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Poetry in Lockdown: How Writing in Pandemic Kept Bureaucrat Mukul Kumar Engrossed Despite Busy Schedule

By: Simantini Dey

News18.com

Last Updated: February 26, 2021, 21:09 IST

Combination photo of writer Mukul Kumar .

Combination photo of writer Mukul Kumar .

In an interview with News18.com, Kumar said that the pandemic gave him the mental breathing space to return to poetry after writing fiction for years.

The Beggar

“A beggar..Limbless, Armless. The fragments..Barely clad, The begging bowl..tied to the loose end of ..one arm, rolls over the..pathway along..the garment shops, And stomachs out..some cacophonous score which..is getting drowned into ..the clatter of stones..raining into his empty bowl."

The aforementioned poem, written by bureaucrat, novelist and poet Mukul Kumar, was published in August 2020 in an anthology of 52 poems, titled Catharsis. At the time of the publication of the book, India was in the middle of the crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic and Kumar’s poems show uncanny prescience in talking about the loneliness elderlies experienced, the epiphanies that were birthed out of introspection and solitude, the plight of the marginalised and the journeys of human souls.

In an interview with News18.com, Kumar said that the pandemic gave him the mental breathing space to return to poetry after writing fiction for years. “Catharsis is the outcome of the lockdown; it was during that time that I was able to revive my love for poetry," said Kumar, who has already written another novella, titled Aarzoo-Arshan, after the publication of Catharsis.

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For all his creative upsurge, the pandemic was also a hectic time for Kumar. As a bureaucrat, he was an integral part of the planning team that had to prepare for railways to reopen after the lockdown.

“Although we worked from home during the initial part of the lockdown, I was very engrossed with my work because we were planning to restart a few trains on pilot basis. We had to schedule those trains, make their runs possible. I was an integral part of the entire process, and it was a very satisfying experience. For me, this was one of those moments in my civil service journey, where the sense of service became very palpable. Otherwise, in the routine runs, you don’t realise if your contribution is of any significance at all. Being a part of the nation-building process, being able to make such decisions was the reason why I joined the civil services in the first place," added Kumar.

Kumar, an officer of 1997 batch, revealed that even when he was preparing for his civil service entrance exams, he knew he wanted to be a writer too.

“Writing was my passion. As a schoolboy, I would often be scribbling my thoughts on notebooks, but I always kept them to myself because I wasn’t sure if they were good enough. Like every artist, I, too, suffered from self-doubt. I was also aware that it would be tough to make a living out of Writing. Fortunately, I was equally interested in civil services, and I wanted to be a part of the nation-building process and help the society," he explained.

Kumar’s first novel, As Boys Become Men, was autobiographical and told the story of three young boys from Delhi University coming together and writing their civil services exam.

“It was a story that depicted my fascination with the civil services and why I believe that it is a perfect cocktail of service and authority. Those in civil services are not only able to participate in the society building process, but are also valued by the society," he claimed.

Kumar, however, confessed that preparing for his civil services exam was easier than writing fiction.

“Fiction writing is demanding. You create a world from scratch. Think of plot, story, characters, everything. I started writing fiction when I was in the (Railway) ministry. Once I started, it took its course. I was just an agent in the hands of the creative frenzy that gripped me. I would return from the office and immediately sit on my desktop, either to write or to read. My sleeping hours got drastically reduced. Whatever surplus time I had went into it. I devoted my weekends to writing, curtailing my socialisation. I had to imprison myself in a cocoon," said Kumar, adding that despite the hardships, and rigour and self-discipline that one has to exercise while writing, it is also one of the most rewarding activity.

Poetry, however, comes far more easily to him. “It is the most sublime of all the creative genres. Poetry just gushes out on its own. It is a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions," he explained.

Despite his busy schedule, Kumar has already created a body of work. His debut novel As Boys Become Men was published in 2016 by Rupa Publications, followed by Seduction of Truth in 2018 by Bloomsbury. Apart from Catharsis, he has also written another collection of poems, titled The Irrepressible Echoes. He was also the recipient of Bharat Nirman Award in 2020. However, he isn’t resting on his laurels and is already out with another fiction, a psychological thriller, Aarzoo-Arshan.

Far removed from his own experiences, as a bureaucrat, Kumar’s Aarzoo-Arshan is the story of the anti-hero Arshan, a neurologist by profession and a casanova by nature, who is so egotistical that he refuses to accept the fact that he has fallen for Aarzoo, the heroine of the story. He is so desperate to evade the clutches of love that he invents an anti-love potion to stay desirable to women and yet never fall in love with anyone.

“I had read about researches on love potion before, but I never planned to use it in a story or write about it. The creative process is a really magical thing. You don’t always know why you are doing what you are doing. I can recall the day I called my typist to come in for dictation, but I didn’t know that something about love potion would come out of me even at the time. But I was so immersed in the creative process, and it just came out. I always believe that even though people think writers create stories, it is the stories that hold the writers after a certain stage. A writer can write characters, but they charter their own courses," he explained.

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first published:February 26, 2021, 19:49 IST
last updated:February 26, 2021, 21:09 IST