January 2024 Poetry Feature: Four Poems by Vinod Kumar Shukla

By VINOD KUMAR SHUKLA
Translated from Hindi by ARVIND KRISHNA MEHROTRA

Table of Contents:

  • “I solemnly pledge”
  • “Not with my own feet”
  • “To get out of bed in the morning”
  • “For a ray of sunlight”

 

I solemnly pledge

I solemnly pledge
in my language
that I shall not insult anyone else’s,
and so that I change
my language with every birth,
I pledge to keep being reborn.
I say this to the living world,
even to birds, animals, insects.

 

Not with my own feet

Not with my own feet
but everyone’s,
I’m walking with everyone,
seeing with everyone’s eyes.
When I wake, it’s from everyone’s sleep,
when I sleep, it’s under everyone’s eyelids.
Far from being alone,
I’m a large gathering,
and I’m each person in it.
Don’t go looking for me.
If you find me, it’ll be
after you’ve found everyone else.
Maybe you don’t find me at all.
Instead of me, you can meet
the first person you see.

 

To get out of bed in the morning

To get out of bed in the morning,
I don’t depend on anyone
except on my sleep.
If I’m fast asleep
and it’s time to get out of bed,
I find myself opening my eyes.
When I want to stay awake, sleep won’t come.
If I stay awake all night
sleep won’t come all night.
When I don’t sleep
I don’t even yawn.
To put my confidence in sleep to the test,
I make my bed meticulously,
string up the mosquito net,
keep a sheet if I need one to cover myself,
and I still won’t be able to sleep.
My confidence in sleep is unshaken.
Which is why I say on everyone’s behalf,
Sleep, you stay on till the end of night,
and Night, you stay on too,
for as long as those who are tired out are sleeping.

 

For a ray of sunlight

For a ray of sunlight
that has lost its way
to come and try
and make holes in the darkness around me
is not what I want,
but that my darkness
not let the ray of sunlight
go astray.

 

 

Vinod Kumar Shukla was born in Rajnandgaon, in central India, in 1937. After doing his M.Sc. in Agricultural Extension, he taught at Indira Gandhi Agricultural University, Raipur, from where he retired in 1996. His first publication, in 1971, was the poetry chapbook Lagbhag Jaihind (Hail India, Almost). He has since published more than a dozen books that include both poetry, fiction, and books for children. His first novel Naukar ki kameez (1979), translated by Satti Khanna as The Servant’s Shirt (1999), was made into a film by Mani Kaul and won the 1999 Netpac Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Among Shukla’s many awards are the Sahitya Akademi Award and the 2023 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. A collection of Shukla’s poems Treasurer of Piggy Banks, translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, is forthcoming from Circumference Books. 

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra lives in Dehra Dun, India. He is the author of Collected Poems 1968-2014 (Penguin Modern Classics, 2014) and Selected Poems and Translations (NYRB/Poets 2020) and two collections of essays. He is also the translator of The Absent Traveller: Prakrit Love Poetry (Penguin Classics, 2008), Songs of Kabir (NYRB Classics, 2011), and, with Sara Rai, of Vinod Kumar Shukla’s Blue Is Like Blue: Stories (HarperCollins India, 2019). His new collection of poems is Book of Rahim (Shearsman Books, UK and Literary Activism/Westland India, 2023).

January 2024 Poetry Feature: Four Poems by Vinod Kumar Shukla

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