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Near and Around Shapes

आकारों के आसपास
by Kunwar Narain
Translated from Hindi by
Apurva Narain & John Vater

इस कमरे की चार दीवारों से एक आन्तरिकता बनती है जिसमें सुरक्षा है और आत्मीय स्वतन्त्रता । चाहे बेसुध सोता रहूँ, कोई नहीं जगाएगा । चाहे संघर्ष करूँ—इन दीवारों से, या अपने से । हो सकता है कुछ टूटे, मुझमें या मुझसे : दोनों ही दशाओं में जो मिलेगा वह अपनी एक नई पहचान हो सकती है, या नया अवसर कि अपने को कहीं से शुरू करके कहीं भी समाप्त कर दूँ । इस तरह भी जी सकता हूँ कि बहुत-सी ऐसी चीज़ों को मुझे आज़माने का मौक़ा ही न मिले जिनसे मैं सहमत नहीं । अपने को धोखा दे सकता हूँ इस तरह कि बाहर कहीं ईश्वर की मृत्यु हो जाए… न सूरज चमके, न चाँद, न तारे… और यह जन्मसिद्ध दुनिया केवल झूठ लगे ।

हवा शायद धीरे-धीरे किवाड़ खटखटाती है । उदासी में यह बाधा सुखद है । मैं उठकर दरवाजा खोल देता हूँ । “मैं अन्दर आ सकती हूँ?” और इसके पहले कि मैं कुछ कह सकूँ वह निःसन्कोच कमरे में घुसकर अपने लायक जगह ढूँढ़ने लगती है, यहाँ, वहाँ, कहीं । बीच में मैं पड़ जाता हूँ तो कभी बाल बिखेर देती, कभी चूम लेती, कभी गुदगुदाकर स्वयं हँस पड़ती । ढीठ और निर्लज्ज ।

“अपनी उदासी से कहो थोड़ी जगह और दे तो उसको भी अन्दर बुला लूँ,” वह खिड़की की ओर इशारा करती है । एक चमकता हुआ हँसमुख चेहरा खिड़की के शीशे से झाँक रहा था । कोई शरारती बच्चा ? नहीं, शायद थोड़ी-सी रोशनी ढेर-से अँधेरे में । कुछ उछलते हुए मैंने खिड़की भी खोल दी । वह कूदकर कमरे में आ गया, इतनी फुर्ती से मानो कमरे में ही था । कुछ सोचकर वह ठिठक गया । उसके आने से मैंने कोई उत्साह क्यों नहीं दिखाया ? उसका आना कोई नई बात भले ही न रही हो, खुशी की बात तो थी ही । वह शायद कमरे की हर चीज़ से खेलना चाहता था और मेरी ओर से उस मौन अनुमति को चाह रहा था जिसे बच्चे अपना अधिकार समझते हैं । मुझे कुछ कहना नहीं था, केवल उसके लड़कपन के सामने अपने को उन्मुक्त छोड़ देना था । लेकिन, आज मुझसे इतना भी न हुआ और मैं जो उसकी ज़िद के आगे मजबूर हो जाया करता था, पत्थर बना बैठा रहा । मैंने उसे न दुत्कारा, न उसका स्वागत किया । केवल उस खुशी के प्रति जो वह लाया था इस तरह पेश आया मानो उसका कोई महत्त्व नहीं क्योंकि वह रोज़ की चीज़ है । वह रोशनी जो सारे कमरे में मचलने के लिए आतुर थी, ज़िद करने लगी । मैंने उठकर …

The four walls of this room create an interiority, in which there is safety and an intimate freedom. I could just keep sleeping here, far from the world, and no one would wake me. I could struggle—against these walls, or against myself. Maybe something would break—inside of me, or because of me. In either case, what I get could be a new recognition of myself, or a new opportunity to start myself from anywhere and finish myself anywhere. I could also live in such a way that I avoid even the mere encounter with all sorts of things with which I’m in disagreement. I could deceive myself in such a way…that God dies somewhere outside there…the sun doesn’t shine, nor the moon, nor the stars…and this world, determined at birth, only seems a lie.

The wind, perhaps, raps lightly on the door—a welcome interruption to my indifference. I rise and open the door. “May I come in?” she asks. And before I can even answer, she sweeps in without hesitation and looks for a place in the room—here, there, anywhere. If I get in her way, sometimes she ruffles my hair, or steals a kiss, or tickles me and then herself bursts into laughter: bold and unabashed.

“If you tell your indifference to give just a little more space,” she says, “I’ll call him in too.” She gestures toward the window. There, a bright, cheerful face peeps in at me through the windowpane. Some naughty child? No—perhaps a glimmer of light in the thick of darkness. Somewhat surprised, I also throw open the window. He leaps into the room so quickly, it’s as though he were already there. Thinking something, he pauses. Why wasn’t I excited to see him? While his visit might not be anything new, it was nevertheless a matter of joy. Perhaps he wanted to play with every thing in the room, and waited for me to give him that silent approval every child takes to be his privilege. I didn’t need to say a word—only leave myself open to his childish fancy. Today, however, even this was beyond me, and, usually one to bow at his slightest whim, I just sat there like a stone. I didn’t rebuff him, nor welcome him. I just behaved toward that happiness he brought along in such a way as if it held no meaning, because it was a trifling, everyday affair. That light, eager to frolic about the room, began getting obstinate. I got up and slammed the window, but felt that I’d only insulted a part of myself. Maybe the wind also felt bad, because she quietly let open the door and slipped outside. I found relief in that peace, which so often becomes possible between myself and others.

And then an unforeseen event occurred: that night, in the neighborhood, a child died.

My indifference turns into a puzzling agony. Who was he? Not the same child who was here? What was it between us that kept me thinking about him again and again? That he was here, this was all; that’s why. Of these pictures I make—mere lines and colors—or those dreams that get made, shapes entwined, dissolving into one another, she says: “I don’t understand them.” I say: “These pictures are of light and wind, and they are in the same way as the soul is, but which we can’t understand.” We must first accept being, before understanding. This is what the insistence of that child was, who—I don’t know why—deferred to my indifference today…the child who was happy when he saw my pictures, and didn’t think they were unnecessary.

There is an assurance in these walls because, relative to me, they do not change. The light and the wind, whose mere entry changes the room in an instant, can be kept outside. I can also begin myself from some other place, in such a way that I do not love, nor grieve, nor hope. Life’s meanings are many things, not just any one. And at that instant I felt that all the things in the room together presented me with a life in which there was neither good nor bad, because in it were neither needs, nor duties. There was only a sequence of things, in which it was nowhere necessary to prove oneself.

Outside, the wind kept wailing and howling, as if one of its own had died.

With these juvenile needs galloping away on roads right and wrong, desperately pounding their fists and feet into dust, why should I accept that to not live like this is to not live at all? That is also a struggle, which one wages to win against one’s needs…

But she who beats her head outside in pain, she is only the wind—she won’t understand what I’m saying. Yet, I exist because of her—somewhat so, that I will have to understand what she’s saying…

Rising quietly, I open the shuttered doors, and embrace that primal, rugged tempest to my breast.



“Near and Around Shapes” is from The Play of Dolls: Stories, trans. John Vater & Apurva Narain. India: Penguin Modern Classics, Penguin Books, 2020.

Image by Thomas Colligan.

Kunwar Narain (1927-2017) is considered one of India’s foremost poets, writers and thinkers of modern times. His diverse oeuvre of seven decades includes poetry, epics, stories, essays, criticism, diaries, translations of poets such as Cavafy, Mallarmé, Borges, Herbert, and Różewicz, and writings on world cinema and the arts. A reclusive writer, he remains largely unknown in the west.
Apurva Narain is Kunwar Narain's son and translator. His books include a translated poetry collection, No Other World, and a co-translated story collection, The Play of Dolls. Another poetry translation book is due soon. His work has appeared in journals such as Asymptote, Modern Poetry in Translation, Poetry International, Asia Literary Review, Scroll, etc. Educated in India and the University of Cambridge, he has interests in ecology, public health and ethics; and writes in English.
John Vater holds an MFA in literary translation from the University of Iowa. The Play of Dolls is his first book in translation, co-translated with Apurva Narain. In 2018, he was selected as an emerging translator from the US to attend the Banff International Literary Translation Centre Residency in Canada. His translations have appeared in Ploughshares, the Asia Literary ReviewWords Without Borders, and Exchanges. He works as a research associate at the Institute of South Asian Studies in Singapore.