कृति व पाठक एक अनिवार्य द्वंद्व में विन्यस्त होते हैं। अगर अपने पाठकीय अहम् से संचालित होता पाठक कृति को वह अवकाश नहीं देना चाहता कि वह उसे परास्त कर सके तो रचना इस घात में निरंतर रहती है कि पाठक को अपने शब्द-पाश में फांस उसे पस्त कर दे। कम ही पाठक खुद को रचना के सम्मुख समर्पण कर देना चाहता है। गीत चतुर्वेदी की उभयचर ऐसी ही कृति है। अपनी निरीहता छुपाने को प्रयासरत इसके आख्यायक-नायक का समस्त क्षुद्रताओं के मध्य अपनी गरिमा सहेजे ले जाने का संघर्ष आपको विनम्र बनाता है।
हमारे सामूहिक मिथकों की प्रतिनिधि यह रचना आख्यायक को कविता में स्थापित करती है, हमारी ढहती कायनात के विरुद्ध आ ठहरी एक ईमानदार पुकार की मानिंद पाठक की रूह पर निनादित होती है।
A script waiting to explode: A hero retrieved from No Man's Land
A journey through Ubayachar, especially in sultry summer nights, constitutes an epic experience of a battered and bruised soldier who has stranded into the enemy territory, and now tries to crawl his way out. Underneath the ground lies a maze of minefields, a slight step (mis) and he will be blown over. Word after word, line after line, the reader-soldier comes across landmines --- a script waiting to be exploded. As he attempts to creep to safety amid the swooning darkness, suddenly he finds that he has stepped onto a mine and if he now moves ahead, it's all over.
No Man's Land.
How he negotiates this alien territory from now onwards forms an amazingly adventurous experience for which he cannot but express gratitude for the colonel who laid this labyrinthine network of mines --- Geet Chaturvedi.
A trapped soldier expressing gratitude to his enemy? He will. For this is a text quintessentially for the reader, which, since it leaves you in such a treacherous terrain with little space to move and maneuver, inspires and intimidates you, teases and threatens you, pushes and provokes you to plod your way out.
On surface, it is a fable narrated in twenty-seven episodes by an unnamed, unidentified narrator --- an amphibian. Scratch the surface, it yearns to be an epic. But aren't we told by Dryden that an epic is the greatest feat human soul is capable of achieving? Can an epic be narrated by such a petty hero like an amphibian?
Geet subverts many comfortably-placed propositions, discards ensconced hypotheses, as he announces that the hero of our time, can, at best, be an amphibian. (Whether he is able to make a major rupture and mark a departure from the literary standards, especially those of an epic, we shall explore elsewhere, being unable to do so due to limited space here. We shall then also deliberate over its narrative and the efficacy of a maze of references --- what does Geet achieve or lose by loading his text with references that may not have any apparent relation with the text? The occasion will also be of discovering inherent and ingrained inconsistencies, if any, concealed under these references.)
So who is this hero whose honest intensity and intense honesty make you restless and how he develops in the narrative?
In the third episode, the narrator suggests he eats potatoes containing DNA of lobsters, an amphibian. (Why only potatoes, the staple vegetable of poor in India?) In the tenth episode, a hint that he lives both in water and on land. In the twenty-third episode, you realize his absolute dependence on the authorities to validate his existence --- Vah apni prajati ka pehla tha jiski vyapak utpatti ke liye sarkaar ki manjuri darkaar thi.
And finally in the last, you learn that he was born during an unusually tumultuous period of Indian politics --- 1975-1977 --- as he sums up by questioning his own nervous existence --- hamara garbhadhan ek baar-baar duhrayi bhul ke tehat hua tha ya ek suniyojit uttejak rajnetik virodh ke karan?
Linking the moment of birth with politics. Some Kundera here? In a masterstroke accompanied by acute political understanding, Geet becomes the advocate of an entire generation, which was born despite the repeated attempts of the authorities to force their parents for vasectomy. Taking birth during the Emergency, this generation faced the fate worst than foeticide --- even its foetus was not allowed to form. The sperm of their fathers was not allowed to travel to their mother's womb. Still they, courtesy their defiant parents, tiptoed into the universe. They were not privileged like 'normal' children to have their births announced and celebrated. Operating under fear and secrecy, their delivery was effected in a dark cellar by a midwife trembling with trepidation, the umbilical cord was removed with a rusted blade, the news of their birth was suppressed ---- not to speak of their turbulent upbringing.
Could such a child have assumed any form except that of an Ubhaychar, Geet seems to ask.
Also compare the uncanny, though a bit different, similarity of this narrator's misgivings about his birth with Tristram Shandy. "I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing... Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly --- I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that in which the reader is likely to see me."
As Geet transcends history, geography and takes his narrative back and forth from the Biblical Original Sin to the 'constipation of globalization', he creates a hero, like Tristram Shandy, who reveals himself not through what he is but what's his take about life.
With the advent of novel and shorter fiction, we almost lost the hero of poetry. A poem, critics told us, should be read and evaluated for its texture, composition, emotion and layers. There may be an occasional discourse on the hero of a Ram Ki Shakti Pooja or an Asadhya Veena, but over the last hundred years rarely you will find a text dedicated to the hero of a poem. Bizarre? After all, each expression presupposes a narrator, and without comprehending his stance, manners and gestures one is least likely to locate the text. Such has been the intimidation of prose fiction, which of course gives lot more space to its narrator to develop and delve, that it was ignored that a poem, too, has a narrator.
Geet retrieves and relocates this lost hero, who is able to see himself in the blinding light of clarity and establish his frailties to the minutest of the tissue.
The narrator of Ubhayachar, in his multi-layered complexities, matches that of a novel. So you get a hero, suffering from split personality, perceptive but incapacitated to take decisions, keen to comprehend the life but ever seen grappling with its incomprehensible maze. Such is the baffling narrative, a formidable strength of the text, that you are left groping for clues who this unnamed hero could be?
Memory is among the major themes of the text. A recurring motif, it develops in many episodes through different instances....
Apmaan jo jhele the unko bhul jane ka sankoch nasht hua
Ek din men bhul jaonga kyuki yahi meri prakriti hai
Bhulna hi sabse prakritik kriya hai yaad rakhne ko kitne kartab karne padte hain
Smriti ka ek khand is kaam ke liye surakshit ki dhire-dhire sab kuch bhul jana hai
Geet meditates as he writes and like a hammer on the nail, he repeatedly hits against our consciousness, jostling our memories.
Each episode is a meditation on an aspect of life --- love, death, forgetting, women, tradition, politics --- and together they form a collage, a narrative whose beads, uncover the surface, are woven into a series. In some episodes this narrator is coherent, in other switches over to gibberish.
Some of his utterances do appear political prattle and clumsy crackle, and the author could well have trimmed those, but not for a moment he fails to question, unrelentingly. Observe, unfailingly. This inquisitive eye of the narrator, indeed, rescues this inordinately ambitious and audacious text from crumbling at some instances. An oblique observation, a nuanced opinion, peppered through the text hold its fort in troubled waters.
A fascination towards the episodic narrative, visible in Geet's fiction too, shows the understanding of the poet that his fractured and fragmented time can be comprehended and captured only through episodes in which each tissue, despite having an apparent independent existence, is a part of larger organic system, over which it does not have any control.
The realization of his insignificance makes him equate himself, in a remarkable metaphor, with a hesitant cello, which doesn't let its echoes spread across. At times he attempts to be an inhabitant of all islands to end the loneliness pervading his being and those of the islands.
Never afraid of taking stances and stands, this narrator is burdened with history, aware of his political responsibilities, yearns to locate the rightful place of art in the world and believes that by writing we decimate our petty grievances and knows the methods to overcome the regret of forgetting our humiliations. If his unusually formidable propositions intimidates you with the wisdom contained, his vulnerability and frailties in love leaves you with a subtle tinge of sadness. Never, however, he seeks sympathy.
Still, he doesn't suggest to what extent he is involved in the 'battle', and comes across, at best, as a Milan Kunderian narrator who, with due regard to Francois Ricard, has sidestepped from the battlefield, and cannot be persuaded to take the guard.
Was it a tactical error by Geet? Could he have taken his hero at least a few notches up by making him 'directly participate' instead of mere indulging in ponderings?
For, then the text would have lost its claim over representing an Ubhayachar --- a creature who has lived the best and the worst of both the worlds but has been maimed to take to the weapon. Remember Babruvahan? The mythical hero of Mahabharta, who had come to take part in the battle but was beheaded by Krishna --- condemned to see the battle in its blinding glaze but incapaciated to act.
Representing our collective myths, Ubhayachar is the unknown fear of our soul, an unidentified tear of eyes, a smile waiting to explode on lips, a love lost in childhood, a grandmother died long ago, a memory struggling against time, an honest expression perched against the crumbling universe.
As mentioned in the beginning, each episode is a live minefield, which cannot be defused even by the best of the anti-mine expert as he finds himself hopelessly ill-equipped before this text loaded with meanings and references.
Precisely this aspect makes the journey of the reader-soldier, as indicated in the beginning, epic. Offering an acute realization of human existence, the text is a wonderfully perceptive commentary on the contemporary life and its enfeebling limitations and simultaneous glorious escapes...
Mujhse chini gayi pehli chij thi mera adhyatmik vivek uske baad chini chijon ki fehrist hi na bana paya
Men aise batata apna naam jese arthi ke piche koi marne wale ka naam bata raha ho
Mujhmen arth mat khojna, men kisi pratik men pravisht ho nasht nahi hona chahta
Main kisi pratispardha men nahi raha isliye sabse aage raha
A journey through a text marks an intense confrontation between its words and the reader, with none keen to oblige the other. Rarely a reader wants to give up her being before a text, ready to pawn her life, to be blown up by the RDX contained in the words. As you reach the fading end of Ubhayachar after a long crawl with blood oozing from your fresh wounds, you, knowing well you're on a mine, find yourself gripped with an irresistible temptation to step ahead and blow yourself up, surrender yourself to the text, for which the author, as if in providence anticipating this moment, has already worded a seductive description --- Us laash ki aankhen khuli thin jese koi computer ko shutdown karna bhul gaya ho.