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Nov 26, 2018

Socio-Poltical Concerns in Mulk Raj Anand



Dr K. R. S. Iyengar’s pioneering and perceptive study (Indian Writing in English) has firmly established the existence of the tradition of Indian Writing in English. Its achievements and a measure of significance can no longer be challenged. It is now possible, thanks largely to his efforts, to make further specialised studies in certain individual aspects in the field. An attempt here will be made to study the socio-political concerns in the first three novels (trilogy) of Dr Mulk Raj Anand.

The emergence of the pre-independence Indo-English novel out of its early romantic-idealistic arcadia into the expansive landscape of realism runs parallel to the gradual development of a national ideology from its early phase of reformist exuberance to the growth of a revolutionary consciousness among the common masses of India, that they had to struggle relentlessly for their emancipation from the steel frame of their politico-economic exploitation by a foreign imperialism as also from the colossal weight of old tradition, hide-bound casteism and the die-hard dogma of religious conformism.

The struggle for independence in India was not merely a political struggle, but an all-pervasive emotional experience for all sensitive and enlightened Indians in the twenties, thirties and forties of this century. It is a coincidence that the Indo-English fiction achieved a flowering maturity in the ’30s–a period during which the star of Gandhiji was on its apex on the Indian horizon.

Under Gandhiji’s moral-cum-spiritual leadership, the freedom movement percolated, for the first time, to the very grass-roots of Indian society. Parallel to the struggle for political freedom started another struggle for freedom on the social plane. That was a fight against superstition, the caste system and untouchability, poverty, illiteracy, the erosion of religious belief–that were sapping the very vitality of our society.

No writer, writing in those decades or writing about that period, could avoid reflecting this upsurge in his work. Fiction, of all literary forms, is intimately concerned with social conditions and values, and at this time, Indian society, “galvanized into a new social and political awareness, was bound to seek creative expression for its new consciousness and the novel has, in all ages, been a handy instrument for this purpose.l The socio-political movement, which had caught the imagination of the entire nation, inspired the Indo-English writers as well, who had an added advantage of Western liberal education. Among the significant works of fiction inspired by this struggle are the novels like, Kandan the Patriot by K. S. Venkataramani, Inqilab by K. A. Abbas, Waiting for the Mahatma by R. K. Narayan, Kanthapura by Raja Rao, Untouchable by M. R. Anand, Into the Sun by Frieda H. Das, Motherland by C. N. Zutsi, We Never Die by D. F. Karaka.

The aim of this study is to see how these political and social concerns are reflected in the first three significant works of Mulk Raj Anand.

Paradoxical as it may sound, the dynamics of Gandhian thought helped open the way for the influx of Marxism in the literary field in India. But at deeper level there is no paradox as the basic attraction of both the Gandhian and Marxian appeals was their idealism despite the wide difference in their ideological framework and the terminology employed. Gandhiji’s lifelong crusade against colonial exploitation of the weaker nations by the stronger, his no less vehement condemnation of any form of economic exploitation, his insistence that what is not shared with the dispossessed is stolen from them, and his passionate confession to talk of God to a people whose bellies were crying for bread–these rather than his exaltation of prayer and fast, of spinning and celibacy, of non-violence in thought, word and deed, had impressed the Indian intelligentsia. Between this aspect of Gandhian crusade and the almost parallel faith of Marxism the only difference was that Marxian dogma appeared to be more consistent in its ideology and more realistic in its interpretation of history. This explains the phenomenon of the thirties when many Indian writers and intellectuals who were first inspired by Gandhi later veered towards socialist or Marxist ideologies. Prem Chand who began as an ardent admirer of Gandhi, later on came to believe more and more in the desperate remedies advocated by Marxism.

Mulk Raj Anand, like Prem Chand, passionately concerned with the villages, with the ferocious poverty, squalor and backwardness coupled with gross ignorance and the cruelties of caste, with orphans, untouchables and urban labourers, took upon himself the task of attacking social snobbery and prejudice; urging for a larger outlook more tolerance, more intimate and benevolent understanding and more self-sacrifice. The Indian life that he depicts in his novels is that of outcastes, peasants, soldiers, the depressed and suppressed ones of the society. He has resurrected the outcastes, the labourers, the farmers and the bottom-dog of his country from the obscure lanes and alleys of the hamlets, villages and small towns. Like Prem Chand in Hindi, Anand is the first of the Indian novelists in English to have written of this motley crowd, which had hitherto been largely ignored by the then Indian writers.

Anand himself makes it clear in his preface to the second edition of the Two Leaves and a Bud: “In so far, however, as my work broke new ground and represented a departure from the tradition of previous Indian fiction, where the pariahs and the bottom-dogs had not been allowed to enter the sacred precincts of the novel, in all their reality, it seemed to become significant and drew the attention of the critics, particularly in Europe which only knew Omar Khayam, Li Po and Tagore but very little or nothing about the sordid or colourful lives of the millions of Asia.”

Anand, “a son of a copper-smith turned soldier, and of a peasant mother,” knew, saw and felt fully and intimately the rural life of the Punjab, the villagers, groaning under abject poverty, the village-life being sucked dry by the parasites and religious priests. He found himself propelled towards them and decided to write about those people who suffered continual indignation and despise at the hands of the white sahibs, the zamindars, the money- lenders, the priests, the landlords and the big business bugs. Thus, the sweeper, the peasant, the plantation labourer, the city drudge, the soldier, in spite of their thwarted purposings, became the heroes of his first two trilogies. In the same preface Anand claims:

All these heroes, as the other men and women who had emerged in my novels and short stories, were dear to me, because they were the reflections of the real people I had known during my childhood and youth. And I was only repaying the debt of gratitude lowed them for much of the inspiration they had given me to mature into manhood, when I began to interpret their lives in my writing. They were not mere phantoms...They were the flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood, and obsessed me in the way in which certain human beings obsess an artist’s soul. And I was doing no more than what a writer does when he seeks to interpret the truth from the realities of his life.

Anand, throughout his novels, has, by implication, been impressing on his readers to recognize fundamental principles of human living and exercise vigilance in regard to the real enemies of freedom and socialism. He has relentlessly been advocating the need to help raise the untouchables, the peasants, the serfs, the coolies, and the suppressed members of the society, to human dignity and self-awareness in view of the abjectness, ignorance, apathy and despair they are sunk in.

The first trilogy–Untouchable, Coolie and Two Leaves and a Bud–deals with the misery and the wretchedness of the crushed and poor and their struggle for a better life. His subsequent novels are almost a variation on the same theme and are intended to bring home to the reader the plight of the ever-burdened peasant who is powerless to fight superstition and social convention and who is baulked at every step in his aspirations for a better life.

Bakha, an eighteen year old boy, like his father Lakha, a sweeper, a cleaner of latrines, is regarded as an outcaste by the society. Anand, as has been suggested by Prof. H. M. Williams, “exemplifies the problem of ‘untouchability’, the treatment of the latrine-cleaning class condemned to isolation and deprivation as handlers of excrement; he exposes this as a social evil and suggests its remedy”.2 The method is to narrate the single day’s events in Bakha’s life. Sturdy, genial, easy-going, athletic Bakha lives and works in the army camp pathetically aspiring to be as much like the sahibs as possible and playing hockey with their children. But early on the fateful day, he touches a Brahmin by accident and is reviled as a disgusting creature who has made the Brahmin unclean. He then sustains the terrible shocks of indictment quite a number of times: he is abused and slapped for polluting a merchant, he is chased out of a temple by a priest who has been trying to molest his sister; he receives a shower of abuses for polluting an injured child in his attempt to help the wounded child. An anguished cry comes of his mouth:. “I only get abuse and derision wherever I go. Pollution, pollution, I do nothing else but pollute people...” For a moment he stands aghast possessed by his rebellious self. His whole countenance lights with fire, the strength, the power of his giant body glistens with the desire for revenge in his eyes, while horror, rage, indignation sweep over his frame. But this momentary rage and revolt, soon evaporate when he finds that he is still too much bound to his low-caste-status. His anger and fury can only make him painfully realize that his rebellion would lead him nowhere as there is a futility written large on his fate. So in the highest moment of his strength, the slave in him asserts itself, and he lapses back, “wild with torture, biting his lips, ruminating his grievances.” He walks out frustrated and highly disappointed. Colonel Hutchinson, the Salvationist, with his shield of casteless society and salvation for all; Gandhiji with his strong dislike for untouchability as the greatest blot on Hinduism and his views that untouchables are in fact the Harijans–“men of God”, and then Iqbal Nath Sarshar with his new machine (the flush) that “will clean dung without anyone having to handle it”–all these three encounters raise hopes in him for a while. But he returns home, to his wretched bed, smothered by the misery, the anguish of the morning’s memories, thinking intently of the Mahatma, the Christ and the Machine in turn, but preferring none of the three, which perhaps reflects the fundamental crisis in the mind of the writer himself and is responsible for the gloomy end of the novel.

Untouchable is thus a forthright condemnation of a system which has, for ages, killed human dignity and warped the man, the hideous monster called caste that has seized Indian life in its strangling grasp and we have come to accept the snobbery, the hypocrisy, insularity and stratification of society based on ideas of high and low, thus making a mockery of the great teachings of our holy scriptures that we chant on all auspicious occasions.

As has already been said by me in my paper on Anand’s Untouchable, 3 Bakha is a prototype of millions of untouchables in India, because he represents the agony and anguish, the misery and frustration of the innumerable low-caste people. “The problem of caste and poverty, squalor and backwardness, ignorance and superstition, admits of no easy solution”.4 Almost forty years after Anand’s novel was written (1933), and twenty-seven years after the attainment of independence, the problem still defies a firm and final solution. Despite the fact that the Indian Constitution has made it a crime to practise Untouchability, we still witness Anand’s Sohinis and Golabos, waiting at the village-well for a long time–some standing up, bending and joining their palms in beggary, others twisting their lips in various attitudes of servile appeal and abject humility as they remain seated. We still have the residential areas of the high-caste Hindus through which untouchables are forbidden to take their marriage processions, hotels where the “low-caste people” are not allowed the touch and use of utensils meant for other common customers. We still witness the shameful and ghastly scenes of the untouchables being shot dead by villagers for daring to grow their moustaches upwards (local tradition demands that they grow their moustaches downwards because of their low status in the caste hierarchy). 5 Solution is there, but it needs a planned and concerted action on behalf of the Government, the social workers and the under-privileged. First they are to be educated properly, their standard of living is to be raised, their miserable economic conditions are to be improved and then they are to come out in a defiant mood to break loose the chains of age-old traditions by breaking the ban on the use of public wells, schools, roads and public temples. Only then some semblance of hope can be visible.

Anand does not seem to be satisfied with an understanding of the society in its exterior aspects, its institutions, its problems. He seems to be possessed by a desire, although vague, to seize and express the deeper spiritual reality beneath the flux of bourgeois living. He, therefore, criticises social maladies, human hypocrisies, and individual idiosyncrasies.

In Coolie Anand shows his concern for the savagely neglected, despised and maltreated poor with an angry lack of resignation. Munoo, a poor orphan hill-boy, verdant and innocent, underfed and ill-treated by his aunt leaves the native village to find work and see the world. The very first encounter with reality shatters his dreams. Employed in the house of a bank clerk, Munoo with his inborn naive gaiety amuses and entertains the employer’s daughter by dancing like a monkey for her, but is interfered by he shrewish and vindictive housewife who ruthlessly destroys his happiness by making him realize his position in the world: “He had no right to join the laughter of his superiors. He was to be a slave, a servant who should do the work, all the odd jobs, someone to be abused, even beaten...”

Constant abuses and frenzied rage from his frightening and frowning mistress makes him flee to work in a primitive pickle factory in Daulatpur where the dispute between the two partners leaves him desolate, unshielded and helpless. Exasperated with the frantic competition and cunningness among the fellow-coolies, he finds himself an utter failure in the job of a market porter. The satire here becomes more general, directed not at one or two examples of vice and folly but at man’s inhumanity to man. The generous but feckless Prabha, Munoo’s protector and surrogate father, is betrayed by a cruel paranoiac foreman, harried by an absurd retired judge called Sir Todar Mal (a Dickensian grotesque who emerges with considerable comic power), and is finally nearly beaten to death by the police acting with absurd and habitual brutality”.6 This apparent and senseless deprivation and injustice drives Munoo to still another adventure. After working in vain as a market porter and sleeping on the road pavements, Munoo, with the help of an elephant-driver of a circus company is stowed away to Bombay. Before he is thrown into the vast sea of humanity, the elephant-driver tells him almost like a prophet: “The bigger a city is, the more cruel it is to the sons of Adam.” In Bombay he starts working in the British-owned Sir George White Cotton Mills and is brutally exploited along with other factory-workers and fellow-sufferers including Hari, with whom he lives in a slum. The miserable lives of the workers and their families, their squalor and victimization, the tormenting pictures of “an emaciated man, the bones of whose skeleton were locked up in a paralytic knot,” “a grey-haired black blind man leaning half on the arm of his daughter, half on a stick”–are vividly described. Wage-cut and hunger, exploitation and the retrenchment of workers lead to the eruption of the labour strike which ultimately turns into a Hindu-Muslim riot. Shocked and bewildered Munoo steals out of the clashing crowd but is dashed down to unconsciousness by Mrs. Mainwaring’s car and is transported to Simla to work as a page and rickshaw-puller to Mrs. Main-waring, a sort of an indolent and extremely neurotic, something of a nymphomaniac European mem-sahib. Over-work and under-nourishment gradually fret away his health until he dies of consumption.

Anand’s indictment is against the society as a whole, society that “breeds such prejudice and selfishness and cruelty.” Poverty diffused all over India and like a poison infecting all our society is the root cause of Munoo’s tragedy. The economic exploitation of the proletariat by a few egoistic, irrational, inhuman and cruel individuals very succinctly become the essence of Munoo’s misfortunes and is conveyed to us through one of the characters in the novel:

There are only two kinds of people in the world: the rich and the poor and between the two there is no connection. The rich and the powerful, the magnificent and the glorious, whose opulence is built on robbery and theft and open war-fare, are honoured and admired by the whole world and by themselves. You, the poor and the humble, you the meek and the gentle, wretched that you are swindled out of your rights, and broken in body and soul. You are respected by no one and you do not respect yourselves. (p. 55)

The charm of the book lies in Munoo’s innocence, “in his naive warm-heartedness, his love and comradeship, his irrepressible curiosity and zest for life”–the instinctive urge to live, to go on doing something in order to avoid starving. The Bombay scene with toiling, suffering, struggling, starving masses is at once vivid and realistic, where Munoo, an insignificant part of the millions of half-fed and half-clad workers is “no more than a speck in this tide of humanity”, and it is precisely for this reason that the story does not end here and the author transports him to the holiday-resort where he regains his identity. Coolie, to quote another critic, is a “cosmic painting of the lives of thousands of orphans, coolies, boy-servants, factory-workers and rickshaw-pullers, their health running down “through the hour-glass of Time.” The novel is a treatise on social evil at its sundry levels and phases”. 7

Deeply moved by the abject poverty and innocence of India’s toiling masses, Anand wanted to write an angry bitter book, a book to sear the conscience. It emerges as “an anguished cry, and indictment of the cruelty of the system, and a declaration of pity for the hero, the betrayal and the depraved Munoo. It is more than a social documentary, more than a tract for the times”.8

Two Leaves and a Bud describes the pathetic conditions of the labourers in tea-gardens where the poor Indian coolies work as slaves along with their wives and children. It is a sad and appalling tale of the crushed humanity, of their sighs and tears.

Gangu, a middle-aged farmer in the Punjab, tempted by false promises, is transported to Assam with his wife and daughter to work in a British-owned tea plantation concern. The coolies here are treated like beasts and their wives and daughters have to yield to the white sahibs like Reggie Hunt. These docile, gutless, spineless coolies never raise their voices and go about the plantation with masks of crass stupidity on their faces, whose habitual submission is never disturbed by an outrage of man or beast, by hunger, pestilence or slow disease (p. 198). Anand has successfully portrayed the lot of the Indian coolies–“exploited, starving, cheated, dirty, diseased” as the true heirs of one of the “world’s greatest civilizations.”

Coolies’ joint approach to the authorities for a fair deal is mistaken to be a rebellion. Army is summoned, aeroplanes machinegun the terror-striken coolies and grind them down into submission and order is restored. De la Havre, a sympathetic doctor, a “walking capsule of humanism, socialism, progressivism and left-wing idealism” has to miss his job and his love (Barabara) because according to the planter’s code, his sympathies were wasted on the wrong people.

Gangu feels bewildered, lonely and lost when his wife Sajani dies of malaria. He makes frantic efforts to borrow money for the funeral expenses and is kicked out, beaten and abused. He comes back almost broken to Buta, the Garden Sardar, who had brought him here on fabulous promises:

“The Sahib will not give me a loan,” Gangu said, “I have just been. He beat me for coming out of quarantine. Oh, friend Buta Ram, if only I had known things were going to turn out this way, I wouldn’t have come here.” And he took his hand to his eyes to wipe the tears that had welled up in them with the reproach against the Sardar that he had suppressed into self-pity.

These natural, unforced and unpretentious words successfully convey the genuine “pathos, the suffering and the anguish of the hero”.9

Gangu with his cold passivity, his tender loyalties, his compassion and depth of suffering, symbolic of the Indian peasantry, is by now adept to watch the violent play of God, the storm and the rain washing away the meagre harvest of paddy with an almost imperturbable calm, as if in the moment of his uttermost anguish and despair, he had been purged of his fear of the inevitable. Hopelessly embedded in the toils of a system that can only throttle the life, Gangu has learnt to accept the rigours of life with complete resignation and stoical serenity:

And, as in the old days in his village, so now he plodded on like an ox all day, knowing all in his crude bovine way, grasping the distinction between himself and his masters, conscious even of the days when he was young and had kicked against the pricks and the proddings of the rod, of the hate, the fear and the sorrow he had known, but detached and forgetful in the Nirvanic bliss of emptiness where the good and evil of fortune seemed the equally just retributions, Omniscient Providence, of whom Siva and Vishnu and Krishna were the supreme incarnations...(p. 237).

The novel ends with the murder of Gangu in his attempt to rescue his daughter from the enticing trap of the sexy and lustful Reggie Hunt. The white jury that tries the case finds Hunt “not guilty” of murder by one vote and not guilty to culpable homicide by a majority of vote. Evil is thus shown triumphing and leaving no room for goodness in life.

De la Havre, Anand’s “spokesman character”, with his idealist dream of a “Communist type revolution and recognizes imperialism as an egregious form of capitalist exploitation”.l0 The him the socio-political revolution is the only way to emancipate the vast masses, prisoners of so many chains, bearing the physical signs of grief, of lassitude, even of death. He does protect the coolies and encourage them to resist the onslaughts of gross injustices, insults, and indignities they are destined to suffer at the hands of the British planters and rich Indian exploiters, but Anand through Dr Havre can easily be seen to be ventilating his anger and pity at these swarming, under-nourished, bleary, worm-eaten millions of India suffer so. He surmises:

 Is it because the festering swamps of the tropics breed disease and that they cannot check the tribulations of destiny? Certainly it seemed to me so, at first–that fate had here conspired with the seasons to obliterate everything capriciously...But why didn’t it occur to anyone the simple, obvious thing that people don’t need Marx to realize here. The black coolies clear the forests, plant the fields, toil and garner the harvest, while all the money-grubbing, slave-driving, soulless managers and directors draw their salaries and dividends and build up monopolies. Therein lies the necessity of revolution in this country...(p. 122/123).

Anand has been blamed for his partisan views of the Britishers. The novel, according to Professor H. M. Williams, is on one level a crude piece of propaganda portraying the British as vicious and absurd. Admitting that the novel is not as best as his early ones, Anand himself offers his defence in the introduction to the 1951 edition of the book:

I do not think that it is one of the best of my early novels. It is perhaps better written, and technically, it is more complex than Untouchable or Coolie because I tried to evoke in it in varying moods of the beautiful Eastern Indian landscape and felt the passions with an intensity which owed not a little to the fact that it was a real story which I was writing in thinly veiled fiction. But I confess, that, as I got into the book, I was biased in favour of my Indian characters and tended to caricature the Englishmen and English women who play such a vital part in this book ... And the truth has to be told about the relations of the blacks and whites, unpalatable as it might be, even as the disease of serfdom had to be analysed in Russia before it could be eradicated. And if in so doing, one’s art spills over into an amorphous passion then, well, that should be forgiven in an age which so often excuses cynicism and contempt and even violence on the other side...” (Introduction, p. vii)

Able, spirited and bold as this defence is, it does not answer all the doubts and questionings. In his over-enthusiastic defiance of the exploitation, Anand makes Gangu brood in an intellectual manner which never seeming true to his character, sounds a crude piece of propaganda inartistically thrust over through the protagonist’s mouth:

I have always said it and I say it now again that, though the earth is bought and sold and confiscated, God never meant that to happen, for He does not like some persons to have a comfortable living and the others to suffer from dire poverty. He has created land enough to maintain all men and yet many die of hunger, and most live under a heavy burden of poverty all their lives, as if the earth were made for a few and not for all men! (p. 247/248):

Lapses such as these are there, but they never infiltrate the total artistic beauty and effect, for the crude part of overt propaganda is made subservient to the human content by telling the unvarnished tale of plantation life in the thirties. Anand has therefore ably withstood the attack of the critics whom he would like to remind that “the catharsis of a book lies ultimately in the pity, the compassion and understanding of an artist and not in his partiality.”

A study of the trilogy gives an unmistakable feeling, that Anand is a serious and committed novelist with definite axe to grind. What he is committed to and what he grinds with his axe is obviously the wishful eradication of the prevalent prejudice and indignation against the under-privileged and under-dog of the society and pleads for the bettering of their lot.

A wishful thinking for the removal of all artificial barriers between classes and masses prompts the author to insist on the innate humanity of man. He is almost baffled by age-long social inertia, and pins his faith not on any future rational re-organization of the society, but on elemental human goodness and sincerity.

The indirect criticism in his novels of the emotional regidity and self-centredness of the superior castes gives place to a more frontal attack on the illogicalities and injustices of society. But this does not mean that his novels are a dissertation on socia-ethical problem, rather an illuminating document of human interest. He has pointed out social conflicts and ills, not because he champions any abstract social theory, but because he has seen and experienced and felt them intimately in his own surroundings.

Anand in his novels, attacking social snobbery and prejudice, urges for a larger outlook, more tolerance, more intimate and benevolent understanding and more self-sacrifice. He seems to stress one thing to be sure–that intolerance and egoistic feelings are at the root of all our social and personal troubles.

Anand, through his creative writing, as he expresses in his Apology for Heroism (p. 139), has been able to live through the experience of other people and realise what silent passions burst, in their minds, what immediate and ultimate sorrows possess them where they want to go and how they grapple in their own ways, with their destinies. He has tried in this sense to express his passionate love for the suffering people without caring for the misunderstanding and the ridicule of those who are better situated in social life and call his pre-occupation with the outcastes, the disinherited peasants, and the eternally wronged women as a morbid, sentimentalist pre-occupation with these “ignorant people.”

Through his pleadings for an unquenchable and unshakable faith in the elemental goodness of man and power of love, a faith which has had all falsity and sentimentality purged of by the fires of intense suffering, what Anand wanted to achieve has been achieved. And that in itself is a unique contribution to the Indian novel in English.


1. Dr M. K. Naik’s essay on Gandhiji and the Indian Writing in English. Banasthali Patrika, special issue on Mahatma Gandhi. July 1970. p. 55.

2 Prof. H. M. Williams: Studies in Modern Indian Novel in English. Writers Workshop, Calcutta. 1973. Vol. I, p. 31.

3 Shyam M. Asnani: Untouchable and Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable. Published in the Banasthali Patrika. Jan. ’71.

4 Dr K. R. S. Iyengar: Indian Writing in English. Asia Pub. House, Bombay (1973). p. 338.

5 The Times of India, December 26, 1976, reports that according to the Chairman of the Untouchability Committee appointed by the Union Government, three untouchables in a village in Madhya Pradesh were shot dead.

6 Studies in Modern Indian Novel in English.

7 Prof. K. Kurmanadham: The Novels of Dr M. R. Anand. Triveni (Machilipatnam), Oct. ’67.

8 Studies in Modern Indian Fiction in English.

9 Dr Saros Cowasjee : Anand’s Two Leaves and a Bud. Published in the Indian Literature (Q). Vol. XVI, No. 3 and 4, July, Dec. ’73.

l0 Studies in Modern Indian Fiction in English.

* References to the texts are from the Kutub Popular (Bombay) editions unless otherwise specified.

Nov 22, 2018

Father Returning Home: Dilip Chitre

Bijay Kant Dubey

My father travels on the late evening train
Standing among silent commuters in the yellow light
Suburbs slide past his unseeing eyes
His shirt and pants are soggy and his black raincoat
Stained with mud and his bag stuffed with books
Is falling apart. His eyes dimmed by age
fade homeward through the humid monsoon night.
Now I can see him getting off the train
Like a word dropped from a long sentence.
He hurries across the length of the grey platform,
Crosses the railway line, enters the lane,
His chappals are sticky with mud, but he hurries onward.

Home again, I see him drinking weak tea,
Eating a stale chapati, reading a book.
He goes into the toilet to contemplate
Man's estrangement from a man-made world.
Coming out he trembles at the sink,
The cold water running over his brown hands,
A few droplets cling to the greying hairs on his wrists.
His sullen children have often refused to share
Jokes and secrets with him. He will now go to sleep
Listening to the static on the radio, dreaming
Of his ancestors and grandchildren, thinking
Of nomads entering a subcontinent through a narrow pass. 

Father Returning Home as an autobiographical poem by Dilip Chitre brings in the memory of his father tarvelling home, returning back to from the workplace just as a daily commuter leaving for in the morning and coming back to during the night-time. Through the image of his father, the poet actually wants to reflect upon the time-spirit, our society and culture. How the conventions, trends and traditions, norms and nomenclature change in due course of time and are in a flux? The image of a father waiting to board, alighting from, coming home with a bag, going to, on the platform, in the train, hurrying down, are the images and pictures of daily commuters, daily passengers which we often come across. His thoughts and ideas are those of a commuter swapping in between the home and the workplace. The modern times are hard times and to sustain under such is not an easy job.

Father Returning Home by Dilip Chitre is a picture of a father boarding the train to reach the workplace and returning from at night by the late night-time train which is but his routined affair, day-to-day business, he going in the morning and returning from after the work. So, as a result of that very coming and going, he often remains away from the home leaving it all. Even when he comes, who cares for whom? The family members remain busy with their own activities. The poor father has all that to do and to attend do. When he leaves, he is but a lonely and when he comes, he is but a lonely man. What there in the life of a daily commuter? Life spends as thus in commuting in between, shuttling between the home and the office. When he boards the train for the return journey, one among the commuters he stands in the compartment lit with the yellow light burning dimly, suburbs slide past and he unaware of it all lost into the thoughts of his. With a bag full of books, he alights from the train on the platform during the monsoon night. His clothes have wet a bit. The black raincoat and the chappals too are stained with mud. But apart from crossing the grey platform, the railway lines, he takes to the lane to lead to and to reach home.

Father Returning Home by Dilip Chitre is a picture of a father going to the workplace and returning back to as a commuter commuting daily which is but modern life, the compulsions of it difficult to be denied. The poem is not merely the picture of Chitre's father, but everybody's father. It is a specialty of the poet he can turn the commonplace things into a beautiful topic of deliberation. The humdrum and nuances of daily life seconded by a queer monotony punctuate this modern urban life of ours as some sort alienation and exile, angst and bewilderment have already a sway over us in this way or that way. The course of life too is not the same. Things keep changing, taking an unexpected turn in this age of displacement and dislocation and we are bound to be as we are helpless on this point. A commuter's life-style cannot be fixed. Today here, tomorrow where? Life runs keeping in view time, distance, routine, workload and distance. Father in the train boarding and going, returning back, standing in the midst of the commuters and the yellow lights burning dimly, the train stopping and he alighting from, hurrying down, crossing the railway line to be back home, these are the pictures of life which but a daily commuter can say and feel about. 

There is so much to mean it here as well as so much left to our conjecture. His getting off from the train is like a word dropped from a sentence. There is none concerned with his getting down, dropping down from the train with so many bogies and so many people dropping and getting down. In the crowds, who to care for whom? 

The opening lines of the poem tell of the things connected with the life of a commuter commuting in between the office and the house which is but taxation:

My father travels on the late evening train
Standing among silent commuters in the yellow light
Suburbs slide past his unseeing eyes

How have we got dislocated and disconnected? Apart from the description, there is something of our family system too in it. How do we pretend? How pragmatic and pontifical is our social hierarchy? Such a thing used to be in practice in our older joint family systems too. The aged and the old used to live in the outside adjacent bungalows. But it is difficult to be an ascetic, a hermit. The Vanprastha withdrawing from the world and handing over of the responsibilities to the younger ones may be also the talk of the discussion.

The shirt and pants of his father are wet and soggy, the black raincoat stained with mud and the bag stuffed with books. Let us see him:

His shirt and pants are soggy and his black raincoat
Stained with mud and his bag stuffed with books

The below-quoted two lines from the poem tells of the change in situation as for father retuning home, a word dropped from a sentence:

Now I can see him getting off the train
Like a word dropped from a long sentence.

Is the toilet the place of meditation and reflection for the modern man? Man’s estrangement from the man-made world is the thing of discussion herein. How much estranged has he become from life and the world? Man-made world has the limitations of its own. 

He goes into the toilet to contemplate
Man's estrangement from a man-made world.

Father Returning Home is a picture of a father returning home just as a commuter leaving the station in the morning and coming back by the night and similar is the story of his which but he paints and pictures in this poem; is an image sketched and drawn in words reflecting on this come and go of modern life and living. When to share with him? What care has he got from? He comes as a loner and returns back to the workplace as a loner loning on the ways of life. Our modern life too has become so busy and fast that there is no time to see anyone. We too have become so much self-centred.

A father's picture recollected by a son, seen from far just as a man going as a wayfarer, traveller, passer-by; a pedestrian, commuter and in this shuttling in between the house and the workplace which but is the order of the day, modern life and living life will pass away as thus.

His children refuse to share the hearty talks with him, the sullen children of his the jokes and secrets with him. How much have we undergone? The modern life is so centred that we have no time to take and share with.

His sullen children have often refused to share
Jokes and secrets with him.

An old man, what has he to share with; a commuter, what has he left with to enjoy in a company if his daily routine of life is otherwise? Listening to the radio, dreaming of  his ancestors, thinking of the way through which the Aryans made an entry into India, he sleeps down.

He will now go to sleep
Listening to the static on the radio, dreaming
Of his ancestors and grandchildren, thinking
Of nomads entering a subcontinent through a narrow pass.

The title is just and appropriate as far as the description and the narrative are concerned. The poet describes not only the coming and going of his father, but of everybody whosever is a commuter split in between the workplace and the house. The other thing too is this that our attitude to the old too has been pragmatic. In the modern age the situation has worsened and we need to build the old age homes to rehabilitate them as for the changing scenario.

Nov 16, 2018

Poetry: An Indian Perspective

What Is Poetry? The Origin And Development of Poetry, How To Write It Modern Poetry? (An Indian Perspective)

By: Bijay Kant Dubey
Poetry, what is poetry, how to define it? What it forms the crux of it? How the base? Several things conjure upon the mind’s plane while taking it deeply, deliberating upon the topic under discussion. Poetry is emotions and feelings of the heart presented in a lyrical manner. Poetry is the language of signs and symbols, sounds and melodies, motifs and beliefs. It is a medium of expression and the writers try to express thoughts and ideas. One of the seven arts, poetry has an appeal of own, taking sculpture, architecture, painting, song, dance and drama. But what is not poetry? Where has poetry been not? What there not in poetry? Poetry is inclusive of all, images, pictures, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, motifs, myths, symbols and all. The things have not changed though we like to call it modern, modernist, post-modern and contemporary in the modern times. What to construct, what to deconstruct? What colonial, what post-colonial? Poetry is not restricted to any ism or boundary and the writer can derive from whatever he likes to draw from history, art, culture, life, philosophy, economics, political science, classics, science, technology, theory and politics. Can poems be not tributes to? The topics may relate to Lincoln, Washington, Burke, Gandhi, Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Nehru, Bose, Churchill and others; may to Goethe, Tolstoy, Max Muller, Emerson, Whitman, Kant, Schiller, Schopenhauer and so on. Gandhi and Gandhism, Bose Studies, Nehru Studies, Tagore Studies, Oriental Studies, Indology, Sanskrit Studies, Peace Studies, Constituent Assembly Debates, these too may form the crux of the write-ups. Martyrs and patriots, nationalists and freedom fighters may also influence the poets as such Bhagat Singh, Chandrasekhar, Rajguru, Uddham Singh, Khudiram Bose. The lives and biographies of Patel, Azad, Prasad, Radhakrishnan, Kalam to Vajpayee may be topics. India has not been built only by the politicians, but the architects, economists, business magnets and tycoons too have modernized it. If somebody takes up Jamsetji Tata, his biography in poetry, it too can be a subject. Aldous Huxley’s visit to Bose Institute, Calcutta and Benares, Rudyard Kipling’s Hindustani pidgin-English and references to Mowgli and Bagheera, George Orwell’s birth and house in Bihar’s East Champaran, Allen Ginsberg’s recuperation and experiences, George Harrison’s Krishna movement and so on.  A poem can be about the Indian jugglers of William Hazlitt, Orwell’s house, Yeats’ writing of Introduction to Tagore’s Gitanjali.  Homi Jehangir Bhaba’s death in a plane crash too has a story of own shrouded in mystery. Atal Bihari Vajpayee seeing the testing of atomic blasts and the men behind with their brains at Pokhran accelerating the Buddha smiling programme of Raja Ramana is no less dramatic. The story is no less than a drama enacted in the desert. The naming of the missiles, as Prithvi, Agni, Trishul, Akash, BrahMos to Sudarshan Chakra to Rudra to the making of Aryabhata satellite has a relevance and connotation of own.

A poem can about the Indian kings and the cheetahs extinct, the deer parks, hanumans swinging, red-mouthed monkeys loitering in the temple complex, black bears, porcupines, golden jackals, blue birds, owls, woodpeckers, swans, egrets, herons, house sparrows, kites, hawks, vultures, golden orioles, green parrots. A poem can about the showmen, the bandarwallahs, bhaluwallahs, saperas, monkey-men, bear-men, snake-charmers. The washer man’s abandoned ass or the racing horses dying in harness can be the topic. The Indian jugglers juggling with balls and hats, the magicians with their hocus-pocus and the tantricas in sadhna too have drawn our attention over the years. A poem can be about the wayward, shunted and abandoned racing horses of Philip Larkin as well as can about Rana Pratap Singh’s Chetak.

The philosophy of poetry, how to say about? The philosophy of poetry, the poetry of philosophy, how to analyze it? Which came it first, sound or sign? The break of the sound with the creation of the universe, how to narrate it?  The alphabet of poesy, how did it take a shape? Every subject has but a philosophy, the philosophy of physics, the philosophy of chemistry. Where do the theories of physics lead to ultimately, fusions and fissions? Atoms for peace or for dropping bombs? What does chemistry about compounds and reactions? How much pesticides should we use? What the philosophy of philosophy?   The philosophy of economics lies it in planning and management and that of political science in administration. Does physics end up in existentialism, nothingness, a sort of vacuum, jyotirvidya, astrology and astronomy from where has it started? How to divide time into cosmic time and mechanical time? What about the Big Bang Theory, the creation of the universe, what about matter, mass? The philosophy of mathematics lies it in calculation and counting, exactness and appropriation with the calendar to determine and fix through reasoning and fact. The philosophy of medical science is to prescribe medicine and to cure, to serve sick and ailing humanity after diagnosing and prescribing remedies. The philosophy of biology is to study life-cycles and animals. The philosophy of botany is to study plants and woods for ecological and environmental purposes, greenery and existence. The philosophy of geography lies it in cartography and mapping, demography and weather readings, climatology and meteorology, geology and oceanography. The philosophy of information technology lies it in supplying instruments and appliances, sending of messages through technological tools as soon as possible.

What can we do with poetry? Can poetry give at all? Had the cemented houses been not, could we have preserved books? Had the watch, the radio, the cycle, the motorcycle, the bus, the train, the plane been not, could we have been? Had the schools, colleges, offices, hospitals been not? The modern age is an age of science and technology, knowledge and wisdom, fact and fiction, logic and reasoning, information and data, statistics and planning, time and distance, tour and travel. Had the modern things been not, could we have been modern? Had we been superstitions and blind to, could we have been? Modern life and living have changed our life-style and living standards. The impact of science on society we cannot negate it, nor can deny what not has it given.  With the expectancy of life lengthened, hope of living emboldened we have to go a long way diminishing ailment and sickness. The train lines connecting the far ends, the ships with the cargoes, the planes with passengers, what to say about? The world has shrunken. The mountains, seas, deserts and plateaus, woodlands, moorlands and marshes pose no threats. Today’s age is the age of smart phones and selfies, jazz bands and rock music; today’s age is an age of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, Messenger and Google Search. How to save ecology and environment?

In this age of dislocation and displacement, angst and bewilderment, decolonization and de-construction, sick and hurry and divided times, kar lo duniya muthi mei, take the world in the palm when we have reached the frontiers of information technology with global poetry? Vasudheva kutumbakam not, the whole world is a global village. Where do you want go? Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Hungary, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Bulgaria, Poland, Austria, the flights are almost ready take to. You should have just money in the pocket. In this age of the beats and Beatles, what to write about? How to give support to the addicted generation? How to save them from alcohols, narcotics and spirits? Hippie culture and bohemian life cannot give everlasting joys. How to save them from drugs?

A poem can be about the Bamiyan Buddhas, the fall of the Bamiyan Buddhas, Buddhas under threat, the  Talibans to shell and explode, dynamite and break with axes, hammers and rifles; a poem can be about the World Trade Center attacks and it falling like the cards, people running for cover and escape, dark clouds looming large over during the terrorist take over and crash-landing over the complex. A poem can be about Pope John Paul II and his endurance, Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi and his aura of light. A poem can be about the Cambodian Zens. One may take Zhao Ziyang the former premier of the People’s Republic of China who had been sympathetic to the pro-democracy demonstrators of the 1989  Tiananmen Square protests.  The Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Bhopal gas tragedy, Iran-Iraq wars, Mars expedition, Florida deluge, etc. too can be the things of our deliberation. The penguins of Antarctica coming closer to the explorers, geologists and scientists on expedition may also entice someone to write on. It depends on mind to mind, heart to heart as to how to scribble and jot down the feelings so different from man to man and so the situations of life. Books too act as memories and reflections to be made. The selling of the wife in a fit of drunkenness in Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge accounts for the fall of the mayor when the news leaks out later for the activity committed earlier in his life. Such a thing keeps it happening all around. The drunkards often do such a thing after being addicted to bottles, mortgaging the things, breaking and setting house on fire, beating his wife and children. King Jong-un the Supreme Leader of North Korea shaking hands with Donald Trump is definitely a meet to be taken if one wants for a better world and better understanding. The death of Savita Halappanavar unable to undergo child related operations in catholic Ireland may be another topic. Religious orthodox all the time does not go in our favour. The world has greatest fears from the fanatics, the conservative people, the most orthodox and conventional people blind to thought and idea. We cannot think that man can be as such, so much madly under. Faith does not teach us to be inhuman and unkind. The modern world needs the charitable, philanthropic people, the virtuous and righteous ones rather than the uncouth men, rugged fellows. A mural of Savita Halappanavar outside the Bernard Shaw Pub in Portobello, Dublin says it all that about medical misadventure and the stricter laws relating to pregnancy terminations. We think how can we be so cruel and callous?

Poems can be written about marigolds, dahlias, poppies, pansies, dahlias, chrysanthemums, calendulas, petunias, asters, salvias, musk roses, daisies, lilies, orchids, carnations, freesias, hyacinths, daffodils, sunflowers. Indian kaminis, gandarajas, seulis, raatranis, juhis, champas and chamelis are no less than. The heavily-scented rajanigandha grassy sticks fragrance the nights. The lotuses white and pink and the lily red, white and bluish are no less. The naked leafless palash trees with the clusters of blooms and the simul trees with the big and bulging red booms strike the hearts. And what more to say about the gulmohars flaming red in the month of May? The beautiful violet-colour jaruls blooming can outwit with its beauty and shine beating the heat. Tecoma stans flower bunches with clusters beautifully decorate a landscape extraordinarily and here beauty lies it in the eye of the beholder. To quote it in the words of Keats, Beauty is truth, truth beauty. So are the poems of D.H.Lawrence about Bavarian gentians, lilies, pansies and bougainvilleas.

The peepul tree under which Siddhartha got his enlightenment, the banyan tree connected with Savitri and Satyavan, the rudraksha with Lord Shiva, the rishi with the trifala churna, haritika, bahra and awla wild herbal fruit paste dry mixture lengthening the elixir of life, how to allude to? India of dhams, ashramas, mathas; India villagerly and religious and what it adds to is this that havanas, holy fires kept the environment clean and free.

If the flowers can be poems, the objects of light, joy and pleasure and sight-seeing so beautiful, so true and so good, so divine, what to say about poetry? Poetry is just a representation of what we see, what we perceive, what we feel and think about. One of the fine arts, it is but satyam sivam sundaram. The terracotta temples, small-small, old-old made centuries ago from lime clay and small baked bricks with the baked plates with figurines, images, myth and mythology and folklore inscribed upon representing Raslila, Krishnalila and Ramlila, episodes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are really stupendous, no less than poetry and this is but mural poetry communicating through pictures, images and figures, symbols and signs and deserve merit side by side poetry.

Poetry lyrical, romantic, religious, spiritual, metaphysical, satiric, humorous, comical, epigrammatic, imagistic, photographic, linguistical, surreal, realistic; poetry modern, modernistic, post-modern, colonial, post-colonial. Poetry white, black, Dalit, non-Dalit; poetry feministic; poetry un-poetical and commonly, conversational, broken stanzas put forward for our reading. The types of poetry, schools and isms of it, aesthetic or didactic are based on taste and time-bars. Though poetry has nothing to do with black and white words, but Black poetry has no doubt a consciousness of own apart from its lacunae and drawback. So is Dalit poetry, of the Dalits, by the Dalits, for the Dalits. Eklavya’s poetry, let Eklavya write and we wonder what sort of teacher was it Dronacharya? Was he biased, prejudiced or not? The pains of Mira we have not felt them; the pains of Radha, Draupadi, Uma, Sati, Savitri. Who were Hidimbi, Surpanakha, Putana? Ethnic or Aryan characters? Was Ravana not a scholar, a Shiva-bhakta? The pain of Kabirdas, the son of a Brahmin widow thrown off, but reared by the Muslim weavers and the great shisya of Guru Ramanand, who has but felt it lying by the bathing ghats of Benaras he got the mantra from, the Ram-nama mantra as the feet of the guru touched his body and automatically the words came out, Rama-nama, oh, Rama! Adi Shanakaracharya saw, got a darshana of Shiva going as a kangal, poor destitute boy with a dog in his tryst with the Divine in a kangal rupa. Bhartrihari’s breaking of infatuation for his Queen Pingla and the infidelity met in turned into a bairagi, a great renouncer. Nagarjuna’s theory of nothingness, nihilism still keeps doing the rounds.

How to write modern poetry, in the modern times? What should be its topics and how to? Where to turn to and what to incorporate in? Should it be about history, art and culture, local and global, national or transgressing national boundaries international? Poetry ethnic, national, tribal, countrified or cosmopolitan, global, international? A poet of the woods, forest tracts, greenery and vegetation or one of rampant urbanization, concretization, deforestation and arid waste lands, of garbage heaps and vats? A scenery bereft of imagery, vegetation and greenery we are living today in a town, a city full so hustle-bustle, humdrum and monotony. The mega cities, metropolitan towns and cities, gala shopping malls, colourful theatres and with bus terminuses, parks, hotels, night clubs, airports, bar-cum-restaurants and routes for drives have engaged us otherwise giving special comforts as well as making so luxurious that often heed we not the basic needs and values of life, the matters related to our existence, what we ought to have and what not? Where are we going to, going to? Have you thought about it? Have we at least? The addicts on the roads roaming unattended and uncared for, without food, without medicine, is the reality to be marked. Where is the young generation going to from cigarette, ganja, bhang, tari (palm juice), handia (stale rice local liqour), tobacco, heroin, opium, brown sugar to wine, pleasureable song and dance in drunkenness? Who to look after the old men? The need to build old man houses is the thing of the day. How to rehabilitate them, the addicts and the old? Poetry aesthetic adding to joy and pleasure or didactic with a moral purpose, how to choose in between, should it be for values and ideals or should it be for pleasure sake?

Poetry as song sung and written by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, poetry as music composed by Beethoven, Mozart, poetry as picture by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Sandro Botticelli, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, poetry as sculpture by Michelangelo, Auguste Rodin, poetry as dance by Michael Jackson, Anna Pavlova, poetry as drama by Shakespeare, Bernard Shaw. Even if we live in India, how can negate the influences and impacts of Goethe, Bertolt Brecht, Emerson, Whitman? Many a thing we know it not. Who built the Howrah Bridge? How was Bombay in the initial stages? Had the schools, colleges, railways, ships, trams, telephones, offices, police stations, hospitals, radios, cinema halls, theatres, cycles, motorcycles, buses, cars, aeroplanes, electric lamp posts, roads, dams, bridges, machines, tools and appliances been not, could we have been modern? Had the televisions, mobile phone handsets with the GPRS facility, over bridges, flyovers, management schools, business establishments, highways been not, could we have been post-modern? The world has developed, progressed with new technology and its application and has shrunken into a globe merely.

During the British period, the Europeans had a tougher time in dealing with cholera, black fever, typhoid, tuberculosis, malaria, small pox and so on which but the dilapidating cholera wards, T.B. sanatoriums tell of themselves what they did, what they did not. We the Indians were but a fatalistic, inactive people believing in karma-dharma, papa-punya unnecessarily. But fate is it not all. Astrologers and palmists are not always the true people, but are thugs of some sort if to feel it sometimes. One can change the lines of fate through one’s karma, action. Even now we cannot tell about the rock-built temples of ours who built them and when the Konark Sun-temple, Jagannath Puri-temple, Khandagiri caves? Regional histories we know them not, just go on believing the historians blindly. What more can we say about the mahouts, elephant trainers? What more can we say about the languages of ours? Nothing lies it written, history of towns, cities, capitals, people, languages, events and happenings. Everything what it has come down to us is folklore and mythology shrouded in mystery. Caste, creed, custom, sect, belief, faith, food, attire, dialect, behavior, norm, nomenclature, geography, climate kept us divided for so long in the absence of proper understanding and reading.

The monstrous Sati system we have not forgotten it, the inhuman treatment and torture subjected to widows, the child marriage unaware of everything happening around the female baby, the immature girl child, the killing of the bride for dowry, the purdah system and is it all that has marauded our self for a long time in the absence of clear reasoning and logic, education and light. Under the ghumta the woman has shied from uttering the name of her husband. Poverty in the midst of plenty, unity in diversity, had been the dicta of our identity.  Today Sabrimala is disturbing us. Poetry is poetry, everything that you write about lyrically, in a poetical mood of your reflection. Can the life of Kadambari Devi be not drawn in words? She was the source of inspiration behind Rabindranath Tagore. Annapurna Devi, Indian surbahar player of Hindustani classical music and the daughter of Allauddin Khan of Maihar Gharana had been more talented than Pandit Ravi Shankar. A poem can be written as a tribute to her commemorating her excellence, musical melodies rippling through the sitar. Let us think of the day when Prince Siddharth would have left Yasodhara and Rahul sleeping, stepping out of the palace as for enlightenment. The pain of Mrinalini Devi, the wife of Sri Aurobindo, who could have known?

India the land of sadhus and fakiras, Rama and Krishna, Hare Rama, Hare Krishna, the Krishnites and Krishna movements, Krishna consciousness, the Beats and the Beatles coming to; of transcendental meditation even influencing Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau. The Cchou Dance representing Kali, Durga, Laxmi, Saraswati and so on through masks, dialogues, plays, music and dance keeping us spell-bound is really enjoyable. The terracotta temples made from lime clay and small bricks with the terracotta plates really take the canvas from. Where Telang Swami, where the great hatha yogi, O Asi ghat, Dashashwamedh ghat, O Vedavyas Ashrama at Hanuman ghat of Benares, say you, say you about the great saint!

Chanakya the Indian diplomat can be the topic of a poem dealing with polity and diplomacy. One may poetize the biographies or museums of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Mahadev Govind Ranande, Lala Lajpat Rai, Dadabhai Naoroji. The Parsi view of life with the doongar-varis and the vultures sitting sideways of the tops initiate us. Jain Tirthankaras too motivate us with their Jainism and the Jainistic view of life. Buddha and Buddhism with Buddhistic Studies can tempt us for a reading taking to Sikkim, Mizoram, Arunachal to Bhutan, Tibet, Myanmar, China, Mongolia and beyond. How did the Mongolian, Thai, Cambodian, Japanese, Tibetan, Chinese, Siberian Buddhist artisans and artistes make the Buddhas cast in gold, copper, pewter, stone, clay? A poem can be about the great biologist J.B.S.Haldane and his life who domiciled in India, served it and died here. It can about King Ranjitsinhji and his art of playing cricket with English cricketers of his day. A poem can be about Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan Frontier Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. A poem can be about the opening of Gandhian Studies department in foreign by great Gandhian scholars and disciples. It can be about Rajendra Prasad or Satchidananda Sinha. One may take up R.R.Diwakar. R.G.Bhandarkar, what more do we know about? If we turn over the pages of Constituent Assembly Debates, we shall come to find it that the chosen representatives are no less than Pt.Nehru or Rajendra Prasad, really a galaxy of illuminating stars.

We made the rock-built temples but knew it not who built them, who those architects, builders and sculptors were? Can we say it even now? We talk of the elephants of kings, but can we ever say about the mahouts, the great mahouts of India, the horse-trainers, camel-riders? What more do we know about or hagiography, historiography, museumlogy? Everything is but anonymous. We have not preserves our manuscripts too. Say, what have we done? History is silent all about that. What have we done for the cheetahs, lions, tigers, porcupines, stags, yaks and rhinoceros? Oh, India running by Ram-bharose! Just in the name of Rama, by the grace of Rama and we the people of Rama inactive, illogical, superstitious, blind, impractical, unreasonable, fatalistic which kept us held century after century deploring our condition! Only classical punditism cannot take us far if we seem to be pontifical, hypocritical and pragmatic and Machiavellian. Those who crossed over the seven seas were socially boycotted when came they from, but the same Brahmins and the same mentality other Indians  when afflicted with typhoid, black fever and tuberculosis shied not from being treated by European doctors.

In this modern age of global marketing, cosmopolitanism and technological revolution when nothing seems to be impossible, what to say about and how to take to poetry when this materialistic advancement comes seconded with environmental pollution, ecological disaster, global warming and climate change threatening our existence which we are least concerned with waiting to reap the dire consequences for the loot and spoil of our greenery? An earth bereft of greenery, vegetation, hills, rivers, lakes, plateaus, deserts, passes, falls, brooks, ravines, marshes, mountains, glaciers, woods, bushes, how will it, will it look to? Just like a barren land, arid and sterile, a waste land it will turn into devoid of vegetation and fertility if keep we negating the environmental hazards unmindful of moratoriums and obnoxious waste heaps and litters. Save tree, save life; Save life, safe drive; Keep the environment clean; Green earth, green life; The world one big family, the messages to be forwarded.

Nov 11, 2018

Dilip Chitre’s “The Felling of The Banyan Tree”

Dilip Chitre's “The Felling of The Banyan Tree” (An Appreciation)
By: Bijay Kant Dubey

“The Felling of The Banyan Tree,” by Dilip Chitre, is a poem of the cutting of a centuries old mythical banyan tree, shifting from Baroda to Bombay, leaving behind the memories and remembrances connected with the old paternal ancestral house where he grew up and passed his days even though the scenes and sights appeared to be more familiar and related to personally.

Soon after the decision the site gets cleared off bearing the brunt of destruction and devastation, wiping out the familiar images. The poet through this poem indirectly talks about the clearing of forests, changing ecology and environment while on the other rampant urbanization, concretisation and the mad craze for job and employment. What are we doing after all? Where are we going to? None thinks about, none cares for. Mythically, we take it the banyan tree connected with Savitri and Satyavan and the peepul tree with Goutam Buddha. But without referring to, the poet says to that the cutting of the green trees does not go in our favour as they are good for many purposes and are connected with our life and existence. Trees shade us from heat and direct sun rays falling on and oxygen as well as fruits to eat. It takes time in growing, but to cut it is so easy.

If seen from a different angle, it is an eco-centric poem predicting environmental hazards and green house effects and their bearing upon man.

The father of the poet orders the tenants of the rented houses on fare to vacate them as for the structures to be demolished and the land to be cleared forth and thereafter the woodcutters start cutting the trees and clearing the landscape, the spot, but to clear it all of a sudden not so easy as it takes time in establishing something and so the time in deserting it. To create something is difficult but to destroy is easier than. The cutters start cutting the trees one by one and the labourers working upon to demolish the structures one by one. Even going against the words of the grandmother that the trees are sacred, do not cut them as has been said by the patriarchs and saints alike, the sheoga, the oudumber and the neem trees are felled. But the huge banyan tree stands still just like a problem whose roots deeper than our life. Even after being unmindful of all that, the trees are massacred. The sole remnant house too tumbles and goes away crumbling and crashing down.

The banyan tree is three times bigger than the house, so huge, tall, mighty and sturdy with the scraggy aerial roots hanging all around, shady and bird-nested. With a fifty feet circumference trunk, the banyan is not so easy to tumble it down. The cutters first start cutting the branches and the twigs from the thirty feet above canopy. With the stroke of the axe, the chopper falling, birds start leaving the nests in wonder and astonishment as for being dismantled soon with so much hullabaloo and commotion and pandemonium. Clearing and cutting the branches and aerial roots, they begin sawing them and the place turns into a heap of the logs giving a peculiar look as the landscape takes a queer turn, wearing a strange look, difficult to be recognized and to be familiar with.

Finally, they come down to the trunk, the bust to clear forth and take time in chopping it, striking at the root to cut into, crack and tumble it down. Some fifty men are engaged in doing it. The great tree some two hundred years old with the rings within the circumference lies it fallen, saying it all about this waste land of ours, arid and sterile, modern landscape and scenery bereft of greenery and vegetation. The poet together with others see the slaughter and desertion and feel the plight in horror spellbound and speechlessly what it has taken place, what it has befallen. Soon afterwards they pack up the things and leave for Bombay for better prospects where there are but skyscrapers and congested flats, where there trees are not, where the spring comes it not with flowers, where man remains concerned only with jobs mechanically.

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