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The Limits of Freedom in Nirālā’s Early Poetics

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Presenter:

· Paresh Chandra Princeton University (Princeton, United States of America)

Panel:

‘Vernacular’ Theorisations of ‘Literature’ in Modern South Asia

Abstract

Key to Nirālā’s early poetry (e.g. “prapāt ke pratī”, “bādal rāg,” “dhvani”) is the idea of a subjectivity that defines itself in free movement away from its point of origin, and which circumvents ossification of identity. In Nirālā’s prose, this attitude to subjectivity comes out in his espousal of free verse (svachhand chhand), and in his view of the primordial vitality and spontaneity of Vedic poetry. In this period Nirālā also wrote on national freedom: the question of verse’s freedom and that of the people, often addressed within the same works, were intertwined (and not only in the term svachhandatā). Unfreedom in verse, the inability to move past institutionalized patterns of measure, classicism of any kind (e.g. the poetry of the so-called Rītīkāl), were read by Nirālā as signs of a people’s unfreedom. But then, there are instances in Nirālā’s early work (“adhivās,” “dhvanī,” “vismrit bhor,” Nirālā’s essay on Sumitrānandan Pant’s “Pallav”) that go against the fantasy of limitless freedom by emphasizing the need for measure (e.g. meter in poetry) and the importance of historical rootedness. So, Nirālā argues that free verse emerges in different traditions differently. Free verse in Hindi is Hindi free verse, and in its emergence, it absorbs Hindi’s communal (jātiya) poetic meters. Is it possible to suggest his own fantasy of unbounded freedom produced an anxious counterpart as gestures of containment? If yes, then perhaps Nirālā’s investment in the project of Hindi was also underwritten by this same anxiety. Perhaps Nirālā’s “Hindi nationalism” is not equiprimordial with the modernity of his free verse poetics, but is a reaction to its destablizing openness.