As the bulldozer suddenly unleashes terror on the marginalized section of society, a number of Hindi poets, shaken by the disturbing events, have taken to the pen to register their protest. When bulldozers had been knocking down shanties, jeered by an enthusiastic crowd, a prominent Hindi web journal Samalochan brought out two volumes of poems on the cruelty inflicted by the machine.
The machine has ignited rare poetics among Hindi poets, prompting them to create a bond of solidarity with victims. Samalochan’s editor Arun Dev, himself a poet, brought together a number of poets committed to various ideologies and sensibilities ranging from social realists, formalists and feminists to initiate a meaningful resistance against the State’s intimidation. The poems, having occasional traces of rhetorical flourish, criticise the undeclared war against helpless citizens, take us into the lives of sufferers and explore the possibility of social mobilization. The evocative poems -- some of them laconic, discursive and even unfinished --- expose us to the malady of deprivation.
The first issue’s editorial mentions that the bulldozer has become the most visible symbol of arrogance of power, and makes a strong plea for forestalling its march immediately before it grows into a tank. Eminent poet Vijay Kumar notes that while the bulldozer roots out every trace of human construction, memories and finer points of life, poetry is an antidote to cruelty and saves us from untimely death.
Notably, the American poet Stanely Kunitz (1905-2006) personified the bulldozer as a philanderer male drunk with gasoline who forces himself on women.
Sahitya Akademi winning poet Rajesh Joshi’s poem The Bulldozer reads, “Have you seen a bulldozer? It closely resembles the brain of an eccentric ruler/ Who never ponders/ it requires just command/ it unleashes all-round destruction /When the eccentric ruler comes out from his dreamy world/ the country gets reduced to debris/ The eccentric ruler tries to stand on the debris/ But he had lost his spinal cord / He seeks to laugh loudly/ The bulldozer knocked down his jaw, and all teeth/ the bulldozer recognizes none!”
Robert Francis(1901-1987), an American poet, once discussed the etymology of the word bulldozer. It is bull by day and dozes by night. It symbolizes unbridled power. For Arun Kamal, the distinguished Hindi poet, it dozes all the time but never relinquishes its power of destruction. Arun Kamal vividly captures an imaginary introspection by the bulldozer: "Now neither moves the wheels, nor the jaw/Grass grew around the wheels and ants made it their abode/ The teeth of jaw got broken down where squirrels play/ In my time I have uprooted innumerable huts and colonies/ The slowest moving, and the deadliest weapon/ once a child left buried while asleep in his cradle….I don't know how to turn back but I’ve had to return.”
Vishnu Nagar, another prominent poet, writes that the bulldozer represents an ideology that inhales all the dread with its noise. Another poet turns to irony and proposes that the very existence of the marginalized and the poor is illegal. Their hunger and thirst, joys and sorrows, their wish for a roof before leaving the world, everything needs to be repudiated with disdain. The bulldozer does it with remarkable ease.
Senior poet Leeladhar Mandloi has composed two poems, Bulldozer in the Ramdan and Bulldozer: Remembrance of Tulsi's Ram. The bulldozer's driver, he writes, is a heartless autocrat who thrives on cruelty.
Another poet Krishna Kalprit says that the bulldozer cannot do any harm to the Red Fort, The Taj Mahal, Kashi Vishwanath temple and Jama Masjid. It can only ruin the poor.
These poems voice an acute political consciousness. Linda Hutcheon once described the role of poetry in modern times as primarily political, because poetry cannot but be political. It becomes an act of calling out and talking back to inhuman forces. In moments of peril, it builds solidarity that raises collective consciousness against the State’s oppression.
The two issues have poems by over twenty writers, marking a creative resistance against tyranny. Eminent poet and author Ashok Vajpeyi observes in his introduction that when Hindi poets stand up against lies, cruelty and destruction, their intervention assures us that literature has not been forgotten. “It speaks the truth and is not frightened at all.”
(Shafey Kidwai is a bilingual critic who won the Sahitya Academy Award for Urdu in 2019. He is a professor of Mass Communication at Aligarh Muslim University. Views expressed are personal)