Conflict of callings: Literature, politics, and the birth of pain in the poetry of Muktibodh (1917-1964)

Gautam, Sanjay Kumar

     This dissertation is a critical study of the poetry of Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh (1917-1964), one of the most significant Hindi poets of twentieth-century India. Specifically, I focus on Muktibodh's characterization of his poetry as the poetry of sat-cit-vedana or being-thinking- pain . I explore the conditions under which the trinity of sat-cit-ananda or being-thinking- joy , that constituted the foundation and telos of much of the discourse and practice of both literature and Hindu spirituality, gave way to the recognition of sat-cit-vedana or being-thinking- pain as the insurmountable and tragic fate of the modern poet in the poetry of Muktibodh. I argue that the source of this vedana or pain in Muktibodh's poetry lay in the irreconcilable nature of the conflicting callings of literature and politics in his works. While his literary calling drew Muktibodh towards Indian literary-religious traditions in general, and bhakti with its figure of the saint-poet in particular, his political calling drew him towards Marxism and the communist movement.
     In this dissertation, I explore the nature and evolution of this conflict of callings and the poet's unsuccessful efforts to reconcile them, by way of a close study of the structure, meaning and subtle variations over time of three dynamically inter-related motifs of death, haunting, and foreboding, the latter two being mutations of the primary motif of death. On the basis of my analysis of Muktibodh's poems, I argue that in his poetry the motif of death functions as an analog of renunciation, one of the foundational practices of Hindu literary-religious traditions, best exemplified in the figure of the saint-poet. I argue that despite Muktibodh's efforts to contain his poetry within the conceptual framework borrowed from the political discourse of Marxism, the irruption of these motifs of death, haunting, and foreboding in his poetry points to the irrepressible nature of the attraction that Indian literary-religious traditions held for him. The poet's inability to reconcile or overcome this conflict between the literary and the political, I argue, is the origin of pain in his poetry.

Ritter, Valerie