Kunwar Narain
(India, 1927)   
Kunwar Narain

Born in 1927, Kunwar Narain has been a stalwart presence in the field of Hindi poetry for five decades. Since his first book, Chakravyooh, in 1956, this Delhi-based poet has published five books of poetry, one collection of short fiction, a long narrative poem, three works of literary criticism and several translations of the poetry of writers such as Cavafy, Borges, Mallarme, Walcott, among others.

Associated with the ‘Nayi Kavita’ (New Poetry) in Hindi, Narain was one of the poets featured in Teesra Saptak (1959), one of the four influential anthologies of seven contemporary poets, edited by the eminent poet, Agyeya. He has been variously described as “one of the most well-read poets in Hindi”, a predominantly ‘meditative’ poet, “dwelling on the present through the prism of myth and history” and as a writer whose work reveals ‘a twentieth century sensibility in its anguish as well as its resourcefulness’. His many accolades include the Hindustani Akademi and Sahitya Akademi awards.

Narain was born in Faizabad in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and spent his early childhood there and in Ayodhya. His mother and sister died of tuberculosis when he was 11 – an event that was to have an enduring impact on his life and that, no doubt, contributed to the recurrent theme of death in his writing. After this tragedy, he moved to Lucknow where he studied science, followed by a Masters degree in English. A close and sustained interaction with socialist politician Acharya Narendra Dev in Mumbai shaped his awareness of Indian politics and the philosophies of Marxism and Buddhism in particular. In 1954, he stayed with the Gandhian, patriot and intellectual Acharya Kripalani in Delhi and worked as assistant to the editor of Vigil. He has also edited other magazines, including Yugachetana and Naya Prateek, but has devoted most of his life to the fields of creative writing as well as film and literary criticism. His active pursuit of the intellectual life was made possible, he acknowledges, by the support of a flourishing family business. “They (my family) considered me to be the ‘spare part’ of the family and spared me to do my reading and writing,’” he once quipped.

This selection of poems (by various distinguished translators: Alok Bhalla, Apurva Narain, Daniel Weissbort and the poet) represents only a fragment of Narain’s corpus. However, some of the features of his writing are evident here: the predominantly reflective tenor of his verse; his liberal, broadly sympathetic but never uncritical understanding of the inconsistencies of human life; and his refusal to adopt any hard-line stances on issues of modernity, ethnicity or Indianness. As he says in the accompanying interview, “Poetry is by nature a free art and does not welcome impediments and mandates. I have been writing poetry for nearly half a century now and have seen more than half a dozen literary movements come and go. What survived these is great poetry and not the hullabaloo surrounding them . . . When a movement preferred a certain kind of poetry, or a particular poet, as the model type, it encouraged imitation and thwarted originality.”

His description of the poet’s role in Teesra Saptak remains memorable even today, offering readers a vital clue on how his work might be approached: “In the huge carnival of life the poet is like a mimic who presents to people thousands of appearances. His every appearance is an experiential interpretation of life and behind them all is the mimic’s thoughtful and true personality which understands the fundamental play of all this diversity.”

© Arundhathi Subramaniam

Also on this Site
‘Poetry is by nature a free art’
Interview with Kunwar Narain by Apurva Narain and Arundhathi Subramaniam.

Chakravyooh. Radhakrishan Prakashan, New Delhi, 1956. ISBN: 81-7119-192-4.
Teesra Saptak (Anthology of Seven Poets). Ed. Agyeya. Bhratiya Jnanpith, New Delhi, 1959. ISBN: 81-263-0822-2.
Parivesh Hum Tum. Bharti Bahandar, Leader Press, Allahabad, 1961.
Apne Samne. Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 1979.
Koee Doosra Naheen. Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 1993. ISBN: 81-267-0007-6.
In Dino. Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 2002. ISBN: 81-267-0594-9.

Short Epic
Atmajayee. Bharatiya Jnanpith, New Delhi, 1965.

Short Fiction
Akaron Ke Aas-Paas. Radhakrishan Prakashan, New Delhi. ISBN: 81-7119-011-1.

Literary Criticism
Aj Aur Aj Se Pehle. Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 1998. ISBN: 81-7178-842-4.
Mere Sakshatkar (Collection of Interviews with Kunwar Narain. Ed. Vishal Bharadwaj. Kitabghar Prakashan, New Delhi, 1999. ISBN: 81-7016-44-7.
Sahitya Ke Kuchh Antar-Vishayak Sandarbh. Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2003. ISBN: 81-260-1693-0.

In English
The Little Magazine.com
A poem by Kunwar Narain (‘A Strange Problem’, translated by Pratik Kanjilal).

Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature
A poem by Kunwar Narain (‘On the Eighth Floor’).

Mshel.com: Books
Report on SAARC Writers Conference on Globalisation in which Kunwar Narain made several observations about language and literature in the South Asian region.

The Hindu
A newspaper report on a group of intellectuals (including Narain) protesting the replacement of the Central Board of Secondary Education’s decision to replace a novel by legendary writer Premchand with that of a Bharatiya Janata Party Minister of Parliament, Mridula Sinha.

Sahitya Akademi Awards: Hindi
List of Sahitya Akademi awardees, including Kunwar Narain for his poetry collection, Koi Doosra Nahin in 1995.

Abhi Baaki Hain Kuch Pal
Syopsis and credits of a documentary video film on Kunwar Narain by K. Bikram Singh.


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