- one of the recognised faces in Indian English poetry scene.
Indian English poetry is supposed to have come of age only around the third quarter of the 20th century. This has been said by eminent poets like Keki Daruwalla and Parthasarathy. In fact the latter hit it in the nutshell by saying Indian English poetry got free from the trammels of colonial rhapsody – read Sarojini Naidu – only when the country got its freedom. Till then any exercise in poetry was to maintain the element of prosody by looking for a rhyming word to sustain the effect, however superficial the cavern of meanings in it.
Poetry is not merely a transposition of the personal but also a reflection of the external reality. External reality inevitably bears down on us, however insensitive or indifferent we pretend to be. Even personal tragedies and experiences are nuanced in external reality. No poet can pretend that what happens to or in the world is any of his business unless he is a hopeless recluse. There may be a few exceptions which need not be overemphasized.
Post–colonialism Indian English poets such as Parthasarathy, Ramanujan, Keki Daruwalla etc were affected by the socio-political trends at home. Among them were some non-resident poets too who gave vent to their alienated psyche in regard to the prevalent social currents at home.
Adil Jussawala produced only two books of poems – Lands End and Missing Person – and edited an anthology of poems in the 70s. A student of architecture from London he too joined the chorus by saying that Indian English poetry “came into its own as a language only after it got rid of its original speakers. It began to exist seriously as a language only after independence.” Unlike other contemporaries Jussawala experimented with a new idiom and complex structure that was obtuse and unconventional. He was likened to G.M. Hopkins of Britain but the distinguishable aspect of his poetry was his engrossment with external reality and the subtle effects it had on him.
His Lands End, written mostly in London and in Europe, was the compendium of a sense of rootlessness felt when he was abroad. He himself was heard to be dismissive of the volume though the agony of a writer away from home was etched very well in the collection. Adil’s angst over his own missing identity away from home found its culmination in Missing Person where the bourgeois intellectual is found to be ever groping to find his feet.
Jussawala’s two volumes have an undercurrent of continuity in theme which was a reflection of the political situation then. He matured in Missing Person in terms of the structure and thought though Lands End brought forth the anxieties of a young man’s quest. The unity of the tone and theme is encapsulated in the loss of the sense of belonging among well-meaning bourgeois intellectuals of the 70s and 80s in a world where the grasp at the New Order was as elusive as it is now, albeit in a different milieu.
A look at the few lines from Lands End will illustrate this.
Here in the cramped, pig’s-footed county at last
Where seas grip, the airs kick and squall,
Atlantic breakers boom, the sea-gulls fall
Downwind to sheets of spray, the fast
Seas race, roil, slump and shower
Across the thrusted coastland; where brine-wings beat
The rooted perch of weeds and brine-wings bite
Raw rock or nerve exposed to their brute power,
Land’s End or Faith’s – what must I call
This faulted coast Atlantic breakers pound?
Wave after wave explodes, hour by hour
To undermine my numbed and bulwarked ground.
Jussawala, known to have Marxist leanings, is bemused by the erosion of faith in a socio-political milieu that appeared to mock his quest to get rooted. Elliot’s anglo-catholicism went through a similar period of tribulation during the War as Wasteland would exemplify in an amalgam of mythology and symbolism. Elliot had to resort to Oriental, nay Indian symbolism in the last section of the poem summarizing the entire gamut of experiences in “Shanthi….shanthi…” Adil is grounded on earth and shows little of the escapist psyche of Elliot. Watch his earthiness in these four lines when he describes an exile’s quest for a job abroad –
There’s millions like you up here,
Picking their way through refuse
You are your country’s lost property
With no office to claim you back.
Or the pangs of the exile returning home. “Exile is a broken axle, Goes back (to where his travels cannot home), goes back to where a mirror shakes in recognition.” The image of a shaking mirror here brings out the unwillingness to recognize a worthless native.
His poetic language has defied the conventional styles and may have gone over board for many. Back in the 80s the constant refrain about him was his incomprehensibility. But Jussawala faced reality as it was and did not take refuge in false romanticism or the so-called glorious chapter in yore for sustenance. It is known after all that all the so-called golden ages in History had their unwritten and unfocussed negative side. Jussawala had reservations about the market-driven economy in which the bourgeios is eaten up by inevitable contradictions and the social alienation created generally. He was an urban poet and Missing Person encompassed the travails of an alienated urban intellectual, one who is helpless too.
Art needs such poets who face life as it is without batting an eyelid. The power of words in the poem “Sea Breeze, Bombay” and the picture drawn in it leaves a draining effect in a sensitive reader.
Partition's people stitched
Shrouds from a flag, gentlemen scissored Sind.
An opened people, fraying across the cut
country reknotted themselves on this island.
Restore us to fire. Still,
Communities tear and re-form; and still, a breeze,
Cooling our garrulous evenings, investigates nothing,
Ruffles no tempers, uncovers no root,
And settles no one adrift of the mainland's histories.
Not the entire poem but only a few significant lines on the bleak scene evocative of the memories of Bengal Famine. I think it summarises the essence of Jussawala though a study of his poetry might call for a separate sustained exercise.