Shrikant Verma

Translated by Rahul Soni

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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.

Rahul Soni

Rahul Roni is a writer, editor and translator based in India. He co-founded and, from 2008 to 2012, co-edited Pratilipi, a literary journal, and Pratilipi Books, an independent publishing imprint. he is chief editor at Writer's Side, a literary agency and manuscript assessment service. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Almost Island, Biblio, Dhauli Review, Hindi, Indian Literature, Out of Print Magazine, Poetry International Web, Pratilipi, Recours au Poème, Tehelka, and other venues. He was a Charles Wallace Visiting Fellow in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia in 2010 and received the Sangam House Fellowship in 2012.

Shrikant Verma

Shrikant Verma (1931-86) was a central figure in the Nai Kavita movement in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. Born in Bilaspur, he did his Masters in Hindi from Nagpur University in 1956, then moved to New Delhi, where he worked in journalism and politics. Verma served as a special correspondent for Dinman, a major Hindi periodical, from 1966 to 1977. In 1976, he was elected a member of the Rajya Sabha on a Congress (I) ticket, and served as spokesman to the party through the late 1970s and early '80s. He published two collections of fiction, a novel, a travelogue, literary interviews, essays and five collections of poetry, including Jalsaghar (1973) and Magadh (1984). Verma was a visitor at the Iowa International Writing Program twice (1970-71 and 1978), and won the Tulsi Puraskar (1976), the Kumaran Asan Award, and the Sahitya Akademi Award (posthumously, for Magadh, in 1987).