In the first poem, Which Way Shall I Go, from the Selected Poems Atal Bihari Vajpayee is in utter conflict within. The poet dangles between successes and failures, optimism and pessimism and hope and despair. The blend of confidence and gloom makes the poem remarkably representative of life in its totality. But struggle, the crown of manhood, is the poet’s resolve:
Shall I gather the bits below?
Or shall I fashion a new great show?
Vajpayee is of the conviction that that there are black dots on the various facets of humanity. The beauties which have ugly marks can lead to hatred. Nobody blames the Rahu which eclipses the beauty of the moon. The poet is dumb on watching the clouds that shroud the strikingly beautiful mornings. He neither sings nor remains silent. He watches and listens to the tunes on the bank of the lake with a burden on his back:
Nests shattered in disarray
Eagles in moods merry
Neither sorrow nor smile
The couplets are universal in significance and appeal, and are appropriate especially in the backdrop of turbulent Kashmir. They plainly paint the horror which displaced Kashmiri Pandits went through in 1990. Coming out from the depressive orientation of the things Vajpayee with renewed zeal and courage sings a new song. Now the singing of the cuckoo, the spring song and the luminosity of the dawn give him the strength and insight not to succumb but to fight anew:
A new song now I sing
It is beyond the poet’s imagination as to who is right and who is wrong. The war of virtue is fought without righteousness. In this whole mess only the poor get humiliated.
The poet is of the opinion that we lose the warmth of the present activities because we escape into the past and worry about the future, and thus life weighs profit and loss. Peeping through the life of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the living legend, the tallest and mostly honoured personality, his poem Confrontation with Death reveals the ups and downs of the poet, his struggles, his aspirations and the love that was showered on him always. Vajpayee, the great man, as a poet boldly challenges death:
O death, do not come in the disguised face
Come on face to face and test my grace.
The poet says that he is able to silence the crowds but fails to plead for himself in the court of his conscience. He loses the case because he can read the writing on the wall but cannot control destiny:SS
I am able to look ahead
Can read writing on the wall
But am unable to read the palms
In the poem Let us untie the Mental Knots, which the translator has translated in two different ways, clay did not surrender the sanctity of chandan is a punch line which springs out multi-dimensional philosophies of life and nature, myths, practicalities, originality and the true sense of purity and piety. That isss why the poet appeals to untie the mental knot.
Vajpayee questions those who want power when they are guilty of the murders of children, men and women. He asks them if they are not their own fellow-beings:
Throne soaked in innocent blood
Is worse than curse of cremation dust
Arvind Shah has created his own style of translation, and in some poems he tries to maintain the rhyme scheme that sounds unattractive. He has tried his best but the recitation of Hindi poems in Vajpayee’s own voice dominates and eclipses the translation work. At times Arvind is at his best and it is evinced in a poem The Evening of Life is on its Way to Pass:
Meanings saw change
Words went wastage……
Years are shun
The path is done…
Friendship with dreams
Scattered tunes and themes…
The evening of life is on its way to pass.
Pakistan’s Kargil intrusion under Vajpayee’s Prime Minister-ship was the height of the treachery of hostile Pakistan. It was a stab in the back of peace-loving Vajpayee. But determined Vajpayee’s approach is written in a poem Will Not Allow War.
The poet wrote a couple of poems in the prison during the emergency and his six-line poem, Agony is a representative poem of that era:
Agonising tunes spell
Insect’s crack around
A piercing sound
Even sky is close
Suffocation to impose
The poet is against the unprecedented heights, flights and successes that cannot be contained in the prescribed moulds. For the poet high mountains do not nurture trees, herbs and grass. He believes that standing single in absoluteness is no greatness:
No variety in seasons
No spring, no autumn
But only sense of height
Only loneliness and silence
In the poem On the Green Grass, the poet compares and contrasts the rising sun with the dew drops. Though momentary, yet dew has its own existence and importance that cannot be denied:
Shall I salute the growing sun
Or look for the evaporated dew then?
Part two of the book is the biographical poem on Atal Behari Vajpayee’s life in Arvind Shah’s poetic outflow. It covers Vajpayee’s life from his birth to becoming the Prime Minister including his oratorical skills that used to magnetise the huge crowds. The book ends with a patriotic poem Salute to the Motherland.
Jaswant Singh has written the Foreword to the book. The views of Narendra Modi, Shiv Raj Chauhan and L K Advani on the efforts of the translator are also included in the book. Introduction has been penned down by Professor Omkar N Kaul.
The translator’s observation that translating a poem is similar to writing a poem is correct but I have some reservations about his theory that translating a poem is a simple job. Translations make or mar the poets. In between the two, there is a balance between originality and the translations. Arvind Shah’s method is to limit the limitless within its own format. By not writing in free verse, Arvind cuts down the elasticity of Vajpayee’s original Hindi poems. Free verse translation could have been considerably better.
Vajpayee is candid in his prose piece entitled The Poet and Me where he says that politics and writing poetry cannot go together though he has always tried to strike a balance between the poet and the politician. Vajpayee also unfolds that his friends opined that had he not come into politics, he would have been an ace poet.
Had the book been restricted to the creativity of Vajpayee’s poetic abilities only, it would have been better. Instead of the impressions of political leaders, the opinions of literary personalities would have been better and added to the beauty of the book. In spite of all this Arvind Shah has, through his translation, introduced Vajpayee to the English knowing readers.