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Nazim Hikmet 

Amarjit Chandan

 
To write about Nazim Hikmet is like writing about your family member. The name is so familiar and so close to me. Its very sound touches the chords of memory. 
 
He is an ustaad, comrade and mentor to all the post-war generations of progressive poets of all the Indian languages. We started writing when the Vietnam War was in its decisive phase. We thought we were the inheritors of Hikmet and Neruda. Brecht came quite late, when we had to rethink and recommit ourselves to the dialectics of art and literature.
 

Hikmet was our role model. We wanted to be famous like him overnight. The individual terrorist Maoist movement in India, which advocated the politics of murder and martyrdom, provided us the recipe of prison and poetry. My poet friend Pash, who was assassinated in 1988 at the age of 38 by the Sikh fundamentalists, used to wait for the police to arrest him and lodge him in prison, so that he could write like Hikmet. We all availed ourselves the opportunity and wrote so many poems in prison! A Hindi poet named his son Nazim. Ali Sardar Jafri, Urdu poet, named his sons as Nazim and Hikmet. 

It is ironical that Hikmet reached us, in English translation of course, thanks to the western publishers. I still wonder why Progress Publishers in Moscow did not produce his works. Reading Hikmet, I always envy his times, which were charged with optimism. Sadly, I am the product of a divided movement and shattered socialist dream. Unlike Neruda, Hikmet had the guts to write though a solitary poem, against Stalin’s personality cult. Brecht is another poet who did not shame his kind. 
 
The scene of the last moments of Hikmet as narrated by his Russian wife haunts me. He always waited for the postman to arrive. One morning the bell rang. He ran towards the door and collapsed before he could open it. His heart had stopped beating. Whose letter had he waited for? Did it arrive on that fateful day? And his poem on his own funeral defying death and time causes a lump in the throat.
 

One of Hikmet’s rubayees needs no translation. Its last lines read the same in Punjabi: 

                  alvida dunya

                  merhaba kayanat

 
His many poems were translated into Punjabi by others and me. Though they do not read the same as in the original, but I am sure they mean the same. That is what true poetry is.
 

  

[Courtesy: Papirus. 30 August 1999.  Istanbul.]