Challenges and Responses: An Overview
A number of material, cultural and theoretical developments have introduced tremendous changes in social life and the ways of understanding reality. These changes have impacted the nature and study of literary writings including poetry. The shift informing the understanding of reality informs destabilization of traditionally established and accepted social norms as well as literary canons. Consequently, the emphasis in literary writings now marks a shift from representation and reproduction of reality to its construction, reception and the influences that determine its nature. The different art forms, including poetry, mark the emergence of aesthetics concerned with the wonderful, playfully shocking and altogether new and startling forms of life that art encompasses. The theoretical perspectives highlighting the constructed and provisional nature of reality tend to evolve an artistic perspective concentrating on how to make the world of art than to render the already given world an artistic form. It highlights the absence of a fixed reference against which one has to understand the world created in a work of art.
Coupled with these changes, the role of electronic media and the media generated and transmitted images have impacted the literary theory and practice. Its mass appeal, commodification of cultural elements in the form of popular images and entertainment value mark its success as a popular form of art also. The success of media presented forms of art has also impacted people’s choices, their tastes and tendencies to respond to other forms of art including poetry. The present generation is more inclined to respond and appreciate these art forms through live shows and involvement of the audience in the form of different viewer contests. The emergence of electronic media and its popularity has not only impacted the readership of literary writings in terms of numbers but also in terms of their expectations.
The impact of these factors seems to have introduced the inclusion of certain popular elements in contemporary literature, particularly Indian English novel that marks its greater success as compared to Indian-English poetry. For example, the inclusion of marginalized forms of life, startling images of life, different sub-cultures like lesbians, homosexuals and the presentation of destabilized forms of established norms, multiple perspectives towards history and popular contemporary events has earned some of the novelists the status of best sellers.
Poetry too has earned greater acceptance and popularity in the form of film songs, advertisements and laughter shows and in the form of comic interludes in 24 hour news channels. But the objective of these poetic forms is more related to commercial considerations and its role as a medium of entertainment only. It is purposefully directed to attract casual, pleasure seeking audience like bored house wives, over -worked executives and common people hardly desirous to concentrate on some serious social and moral concerns.
But academic poetry in general and Indian English poetry in particular, as always, has remained limited to a particular section of society. A specific reason for the limited number of people interested in this poetry perhaps lies in the fact that academic poetry in itself is an exclusive art. It is exclusive in the sense that its beauty and worth, like that of other art forms like sculpture, music, painting and classical dances is understood and appreciated by the people who are initiated to these forms of art. Its proper appreciation and evaluation requires certain basic information about its nature and elements. It limits the target audience in terms of numbers and marks a different kind of response from that of the readers of popular poetry mentioned above. The nature of poetry as an art form, its success, relevance and significance cannot be related to its popularity among the masses only. So far as Indian English poetry is concerned, it suffers more due to the lack of readership for being in a medium that does not correspond to the language ability of the common masses. Consequently, people’s lack of interest and poetry’s inability to earn reward in commercial terms forms a major challenge to contemporary Indian English poetry.
Apart from receiving negligible response in the form of readership, the indifference of media to academic poetry and the lack of proper evaluation and critical appreciation form another discouraging factor. Except a few well- meaning critics, poetry is generally reviewed and critically examined by casual journalistic reviewers who are professionally engaged to review films, serials, sports events etc. having little critical ability to analyze literature. Similarly, the westernized mind-set that seeks positive opinions from the western critics before responding to a work of art also contributes to the biased appreciation and sometimes cruel indifference to the works of art published by small or not well known presses in India.
The presence of the factors discussed above does not absolve the poets altogether of their own responsibility to evolve certain ways in the form of content and form that have greater relevance for larger number of people. To some extent, the poets too are to blame for not being able to involve the presentation of many lives we live in contemporary times. For example, most of the contemporary Indian English poets have shown concern for emerging forms of life including deviant forms of contemporary behaviour. On the other hand, there is a negligible number of the poets concentrating on sensitive responses of the tradition oriented people uninitiated to the world of business and commerce. In the same way the cultural scenario that emerges from the works of contemporary Indian English poets informs as if the problems related to livelihood, poverty, and exploitation have altogether disappeared. Instead of expressing the pain of the anguished lives, unable to acquire respectable living, most of the poets seem to be more interested in matters related to small but peculiar sections of society. Instead of providing a vision of life having futuristic implications for the generations to come, these writers have remained limited to the presentation of day to day problems of evolving forms of life and complexities of modern urban living.
In spite of the fact that Indian English Poetry seems to be one of the most endangered literary species, there has emerged a considerable number of young poets promising brighter days and better health for it. The contemporary Indian-English poetry informs its corresponding development with the changed forms of life and its complexities. It marks a phase of innovation and variety of concerns and use of English as an Indian as well as global language which no longer contains archaic forms of English language. There has emerged a renewed interest in Indian-English poetry that can be ascertained from special issues of journals devoted to Indian poetry in English e.g. Granta , London Magazine, Poetry Review, Lines Review, World Literature Today, Chicago Review, etc. Apart from this, the continued appearance of significant anthologies of poetry edited by established critics and poet critics along with scores of journals providing ample space to poetry and some of them completely devoted to poetry publication mark its emphatic presence in the horizon of Indian English literature.
The prolific scenario of Indian English poetry indicates that its growth is not limited to the production of poetry volumes and the number of people involved in rendering their experiences in poetic form. It also indicates the evolution of the nature of Indian English poetry from its limited concerns related to traditional Indian cultural ethos, mythology, and world view to the inclusion of multiple perspectives and presentation of variety of life not necessarily limited to Indian ways of life.
The evolving nature of Indian English poetry has also marked a shift in the nature of its understanding and analysis. Contemporary Indian English poetry contests categorization that earlier made critics study different poets as following one or the other school of thought. For example, the poets concentrating on Indian philosophical traditions, mystical experiences, religion and world view were considered to be traditional. Even contemporary poets like K.D. Sethna, Prem Kirpal, K. Srivinvasa Sastri, and Subramanyam are treated to be the followers of this tradition. But the shift that involves the cultural scenario informing the assertion of the presence of subcultures and destabilization of stable social and literary canons does not allow a reductionist view of poetry. Contemporary Indian English poetry like other art forms, contests categorization in fixed terms as it endeavours to negotiate the varieties of life irrespective of their being high or low, serious or profane through an altogether different idiom. The present review paper is intended to trace some of the emerging trends in Indian English poetry.
There are poets like Meena Alexander (b 1951) whose collections The Storm (1989), Nightscene, The Garden (1992) River and Bridge (1995) show her skill in creation of sequence of scenes and mark her concern for women’s existence and her position in society.
Bibhu Padhi (b 1951) in his Going to Temple (1998), Lines from Legend (1992) and A Wound Elsewhere (1992) mark his concern for commonplace happenings like power cuts and ability to present local society.
Agha Shahid Ali Khan’s, The Half Inch Himalayas (1987) presents recurring concern for life in an alien land, the trauma of exile and the influence of diverse cultures.
Rukmini Bhaya Nair’s Ayodhya Cantos marks her awareness of Indian mythology, everyday travel experiences and cultural revival.
Prabhanjan Mishra’s Vigil, Lips of a Canyon (2000), Litmus (2005), Landscapes; Manohar Shetty’s (b. 1953) A Guarded Space (1981), Domestic Creatures (1994) inform contemporary poet’s engagement with emerging forms of reality and people’s indulgence in new forms of experiences.
Imtiaz Dharker (b 1954), Purdah and Other Poems, Postcards from God; Vinay Dharwadker (b. 1954) Sunday at Lodhi Garden (1994). Vijay Seshadhri (b. 1954) Wild Kingdom, Sujata Bhatt (1956). The Stinking Rose (1995) C. P. Surendran’s Posthumous Poems (1999) concentrate on metropolitan living. Tejdeep,s Five Feet Six and Half Inches (1997) presents conflicts in consciousness. Sudeep Sen’s Postmarked India (1997) and his other collections mark the blending of the existential with the spiritual and the juxtaposition of the western modernity with the Indian tradition.
Jeet Thayial’s (b. 1959) Gemini (1992) concentrates on unusual angles of sex and his Apocalypse (1997) is concerned with darker side of modern living. Ranjit Hoskote’s Zones of Assault (1991) concentrates on the loss of innocence, the death of artists and intellectuals and records the potential for violence in the Indian subcontinent.
There are women writers who have raised a voice against male chauvinism and against standardized and canonical language. In the process, they tend to introduce alternative language. Their overriding sexual connotations and anguished human concerns tend to include those aspects of human experience in poetry that were earlier treated to be a taboo. These women writers include the names like, Sunita Jain, Silences (1982) Sujata Bhatt Brunizem (1993), Monkey Shadwos (1993), Lakshmi Kannan, Unquiet Waters (2005) Mamta Kalia, Rukmini Nair, Achla Bhatia, Malavicka Sanghvi, Nilima Wig, Jaspreet Mander,K. K. Dyson, Meena Alexander, (2002) Illiterate Heart. Lalitha Venkateswaran, Sujata Modayil, Imtiaz Dharker, Eunice, De Souza, Kanchan Mehta, Tara Patel, Monika Verma, Meera Nair, Nilima Chitgopekar, Rajlukshmee, Debee Bhattacharya who celebrate female energy and concentrate on female body not as an instrument of identity but of power that extends their concerns beyond personal equation as they tend to subvert patriarchal myths in an unsparingly strong ironical style. The experimental forms of these women’s poetry reveal an emotional and evocative substructure supporting the main cerebral patterns and rhythms.
Another dimension of Indian English poetry that has recently emerged can be traced in the writings of the poets who openly admit to be gays and lesbians and concentrate on these experiences in their poetic expressions. For example, Hoshang Merchant Hotel Golconda (1992), Jonah and the Whale (1995), Love’s Permission (1996), Rakesh Ratti, Shalini and a number of poets writing under pseudonyms have introduced these perspectives in their works. The conflict generated by this form of life that does not find acceptance in mainstream life is presented in Ratti’s following lines in his poem ‘Beta’.
I want to fill their eyes with joy
Yet let my spirit seen wild
How can I find the love I seek
And still remain their child.
Similarly, Shalini’s poem ‘Womanlove’ concentrates on lesbian relationships. Their poetry no doubt informs a radical break in orientation, objectives and vocabulary.
Environmental studies and an unprecedented awareness about the role of environment have also imparted a new dimension to literature. Concentrating on these aspects of life some of the Indian English poets, particularly from the North East, like –
Ao, Temsula, Songs from Here and There (2003), Monalisa Changkija, Mamang Sai, Bhupati Dass, Anjum Hasan, Ananya Sankar Guha, Robin S. Ngangom, Mangkynrih, Kynpham Smy, Dayanada Pathak, Bhaskar Roy Barman, H. Ramdinthari, Mona Zota, Bhupati Das, Umakant Sarma, R. K. Madhubir, Amaresh Datta, Yumlan Tana, Maheshwar Nego - go deep into environmental aesthetics for a revival of the glorious past of evergreen nature. In their nostalgic explorations of the natural beauty of hills, rivers, forest and valleys they lament the exploitation of Mother earth by the industrial giant.
Apart from the poets who exhibit certain common tendencies in terms of themes and subject matter there are writers who mark the presence of potent poetic voices in spite of treating almost the same subject matter but with a different result . Their poetry registers a significant presence as these poets share some common concerns with other contemporary poets and at the same time show certain maturity of art that points out a more secure place for them in the ever widening horizon of Indian English poetry. Some of these poets include the names like Niranjan Mohanty with his, Silencing the Words, Oh This Bloody Game of Life, Prayers to Lord Jagannath, On Touching You and Other Poems, Life Lines, and Krishna : A Long Poem (2003) in which he tends to create cultural ambience of Orissa apart from nostalgia and touches of sorrow revealing the human in him. His responsiveness for various changes taking place and the problems confronting fruitful living form the core of his thematic structures. His poetry provides lyrical smoothness and spiritual radiance of devotional writings.
Charusheel Singh’s The Creation Cocktail (1997) Songs of Life and Death, and Terracotta Flames make abundant use of traditional Indian wisdom in the form of Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Bhagawat-Gita, Bhudhism and Vedanta. R.K. Singh with his My Silence and Other Poems concentrates on the theme of Eros exploring multiple aspects of sexual energy. I.K. Sharma’s My Lady Broom and Other Poems (2004) deeply rooted in Indian culture and metaphysics. Pashupati Nath Jha’s Cross and Creation (2002) Mother and Other Poems (2005) mark his sensitive response to the plight of crushed humanity and the victims of violence like widows and rape victims. Kulbhushan Kushal with his Shrinking Horizons (1989) Rainbow on Rocks (2005) Whirlpool of Echoes (2006) and Songs of Silence (2008) provides philosophical perspectives on time, death, communication, language, and existentialist problems confronting man on the one hand and registers the sensitive responses to reality through contemporary idiom. D.C.Chambial’s Broken Images (1983) Cargoes of A Bleeding Heart and Other Poems (1984) Before the Petals Unfold (2002). Chote Lal Khatri’s Ripples in the Lake (2006), and Kargil (An Anthology of Poems) assert his belief in traditional Indian values and present Indian customs, rituals, transcribed in words. The presence of such poets and their regular contribution ensures the continued journey of this art form beyond the contributions of stalwarts like Ramanujan, Ezekiel, Shiv K. Kumar, Jayant Mahapatra.
There are many other poets who have published in different magazines, anthologies, journals and books. Some of them include Diane Mehta, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Reetika Vazirani, Darius Cooper, Melanie Silgardo, Debjani Chtterjee, Shanta Acharya, Maya Choudhury, Suma Josson, Menka Shivadasani, Snjum Katyal, Ruth Vanita, Robin Ngangom, Desmond Karmawphlang, G.C. Mago , J.S.Anand, Vijay Vishal, Jaspreet Mander, Leela Gandhi, Jerry Pinto, Smita Agarwal etc. , and the list is getting extended with new names everyday.
The poets discussed and referred to in this paper inform vibrant and significant work being done by contemporary generation of poets. The rich variety and strength that Indian English poetry has exhibited marks the vigorous and assertive nature of its onward journey. There are, no doubt, problems in its way to achieve the desired success. However, the people engaged in this sacred activity seem to have enough strength that keeps their heads high and does not let them succumb to different pressures monetary or otherwise and desert their duty of providing pleasure and correction of tastes. But those who treat their success in terms of being best sellers and earn wealth may see that there are more and better options for them.