One of the most renowned and influential poets writing in Hindi, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ (1896—1961) did not speak the language as a child. Born into a Brahman family in Midnapore, Bengal, he was raised in a family that spoke Bengali and Baiswari. Nirala took an early interest in Sanskrit, then mastered Hindi and English as a young adult and went on to produce an unrivaled body of poetry, novels, short stories and essays.
There is still much mystery surrounding the circumstances of Nirala’s life, according to David Rubin. In the foreword to his 1977 translation of selected poems by Nirala, titled A Season on the Earth, David writes: “The meaning of some passages throughout his work and even his sanity, along with many biographical details…are matters of continuing dispute.” What nobody contests is that Nirala was a masterful creator of short lyrics describing the Indian seasons, a tradition harking back to classical Sanskrit literature, as well as verses steeped in introspection and revelation. David notes that Nirala chose the title Apara for his own anthology of his work up to 1950. The word signifies the experience, or wisdom, of the world—the very opposite of what we think of, today, as transcendental. David writes: “There is doubtless an ironic overtone in this designation, for Nirala apparently believed, like the Madhyamikas and some Vedantins, that the physical universe, though it may be termed ultimately unreal, is nevertheless the vehicle of revelation of the absolute reality, and not to be distinguished from it by an enlightened awareness.”
In his long, scholarly afterword to this same anthology of Nirala’s poetry, David positioned Nirala as one of the four remarkable poets who formed the nucleus of the Chhayavad (“shadow-speak”) movement. He was easily the most extraordinary of the four, David writes. “[Nirala’s] eccentricities, his generosity, the power of his personality and the bellicose spirit which led him into so many notorious imbroglios (such as those with Gandhi and Nehru), all made him noteworthy even in that most colorful of Indian literary eras.” To continue reading this account of Nirala’s life and times, please click here.
David’s Published Works on Nirala
A Season on the Earth
(Selected Poems of Nirala, Translated by David Rubin)
Columbia University Press, 1977
The Return of Sarasvati
(Four Hindi Poets, Translated from Hindi by David Rubin)
Oxford University Press, 1993
Of Love and War
(A Chayavad Anthology, Translated from Hindi by David Rubin)
Oxford University Press, 2005