify you as Untouchables. Your lugade nesanyachi padthat [style of draping saris] is one such saksha [marker]. You should destroy this evidence. You should make it a habit to drape saris like the high-caste women. Similarly, the many galsarya [necklaces] and silver and tin bangles up to your elbow are [also] a mark of identification. One necklace is enough. Clothes reflect a more elegant appearance compared to jewellery, so you should spend money on good clothing. If you must wear jewellery, then get gold jewellery… Also, pay attention to cleanliness. Change your sari-draping style before you go home.” (Bahishkrut Bharat, 3 February 1928)

— Shailaja Paik, Dalit Women’s Education in Modern India