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The Tradition of the Poetry of Exile
|by Tripoth Chakraborty|
The word exile carries with it the historical association of persecution and uprooting. The tradition of the literature of exile is older than history. The theme and poetry of exile are found in the Old Testament of the Bible (ergo in Koran):
The poetry of exile is found in the Hindu purans. Given below is Shiva’s yearning for the city of Varanasi (Kashi) from which he was exiled:
The theme of exile is found in poetry from all over the world. Poetry of the pain of separation from one’s place of origin has a rich tradition. It entered the stream of modern poetry during the transition of the socio–economic systems from agrarian to industrial. The hunter–gatherer had less opportunities of getting rooted to his place. A farmer could stay rooted to a place from his birth to death and roots, once sprouted, went deep into the soil and connected the man to his place. The strength of his bonding was such that uprooting could only be effected by a natural or geopolitical change of extreme nature. So, the exile, uprooted and pining, is not commonly found in poetry of that time. As the Industrial Revolution altered the socioeconomic structure of the European (and later world) societies, brought in its wake urbanization and rural emigration, and the literature of exile was born. The most well–known example of this genre is from nineteenth century England, John Clare.
An equally well–known example from Urdu poetry is his contemporary Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’, the last Mughal Emperor who spent the last years of his life in exile in Burma wrote a moving ghazal in the memory of his home (land).
Clare and Zafar, both died in 1860’s. The theme of exile lived on. In fact, the twentieth century saw the number of artists in exile increasing. Bertolt Brecht, a German exile, beautifully captures the irony of hope in transience of the state that ends up being permanent in his poem ‘On the Term of Exile’:
The twenty–first century did not witness any change in the geopolitics of the world, hence in the state of the exile. The same pain is found in poems of exile from Tibet, Kashmir, Albania, Afghanistan, Sindh, Bangladesh, Greece and the list goes on. Let’s talk about Aga Shahid Ali, the Kashmiri poet in exile in the United States. His poems of exile have a haunting simplicity of images.
It is this tradition of poetry to which much of Rajnish Mishra’s work belongs. He is an exile, but unlike in most of the poems mentioned here, not from his nation but from his city of Varanasi. His poetic oeuvre and imagination have been shaped by pain and separation. His poems show his place and times very vividly and clearly yet his city is not restricted to one place or time, as in ‘My City and Yours’:
His devotion to details, and his transcendence of the same make for a curious combination of contraries, as in ‘Time and Life to Death’:
His poems return to the Holy Ganga repeatedly:
Rajnish Mishra belongs to the tradition of exile, and lives at a time and place that are not here and now.
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