Now, this number does not exist

Manglesh Dabral.

By Sukant Deepak

Dec 11, 2020

New Delhi: This number does not exist.

Wherever I go whichever number I dial

At the other end a strange voice says

This number does not exist yeh number maujood nahin hai

Not too long ago at this number I used to reach people

Who said: of course we recognize you

There is space for you in this universe

(From Sudeep Sen’s translation of Manglesh Dabral’s ‘Yeh Number Mojud Nahin’)

With the news of one of India’s best known Hindi poets, Manglesh Dabral’s death coming in on Wednesday evening, when he breathed his last at AIIMS after Covid related complications, it was clear that Indian poetry had lost a reluctant star.

Quiet, and preferring to let his poems do the talking, the 72-year-old Dabral, who was born in a village in Uttrakhand was awarded with the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2000 for his poetry collection ‘Ham Jo Dekhte Hain’.

One of Hindi world’s most translated poet — English, Russian, Spanish, Polish and Italian, Dabral’s most well-known poetry collections included ‘Pahad Par Lalten’, Aawaz Bhi Ek Jagah Hai, ‘Ghar Ka Rasta’, Ham Jo Dekhte Hain, Mujhe Dikha Ek Manushya, and prose titles like ‘Lekhak Ki Roti’ and ‘Kavi Ka Akelapan’. He was also considered one of India’s best literary editors. During his years with ‘Jansatta’ and many other publications, Dabral was instrumental in introducing a whole new generation of writers and poets.

Poet Arundhathi Subramaniam, who first met Dabral in 2008 in Rotterdam, Holland remembers him as gentle, soft-spoken, wry, wonderfully devoid of affectation — that it was difficult not to warm to him right away. “And yet, for all the mildness of his manner, one only had to read the poetry to know that this was a man capable of searing clarity and unsparing acuity.

We talked a lot, walked around the city a lot, as one often does at festivals far away from home. That became the basis of an enduring friendship. Each time we met, there was a warmth, a familiarity that was the result of that first meeting.”

Remembering his warmth, generosity, humility and “in particular, his humility, his refreshing inability to brag — such a rarity in the cultural world”, Subramaniam feels that Dabral for her is a perfect reminder of all that a poet can and ought to be.. “Truly a beacon in this world of shrill self-advertisement. He never lost his unassuming manner, his capacity to listen and for quiet self-deprecation. I don’t believe I have met many poets who combine literary caliber with this degree of humility.”

The poet, who in many of her interviews has described him as one of the country’s finest poets asserts, “Mangalesh’s strength as a poet is his utter clarity, his deceptive simplicity, his quiet reflective voice that swivels on the edge of piercing recognition. He combines craft and conscience, dexterity and depth. There is a refined literary sensibility, but it is never self-conscious; there is a great wealth of insight, but he achieves it without ever seeming mannered or precious. This sahaja quality – the capacity to seem natural, unforced, deeply human and yet, never turning facile or aesthetically anemic – is a rare achievement, something that few artists accomplish in a lifetime.”

Surjit Patar, recipient of the Sahitya Akademi and Padma Shri (which he returned recently) honours and the deceased poet’s friend for more than 25 years says, “I still cannot believe the news. This is a great loss. I have read many of his poems multiple times and what strikes me most is his deep understanding of the language, ability to perfectly distill his thoughts and command over the structure. Even when writing about social struggles and injustice, he never let go of the emotional gamut. There was no sloganeering in his work. His understanding of the human emotions ensures that people across generations relate to his work.”

Delhi-based Sudeep Sen, who has translated Dabral’s poems including This Number Does Not Exist’ and ‘Accompanist’ remembers the time spent with Dabral over several years “with many cups of chai and glasses of whiskey”. “Dabral will always be remembered for his acute attention to detail, his lyrical and commanding reading voice, the social and political relevance in his poetry, his interest in his mountain heritage of his family, and his connection with the younger readers.”

Poet Nirupama Dutt may have been introduced to Dabral in 1986 but she still remembers that evening. “I had recently moved to Delhi to pursue creative writing. Those were the years of struggle. My friend Kumar Vikal came to the capital and introduced me to a ration shop owner who would give stuff on credit and Manglesh Dabral, who ensured that I had a steady stream of freelance work in order to survive. I had never written in Hindi, but Dabral was extremely kind to me.”

Dutt, whose book on Lal Singh Dil, titled ‘Poet of the Revolution’ was released by the late poet says, “He never forgot his roots. For Dabral, it was always important to give a voice to the marginalised — but never loudly. For him, it was always important to be humane — in work, in life.”IANS

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