To examine Hindi poetry in Himachal is not easy. There are many poets and it is difficult to have access to the poetry of all the poets. There must be more than one hundred collections of poems. A perfunctory look at the poems exhibits fine-tuning with life and its anxieties. The consciousness of poets carries the psychological and historical background of pre-independence era. Most of the poets were born after the great day of Freedom and thus, many carry faint memories and these are strengthened as the poets grow. Therefore, intimate knowledge of the freedom struggle, its sufferings and challenges become apparent. It must be understood that the freedom movement in the state has been confined to certain pockets. However, the sympathies, excitement and moral support of the people of hills continued.
Poetry And Other Genres − Initial Trends And Impact
It is pertinent to point out that the poetic traditions in Himachal can be traced back to early poets who wrote in Braj. Dr Manohar Lal has written Himachal Pradesh ke Braj Kavi a work of tremendous significance that has come out after years of great research. Here, he traces out the origin of poets writing in Braj, who were active in late seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Mostly these poets are nature poets in the traditions of romanticism where one finds rhythm and music that appeal to senses and nobler instincts of man. He informs about poets’ birth, life and creative art of nearly twenty-one poets namely: Charpatnath, Lakhan, Mangal, Sukhdev, Uttam, Rishdev Dogra, Ganga Dutt, Mansukh, Kashiram, Baba Ganda Singh, Radra, Ganesh Singh Bedi, Brajraj, Chanderdhar Sharma Guleri, Maharaj Baldev Singh, Sant Narayan Singh, Pundit Jagatram Shastri, and Pundit Sansar Chand Prabhakar.
Observations on the growth of literature in Himachal have revealed that like other states, literary activities have been slow and some writers have been making random efforts in this direction. In poetry also, one finds poetic outpourings in sufficient number after the attainment of independence. It does not mean that there appeared no verses earlier but easy availability creates difficulties.
Like other genres, poetic activity is discernible during late sixties and then, there is abrupt change in poetic scene as a few poets from the hilly areas began appearing in different journals of national repute. Sunder Lohia, Anil Rakeshi, Sri Niwas Sri Kant, Siddiqui and a few others began to write meaningful verses with modern sensibilities. Verses depicting nature, patriotic themes and romantic moods of the times were no longer the subject matter of poetry. Now, the poets were diverting attention to the life of man as such.
The poets’ worries and anxieties about the contemporary life find voice in lyrics. A rapid change in temper, attitudes and lifestyles is observed because of the industrial, scientific and technological progress affected social, economic, religious and political lives of people. None could stay away from changing times. Now, questions of livelihood were more important as family system underwent drastic transformation and individual aspirations surfaced forcefully. Those were times of seeking identities amidst competition and rivalry.
The emphasis on material wellbeing determined the identity, comforts and joys of man. Thus, the creative writers were more concerned about the realities confronting man. Questions of livelihood and existence were more important. Contemporary thought and mood find adequate expression in the poetry after early seventies. Sufferings and anguish overwhelm as conflict between the rural and urban life enters and migration to cities for earning livelihood becomes imperative.
When the direction of life is not comprehensible, struggles and challenges assault, and there is pain, agony and confusion while life moves on with sufferings many, and a few joys. This is the structure of contemporary living. Poets are aware of this mental and material attitude where living gains ascendance ignoring inner man’s finer contours of feelings and thoughts. Strange attitudes and sensibilities enter where preference is given to material life in the initial stages. Such feelings and confusions find sufficient expression in poetry.
Strangely enough, the poets are conscious of the prevalent confusion in life and surroundings around as there is lack of synthesis and harmony and in an attempt to interpret life, they genuinely appear to assimilate various strands of emotions and thoughts but somewhere, the lyrics do not seem to uncurl understanding of the readers. Thus, the poets fail to dispel confusion though they earnestly try to bring clarity.
Growth of Poets and Times
When the poets take up modern thought and the swift changes of thought as time moves fast, there seems a race between feelings and thoughts and so coherence suffers. It is correct that poets like Sri Niwas Sri Kant, Om Sarswat, Sunder Lohia, Rakeshi, Keshav, Satish Dhar, Rekha, Avtar Angil and a few others have tried to give voice to many-sided realities of life. At times, they appear successful but in the end, an inconsistency between feelings and thoughts arises where feelings take the back stage and thoughts predominate, and in the struggle, meaning is distorted and the message conveyed appears fractured. This is not a flaw in poetic outpouring but it is the sum total of environ in which the poets survive.
Poetry is a difficult art but one observes that among the artists of poetry, writing poems appear very easy and therefore, one finds tremendous outpouring of lyrics. In thought and content, there is not much novelty but in terms of quantity, analysis defies parameters of critical faculty. One is constrained to say that poets over the world have nothing fresh to say though the tradition is ancient.
In Himachal, there are hundreds of poets. A quick look at the poetry reveals that more than a hundred collections of verses have appeared in print. Some were noticed, a few were analyzed, and still a fewer were examined critically depending upon the poets’ efforts to be noticed otherwise, it has been a family affair as if to appreciate, eulogize and forget. Such trends are observed almost in all genres of literature. There is lack of publicity and critical appraisal in a systematized manner. However, academies in different states have contributed a lot and encouraged authors but this too, raises questions of principle and morality. Patronage does not provide encouraging atmosphere for creative instincts to flourish.
It is not easy to list out all the names of the poets but the intention is to fathom the emotional and intellectual range of poets. Some are definitely skillful in handling contemporary themes and sensibilities while others touch issues but forget to reach a logical conclusion. Raising issues is different and at times, subtle, do stir but this befuddles the reader when one finds confusion in abundance in lyrics that move fast between emotional areas and the depths of thoughts but ignore to arrive at an irrefutable status. However, one must recognize that these poets despite handicaps have contributed a lot to Himachal Hindi poetry and have shown presence at the national scene.
They have command over the idiom, nuances, rhythm and music of language used. The flow of words is spontaneous and the poets inadvertently give credence to tonal values of words. The musical quality of verses captivates. The poets’ imagination touches new areas of worldly life and nature and in the process metaphors, similes, symbolism and imagery startle. These features charm and thrill that add beauty to meaning, tonal sounds and music as words flow out.
In the poetic world here, the name of Sri Niwas Sri Kant is important. Sri Kant is a poet of images, and through subtle similes, he tries to establish relationship with realities of life. He is highly intellectual and the command of the language is superb. To read his lyrics needs patience and each line contains a particular incident with depth of meaning where images and metaphors crowd and this makes it difficult for a simple reader to comprehend its inherent meaning. He talks of the disintegration of contemporary life through characters and images taken from ancient history and thus, most of his verses have preponderance of symbols.
Poetry between Realities and Emotions
In the year 1976, Anil Rakeshi brought out a collection of poems Shyamala of thirteen poets, published by Himachal Academy. Anil Rakeshi is a poet of modern sensibility and is seized of the contemporary anguish of the initial years. At that time, poets were driven to face life at different levels. This created inner and outer turmoil while the peace within suffered and this characteristic of poets’ minds and intellects appears to have stabilized now. He uses imagery and metaphors imparting wonderful musical tilt to his verses. He reveals distortions and incongruities of the social system and sincerely tries to correct ways of the world, and stands up against inconvenient situations and people. At heart, he appears a poet of the people and highlights hypocritical attitudes prevalent in the society.
On the other hand, the poems of Sunder Lohia depict life born of the intricacies of situations that make life difficult. He talks of disillusionment and anguish of modern life but never for a while, appears disengaged from the realities of life and this is strength. His satire is piercing and hurting and it reveals violence of man lying dormant within. Dr. Om Sarswat designs his poems with a rare command over words and their various shades of meanings. He looks at life with a critical eye and depicts it with candid terseness where realities and social anxieties dominate and provoke man to stand up against fabricated obstructions. Ego, selfishness, hypocrisy and conspiracy, political debauchery and violence, jealousy and communal feelings disturb him deeply and there, he stirs man to continue struggle. His poetry inspires confidence in life, and to that extent, he stands apart.
A rational portrayal of pain, anguish and continuing struggles in modern-day life form the backdrop of Jiya Siddiqi’s poetry. He gives words to his emotions with a rare integrity and there, he comes close to facts and truth of life. He is thoughtful and looks at life with love and sympathy. Keshav and Amitabh often peep within, give expression to inner feelings and try to pierce into the consciousness of man. In the process, social issues do surface. Keshav’s imagery startles and at times, he seem to challenge feelings and thoughts at the same time. He is anguished at the harshness of the world but he does not protest though he suffers within. He sees the agony around when he penetrates into the miseries of sunken eyes, parched lips, hunger and thirsty faces moving around in search of consolation and comfort. He uses words with utmost care and brevity, and precision is the hallmark of his poetry.
In the poetry of Keshav, one finds shadows of romantic pessimism dominating each word. He observes as if life were a waste and if there were dreams about future, it were just walking into the vast desert of mirages. He is not a poet of hopes. However, his poetry is special, and images decorate feelings with a rare sensitivity.
On the other hand, Dinu Kashyap touches emotional areas of life and there he appears talking of the dark regions of life but it is not so. He is worried about the system strangulating man while one observes pains of city life as changes take place with brutal nervousness and uncertainty. Arvind Ranchan is also largely a poet of the city and at times, moves into the beauty of nature. An urban thought makes him obscure but still he attracts the reader with images, and while creating word pictures he experiments with language.
Baldev Singh Thakur is original, down to earth and many a time, he is introvert. He is ironical and raises social issues realistically while relations form the background. When he is introvert, he is philosophic. He fully understands that after birth, a man is engaged in struggles and dreams, and weaves life as if it was a rainbow but ultimately stark realities stifle. Between life and death, a man faces many questions that keep baffling and challenging.
In the poetry of Rekha, one finds nostalgia disturbing her entire existence. She is quiet but inwardly obsessive turmoil originates when she looks at life left behind, a past that had loveliness and beauty but now, everything is changed and defaced. She feels life is meaningless and reflects on future not very satisfying. Saroj Parmar is a sensitive poet who goes back to past and creates certain touching emotional and reflective moments where relations are scrutinized callously as one is exposed to pretense and infidelity. Relations appear brittle and casual, and when she returns to present, it is faith and confidence in the spirit of man determining the direction of life.
She writes passionately about the problems women brazen out in a society that talks of liberation of women and yet lacunae continue to reveal hypocrisy and insincerity to the cause of women. CRB Lalit, in the initial stage was in love and romantic themes fascinated but later on, life‘s joys and bitterness determined his poetic journey. He does not violate finer sensibilities of readers but speaks of hope amidst tribulations one confronts, and here he begins to reflect on the life of an ordinary man.
Satish Dhar raises his voice against poverty and exploitation. He is aware of the class- war in the society fully knowing that there are many fragmented aspects of social life. He talks of injustice, disparity, exploitation and coldness of society and one finds that the poet is emphatic in drawing lines of awful differences between the rich and the poor and gives expression to social themes having Marxists thoughts. Tulsi Raman is a sensitive poet and he is a master of imagery and subtlety in poetic thought. In verses, he moves from real-life situations and seeks refuge in shades of emotional security and then, he rushes to reflections that do not find concretization and there, he displays his sense of poetic idiom.
The lyrics of Dharmpal Kapoor show love for nature, beauty of life and its ornamental qualities while articulating feelings with a romantic heart. He wants to advise and guide a man in the present difficult situation. Naresh Kumar Udas feels hurt while looking at modern life that has nothing worthwhile to offer. It is struggling in the whirlpool of selfishness where good and wholesome aspects of life are sullied but still he is optimistic. He is poet of hopes in life. Beautiful, inspiring and thoughtful lyrics of Arun Kumar Nagpal, Sudarshan Dogra, Anup Mahajan and Prakash chand are noteworthy addition to Hindi poetry of Himachal. Madhukar Bharati is a poet of inner world and he vividly reveals subtle layers of mental makeup of a man.
Patriotic Themes with Softness of Words
A few poets have contributed to the lyrics having patriotic fervor and thoughts. They write of nation, its problems and struggles with the intensity of passion and nationalistic spirit. There is understanding of history, culture and consciousness of the people. Parmanand Sharma talks of national pride, nationalistic thoughts and feelings with authentic experience of freedom movement. His lyrics are musical and touching. Satyen Sharma’s poetry carries thoughts of rebellion but not for a moment, he is away from objective of a purposeful life and its realities.
Nationalism and patriotic thoughts find expression in the verses of Chatter Singh, Nandesh, Hariram Justa, Santram Vatsya. Gautam Vyathit is a poet of grace and dignity in feelings and thoughts. He never forgets the niceties and music of words and thus, his language is chaste and enchanting. He stirs nobler feelings while speaking eloquently of social and ethical issues whether he writes in Hindi or Pahari.
Girdhar Yogeswar is a poet of intensely religious bent of mind and thinks poetry as a vehicle of transmitting something that is divine, sacred and mystic and dwells on those aspects of life that remain shrouded in mystery. He is chaste in words and appeals to senses and heart, and encourages one to observe life with a peaceful mind. Like Yogeshwar, Thakur Dutt Sharma Alok is a poet of sublime thoughts and genuine anxieties about the destiny of man. He has the capacity to see at time like a philosopher and there, he wishes to fight against evil forces and at the same time, wants to live an ideal life, sufferings and clashes notwithstanding. He is lofty and pure in thoughts and appears tempting.
Bishambhar Lal is patriotic in verses while he surveys everything around and thinks of the past, present and future of country and expresses anxieties when nation faces challenges. The lyrics of KR Bharati link man to life and social surroundings and there, he speaks fluently of burning social issues with wider implications. He is incisive and satirical in a few poems that thrill and excite.
On Playwrights, Essayists and Children Literature
The authors have been concentrating on novels, short stories and poetry and there the crop is rich and meaningful. However, in the genre of plays, playwrights like Ramkrishan Kaushal, Arun, Hariram Justa, Krishan Kumar Nutan and a few others, have made notable presence but still much needs to be done. The theme is mostly patriotic. In some plays, social issues do form the background. During early days of freedom, communal feelings were hurting people and therefore, a couple of plays take up this issue feelingly. This wing of literature requires in-depth study.
A few authors like Chanderdhar Sharma Guleri and Yashpal in the initial stages, and later Sant Ram Vats, Bansi Ram Sharma, Manohar Lal, Moulu Ram Thakur, Shammi Sharma, Harichand Prashar including Justa have written essays on different subjects, which necessarily offer essayists’ views about the subjects they take up. These essays encompass society, religion, science, history including reflections on ancient history and certain immortal characters. Certain authors have tried to combine serious writing with journalism and in both they have left an imprint. Such authors are indebted to the journals and magazines that were published by official agencies like Academy and the public relations department.
A brief reference to children literature is necessary. In this respect, Chanderdhar Sharma Guleri, Kishori Lal Vaidya, Mast Ram Kapoor, Santosh Sailaja, Sant Ram Vats, Phull, Saini Ashesh, Sudarshan Vasistha, Girdhar Yogeshwar, Prityush Guleri and others have made significant contribution. They have written novels, stories, plays, poems and folk tales for children with emphasis on ethical values, patriotism, love for cultural heritage, history underling virtues like honesty, nobility in conduct and truth. To be honest, play writers and essayists including those writing for children need comprehensive study and I am sure some critics would take up these aspects of literature in the near future.
Literature in Pahari
Here, I would like to make a brief mention of a few authors who are silently enriching Pahari Literature. When one speaks of Pahari language and writing, one has to bear in mind that the state has different dialects. People, no doubt, communicate in their local dialect in day-to-day affairs and as such, one has to think dispassionately of dialects. Kangra has a different dialect though it has some similarity of words when Mandi and Chamba areas are taken into consideration. In the same way, one has to consider the dialects of Simla, Sirmour, Kinnaur and other tribal areas.
Literature is a mirror of the entire consciousness of society. It is generally observed that variation in dialect does not affect the basic cultural roots. When one speaks of Pahari literature, it constitutes the creative writings of all the hilly areas irrespective of dissimilarity in dialects, culture, rituals and customs. Pahari authors of Kangra, Chamba, Mandi, Kulu, Mahasu and tribal regions, undoubtedly, depict minutely soft, mild, loving, god-fearing and humanistic outlook of life without being obvious and this consciousness they derive from the cultural heritage of the areas. The lower regions have been facing certain disturbances because of foreign influences, attacks and assimilation of mindset of plains. Upper areas were not affected so much but had been the subject matter of many inquisitive minds.
Pahari authors, no doubt, are seized of the social, political, economic and other issues, and therefore, they vent feelings and thoughts unhesitatingly. This social consciousness in totality is limited up to a few authors. Most of the creative writers of Pahari are discriminating observers of Pahari dialects and linguistic variations and of the distinctive character of living styles that is visible in speech, tone, voice, gestures, and clothes, ceremonies relating to rituals, customs, and deities. The creative artist is at his best when he is rooted to the soil, and here the delineation of characters, situations and incidents affecting daily life is superb. Each incident or event that is complete in five minutes in the life of an individual forms the background of short stories and poetry.
Baba Kanshi Ram known as Pahari Gandhi and Lal Chand Prarthi have made tremendous contribution to the literature of Pahari, and inspired creative writing in Pahari in the earlier stages when none ever thought of writing in Pahari. However, slow changes and patronage of the state, assisted in the growth of writing in Pahari but is still struggling it appears. Prityush Guleri, Piyush Guleri, Gautam Vyathith, Saroj Parmar, Des Raj Dogra –Chachugirdharhi, Naveen Haldunvi, Suresh Bhardwaj, Ramesh Mastana, Hari krishan Murari, Jai Dev Vidrohi, Kushal katoch, Ashok Dard (Chamba) are some important names in Pahari who have given brilliant lyrics and songs. Prem Bhardwaj is a master artisan of Pahari gazals. A few of them have written novels and short stories that enjoyed limited circulation. Giriraj, a government publication has really encouraged Pahari authors to keep writing in Pahari. Here, Pritush Guleri, Piyush Guleri Suresh Bhardwaj, P C K Prem, Rekha Dadhwal, Kushal Katoch, Raka Kaul are a few important authors. Dr Atmaram has given wonderful satires and inspired young authors to write in Pahari.
Away from philosophic outpouring, Pahari authors are more interested in the life of man on earth enjoying tiny incidents and comforts of life that appear insignificant. He looks at nature, the vast greet fields, trees, plants and the flowers, the tall mountains, the rivulets, the streams and then, at the sky. These natural gifts attract and inspire him to live life with love and grace. He does not speak of great principles and thoughts but he knows how life can be beautiful, and that is how the spirit of the hills speaks in literature. This needs an in-depth study.
At last, I feel novel, short story and poetry have registered an effective presence in this hill state. The authors are genuine in expression. They exhibit tremendous zeal in delineating multidimensional life in right earnest. They are honest, dignified and are aware of the cultural roots, and possess a wonderful secular outlook and universal approach to life, and this is precisely their strength.
Devi, Dr Jogindra. P C K Prem ka Katha-Sansar. Delhi 94: Nirmal Publicatons, Shahadra. 2005.
Kaushik, Dr Hem Raj. Mulya aur Hindi Upnyas. Delhi: Nirmal Prakashan Shahadra. 2000.
Kashyap, Dr Padam Chander. Delhi 11: Himachal Pradesh ka Etihasic aur Sanskritik Adhyayan 1981.
Lal, Dr Kashmiri. Sahitya ka Samajshastriya Adhyayan. Delhi: Bhavana Prakashan. 1993.
Lal, Dr Manohar Lal. Himachal Pradesh ke Braj Kavi. New Delhi: Pustakayan, Ansari Road. 1986.
Padamaja, Dr. P. K. Hindi Upnyas par Baicharik Andolanoa ka Prabhav. Gaziabad: Pankaj Publicatons, Garh Mukteswar. 1986.
Phull, Dr S.K. Hindi Sahitya ka Etihas (Himachal ka). Delhi: Bhupati Prakashan, M 72, Naveen Shahadra, 2007
Puri, S, Bharteeya Rajnaitik Vyavastha, Jalandhar: New Academic Publishing Co., 14th Edition, 1999.
Singal, Dr Baijnath. Nayei Kavita: Mulya Mimansa. Delhi: Sharada Prakashan (Distributors) Maharouli.1985.
Shukla, R.L. Adhunik Bharat ka Etihas. Delhi: Hindi Madhyam Karyanvaya Nirdeshalaya, Delhi University, 1998
(A reference exists regarding many authors and creative works. However, the list of authors and creative works is not given for obvious reasons. If any reader wishes to enjoy creative writings of Himachal, he should communicate with the Himachal Academy of Art, Culture and Language, Simla, HP it is suggested).