Muktibodh, the one who never published his works, was the Franz Kafka of India

Forgot password?

Delete Comment

Are you sure you want to delete this comment?

Muktibodh, the one who never published his works, was the Franz Kafka of India

Ramu Ramanathan reviews Muktibodh Samagra, an eight volume collection of the famous Hindi author’s work.

In the early sixties, there were a select few who had heard of Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh. The connoisseurs knew him as one of the stars of the Nayi Kavita movement. For my generation, he was the poet who gave us the war cry: Partner, tumhaari politics kya hai? (Partner, what is your politics?)”. Thankfully, Nemichandra Jain loved Muktibodh. Muktibodh Samagra: Volume 8 (Rajkamal Prakashan) published in 2019 is as much a homage to Jain as it is to Muktibodh. And so, we learn about Muktibodh the teacher, critic, Marxist, journalist (with a remarkable tally of stories on international politics with the byline of Yoghendrayan aka Avantilal Gupta), plus the assistant editor of journals such as Naya Khun and Saarthi.

Muktibodh Samagra : Volume 8 is an updated avatar of Muktibodh Samagra : Volume 6, a six-volume set published by Rajkamal Prakashan which was “lovingly” edited and compiled by Pt. Nemichandra Jain in 1980. There is an editorial re-arrangement plus additions in the latest 2019 edition. The most notable being, the inclusion of Bharat: Itihas aur Sanskriti (1962) which was embroiled in controversy and finally led the Madhya Pradesh government to ban the book.

Muktibodh died on 11 September 1964 at the age of 47. This anthology was published 26 years later. Jain is to Muktibodh what Max Brod was to Franz Kafka. There is an uncanny similarity. Kafka's novels were published posthumously. Muktibodh’s missing novel of 250 pages was handed over to a printer in Allahabad in 1948-49. Approximately 80 pages were composed. But the book was never published. All the words vanished! Shamsher Bahadur Singh, a noted Hindi poet, was the contact person for the novel. His sources were tapped. But it was a dead-end and the novel was forever lost. In 1975-76, an extract of the book was published in Pakshghar (literary magazine), this has been re-published at the end of Volume-3.

There are many such surprises. One story, published twice. With two diametrically opposed endings. A poem, published version, as well as the unpublished version. Volume 1 and Volume 2 contain the poems. It is a fascinating peek into a poet’s mind. How Muktibodh ceases to write tidier poems. In Volume 2, he is constantly switching time planes and exploring metaphysical themes. Sometimes these worlds collide, myths proliferate. Sometimes there is anger. The tone of his poems is pragitawaadi likewise his themes. Here is a poet who is deadly serious. Because he knows, living in this wretched land is a serious business.

The eight volumes are a labour of love on par to building the Taj Mahal. One can only imagine, how much Jain smoothed over for publication, the poems, prose, letters, stories, essays. He did this in the capacity of Muktibodh’s friend, mentor, critic. There are wonderful little asides about four young poets and enthusiastic comrades: Prabhakar Machwe, Muktibodh, Prabhagchandra Sharma and Jain. It was 1942. They met in Shujalpur in Central India where Jain was a teacher. The reason was a Sahitya Samelan. Instead of publishing tiny booklets or solo poetry publications, it was decided that seven poets from Malwa will be published as a collection. The seven poets were: Nemichandra Jain, Bharat Bhushan Agarwal, Prabhakar Machwe, Girirajkumar Mathur, Ramvilas Sharma, Sachidadanand Vatsyana (aka Agyeya) and “the very mature poems” of 26-year-old Muktibodh. It becomes a statement of intent. A gauntlet to the old guard. Thrilling stuff.

For example, what does one make of the lost jottings and incomplete poems in Volume 1 and Volume 2 some of which Jain salvaged along with Ramesh Muktibodh, the poet’s son? It is an act of love and faithfulness. But you are always asking the question, why did Muktibodh never publish his work? One reason is, he didn’t have the time. The other reason is, as he got his official job-related appointments he was on the move or at work. Such a disruption can put a writer off his feed.

Prior to reading the Muktibodh Samagra : Volume 8, I had read Chand Ka Moonh Tedha Hai and Ek Sahityik Ki Diary. In recent years, I have managed to coerce young actor friends to read Andhere Main or Brahm-Rakshas for my benefit. It is my standard audition test. Although Muktibodh’s poems have nothing to do with the play they will perform. I tell them this would supplement their brain cells. Plus there is a certain joy to “hear” Muktibodh. He makes the words leap off the page.

For a decade I have told myself I should translate Muktibodh into English. I have tried, I have failed. Which English to deploy, that has been the question? Also how much of Muktbodh is a fact, and how much fantasy? How does one dissect the dialectics from the underlying lyricism? And most importantly, what must one stress on: the absorbing storytelling or the brutal commentary on human oppression?

The starting point of Andhere Main is a shootout at Empress Mill in Nagpur. Muktibodh who worked for Naya Khoon was an eye witness. In Andhere Main, Muktibodh channeled his despair and created an evocative poem. It is an angry cry about the Indian concept of freedom. The darkness in Andhere Main is a symbol of the freedom that is not freedom at all. It is a fetishist illusion. The other cult classic Brahm-Rakshas is an elegy in Khari Boli. A tormented soul in search of higher ideals. Light and life hasten away even as Brahm-Rakshas huffs and puffs and is unable to transfer his knowledge. Many critics say Brahm-Rakshas is semi-autobiographical as Muktibodh wrote it during a phase when he saw the individual in him surrender to the darker forces (such as the hidden hand of the market made much of by Adam Smith). There was going to be no salvation. And that for Muktibodh and many is sufficient tragedy.

Nemichandra Jain, in the introduction to the original six volumes in 1980 says that, in editing, the six volumes he worked much —to create a “clean” copy. This meant retyping from copies in all shapes and sizes—trying to make sense of the changes, plus marginal notes, and amendments. Then there is the colliding of languages. For example, Marathi words in a Hindi poem (his mother who read Premchand stories to a young Muktibodh spoke to him in Marathi); the notes he wrote to himself or to Jain. With some poems, Muktibodh went on fiddling and tweaking for years. A poem, after all, is a process. A number of poems have multiple drafts. “Now I know what he has been doing all these years!” When he wasn’t writing, he was re-writing.

Muktibodh didn’t stop working. He was seeking perfection! Muktibodh Samagra : Volume 8 is a befitting tribute to the greatest poet in Hindi (shoulder- to-shoulder with Nagarjuna). The man who told a malevolent myth with an ultra-modern screenplay. An absolute must-read!

BOX ITEM: Muktibodh Samagra: Volume 8

Muktibodh Samagra: Volume 1: The early stories. But more importantly the early poems. Some of it published in Karamvir, Vani, and Veena as well as Taar Saptak. These were poems Muktibodh penned while was in Malwa, Bangalore, Calcutta, Banaras, Allahabad, Jabalpur, etc. This includes his first poem which was published in Karmveer (14 December, 1935).

Muktibodh Samagra: Volume 2: The poems Muktibodh penned when he lived in Nagpur. His most prolific – and economically challenging – phase was from 1953 to 1957. The symbols and images flowed. From 1958 to 1964, Muktibodh lived in Ranjnandgaon where he died. Includes all the classics.

Muktibodh Samagra: Volume 3: The lesser-known “lost” poems. Jain talks about how Muktibodh used to write on the blank side of the press releases! The dates on these press notes helped the editors identify the dates of his poems. It’s a Muktibodhian world of “villages, towns and cities, caves and jungles, wildernesses and river-beds, sand-dunes and the distant stars and solar systems; and mythologies.”

Muktibodh Samagra: Volume 4: Short stories that were penned from 1936 to 1963. This includes incomplete stories as well as stories that have been published for the first time. Also, there is the much talked about story Chabuk in its two different avatars.

Muktibodh Samagra: Volume 5: This volume has Ek Sahityik Ki Diary as well as his much-acclaimed class critique of romanticism and Jaishankar Prasad’s epic poem Kamayani which was published in 1937. Muktibodh says, “Credit has to be given to Prasad for pointing out that when a society is on the decline, when social structure stagnates, it latches on to religion or mysticism or some kind of idealism. Its main attraction is towards religion or mysticism only. The capitalism which, during its rise, liberated the minds of people from the strong clutches of religion, necessarily latches on to religion or mysticism in order to save its disintegrating structure.”

Muktibodh Samagra: Volume 6: Journalistic writings. For example, his work in Sarthak and Naya Khoon. These are editorials about politics, current affairs, international affairs about Marxism, USSR, China. As well as his notes about how he spent the day, his reading, writing, and teaching.

Muktibodh Samagra: Volume 7: This section with his essays and letters and reveals intimate details of Muktibodh’s ruminations and relationships, such as his friendships with Nemichandra Jain and Shamsher Bahadur Singh and Agyeya.

Muktibodh Samagra: Volume 8: The censored and controversial Bharat Itihas aur Samskriti is published in Volume 8. This was a course book for Madhya Pradesh which Muktibodh sourced from the works of Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, KM Pannikar, Radhakumund Mukerji, BG Gokhale, and BN Luniya. There were charges of plagiarism, plus those who were troubled by his Left perspective. The book was banned. There was a high court appeal, followed by charges and counter charges. All of it has been meticulously documented.

Ramu Ramanathan is a Mumbai-based playwright, poet, and journalist

Support our literary endeavours by subscribing to the FREE Newsletter service of Bengaluru Review here. Reach out to us with any queries or ideas of your own at

Loading comments