… poetry as an expression of beauty and protest.
I must admit that I have never been to India. However, keeping my blog dedicated to literature in general adjourned since 2006 has given me the opportunity to get to know poets and their poetry from all over the world, including this huge country and culture which is India. This short study shall focus on the poetry of three contemporary Indian poets: Arbind Kumar Choudhary (from Kashi), K.K. Srivastava (from Gorakhpur) and Tholana Ashok Chakravarthy (from Hyderabad City).
Poetry as style:
Arbind Kumar Choudhary calls his poems “songs”. In fact, the play on sounds and melody are a solid presence; thus, his poems are also meant to be sung. This is done through the frequent use of alliterations, assonances, internal rhymes (“Willowing and sparkling/ Are darling of the spring”, see The Spring), and mono-rhymes (“nebulosity/ generosity/ gully/poesy/intricacy/delicacy”, see Poet), amongst other poetic mechanisms. Another poetic mechanism favored by Choudhary is the play with contrasting words in meaning. This is seen even in the titles some of his poems carry (such as Friend and Foe, Death and Life, and The Poor and The Rich). In Foe, Choudhary contrasts the notion of “foe” (“A fallen angel”, “a venomous spirit”, “an out Herod-Herod”) to the notion of “poet” (“A celestial glitterer” – thus the notion that the poet as light and the one who leads to epiphany; “a man of spirit”, “a clean slate”).
There are also many words and phrases that repeat themselves from one poem to the other (“party-pooper”, “Herod”, “minion”, “piggish”, “dexology”, “jewel”). In Life, Choudhary writes, “Life is a crown of thorns/ Death is a bed of roses” (for those who suffer). Structurally, Choudhary prefers regular stanzas, and in general makes use of the English sonnet format (three quatrains and a final couplet).
From the lexical point of view Choudhary’s first choice are registers linked to nature (especially the microcosm) and Oriental and Classical mythology. That of Choudhary is not a simple language for readers not familiar with Indo-English. However, one does understand that his is a direct message, one with a moral, political and social stance. Throughout his poems Choudhary makes great use of exclamation marks.
For example, in his first poem, Awake, Choudhary writes “Awake! Awake! Awake!”, “Arise! Arise! Arise!”, “Be conscious! Be conscious! Be conscious!”, and “O Sullen Trinity! O Almighty! O Sovereignty!” The poet does this on purpose in order to underline the urgency of the situation. In Kohinoor (the literary journal of which Choudhary is editor), the poet uses hyperbole. He calls this journal “a literary gander/ Reaches the highest rung of the ladder”. He also writes, “Enjoy juvenility”, in the sense that Kohinoor (thus, also poetry) also helps the reader to remain young.
On the other hand, at times K.K. Srivastava’s poetry takes the form of a thousand year old tale which may have its origins before the creation of mankind. During his search the poet encounters numerous presences which may belong to our known world or to unknown worlds such as that of dreams, thus delving in dreamlike spaces or dimensions. While captured or navigating in his dreams Srivastava manages to pass numerous doorways which take him to a multitude of levels which go deeper and deeper in his subconscious, thus giving shape and meaning to distortions. Thus imagery is many times surreal to reach special effects. Srivastava’s poetry is loaded with symbols with the help of which the poet tries to find meanings regarding the real world (also “the meaning within” as in A Citadel of Arguments), for sure not a simple one but one very complex and paradoxical.
The reader asks which is the simpler of these two: the real world or that of dreams - the latter made of mythical, even ethereal presences – where all presences and images have a meaning. This enigma creates a lot of pain in the poet. Srivastava’s verse sheds light on the “utter folly of ultimate unrealities of human existence” (An Unidentified Person), and this is possible also through continuous dialogue between the poet’s unconscious and subconscious. During his voyage Srivastava poses innumerable questions, even though answers are not available. Two important questions posed by Srivastava are, “could I get in dream what I lost in reality?” and “Could you get in reality what you have not seen in a dream?” (Discontented Dreams). Words and their manipulation are infinite. Does this create more chaos or introduces order to our world of unanswered questions?
Srivastava’s poetry utilizes also prose rhythms. From the perspective of linguistic registers Srivastava draws from politics and economics. A big part of his rhythm in poetry is made up of assonances, alliterations, play on words such as paradoxes, oxymorons, chiasms, and various repetitions, all placed in its proper place. He uses direct discourse, while long lists of adjectives strengthen the descriptive dimension. Some backgrounds are reminiscences of Dante’s Inferno or Paradiso. Through language – which in Srivastava’s hand is fluent, flowing and flexible, but also beautiful, sensuous, provoking – he makes the reader feel what he cannot feel thanks to routine and the weight or distraction of daily and monotonous chores. Words are like soft clay in the hands of the poet, ready to take any form, sound or meaning he wishes. Adjectives, nouns and verbs are three pillars on which Srivastava make his poetry stand. Description and the surreal, solid reality and action (within and without, positive and negative) are behind all this.
Regarding the regularity of form in his poetry Tholana Ashok Chakravarthy answers: “Yes, it is my choicest of choices to attract and immerse the reader/s and to take the reader/s deep into the heart-touching meaningful depths. Hence, with exception to some, I prefer the form of rhyme for most of my poems, for I am sure, this pleases both the mind and heart of a reader.” As a person he describes himself as “a person of – Simple Living And High Thinking.” And this is what happens in his poetry too: a mixture of simple language with profound thoughts about simple things. Simplicity is found also in the use of imagery: “clouds of war”, “tentacles of hatred”, “mother earth mourns”, “clouds of darkness”, “meadows of future”, “Lives entangled in the webs of starvation and death”, “eagle-eyed street lights”, “pigeons of peace”, “seeds of peace”, “ocean of miseries”, “seeds of mistrust”, “Flowers of peace”, and “the petals of faith”.
All have to do with the world of nature, but at the same time many treat a negative aspect of today’s society in which man lives or represent something which has still to come (such as peace). The socio-political dimension: The poetry of every poet has deep roots in the social and political soil in which he is born and bred. Of utmost importance is the dedication that introduces Choudhary’s poetry collection (My Songs, 2008): “Dedicated to the suffering humanity”. From the opening of this collection, the reader notes that Choudhary’s role is to give voice to those who are cast away by society. Thus the social theme is a very important one in My Songs. In Awake he strongly invites mankind to open its eyes in relation to wars and destruction. These are the consequence of what the poet calls “pig’s philosophy”, that is, the kind of reasoning which the superpowers and the greedy uphold.
Choudhary asks, “Where is epiphany?”, or more simply, when is mankind going to understand that greed, corruption, war, manipulation of the weak, and suffering are going to lead us to total destruction? Other poems linked to this theme are Hell, and India. In the latter, Choudhary (the poet as a voice of conscience) writes that “Modern Ashoka, Kautilya and Akbar/ have become nests of viper”, and shouts, “O Uncle Sam! Pay attention for sufferer’s claim.” In Leader, the poet from Kashi knows of no half terms; for him he who uses power against the weak is a “Befooler of the pauper!”, master of “duplicity”, “A wolf in sheep’s clothing/ sheds crocodile tears for the suffering”, and a “Blood suckler of the sufferer!”. In The Poor, Choudhary plays with the meaning of “pauper” and “poor” which for him assume a semantic difference: “paupers are not the time’s fool/ But time’s best Jewel”, and “The poor are those/ Who play false”. For Choudhary the big problem is not with those who are materially poor (the “best Jewel”), but with those who “play false”.
Arbind Kumar Choudhary writes about Death, and calls it “a true communist” (in the sense that it is equal to all). He describes The Earth as a space where opposite forces (bad and good, “vipers” and “party-poopers” on the one hand, and “the willow”, “the meadow” and “straw” on the other) coexist. In Friend, the poet upholds love and friendship (“best jewel”, “A boon in life!”), but is far conscious that in this world these are threatened by “sworn enemies”, these being “Lack of wisdom”, “Nepotism”, “cosmopolitanism” and “wealth”, described by Choudhary as “a wild goose chase/ For such a bird of passage” (see The Rich). In Terrorism, Choudhary writes that “Lack of love and wisdom/ Stirs raw mind for terrorism”. About Modern Man, the poet writes, “Man is the prize idiot of the earth/ while woman has a filthy faith”. About Religion the poet writes, “Religion is an intoxication”, and that “It is a tribulation/ if lacks meditation”.
For Choudhary mankind is “maladroit”, “coward”, “cadger”, “perverse”, “infernal”, as opposed to nature, “a shaping spirit”, “bard”, and “an ethereal minstrel” as one can read in his poem Nightingale. Thus Nature and Spring are synonymous to “celibacy” and “virginity”, in contrast with mankind’s corruption, greed and insanity. In Srivastava’s poetry (see Ineluctable Stillness, 2005) moments of tension, tyranny, terror, chaos and frightening sounds alternate with others of calm, silence, and benevolence. The latter are moments when Srivastava is one with infinity. In A Citadel of Arguments the poet writes about arguments and stretches the theme till he reaches the grotesque and the farcical. Here Srivastava writes in detail about today’s renewal of “obsolete ignorance”, “inverted intellectual dimensions”, “illusory wisdom” and “the triumph of folly over arguments”. The numerous repetitions in Saturday Dinner Party convey the monotony and artificiality (“It is a party, attended by men,/ With womanly qualities./ And women,/ With inhumanly qualities.”) of such upper middle class occasions. The poet observes from a distance and analyses with clinical detail every move, feeling, vice or virtue, and behavior of humankind with cutting edge irony.
Srivastava is the observer who describes in front of the world-stage where human beings (the social classes which live in comfort) are actors acting artificially. Other human beings (such as the old sick beggar and his bitch in Renewed Bonds) in their physical misery act only human but are more natural and happy than the rest.
Tholana Ashok Chakravarthy’s comment helps in understanding better his poetry, also in relation to this socio-political dimension: “The concept of uniting art with poetry will unite all classes of people, irrespective of age, caste, creed, race and religion. Yes, I do prefer poetry with artistic reflections of the theme, which I feel will definitely pave way to enlighten the children and youth in particular. Peace-poems and harmonious-art if jointly presented together, the face of humanity will be adorned with the glow of Universal Peace.” His verse deals with humanity’s suffering (starvation, war, physical abuse and brutality on children, death, street beggars, orphans). In Broken Truces he writes about “Innocents… maimed to death” and prays to God “to shower his miracles/ To unfold a new TRUCE in world annals.” In Who Cares Chakravarthy writes about a “Bone-sucked and almost lifeless” orphan, while in Seeking Love for Survival he calls the community “deaf-blind” when faced with such miserable situations. In other instances the poet writes about “seasons of hatred” and “aggression”, corpses, “bloodthirsty revenge” and “ill-fated child victims” (Where’s the Season), “the starving poor” (The Surging Thoughts), and “deceit”, “victims of war”, “racial riots” and “merciless egoism” (Is There a Scope). Thus, on the one hand there is the poet-child pleading for justice, mercy and equality; on the other hand there is the self-boasting, pseudo-civilized, hi-tech society of today.
1. Dr. Arbind Kumar Choudhary is the author of poetry collections such as Eternal Voices (2007), Universal Voices (2008), and My Songs (2008). He is the editor of the international literary journal KOHINOOR, and Head of the Dept. of English at the R.C. College, India.
2. K.K.Srivastava is the author of three poetry collections: Ineluctable Stillness (2005), An Armless Hand Writes (2008) and Shadows of the Real (2012). He has an M.A. in Economics from Gorakhpur University and joined the Indian Audit and Accounts Service in 1983.
3. Dr. Tholana Ashok Chakravarthy is the author of Serene Thoughts… of poetic ripples (2006). He has a D.Litt in B.Com. and a post-graduate. Diploma in Journalism.