Posted in Poetry

Madhushala by Harivansh Rai Bachchan – A Review

For the first time, I’m deviating from my usual method of reviewing. First of all, I believe poetry is not something which can be reviewed. Secondly, when it is an epic work like this, one can only express their views.

My Rating: 5/5

Genre: Poetry

Pages: 77 (Kindle)

Publisher: Rajpal Publishing

Date of Publication: 16 January, 2009

Language: Hindi


I had the pleasure of reading this book recently; written in 1933-34, sometime around when my grandparents were born. It makes me wonder; books, literature, written material is so wonderful. To have survived through generations.

In In the Afternoon of Time: An Autobiography by Harivansh Rai Bachchan, he states that “imitations or parodies of Madhushala had begun to appear immediately after its first public reading: the day after my recitation at Benares Hindu University in December 1933, Professor Manoranjan Prasad dashed off imitations of several verses and recited them during the course of my own readings the day following”. In this book, from the fifteenth edition, the same professor has shared his experiences of the seminar along with a few quatrains of the parody he had created based on Bachchan’s poem. Prof. Prasad writes that, and I translate, “My Madhushala concerns the materialistic, unlike Bachchan’s mystic Madhushala”.

Hindi is not my first language, and hence I had difficulty in understanding many of the verses. I had to consult a dictionary most of the times but, as they say, a literal translation is never impressive as far as poetry is concerned. I have also come across some translations by fellow readers/bloggers but, there also, the essence of the poem gets lost in translation. Now, the perfect and most poetic translation of this piece in English is the one done by Marjorie Boulton & Ram Swaroop Vyas, first published by Fortune Press in 1950, and the revised edition published by Penguin Books in 1989. In 2009, in India, from what I gathered from press reports; Madhushala – The House of Wine was reproduced again, this time with illustrations, and launched with much fanfare with the entire Bachchan clan in attendance. It’s been nine years since, but I just could not find a single edition of that book anywhere. Why is it so? I couldn’t find it in any of the publisher’s websites either. And the few sites, including Amazon, where it is available, it costs a bomb! I would have loved to read it, in its entirety. It would have given me a better understanding of the text. As of now, only Columbia University’s website has a PDF version of the book but, only the first twenty-five of the one-hundred-and-thirty-five quatrains are available in scanned format; while select American Universities have an edition of the same book in their library. I have added the link below to the same.

I don’t know why, studying both English and Hindi from the first standard itself, I haven’t been able to embrace the latter as well as I have done the former. Maybe, that is the reason that it took me from August to October to finish a book of 77 pages!

Madhushala in English (the first 25 quatrains):

Manna Dey, one of the most versatile and celebrated vocalists of the Hindi film industry, singing twenty selected quatrains, with the first one sung by Bachchan himself:

P.S. I read this book as a part of the #discoveringindiareadathon (Discovering India Readathon), which was held from 1st to 15th August, 2018. In its second year now, this challenge has been curated by three wonderful bookstagrammers:

Padmaja ( )

Aritri ( ), and

Ankita ( ).

It is a great way of reading as well as discovering the gems of Indian Literature. Just follow the hashtag on Instagram, and the above three accounts, and you are good to go!