A literary maverick blending bureaucracy and poetry in the symphony of life, KK Srivastava is a maestro of words who orchestrates the mundane and the profound into a harmonious composition, writes Swarn Kumar Anand
In the realm of literature and bureaucracy, Kuldeep Kumar Srivastava emerges as a unique figure: A man of diverse accomplishments seamlessly blending the rigour of a top bureaucrat with the soulful expressions of a poet. Armed with a Masters in Economics from Gorakhpur University in 1980, KK Srivastava served as a former Additional Deputy Comptroller & Auditor General at the office of the CAG of India. But beyond the corridors of bureaucracy, Srivastava’s poetic prowess shines through three collections: Ineluctable Stillness, An Armless Hand Writes, and Shadows of the Real. His literary journey takes a captivating turn with Soliloquy of a Small Town Uncivil Servant, published by Rupa in 2019, marking his return after a seven-year hiatus.
Venturing into varied territories, Srivastava’s words traverse cultural boundaries with a Russian translation of Shadows of the Real by Adolf Shvedchikov released by the Russian Cultural Centre. His commitment to language extends further, with Nardeo Sharma and Jaswinder Singh translating thirty-five of his poems into Hindi, published by Vani Prakashan.
As he navigates the intricacies of bureaucracy, Srivastava does not shy away from critiquing societal structures. His collection of essays and critiques, released in 2022 by Authors Press, New Delhi, delves into various topics, including reflections on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Amid these professional accomplishments, Srivastava also embraces a role as a literate representative on the Ethics Committee on Mental Research at IHBAS, actively engaging with ethical considerations in mental health research. Wendy Mary Lister, a nurse and poet from the UK, aptly described him as "a master of unique genius" in her review in literary journal "Enchanting Verses", after reading his first two poetry collections, capturing the essence of Srivastava’s literary brilliance.
In 2009, Carls Kraus, an Austrian poetess, wrote in one of her letters to Srivastava about his book, AN
ARMLESS HAND WRITES, "All these poems in this collection are just ‘wonderful’ and on a very high level so that the reader has to know a lot about English literature, philosophy, and psychology. I was delighted to read such ‘clever’ poems as yours. I am very sick, and I don’t know whether I will even live till today’s end."
After a few days, Carla died. Three years later, he paid tribute, perhaps to the departed soul, in his book Shadows of the Real, "Once, she was the river and/ she was the shore/ she flew/ she halted, she stayed awake in me/ her purity melted into mine… Death has not ended a life/ Finishing a tiny journey is no death/ There is no death in her death… Hidden beneath shades of silence/ I gaze/ Her reflection expands as I grow older."
Memories and symbols depict anguish and pang in Srivastava’s mind.
Rosemary C Wilkinson, President Emeritus of WCP/WAAC, USA, responded to the editor of a literary magazine who requested her to review Srivastava’s first book of poetry, Ineluctable Stillness: "First, I want to say that someone much more knowledgeable than I should be reviewing Srivastava’s collection of poetry, for I am in awe of who he is and the commendable challenges he has overcome in his life. This poetry draws us to a new appreciation of new forms, which attract us to read and continue reading until devoured."
Srivastava has led a troubled life. The first chapter of Soliloquy of a Small Town Uncivil Servant, titled "Growing up in Gorakhpur," encapsulates his childhood memories. "For us, a joint family meant nothing more than sharing a common sandas (toilet) and kitchen. Leave these two apart, and you had people leading scattered lives with no feelings, no emotions, and no real relationships. Moreover, every six months or so, a new soul would make an entry into the family."
Srivastava recalls that his schooling in municipal schools was "an extension of the milieu obtained in my house and neighbourhood. The Principal and the only other teacher were both jaded, poor, wearing undistinguished clothes, thin and weak, fragile and weird - and then the uncontrollable crowd of noisy, ill-mannered, directionless, suffocating sixty children never interested in what was to come next."
Srivastava’s name was removed twice: once in intermediate and once in degree college due to non-payment of school fees. On both occasions, his teachers came to his rescue, and he was readmitted. Continuing his studies at Gorakhpur University posed no problem. His outstanding performance, earning the highest marks in all three subjects during graduation, secured him a scholarship of one hundred rupees per month.
Srivastava aspired to become a teacher and applied for the position of a lecturer in a newly opened degree college owned by a wealthy man, who intended to offer the job to his prospective son-in-law. Dr. BK Singh, an upright figure heading the interview board, saw through the game plan and refused to conduct the interview. A new board was formed with a pliable chairman who questioned Srivastava about the difference between economic growth and development. Realising that the die had already been cast, he attempted to explain the difference by referencing Gunnar Myrdal’s concept of "instrumental value premises" with "ten indices of economic development" and their relevance to Adelman and Morris’s forty-eight qualitative indicators applicable to developing economies. However, he sensed the disquieted demon of the "holier than thou syndrome" raising its head, as learned members appeared least interested in what he was articulating. Clearly, they might have been a bit miffed. His first career dream came to an end.
Veteran media personality Seema Mustafa helped organise a conversation between Brazilian poet and critic Regis Bonvicino and Srivastava. This scholarly interview, titled ‘Poet of a Shared Paranoia,’ was published in THE CITIZEN, where Srivastava tells the interviewer, "One should look at uncivil people too, so one may know how civil one is." The interviewee emphasised how the higher echelons of society tend to look down upon individuals from non-elite backgrounds.
In The Descent: Essays and Critiques, Srivastava recalls his meeting with Ashok Vajpeyi, a retired IAS officer and internationally acclaimed writer, who asked Srivastava, "Do you get strange questions from some people like I get about finding time to write?" Srivastava’s reply is unmistakable: "Sir... the company of ignorant ought to be shunned; otherwise, their collective ignorance will engulf a tiny majority like ours. They spend a lot of time networking and are not given to valuing artistic and literary pursuits." Any Doubting Thomas?
Srivastava’s poems and narratives do not explicitly reveal the true identity of the narrator, giving his writings the semblance of fiction. One could argue that they are autobiographical, at least in parts but fictionalised. His concerns for the downtrodden strata of society, including those in bureaucracy, manifest in his critical observations in some of his books.
Let us examine two extensive poems: Saturday Dinner Party from his book Ineluctable Stillness and "Oh! That One Year Get-together And Our Very Own Mr Monsieur Maillard" from his poetry book An Armless Hand Writes. Reading these two poems together reveals how different aspects of party and hostel life, pledged to collective ethos, are twisted to look down upon people from non-elite classes.
Consider a few lines: "Am I in St Petersburg? Dostoevsky and his St Petersburg/Hellish congestion. Now when congestion has come/can Dostoevsky’s characters be far behind?" Further, "there is no heart here, no soul here/only stories are told/by room bearers/old, simple, peaky and weak with no voices." In the concluding lines, "We cannot glory in the years we spent together/it was a life full of/vile ambitions and low achievements. It was a life dissembled to the core… We set off on an odyssey/an unsure/obscure odyssey.
Soliloquy of a Small Town Uncivil Servant continues to delve into the connections between the civil and uncivil in chapters titled "Rendezvous With a New World," "The Behemothic Ethos," and "Within the Cave or Cave Within." Throughout these chapters, the central theme revolves around the ignominy directed towards the "uncivil" within the context of the collective ethos of coexistence. Cryptic quotes like these convey profound messages, such as "they know the art of defacing clean faces to hide their unclean ones."
"We meet huge figures every day then huge figures meet amongst themselves. They talk to each other; they laugh… they talk about others; they rub themselves against each other, they toy with their ‘self’; they jettison others’ selves. Most of us nowadays are sick". Unfortunately, space limitations prevent additional citations.
The Pioneer talked to a few individuals to discover unknown facets of Srivastava’s personality. Dr. NL Srivastava, his college mate and former Director of the Institute of Health and Family Welfare, Lucknow, recalls, "Kuldeep was very studious. I was pursuing my PhD in psychology from BHU when he inquired if I could arrange Allport’s book on theories of personality for a couple of days as he needed it for the civil services examination. The book was not available in the Gorakhpur University library. Yes, I sent him a letter. Two days later, he took the early morning train, came to me, collected the book, and went back in the evening. Four days later, he again came to return the book. Can you believe it? He copied almost a hundred pages from the book in registers with his own hands within three days. Libraries were his home. He is a completely self-made man."
Meenakshi Mishra, former Director General from the CAG office and his service batch mate known for her uncompromising attitude, recalls, "Brooding and no-nonsense type. A competent administrator and auditor. A different CAG gave him very difficult and big offices where others virtually feared going, like Jharkhand, Rajkot, MP, and Kerala, and he very effectively managed these offices. So many transfers he was subjected to. An outspoken man. When very senior IA&AS officers, both retired and even serving, were critical of GC Murmu’s appointment as CAG, KK’s was a lone voice defending him in the public domain, describing Murmu as ‘a very suitable selection and down-to-earth CAG.’ He further justified by saying, ‘The organisation needs such a CAG.’ An ardent supporter of Prime Minister Modi, his article on the Mann Ki Baat programme, ‘Aesthetic Blend of Flames of the Minds,’ was the very first article on this program and a wonderful literary piece.
Gyanendre Pandey, a former editor of Dainik Bhaskar, recalls his association with Srivastava in these words, "My admiration and connection with Srivastava stem solely from his literary achievements." Pandey highlighted that despite the demanding responsibilities of a top CAG bureaucrat, he managed to find time for literary pursuits, an uncommon feat among bureaucrats who are typically engrossed in their professional obligations.
Srivastava is certainly, given modern times’ standards/methods of obtaining name and fame, a unique aberration: he does not believe in circulating and networking. The best way to conclude this article is to quote from Soliloquy of a Small Town Uncivil Servant, “Eidetic merger of insights and intuitions is at the core of my narratives. Preparing to ride a bicycle has never guided that merger. I have truly ridden the bicycle. I know both: the bicycle and the ride.” His books reveal as much about the world inside as the world outside.