Translated by Rahul Soni
Magadh, Shrikant Verma's crowning achievement, was published in Hindi in 1984 and is one of the key works of late 20th century Indian poetry. Speaking both archly and urgently through unreliable narrators—commoners, statesmen, wanderers, people close to power (but never in power)—often like a kind of prudent and duplicitous advice for the ears of monarchs, the 56 poems range widely in tone from nostalgic to ironic to bitter to sorrowful.
In a style that is both minimalist and richly allusive, Verma tells scathing tales of the decline and deep inner corruption of ancient empires on the Indian peninsula—tales of guilt, loss, arrogance, ignorance and karma—with unmistakable contemporary echoes. Interestingly, Verma knew at close hand exactly how ideas could be abused by power: he had himself been a senior member and spokesman of the Congress party in the late 1970s and early 1980s, during some of India's darkest times.
While Cavafy, Borges and Calvino might be easy touchstones, it is Verma's keen political eye that sets him apart, and Magadh remains a unique book—one of the most important collections of modern Hindi poetry, and the masterpiece of a great world poet.