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Apr 12, 2018

Indian English Poetry

Indian English Poetry: An Introductory Note (How To Critique It And Comment Upon?)
By: Bijay Kant Dubey

It is related in one of those legends which illustrate the history of Buddhism, that a certain disciple once presented himself before his master, Buddha, with the desire to be permitted to undertake a mission of peculiar difficulty. The compassionate teacher represented to him the obstacles to be surmounted and the risks to be run. Pourna—so the disciple was called— insisted, and replied, with equal humility and adroitness, to the successive objections of his adviser. Satisfied at last by his answers of the fitness of his disciple, Buddha accorded to him the desired permission; and dismissed him to his task with these remarkable words, nearly identical with those in which he himself is said to have been admonished by a divinity at the outset of his own career:—“Go then, O Pourna,” are his words; “having been delivered, deliver; having been consoled, console; being arrived thyself at the farther bank, enable others to arrive there also.”

It was a moral deliverance, eminently, of which the great Oriental reformer spoke; it was a deliverance from the pride, the sloth, the anger, the selfishness, which impair the moral  activity of man—a deliverance which is demanded of all individuals and in all ages. But there is another deliverance for the human race, hardly less important, indeed, than the first—for in the enjoyment of both united consists man’s true freedom—but demanded far less universally, and even more rarely and imperfectly obtained; a deliverance neglected, apparently hardly conceived, in some ages, while it has been pursued with earnestness in others, which derive from that very pursuit their peculiar character. This deliverance is an intellectual deliverance.

An intellectual deliverance is the peculiar demand of those ages which are called modern; and those nations are said to be imbued with the modern spirit most eminently in which the demand for such a deliverance has been made with most zeal, and satisfied with most completeness. Such a  deliverance is emphatically, whether we will or no, the demand of the age in which we ourselves live. All intellectual pursuits our age judges according  to their power of helping to satisfy this demand; of all studies it asks, above all, the question, how far they can contribute to this deliverance.
                     ---- Matthew Arnold on The Modern Element In Literature

Indian English poetry had not been Indian English poetry what we call it today but was Asiatic researches, India studies, Indology, Sanskrit studies, Oriental studies, Indo-Anglican , Indo-Anglian, Indo-English poetry before branding it Indian poetry in English, Indian English poetry finally even though it forms a part of Commonwealth studies, world literature in English, global literature, horizon of translation studies trickling down to us as a virgin field of literature still unfurrowed, unploughed  since its beginning dating back to the earlier decades of the nineteenth century to the modern era to contemporary times. Though we call it Indian, but the thing is not the same as because it has evolved out of interaction, British rule and administration in India and the matter is one of Indo-Aryan which it derives heavily from different linguistic bases as such, Tibeto-Chinese, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic apart from Indo-European and Teutonic borrowings. As the language is English which owes to Germanic, Scandinavian, French, German, Greek and others so the matters pertaining to that are bound to be in Indian English as a result of that linguistic legacy and bearing upon. In addition to that as the users here come from different exotic linguistic groups so the influences are bound to be marked in their expression and writing. The vast stretch of land from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and beyond used to ruffle and baffle it all with the forests, deserts, rivers, mountains, springs, hills, rocky terrains, plateaus, barren lands, beasts, brutes, exotic flora and fauna,  social nomenclature with conventions , sects and ways of life.  India the land of diversity, exotic flora and fauna, vast, impregnable and disconnected, but aligning to, synthesizing it all in the end, how to explain and elucidate it, so much Vedic, Upanishadic, Puranic and native and racial at the same time? The land of Rama and Krishna, how to take to Ravana and Kansa, Yudhishthira and Duryodhana, Draupadi and Sita, Yaksha nd Yakshini, the myths archetypal and racial, Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Chinese? How to encompass in Nagaland, Assam, Tripura, Mizoram, Arunachal, Sikkim and Manipur, the northeastern states? To talk of Indian English poetry is not to talk of poetry, but to talk of the sahib’s English, the journey from England to India. To talk of Indian English poetry is to talk of Indian philosophy.

Passage O soul to India!
Eclaircise the myths Asiatic, the primitive fables.

Not you alone, proud truths of the world,            
Nor you alone, ye facts of modern science,            
But myths and fables of eld, Asia’s, Africa’s fables,   
The far-darting beams of the spirit, the unloos’d dreams,            
The deep diving bibles and legends,         
The daring plots of the poets, the elder religions;            
O you temples fairer than lilies, pour’d over by the rising sun!            
O you fables, spurning the known, eluding the hold of the known, mounting to heaven!            
You lofty and dazzling towers, pinnacled, red as roses, burnish’d with gold!            
Towers of fables immortal, fashion’d from mortal dreams!            
You too I welcome, and fully, the same as the rest!      
You too with joy I sing.            

Passage to India!
Lo, soul! seest thou not God’s purpose from the first?            
The earth to be spann’d, connected by network,                  
The races, neighbors, to marry and be given in marriage,            
The oceans to be cross’d, the distant brought near,
The lands to be welded together.            

A worship new I sing,            
You captains, voyagers, explorers, yours,            
You engineers, you architects, machinists, yours,            
You, not for trade or transportation only,
But in God’s name, and for thy sake, O soul. 
       ----Walt Whitman in Passage To India 

Can we think of Indian English poetry in the absence of Goethe, Tolstoy, Winternitz, Macdonell, Keith, Jones, Edwin Arnold, George Grierson, Max Muller, Thoreau, Schopenhaur ? Perhaps no is the answer as because Indian poetry in English or English poetry written by the Indians has not come definitely in the absence of them. We must keep it in mind that Buck, Forster and Huxley too had been in India as tourists and travellers. Huxley’s description of Bose institute and visit to Benares can definitely be cited. There is nothing as that to talk of Edward Morgan Forster’s A Passage to India echoing with Vyom, Om, Om, Vyom, trying to synthesize the essence of Indian culture as Forster himself had been a secretary of an Indian maharajah. Goethe’s appreciation of Shakuntala is world-famous and there is no need to connect upon. Walt Whitman’s Passage to India, what to say about? It is an invocation of the Vedic and Upanishadic knowledge against the backdrop of the spirit with which Columbus and Vasco de Gama searched. 
If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;
The vanished gods to me appear;
And one to me are shame and fame.

They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
I am the hymn the Brahmin sings.

The strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.
      -----Ralph Waldo Emerson in Brahma

Indian English poetry, we do not know as to how to take to, discuss it and brand it as it is not English poetry in reality, but Indian poetry in English. As Somerset Maugham keeps about saying his tryst with writings in English, as for example in Learning to Write essay so is the case here with these practitioners of verse. Even the same Joseph Conrad and Joseph Brodsky too have felt it while switching over to another version. To talk of Derozio is to talk of social reform and newer backgrounds. Derozio is but a child of the Renaissance and Reformation who wishes to rebel against the Sati, child marriage, widowhood restrictions and so on. A rebel and an idealist, an educationist and a social thinker, he takes liberties with free thinking and the flight of imagination. Michael Madhusudan is not other than Derozio. He too is just like him, an Indian trying to be an Englishman just like Gandhi before him. But he does not succeed in. Apart from that a few poems have come from him delving in historical matters. Manmohan Ghose too uses in his sojourn in England and English studies as his primordial properties, tries to fuse in Oriental and Occidental myths.  Aurobindo Ghose initially fails to sail through with his verses, but later on succeeds in experimenting with the things of the Light Divine and abstract reckonings and musings confided in sadhna. The so-called modern poets are critical of Aurobindo as for his Anglicised, ossified stance and stature which may be a hollow man view.

Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
Then spoke the thunder
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms
Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands 

                       I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
                  Shantih     shantih     shantih
                 -----T.S.Eliot in The Waste Land

Poetry if it is love for India and free discussion for Derozio, love dreams for Michael Madhusudan carried with the whiffs of an Englishman, romantic wisps and whiffs for Manmohan, delineation of character of Sati, Savitri and Sita after drawing from the ancient stock for Toru, yogic flashes and sadhna for Aurobindo together with the spirit of a rebel and a cold logician having a flair for Latinized diction, the quest for identity and the theme of Indianness for Nissim, faded romanticism and mediocre flirts with it, physics and its light and darkness chapters together with the Big Bang theory for Jayanta, tragedies and tragic concepts for Daruwalla, man and woman in love in Khajuraho or Ajanta- Ellora figurines together with a study of Vatsyayana’s Kamsuttra for Kamala and Shiv K.Kumar, dharma-artha-kama-moksha, a Rajneeshite shisya of the Rajneesh Ashrama, a modern girl desperate and distraught with materialism taking to the recourse of dharma-yoga, but the yogi there in the ashrama not a yogi, but a bhogi, a dhongi.

Poetry of the missing man is that of Adil jussawalla’s, the Parsi man cuts the mythic ice as for re-settlement locating from Iran or Persia as does Daruwalla so often with his references to Fire Hymns and the Doongar Vari on which the Parsis expose their dead. But Adil’s is of Eklavya and Karna, a poet of Bombay describing his return from England, the sojourn and travels into Europe. As for Dilip Chitre, father keeps travelling, journeying by train. Jayanta’s is a study in absurdity, nihilism, existentialism and nothingness. On reading him, there arises a question, why is he absurd, nothing is what, what it is, is nothing? To read him is to be sad and sorry, devastated and distraught. Nothingness, nothingness is the theme he reaches at. Jayanta Mahapatra’s poetry seems to be a study in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and George Bernard Shaw’s plays. His thesis and anti-thesis are of physics, swapping ideas with imagery, poetry not for pleasure.

Nissim is but an Indian Maharashtrian Jew who keeps saying, I don’t know, don’t if ask you him about Indian thought and culture, trend and tradition, way of living and temperament, mood and mentality; history and culture, thought and idea. Indian thought, culture, metaphysics, religion, philosophy, he does not, does not know them at all. An alien insider he keeps watching around. A minority boy he is a Jew but with Marathi as his lost tongue re-found; a poster boy of modernism pasting placards of.

Kamala seems to be a yogan but is not, a modern girl in saffron clothes and with a rosary but a shisya of the fake yogi, dhongi Indian baba. A modern fed up with modernity and modern living, she is but a Rajneeshite speaking of sambhoga to samadhi or just like the dissatisfied heroines of D.H.Lawrence.

Shiv K.Kumar is a late bloomer, a late starter starting poetry late in life when on the threshold of fifty, emotion and feeling seem to be dead, dried down and devoid of he writing the poems, dabbling in sexuality and intellectuality just like Lawrence himself, Lady Chatterley’s husband. Better it is to view the frescoes of Ajant-Ellorah, the Konark Sun Temple, man and woman in love frescoed in stone or terracotta plates of baked clay.

To Daruwalla, poetry is Parsi view of life, poetry is a policeman’s affair, a tragedian’s concepts. Poetry is an attempt to define tragedy, how the elements of it, ingredients composing it. Violence, curfew, bloodshed, vengeance, wrath, hatred, enmity, rumour, accident, riot, communal frenzy, etc. form the crux of his poesy. Disease, death, disaster, are the points of his discussion. To be verbose and bombastic is the poetic target of Daruwalla. The kite, the eagle, the vulture, the hawk, add to his mythic space and are the code words of his poesy. But the question is, why is he so unsentimental? Daruwalla is but a policeman, an IPS, a DIG, a RAW man. He is a poet of the T.B. ward, the cholera ward; the morgue and the post-mortem house.

Indian English poets had not been Indian, but Indian poets in English, Indian not, Indo-English, Indo-Anglican, Indo-Anglian in the beginning. They are not poets born, but have become in course of time, have evolved, come of age after practicing it, learning to like, struggling, serving and sustaining themselves, the self-published, self-styled poets of Indian English verse, had not been poets, but rhymers, copiers, parodists, imitators, derivers, borrowers, poetasters, non-poets and commoners turning into poets in the absence of a tradition, the so-called practitioners of Indian poesy in English, coming from different socio-economic strata and ethno-linguistico group.

To P.Lal poetry is but the faded flashes of romanticism even though he aspires to be metaphysical, but is not, succumbing to weaknesses generally. Pritish Nandy is a poet of love who is least concerned with the punctuation marks like E.E. Cummings. Thumris and ghazals like to engage him so often, but the heart is not so sacrosanct. Whatever be that, the pains of Mira purge him so often and he takes them to be his own. Arvind Krishna Mehrotra though he is bearded like Tagore, but is not a Tagore, but a surrealist for whom poetry is surrealism, a man is at the bazaar viewing things, trying to grapple with them.

R.Parthasarathy is a poet of sojourn and return journey as the themes of exile and alienation continue to haunt him, he moves to England for higher degrees, but returns back to from Leeds after being nostalgic to Tamil connections and the roots of nativity which draw him so close to. Poetry comes to Parthasarathy as prose columns, rough passages of verse and he succeeds too.

Gieve Patel is a practicing doctor for whom poetry is but a patient bandaged and plastered, lying in bed, Dilip Chitre is but of St.Tukaram’s. In Chitre’s poetry, the picture of a father as a commuter coming and going, the cutting of the banyan tree and the dirge for the only son as a victim of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy strike us deeply. 

While discussing Indian English poetry, several things come to the mind’s plane, such as, what is Indian English poetry, what the base of it, is it diasporic and of domicile status, who are those professing it, what the theme of it? What is Indian in Indian English poetry? Where does recognition come from? Is it of a British origin or purely Indian? Can a language survive if not in practice? Is the tongue in chains? Who the contemporary practitioners? Is it a study in minor voices and slender anthologies of verse? Secondly, what is contemporary? Who the contemporary poets? How the influences upon them? What about the borrowings? We doubt if Jayanta is the Wordsworth, Keats, Yeats or Lawrence of Indian English poetry? Is Daruwalla the Ted Hughes of it? Dom Moreas whether the Dylan Thomas?  But the reality is that he is a Goan Christian. A lover, a smoker, a drinker and a womanizer Moraes he is not only journalistic, but sensual too. Nissim as a poet is a convent boy speaking in English full of etiquette and good manners. The influence of the Elizabethan sonneteers and song-writers is do strong in him and draws from so heavily, borrows and derives from.

Is Kamala a Sylvia Plath or Judith Wright? Or a Lawrentine heroine gone into hysterics as Juliette is of the story Sun? Or, is she media-savvy who can do everything for getting into the limelight, the media light? Kamala is but the Lady Chatterley, not Chatterjee, accept it or not.

A.K.Ramanujan is but the Ashtabakra of Indian English poetry, the comic man who draws from vakrokti, the oblique approach and vyangya and is horoscopic, astrological and astronomical strangely mixing astronomy with astrology. The South Indian persona is very strong in him and is linguistical. Astrologers, horoscope-makers, soothsayers, oracle-makers, palmists, fortune-tellers, jugglers, mendicants, herbalists, priests and middle men crowd his space for jokes. To read him is to be reminded of R.K.Narayan’s An Astrologer’s Day, Father’s Help and other ironical short stories. 

Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on this land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
'Time,' they had briefed him in London, 'is short. It's too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we've arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you.'

Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.

The next day he sailed for England, where he quickly forgot
The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot.
         -----W.H.Auden in Partition

The pain of Partition none felt it, neither Nissim Ezekiel nor Purshottam Lal in verse, but Khushwant Singh in Train to Pakistan, Krishan Chunder in Peshawar Express, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas in The Refugee. Maybe it in Adil Jussawalla’s Sea Breeze, Bombay! Who the guilty men of Partition, who to say it?

Krishna Srinivas, Baldev Mirza, Dwarakanath H.Kabadi, Simanchal Patnaik, Kedar Nath Sharma, Har Prasad Sharma, A.K.Sahay, Amar Nath Dwivedi, Suresh Chandra Dwivedi, Pronab Kumar Majumder, I.K.Sharma, Maha Nanda Sharma, T.V.Reddy, Niranjan Mohanty,Hazara Singh, Kulwant Singh Gill, S.Samal, D.C.Chambial, Shiela Gujral, O.N.Gupta, Romen Basu,Stephen Gill, R.K.Singh, P.K.Joy, etc. are the poets whose works have appeared in different journals from time to time. Krishna Srinivas who has edited Poet for long is a poet of cosmic consciousness, the Soul and the Supreme Soul, the self and the Greater Self, the mind and the Over Mind, the Over Soul. Dwarakanath H.Kabadi is a master poet of the three-liners called flickers calling for intensive research and scrutiny. A social thinker he often lapses into philosophical thinking. Pronab Kumar Majumder’s  poetry very often takes us to H.G.Wells’ time machine, William Hazlitt’s sun-dial and Philip Larkin’s retired racing horses and time-pertaining things apart from being Bergsonian in splitting time into time cosmic and time mechanical. But late in his poetical works he has turned to the love of Rimi which drew him so close to is but the mystic poetry of love. Pronab’s dialogues with time are admirable, appreciable indeed. He holds them in such a way as if time were his friend. On reading his Rimis, people ask it, who is this Rimi? But it is in reality 

Lucy, Lucy Gray which was it to William Wordsworth. It is not Pronab’s love of nature, but feminine modernity at the crisscrosses of the metropolitan city, feeling the pulse of life at zebra crossings. Rimi is a town girl, a city girl, a modern girl of today living a free life of her own. The love of Rimi will go down in the history of poetry. Pronab’s poetry reminds us of the tower clock striking boldly, taking us by surprise, making us aware of time too.

Baldev Mirza enacts his poems very artistically into the theatre of silence and poetry to him is his love of Buddhas, discourses with them. The poetic art of Mirza is admirable. T.V. Reddy is just like a late Victorian poet writing in the limelight of romanticism. Grief looms large over him and he is distraught with. The poetic cobweb of Chambial is mesmerizing and he is under Eliot in his delineation and depiction of life. 

Prem is a poet of the narrative depth and his poetry offers for stories in verse. Particularly angst and bewilderment, loss of values attract him for an interpretation. Chambial and Prem are the poets of the modern hollow man and their poetry hollow man poetry. Manas Bakshi is exquisitely lyrical and artistic at the same time and this adds to his lyricism and poetic beauty. O.N.Gupta knows it well how to instill, fuse life into irony and satire with the sleight of hand. Kedar Nath Sharma is a mendicant who can try his hands at writing it all, romantic, metaphysical, political, satiric verses. He is a yogi as well as a dhongi, a pretender. It is a joy to go through the poems of P.K.Joy who is very, very humorous and comical. He forces us to laugh down. Simanchal Patnaik’s verses take us to a different plane of study with the books of general knowledge placed side by side without which we cannot judge the events and happenings in true light. Vijay Vishal’s poems laced with polished humour and irony definitely have called for a perusal. Debidas Ray who is a doctor has also written beautiful poems in English and has a taste for literature. A resident of Bishnupur, he is a doctor of Vellore Christian Medical Hospital.

Can Indian English poetry or English poetry by the Indians have its existence in sole isolation? Perhaps no is the answer as because the writers of such a genre look up to English classics and writings as their models and specimens. What disturbs us most is this Indian English poetry is not Indian English poetry, but Indian poetry in English. It is not natural, but artificial expression. Indian English poetry is a study in minor verse-writers and slender books of verse. The books do not get sold. It is a study in poems, not in books. There is nothing like The Scholar Gipsy, In Memoriam, The Prelude, Tintern Abbey and so on. We do not prescribe the poetry books of poets here in Indian English poetry. There are no books of criticism too as the works by Reeves, Hudson, Trilling, Daiches, Rickett and others are. Indian English poetry is also short of longer poems. Just stray and sporadic pieces cannot add to poetic knowledge and range of thinking all the time.

There are different types of poets into the realm of Indian English poetry. Some are those whose poems have appeared in newspapers and some are those who have been supported by history writers. Some are those whose poems have appeared in The Illustrated Weekly of India. When C.R.Mandy used to edit, he had not been pleased with the quality of the verses submitted to. Pritish Nandy too had been the editor of it after Khushwant Singh for some time and his booklets too had been printed by P.Lal the director. P.Lal. Daruwalla, Nissim and others are almost alike. Whom did he not publish from Writers Workshop? But still many did not get the press and publicity. O.P.Bhatnagar, I.K.Sharma, K.V.S.Murti, Syed Ameeruddin, are the poets of their stature. Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra are of their association. There are many whose works have come from Writers Workshop. On seeing we think it within if Indian English verse a study in Writers Workshop publications. If Nissim has edited The Indian PEN for so long, Jayanta Chandrabhaga, Adil has worked as the Literary Editor for Debonair. Some of the books of R.R.Menon, Pronab Kumar Majumder, D.H.Kabadi, R.K.Singh, Kulwant Singh Gill and other new poets have come from Writers Workshop. I.H.Rizvi’s books have come from Prakash Book Depot, Bareilly. Here publications too count, matter in connection with recognition. Though the haiku writers like to call themselves experimental and new, but can we discern the influences of Ezra Pound? 

There is not a dearth of fresh talents and geniuses into the realm of Indian English poetry, recognized or unrecognized, introduced or not introduced. Rajender Krishan’s Solitude and Other Poems is one such collection confided in the reckoning of solitude and self-realization. A votary of Kabir, he can find solace nowhere except his dohas, couplets, the mind and heart already given to him. Bhajans and bhakti take him far away.

Kumarendra Mallick’s three liners are gems of literature sparkling with thought and idea and reflection. The way he presents the ideas and images is really stupendous and novel.

The introduction which Yeats wrote to Tagore’s Gitanjali is a superb piece of Indian English poetry criticism. But when Tagore went on bringing more in English, Yeats had not been satisfied with him as for the labored effort of learning English, trying to be proficient in so discarded them as sentimental rubbish which would wreck his fame, the fame of a great poet. 

Fame has come to Lal, Parthasarathy, Chitre as for translation works too. Chitre and Kolatkar are Marathi writers. But Chitre has worked in different capacities, as the director of the poetry section of Bharat Bhavan too. Sitakant Mahapatra is also a bilingual writer taking Oriya first then English, but is equally proficient in.

Civilisation is hooped together, brought
Under a rule, under the semblance of peace
By manifold illusion; but man's life is thought,
And he, despite his terror, cannot cease
Ravening through century after century,
Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may come
Into the desolation of reality:
Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and good-bye, Rome!

Hermits upon Mount Meru or Everest,
Caverned in night under the drifted snow,
Or where that snow and winter's dreadful blast
Beat down upon their naked bodies, know
That day brings round the night, that before dawn
His glory and his monuments are gone. 
       -----W.B.Yeats in Meru

Saleem Peeradina who teaches at Siena Heights University, USA has several publications, as such First Offence (1980), Group Portrait (1992), and Meditations on Desire (2003).  Among his prose works is a memoir, “A Distant Country,” which was later published as The Ocean  In My Yard (2005). Shanta Acharya has Dreams That Spell The Light (2010), Shringara (2006), Looking In, Looking Out (2005), Numbering Our Days’ Illusions (1995) and Not This, Not That (1994). Hoshang Merchant as a poet is a Parsi and a gay with foreign degrees and academic assignments to his credit, living single.  Vikram Seth’s first poetical venture was rejected in the West, but he sailed through his first appearance from Writers Workshop. Now whatever he may be, the suitable or unsuitable boy of Indian English poetry. Tabish Khair who is from Gaya but is settled in Copenhagen has My World, Man of Glass, Where Parallel Lines Meet and others as his collections of poems. Vijay Shesadri who is from Bangalore and has won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry sees America through the immigrant’s eyes and reverts back to Frostian pastoralism and call back to Nature, the loss of innocence which we can mark it in Vaughan’s The Retreat and Childhood with Wild Kingdom, The Long Meadow and 3 Sections to his credit. The Singer of Life places Stephen Gill on a strong foothold of his own. The poet with the bagpipe of love keeps on pouring the melody of music. Anna Sujatha Mathai born to Keralite Syrian Christians, but educated in Delhi and Edinburgh is a poetess so expressive and clear-cut in her poetic perception.

Who is a poet and who is not, this much we cannot say in Indian English poetry, who comes from where, who has what, why has he been included, why has he been not, we cannot. Karan Singh too is a poet of his right. The stray poems of A.P.J.Abdul Kalam too are there before us published in journals. Ruskin Bond too is a poet of some sort. Many of the poets we have forgotten, many relegated to oblivion as the time had not been in their favour. What more do we know about the pre-independence time poets rather than knowing Tagore? Auronbindo made a name as for the Pondicherry Ashrama and his circles. Had Pondicherry been not, could he have published Savitri, a voluminous one?

But what do we know more about K.D.Sethna’s poetry? A model scholar, a Parsi man, a Sanskritist, a cultural critic, a samadhist and above all an Aurobindonian disciple learning at the feet of the guru in his ashrama!

Frankly speaking, P.Lal, Nissim Ezekiel, Keki N.Daruwalla, Jayanta Mahapatra, Kamala Das, Arun Kolatkar, R.Parthasarathy, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Dilip Chitre and the so-called modern practitioners of verse were no poets, but have become. If we look into their first poetry volumes, the things will be clear to us. When their poems were introduced for the first time, there were no takers or buyers of them. The classic-read old teachers used to frown upon; the readers used to fail in making any sense, what the poems meant actually they used to fail to contain in or explain them. Had Alexander Pope been alive, he would have written An Epistle Written To Dr.Arbuthnot. Had Dryden been or Samuel Johnson, they would have Absalom and Achitophel and Lives of the English Poets otherwise. Arun Kolatkar is more of a Marathi man than an Indian English poet. Kolatkar’s pilgrimage is a farce; a joke carried forward. He is not religious and holy, but full of doubt and suspense, ironical and sardonic, sarcastic and critical, witty and satiric.

Indian English poets had not been Indian, but Indian poets in English, Indian not, Indo-English, Indo-Anglican, Indo-Anglian in the beginning. They are not poets born, but have become in course of time, have evolved, come of age after practicing it, learning to like, struggling, serving and sustaining themselves, the self-published, self-styled poets of Indian English verse, had not been poets, but rhymers, copiers, parodists, imitators, derivers, borrowers, poetasters, non-poets and commoners turning into poets in the absence of a tradition, the so-called practitioners of Indian poesy in English, coming from different socio-economic strata and ethno-linguistico group.

While discussing Indian English poetry, several things come to the mind’s plane, such as , what is Indian English poetry, what the base of it, is it diasporic and of domicile status, who are those professing it, what the theme  of it? What is Indian in Indian English poetry? Where does recognition come from? Is it of a British origin or purely Indian? Can a language survive if not in practice? Is the tongue in chains? Who the contemporary practitioners? Is it a study in minor voices and slender anthologies of verse? Secondly, what is contemporary? Who the contemporary poets? How the influences upon them? What about the borrowings?

Can Indian English poetry or English poetry by the Indians  have its existence in sole isolation? Perhaps no is the answer as because the writers of such a genre look up to English classics and writings as their models and specimens. How would it have been had William Jones not translated the Bhagavad-Gita, had not Abhijananshakuntalam, had they not translated the Ramayana and the Mahabharata  in English? Had Max Muller not the Sacred Books of the East? Had the Sanskrit departments been not opened in Europe? Matthew Arnold’s poetry too refers to certain sense of culture and scholasticism, be it Oriental or Occidental. Eliot’s incorporation of the words and the ending of the Waste Land with Da, Datta, Dayadhavam, Om shantih shantih shantih still add to.

Who is actually a contemporary poet and who not? Who a modern poet and not a modernist? We do not know as to how to answer these questions raised by the people who intend to be the critics.  Who a recognized poet and who not? We do not know how to answer all these. Who is a critic of what, who comes from where? Are the critics of Indian English poetry the vernacular men? Are they novice researchers or simple college teachers trying to finish their Ph.Ds? Are the Indian English poetry critics surveyors or literary theorists? Are the poets not evolving poets? Are they not self-styled poets, the poets in their right? Are they not booklet writers? 

K..R.Srinivasa Iyengar, M.K.Naik, V.K.Gokak, they too are the poets of their own stature and right apart from being critics. Iyengar’s Sitayana’s epical poem based on the Ramayana is an addition to Ramayana studies. He has tried to recreate it with his imagery and speculation. The work shows him as a Ramayana scholar. Naik has tried to go by Edward Lear, Ogden Nash by being Emken. The critic caricatures and parrots imitatively. The naming word, Whitman can turn into White-man, Wheat-man if one slips from spelling it rightly and commits a mistake. The Apple Cart may appear as a cart full of apples, Kashmiri or from Himachal Pradesh; A Tale of Two Cities of Bombay and Bangalore. Salman Rushdie walking with the midnight children of the Partition may be the vision of his fun, pun, humour and caricature; light and nonsensical verses. 

Let us see the telegram from Rabindranath Tagore, read by Mr. Clive, British Chargé d'Affaires, at the Nobel Banquet at Grand Hôtel, Stockholm, December 10, 1913:

I beg to convey to the Swedish Academy my grateful appreciation of the breadth of understanding which has brought the distant near, and has made a stranger a brother.

Yeats in his Introduction to Gitanjali wrote:
I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics---which are in the original, my Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention---display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my live long. The work of a supreme culture, they yet appear as much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes. A tradition, where poetry and religion are the same thing, has passed through the centuries, gathering from learned and unlearned metaphor and emotion, and carried back again to the multitude the thought of the scholar and of the noble. If the civilization of Bengal remains unbroken, if that common mind which---as one divines---runs through all, is not, as with us, broken into a dozen minds that know nothing of each other, something even of what is most subtle in these verses will have come, in a few generations, to the beggar on the roads. When there was but one mind in England, Chaucer wrote his Troilus and Cressida, and thought he had written to be read, or to be read out---for our time was coming on apace---he was sung by minstrels for a while. Rabindranath Tagore, like Chaucer's forerunners, writes music for his words, and one understands at every moment that he is so abundant, so spontaneous, so daring in his passion, so full of surprise, because he is doing something which has never seemed strange, unnatural, or in need of defence. These verses will not lie in little well-printed books upon ladies' tables, who turn the pages with indolent hands that they may sigh over a life without meaning, which is yet all they can know of life, or be carried by students at the university to be laid aside when the work of life begins, but, as the generations pass, travellers will hum them on the highway and men rowing upon the rivers. Lovers, while they await one another, shall find, in murmuring them, this love of God a magic gulf wherein their own more bitter passion may bathe and renew its youth. At every moment the heart of this poet flows outward to these without derogation or condescension, for it has known that they will understand; and it has filled itself with the circumstance of their lives. The traveller in the read-brown clothes that he wears that dust may not show upon him, the girl searching in her bed for the petals fallen from the wreath of her royal lover, the servant or the bride awaiting the master's home-coming in the empty house, are images of the heart turning to God. Flowers and rivers, the blowing of conch shells, the heavy rain of the Indian July, or the moods of that heart in union or in separation; and a man sitting in a boat upon a river playing lute, like one of those figures full of mysterious meaning in a Chinese picture, is God Himself. A whole people, a whole civilization, immeasurably strange to us, seems to have been taken up into this imagination; and yet we are not moved because of its strangeness, but because we have met our own image, as though we had walked in Rossetti's willow wood, or heard, perhaps for the first time in literature, our voice as in a dream.

Let us see how another song-writer Bob Dylan who has got the Nobel reacts to maintaining silence, keeping mum and quiet for so long and turning up so late to accept it:
When I first received this Nobel Prize for Literature, I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature. I wanted to reflect on it and see where the connection was. I'm going to try to articulate that to you. And most likely it will go in a roundabout way, but I hope what I say will be worthwhile and purposeful.

Bob is quite under the folk, Beats, Bauls, Beatles, Walt Whitman, Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg to rock ‘n roll, blues, pop music and the jazz. Khushwant Singh too talks of the pidgin-Indian English, Hindustani English used by Rudyard Kipling by referring to him as the first or earlier poet in English. Saheb, bibi and gulam, etc. the things of Kipling; paani, chowkidar, havildar and others of this sort keep adding to the stock of pidgin-English.

Indian English poetry got an impetus when the poems were asked to be prescribed for the students and the Ph.D. was made compulsory for career advancement and promotion by the UGC. Had it been not, we would not have Indian English poetry dismantling British poetry. When the modern poets were prescribed, the books by them were not available in the market. The teachers too were not sure of their interpretation and summary. how much meaning will it contain in a small poem from Tagore's Gitanjali if the theme and the writing mode of the poet are not added to lengthen the note-book? There is nothing as that to do with modernism or post-modernism, colonial or post-colonial perspective. The question is, are we still modern? Perhaps no is the answer. We cannot grown in isolation. There are bound to be different tendencies into the realm of it as the speakers are multi-racial, linguistical and ethnic, dispersed over, covering a vast and varied tract with variation in life-style, food habit, dress system and thinking mode, featuring unity in diversity so richly.

Indian English poetry, it is very difficult to conclude, assess and analyze as the contents keep varying from and the trend and tradition is never similar. There are the poets of different psyches and spectrums and they voice forth their own sentiments. Apart from that the modern age is one of displacement and disagreement, dislocation and distrust, despair and disillusionment, exile and alienation.

Indian English poetry cannot be English poetry in the negation of Wyatt, Spenser, Drayton, Shakespeare, Donne, Marvell, Milton, Herbert, Herrick, Pope, Dryden, Gray, Blake,  Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Arnold, Tennyson, Browning, Eliot, Pound, Yeats, Auden and so on. Indian English poetry cannot be English if Emerson, Whitman, Longfellow, Frost, Ginsberg, and so on are not studied. If the whole bulk of Indology, Asiatic researches and Oriental studies are not considered as a whole? The colonial impact, hinge it is not easy to discern that; it will continue to linger in as a hang-over, bearing upon.  Apart from that it must be kept in mind that the European scholars and administrators have worked more in our fields rather than us. We the Indians talk of modernism in Indian English poetry in our own way. Actually it has begun otherwise. Had the bridges, dams, connectivity been not, could we have been modern? Had the watch, the radio, the college, the office, the court, the police station been not? Could we have been modern? The British legacy and heritage we cannot forget. We cannot the impact of the past. Had the hospitals been not, how could we have dealt with tuberculosis, cholera, small pox, plague? The same cholera, T.B. wards, Daruwalla talks about which we see them lying as abandoned, defunct wards of the British time.

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