Warsaw 1955: With Pablo Neruda

Kunwar Narain

Translated by: Apurva Narain

Original text: "पाब्लो नेरुदा से एक भेंट - वारसा 1955 "

Artwork by Christine Breakell-Lee

I look intently

at the spot in Warsaw’s Bristol Hotel

which has completely changed now

after fifty years


That hotel then

was the left-over glory

of a devastated city


Sitting on a chair in front of me

that person drinking tea

was it not him perhaps


I go near and hesitantly ask – 

          “are you not him perhaps

          who wants the whole earth

          to be a residence for all

          where everyone can live

          happily, without unease”


Neruda’s face had brightened up

with a little smile 

          “sit, have tea with me:

          what do you do – where do you live” 

“I write

I am Indian…”


For a while

he was a million miles away

          What was he thinking – 

          the country of fakirs and philosophers

          “Oh, the country of Gandhi,” he said


There was a table between us

and two cups 

          we talked for long …


          then he left for a flight

          to return home


Returning to India

I too was seeing

from the height of a flight

a congeries of tiny houses on the earth beneath, 

spread far and wide                  

          kindred realities


I was with Neruda

half a century ago

at a delicate cusp

when a war-ravaged city

          was fast returning to life

Kunwar Narain
Kunwar Narain is regarded as one of the finest living poets and India’s leading literary figure. Born in 1927, he is a widely read, reclusive presence in Hindi literature and has written for over six decades. His many honours include the Jnanpith, India’s highest literary award across all languages.

Apurva Narain
Kunwar Narain’s son and translator into English, Apurva’s book of translations, No Other World, was published in India and the UK. A second book is under way. A development consultant by profession, and an avid traveller, he writes in English. He now lives in New Delhi.