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'Pointless Angst' by 'Literary Naxals': Gujarat Sahitya Akademi Hits out at Poem on Ganga Corpses

"The said poem has been used as a shoulder to fire from by such elements who have started a conspiracy," Akademi chairman Vishnu Pandya wrote.
Bodies of the deceased buried in the sand near the banks of Ganga river, allegedly due to shortage of wood for cremation, during the second wave of coronavirus, at Shringverpur Ghat in Prayagraj, Saturday, May 15, 2021. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: The Gujarat Sahitya Akademi has called a poem critical of bodies found floating on the Ganga an example of “pointless angst” circulated by “literary Naxals.”

The Indian Express has reported that an editorial in the Akademi’s official journal Shabdasrishti chose to come down heavily on a poem, Shabvahini Ganga, by Parul Khakhar.

Notably, while the poem was not mentioned by name in the editorial, the Akademi’s chairman Vishnu Pandya told Express that he had indeed referred to Khakhar’s poem when he wrote the editorial.

The Gujarati poem had made waves in the days since it was published on Khakhar’s Facebook page on May 11 and has been translated into several languages since. Writing for The Wire, Deepal Trivedi had called it “a short but powerful satire in Gujarati that describes Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a ‘naked king’ ruling a ‘Ram Rajya’ (kingdom of gods) where the sacred Ganga serves as a ‘hearse’ for corpses.”

Pandya blames the poem for spreading “anarchy” in his editorial. He also labels it as “pointless angst expressed in a state of agitation” and says that it has been “misused by forces who are anti-Centre and anti-Centre’s nationalist ideologies.”

Express has translated the Gujarati editorial thus:

“The said poem has been used as a shoulder to fire from by such elements who have started a conspiracy, whose commitment is not to India but to something else, who are Leftist, so-called liberals, to whom nobody pays any attention… Such people want to quickly spread chaos in India and create anarchy… They are active on all fronts and in the same way they have jumped into literature with dirty intentions. The purpose of these literary Naxals is to influence a section of people who would relate their own grief and happiness to this (the poem).”

The phrase “literary Naxals” is in English in the editorial and appears to improve upon the rightwing’s favoured phrase ‘urban Naxals’, referring to thinkers critical of the Modi government.

The fact that corpses, of suspected COVID-19 patients, were floating up on the Ganga, India’s largest river in the middle of an unprecedented surge in cases and deaths had made international news. The bodies had pointed not just to crushing poverty and mounting deaths amidst the crisis but also to the discrepancy in state and Central governments’ quoted deaths.

Even though Pandya calls those circulating Khakhar’s poem ‘Leftists, so-called liberals’, until she chose to publish this poem, Khakhar was quite popular among rightwing circles.

Also read: BJP Furious as Top Gujarati Poet Blames ‘Naked King’ Modi for Corpses Floating in the Ganga

Interestingly, in her piece on Khakhar’s poem and the impact it has made across India, Trivedi had identified Akademi chairman Vishnu Pandya as having earlier described Khakhar as “the next big icon of Gujarati poetry”.

Pandya is associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its Gujarati mouthpiece, Sadhna. He was awarded the Padma Shri, after former Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi became prime minister.

Khakhar had also met with online attacks in the immediate aftermath of publishing her poem as well.

A translation of the poem, by Rita and Abhijit Kothari, is given below:

The corpses spoke in one voice : “All is well, sab kuchh changa-changa”
Lord, in your ideal realm the hearse is now the Ganga

Lord, your crematoriums are too few; fewer the wood for pyres
Lord, our pall-bearers are too few, fewer yet the mourners
Lord, in every home Yama performs the dance macabre
Lord, in your ideal realm the hearse is now the Ganga

Lord, your smoke belching chimneys now seek respite
Lord, our bangles are shattered, shattered are our hearts
The fiddle plays while the towns are ablaze, “Wah, Billa-Ranga”
Lord, in your ideal realm the hearse is now the Ganga

Lord, your clothes are divine, divine is your radiance
Lord, the town entire sees you in your true form
If there be a real man here, come forward and say
“The emperor has no clothes”
Lord, in your ideal realm the hearse is now the Ganga.

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