The Wish of a Leaf : Remembering Kunwar Narain, by Kalpna Singh-Chitnis

In Kilbury Forest, Nainital

The Wish of a Leaf

“Sitting in a park I felt at peace
in the comfort of a tree’s shade I felt at peace
a leaf fell from a branch; the wish of a leaf : “now let us go…”
contemplating this, I felt at peace.”

(a poem by Kunwar Narain, translated by Apurva Narain)

Kunwar Narain, one of the most revered Indian poets of Hindi literature, seemed to contemplate the destiny of human life, in the wish of a fallen leaf itself.

Honored with India’s highest literary accolades such as the Jnanpith Award; the Sahitya Academy Award; India’s civilian honor Padma Bhūshan, and international awards such as Warsaw University’s honorary medal and Italy’s Premio Feronia for distinguished world author, Kunwar Narain passed away on November 15th 2017, at the age of ninety. He died at his home in New Delhi, after suffering a brain hemorrhage and staying in a coma for over four months. After losing his vision in the later part of his life, Kunwar Narain still continued to maintain his connection with the world. He made his gentle presence felt to all who visited him by holding their hands in his own, that wrote his timeless work of poetry, stories, essays, and criticisms of literature, films and the arts.

In study room, at his home in Lucknow, 1970s

Kunwar Narain chose to live a quiet life, and remained very discreet about publishing his work. That was his way of saying no to the way the literary establishment works. But he gave his gifts generously to the world. I never met Kunwar Narain in person, but knowing the heart of the poet through his work, I could imagine him say, before passing, the wish of a leaf – “now let us go…,” and feeling at peace on the day of his departure.

Kunwar Narain with wife Bharati and son Apurva

Kunwar Narain was born on September 19th, 1927 in Faizabad. He spent his early life in the twin cities of Ayodhya and Faizabad, before making Lucknow his new home, where he wrote most of his literary works. His house in Lucknow was a legendary literary and cultural centre for writers, scholars and artists from all over the world. That house is sadly no more to live that legacy. In the last couple of decades, Kunwar Narain lived in Delhi, a kind of secluded, saintly life, in a small flat with his wife and son.


Kunwar Narain with Satyajit Ray and Birju Maharaj

Kunwar Narain was a humanist, and one can see the humanity present not only in his poetry, but everything else that he wrote in his life. A poet of love, he was love himself. A person of varied interest, he derived inspiration from many sources and various aspects of human life. His interest in literature, art, religion, philosophy, history, and politics was vital for his writing. But he was never committed to any particular political ideology or belief system, that was common among his generation of writers, in the post-independence history of Indian literature. Maybe because he was insightful enough to see that life is much bigger than any one ideology; and denying what he believed in, would had been like denying life itself. Kunwar Narain was a politically aware person, but not overtly political. He was social, but not limited to expressing views that might guarantee social acceptance, as some of his critics might suggest. He was an original thinker, and his views may make one believe that he wrote and lived in a periphery, drawn from his own personal philosophy. But to my understanding, on the contrary, this is what makes Kunwar Narain a more universal person and a poet, and his work more appealing to his readers, than that of his many contemporaries.

With Manohar Shyam Joshi, Rajendra Yadav, Kamleshwar and Nirmal Verma

Kunwar Narain was blessed with fame and fortune and loved by both his admirers and critics. He was a rare gem of the Indian literature, who shined in the brilliance of his own light. Narain’s legacy is linked to Hindi’s Nayī Kavitā (New Poetry), a movement that evolved in the fifties and sixties. But he was truly international and expanded his writings carrying a diverse range of influences from India and abroad, over a period of more than sixty years. He was influenced by Mythologies, Upanishads, Buddhism, Marxism, Kabir, Khusro, Kafka, Cavafy, Ghalib, Gandhi, and more. He traveled to many countries in Asia and Europe and met Nazim Hikmet and Pablo Neruda.

He translated the French symbolist poets like Stéphane Mallarmé, Charles Baudelaire, and Paul Valéry and found himself being a huge admirer of Jorge Luis Borges and Constantine Cavafy. He blended the influences coming to him from all sources in his works, that have been translated into many Indian and international languages. If any poet of Hindi literature was a more suitable candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature, that was Kunwar Narain.

In this edition, we are thrilled to publish some of the Hindi poems of Kunwar Narain, translated by his son, Apurva Narain. A selection of poems by Kunwar Narain translated by Apurva Narain can also be found in “No Other World”, published in 2008 from Rupa, India, and in 2010 from Arc, UK.

– Kalpna Singh-Chitnis

To read Kunwar Narain poems CLICK HERE


Kalpna Singh-Chitnis is an Indian-American Poet and Filmmaker, based in the United States.





One Comment:

  1. Great read !
    Many thanks Kalpana to have written with so deep understanding.
    Thanks Apoorv ji for sharing.
    It’s a treasure !

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