Roundabout: Down the memory lane with Beckett’s Waiting for Godot

ByNirupama Dutt
Sep 24, 2023 02:44 AM IST

Poet Chander Trikha brings back memories of the Seventies when Krishan Dwivedi o Patiala staged Samuel Beckett’s ‘Godot’ and Kumar Vikal wrote a defining poem inspired by the classic

Poet Chander Trikha brings back memories of the Seventies when Krishan Dwivedi o Patiala staged Samuel Beckett’s ‘Godot’ and Kumar Vikal wrote a defining poem inspired by the classic

A scene from Samuel Beckett’s play ‘Waiting for Godot’. (Source: Facebook)
A scene from Samuel Beckett’s play ‘Waiting for Godot’. (Source: Facebook)

Sometimes, just a word or a name is enough to stir a million memories and so it was with a literary podcast by a senior city poet Chander Trikha — a man, whom people know as one of writers who has chaired various state literary bodies, is in fact a very sensitive poet of Urdu-Hindi. He belongs to an era when writers were not just obsessed with penning their books and holding who’s who launches, a trend popularised by the spate of literary festivals where the who’s who matter. They would read works of others not just around them but world literature written across languages.

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Not just that writers took it upon themselves to translate world classics from different languages into many Indian languages. Translation in those times did not fetch money, least of all a Booker Prize, it was mostly a work of love done with the aim of enriching one’s own language, be it Bangla, Malayalam, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and so on.

Poet and Podcaster Chander Trikha
Poet and Podcaster Chander Trikha

So Trikha’s podcast with its title caught my attention at once: “Waiting for Godot and Kumar Vikal”. In fact, it almost made me hum an old Sahir Ludhianvi song: “Aapne yaad dilaya to mujhe yaad aaya... (You reminded me and thus I recalled...)” It has indeed been a long time since one had visited Samuel Beckett’s Godot or for that matter the Hindi poem penned by the poet of the city, Kumar Vikal. “Godot” had indeed been a symbol of existence in one’s lost youth.

The play was first written by Beckett, a Nobel laureate, in French in 1948-49 with the title “En attendant Godot”. It was first published in 1952 and later Beckett took upon himself to translate it into English and it was published in 1955. Well-known Hindi fiction writer Krishan Baldev Vaid took it upon himself to translate it into Hindi and thus it travelled to different Indian languages.

Interestingly it continues to be staged. In recent times, none other than the acclaimed actor Naseerudin Shah not only produced it, but also acted in one such production. One needs to explore the importance of this play and what it is about. Beckett in his introduction to the play said: “I don’t know who Godot is. I don’t even know (above all don’t know) if he exists. And I don’t know if they believe in him or not – those two who are waiting for him”. Termed as part of the Theatre of Absurd it is a tragicomedy in two acts with the two characters Vladimir and Estragon, tramps of sort, waiting for someone named Godot who will come and better their lot. In the process they fool, laugh and weep, but of course Godot does not turn up. Trikha, in bringing back a discussion on the play, says: “It is important to talk about this play even today because it is a play that spells hope. Human existence waits for something that is not there but hopes that it will still come and change their lives. Hope is indeed the driving force of life itself. Therein lies the importance of Godot even if it is something like the tomorrow that never comes.”

Amarjit Chandan’s photo of Kumar Vikal
Amarjit Chandan’s photo of Kumar Vikal

What or who is Godot?

One recalls in those searching Seventies one travelled to the Theatre department of Punjabi University, Patiala, to watch a student production directed by Krishan Dwivedi, almost a character from the theatre of the absurd.

My first introduction to him was in the old home of poet Vikal, who had chosen to be a mentor to me, something I accepted happily. Dwivedi’s legend still exists in Patiala and his interesting antics at city’s once Bhootwarha, a commune of literatures, thinkers and academics once led by the likes of Laali the Savant, poet Navtej Bharati, storyteller Dalip Kaur Tiwana and others. His “jhola” carried several things including dye for clothes, his hobby, barfi bought from the sweet shop across the Punjabi University Campus, a quarter or a half of liquor as the finance permitted and much more. As the old story goes, once he was at the Bhootwarha in the days when he had made dyeing clothes his hobby. Visiting poet Surjit Patar, then a young man, found to his horror that the white trousers he had washed for the next day had been dyed deep red by Dviwediji.

Coming to the play “Waiting for Godot”, it was a mysterious affair that one watched with interest but not much comprehension of the fledgling days. But one felt important because one was seeing a world famous pathbreaking play. My return gift was a piece of barfi that Dwivedi fished out of his bag. Returning to the mystery of who Godot was, one quotes academic Stuti Malik: “Godot is derived from a French word godillot which means military boots. Since Samuel Becket, the author of this play, fought the war, he constantly waited for messages to arrive during his posting. Godot doesn’t mean god, otherwise he would have simply used the word god, Godot means waiting for someone to arrive and escape you from your miserable condition”.

Now, just a few lines of Vikal’s poem addressed to the one who never comes: “Godot! Tum kabhi nahi aate, ham sabhi jaanate hain, tum kabhi nahi aaoge, Phir bhi ham tumhari pratiksha mein rehate hain (Godot! You never come, Godot you will never come, Still we keep waiting for you)”.

So long, lest Godot comes looking for me. I just don’t want to miss him!

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