A Search for Values and Meaning, Poetry with a Didactic Purpose
This is the dead land
This is the cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.
---T.S.Eliot in The Hollow Men
(Selected Poems, T.S.Eliot, Edited by Manju Jain, Oxford University
Press, Delhi, 1992, p.70-1)
P.C. Katoch as a practitioner of Indian English poetry is not a latest addition but is an extension of all that has been written since in the aftermath of Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets Chosen and Edited by R. Parthasarathy and brought out in 1976 and the description of the poets and poetesses just bracketed with their books in the authentic and authoritative studies of it, but side by side all that lies neglected and ignored, unjudged and unassessed today and to be frank with is to say that Parthasarathy too missed to include in Adil Jussawalla, K.D.Katrak, Pritish Nandy and so on. Virtually speaking, the authority had not been there to mark the development and to register his presence. One wrote whatever one liked; one dismissed what one did not like. None took the pains to elaborate upon the discussion to carry it forward in Indian English poetry’s favour; none strove to add to by holding an impartial view of it while dispensing with the topic in hand. Everyone took to it casually. But Katoch is not one of them to be in Iyengar and Naik’s critical studies, as they have ceased to write about. M.K.Naik too now writes about the media-propped poets. But it does not mean at all that poetry has ceased. It continues to be written and will ever continue to be in future, an ever-going process it is in essence. When was it not written? When will it not be? But M.K.Naik as a critic even likes to enter into the poets appearing in foreign, domiciled or emigrated nurturing the diaspora dais and those in the media lime light. But such a tendency is not going to pay at all and poetry cannot be judged in this perspective of delving.
Apart from taking them under our discussion, chartering the course in the likewise manner shown, some poets too have come to the fore otherwise and these too are a part of Indian poetry in English and among them, the name of P.C.Katoch can easily be singled out for an analysis and interpretation as and when we talk about the latest development, rise and growth of the genre as a whole. Born in Malkher Garh, Palampur, Kangra, Himachal Pradesh in 1946, P.C.Katoch did his M.A. in English Literature from Punjab University in 1970, taught for a brief stint in the colleges of Punjab and his home state before shifting to the administrative services and being promoted to the rank of the IAS after holding several assignments and assessments before that and holding of ranks and postings as for. He had been with Himachal Public Service Commission, Shimla and also the Deputy Commissioner posted at Shimla even for some time. This is what we know about Katoch the man, but the man as a poet needs to be perused and pursued deeply, how he has striven after poesy, how has he come to stay over the years perfecting and practicing it to hone in deftly with a maser stroke of his knock it all down and his score card taking him to the pedestal.
Among those professing poetry today, as such A.C.Sahay, Krishna Srinivas, Narenderpal Singh, Kulwant Singh Gill, Hazara Singh, Simanchal Patnaik, Sarbeswar Samal, Baldev Mirza, Ram Krishna Singh, Pronab Kumar Majumder, Dwarakanath H.Kabadi, Ravi Nandan Sinha, Amarnath Dwivedi, I.H.Rizvi, Shiela Gujral, Niranjan Mishra, Niranjan Mohanty, Madan Lal Kaul, H.S.Bhatia, Vijay Vishal, Kedar Nath Sharma, D.C.Chambial, Vikram Mehta (alias A. A.Anzarannii), C.M.Mohan Rao, Kailash Ahluwalia, V.S.Skand Prasad, R.V.Smith, Stephen Gill, Maha Nand Sharma, Har Prasad Sharma, Romen Basu, Syed Ameeruddin, Darshan Singh Maini, Suresh Chandra Dwivedi, Sankarsan Parida, Anil Kumar Sharma, T.V.Reddy, A.A.Sinha, K.V.Venkataramana, Charu Sheel Singh, P.K.Joy and a host of others who have written or are continuing with their literary activity, Prem Chand Katoch too is one who keeps rubbing shoulders together with and flanking them and to leave him is to leave the link connecting them so easily to hold a fair and fine view of Indian poetry in English down the ages, what the critics have recoded and what they have left for partially or impartially. His poems have appeared in several journals published from different parts of the country, as for example in Poetcrit, Contemporary Vibes, Bridge-in-Making and so on. O.P.Bhatnagar, R.R.Menon, K.V.S.Murti, I.K.Sharma and others too are of the same group. As a writer of verse, Katoch has not got the favour of the Bombayan men doing criticism nor the Calcuttan ones taking to it casually or those from Delhi. He has been pedalling the things in his own way and it is not that he has come on the literary scene all of a sudden. It has definitely taken time. But we have to be sure of it that his works saw the light of the day from Writers Workshop, Calcutta too. Now if he is not a celebrity, he is of a course an Indian poet of some substance on whom the researchers can submit their dissertations as for the award of the degrees and nothing can give joys as much as these can to a creative writer. But the problem is this that the students of literature are turning into the critics of Indian English poetry which is highly objectionable and some teachers are playing the politics of introducing them. If one cannot find Eliot and his The Waste Land and The Hollow Men, one can definitely the images of the great master and his classics.
Poetry is his passion; his vibes as he has been carrying it down over the years for so long. Even when he had been posted as the additional director, he had been after, perusing ad professing it so closely and so much with a liking of his own, rarely to be found in a bureaucrat, but he compromised not on that point as for aesthetic dense and literary taste imbibing it, as it so happens with a litterateur. To let a writer of his stature go, entering and recording it not what he has written; what he has added to and contributed will be sheer foolishness of ours and our researches carried out so far as they pedal out the old material merely. A poet of narrative of genius, Katoch as a poet draws from Arnold and Eliot and to some extent he is Arnoldian and Eliotesque in the delineation of his theme and tenor. He is a poet in question and askance, questioning and asking about life, its moral and philosophy, what the purpose and goal of it, where to go, what to do, why are we here, where to go? But who is to answer Katoch and the existential queries of his? Who to respond to his questions asked from time to time, age to age? We think a reader of Arnoldian taste and liking can only appreciate and admire him.
The Hands Unknown as a poem from the collection The Bermuda Triangles can easily draw our poetic attention:
It is spring in the affairs of mortals
here flowers emit fragrance
that touch the limits of sky
and speak the truth of Mount Kailash.
Here faces walk with jagged profiles
where blood oozes out daily.
All doors and windows carry eyes
and see blood on roads, lanes and in houses;
nobody knows the hands unknown
amidst spires and battlements
that kill and pray at the same time
in temple and in an oasis
so that a soul is saved.
And man writes history of peace
and hesitant non-violence
for there lies the hope of mankind.
(The Bermuda Triangles, P.C.K.Prem, Writers Workshop, Calcutta, 1996, p.10)
To read Prem Chand Katoch is to be endowed with the richer and varied experiences taking us to the highest portals of thinking, opening up new avenues of thought and idea, widening the poetic spectrum and horizon and opening new vistas to reach the higher domains of art laced with morality. Actually, poetry is the criticism of life is the dictum of Katoch and he has been searching for values into the realm of art as poetry and philosophy. A few have really gone up to such a height of narrative and fictional height walking the fringe and edge of aesthetic art with the strains of ethics, morality and didacticism, pondering over what we have got, what we have lost down the ages with the advance of civilization and culture and refinement seen through polish, fervor, taste and delicacy.
Beloved as a poem can tell of his poetic art and style; the selection of his theme and words to touch the heart and soul of the readers:
You shall relieve an old story
When you died last year
telling everyone my friend
walking softly across the riverside
and perspiring in old fears
of meeting your beloved
who died with a pledge
to make you live forever
and now a desolation trudges
to make you lovely and soft
and you try to relate
an experience unknown.
(The Bermuda Triangles, ibid, p.42)
A meditating Hamlet talking with the grave-diggers with calm and composure lies it here or a Tughluq wavering in between Delhi and Daulatagiri, whatever be that, he says the things very interestingly. Waste as a poem can make some meaning with its significant presence and supposition:
I walked over unknown graves
long ago, I remember
to silence my thoughts
while looking at fetters of time
that clutch with imminent end
the flow of life.
I was working hard to answer
the questions of life
to know the ultimate destiny
smiling and weeping
at one time.
Strange I thought and shuddered
the graves gave meaning to life
to me and death.
The poem Entertainers from Oracles of the Last Decade can be taken for our scrutiny and deliberation:
In a world of amusers
without substance and warmth
it is a strange proportion
with no basis
where graves are chartered
on ridged deserts
and are filled slowly
depressive and intrepid
and people continue
to live in rut and fear
bereft of purpose
and without a beginning.
(Oracles of the Last Decade, P.C.K.Prem, Writers Workshop, Calcutta,
What the American poet, Robert Frost has described in Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening and Fire and Ice and H.W. Longfellow in A Psalm of Life and C.G.Rossetti in Up-hill, all those things take the centre space of his poetry. A poet of human predicament and premonition, prophesy and penetration, he visualizes through his verse and its narrative flow and floating, carrying the kernels of thought and idea, image and reflection. The wisdom of the ancient seers and sages meditating in the Himalalyas is in him, contemplating Buddhas too adding to the wealth of it, which he frequently draws from to enrich his materials.
The muted-in voice and the muffled tone and tenor add to the didactic fervor of his poetry as and when we read him, a search for values which continues in as his appetite for life and its purpose. As a writer of verse, he does not feel any trouble in putting down his feeling and emotion in a garb other than his native tongue. Poems come to him naturally and spontaneously, as they do tumble and trickle down to taking to their recourse.
‘A Long Journey’ can show it all how he takes to the route of life, winding and zigzagged or smooth; the road of life going through the forest ways or trespassing through the secluded terrains and landscapes:
A long journey ends
I know of right start
Along the graves
Beside the church
Among wreathes mournful
Agonizing cries and tears
Tall deodar tress quietly observe
Journey of life and death
Where weeping billows
Wet with morning dew afresh
As shinning drops on grass and petals
On tender flowers and leaves
Bow to say prayers
In total consonance
In a sanctuary dreary
Of forgotten love and relations.
It is a song of transition
Between rhythm and chaos
Of life’s perfection and fragments
And shuttling of soft voices
With forays into sad alienation
Where it talks of a journey
That begins with each ending.
(Rainbow at Sixty, P.C.K.Prem, Prakash Book Depot, Bareilly, 2008, p.21-2)
The Bermuda Triangles is a no doubt a representative work which opens with the poem The Monk. Burnt Up Faith is the last poem to imbibe in the spirit of the poet lastly. I Do Not Know, He Interprets, Grave, The Riddle, Notice on Dullness, Ghost, Relation, Rituals in Death, etc. are the poems which can be sorted out from the same. At the age of sixty, he sees different rainbows, a reminiscence and recollection of those memories and experiences lingering upon the mind’s eye or mental horizon seem to conjure up while dispensing with them or for to lapse into and repose in leisurely or something felt as a horrible shock or a nightmare frightening the daydreams of the poet to be jerked and jolted out of the visionary domain of poesy and its delving. Rainbows is the first poem with which the collection begins and which but tells of an uneasy time and situation of life. The range of his poetry is vaster and broad. Quarrels is the last poem to figure in the said collection.
The oracles of his are not at all soothing and comfortable ones, but full of bad omens and bad dreams no doubt and in them one can see the Delphic oracles of Oedipus the Rex, but in a different context, just a revelation of the Waste Land journey. This sterile and barren civilization is the thing of his concern and brooding and he regrets over the loss, seen in terms of ideals and values. Oh, the sick hurry, divided in aims! Woods is the first poem of Oracles of the Last Decade to begin with and Swayambhuma the last one to conclude. To comprehend his poetic vision and verve is to take his cultural space and psyche into consideration; his critical acumen and reading; his thought-pattern and philosophy of life. It will be no mistake if we call him the Matthew Arnold of Indian English poetry. He grapples with poetic truths which claw and clutch him for a firmer handling. What it eats into our diseased self, what it marauds and ails us, he seems to diagnose the ills of the age in his poetry. Spiritually we are hollow, shallow from our within and hanging in the void, spiritually sick and barren. How to get rid of this spiritual crisis? Where are we going to; what our hollow ethics? Is there no escape from it? This is the question of the poet which seems to engage the poetic space and inner scape of his and a volley of questions and answers perturbs his self placing him a vortex of their own, but who to answer them? Outwardly, Arnold’s questions seem to be those of the anxiety of the age in which he was born, but internally these are not so easy questions to be dispensed at one go or stretch calling them as of the age and the times of his, but in reality those of the self; the anxiety, angst and bewilderment of man felt from time to time, corroding and wearing it to be sad, morose, care-worn and anxiety-laden. A few have come to comprehend the existential anxieties marauding the self top one’s easy comprehension. P.C.Katoch who writes under the pseudonym of P.C.K.Prem is epoch-making in his poetic purview and penetration; the range and delving of it; the dimension and diameter of it. A few have come to comprehend it so far that there lies in the beauty of thought and tradition in him who seems to be on his search for values.
When asked, ‘As a writer of Indian English poetry, if asked to define poetry, how will you holding the personal point of view? Since when have you been writing poems in English?’, the poet responds through the questionnaire posted to him:
Poetry is a science of emotions and sensitive thoughts. It tries to create something within, which is purely personal, and it also reflects deeply on man and society. Poetry makes you a real man and perhaps has certain moments of highly charged emotions that take you to the zenith of a glorious man. It enables and makes you feel better without tensions. Since my college days, I have been writing poems. It was thrilling and educative.
(Interviews With Some Indian English Poets, Bijay Kant Dubey, Uday Publications, C.K.Town, 2002, p.30)
In his answer to ‘A poet of the hollow man, sterile modern civilization and the waste land he is, sometimes saying the tales of resurrection and vegetation?’, the poet remarks:
In spite of inner contradictions, to some extent, today a man seems to be in search of peace within. But it is ego supplemented by self-interest that do not allow him to live according to the dictates of his heart and conscience. For himself, he has created a world which is too small for him to live and thus he feels suffocated within and all his sincere efforts prove futile as a sense of constriction always dwarfs him and he lands up in a totally sterilized situation. Thus, he finds that there is all darkness and starts asking questions of life and existence, death and resurrection, knowing fully well that he is living condemned life, with a spark of light and optimism notwithstanding. (Ibid, p.31)
To turn to him is to turn to Matthew Arnold and Thomas Stearns Eliot, their theories of poetry, texts and treatises, is to dust the books of the old racks and book-shelves and to outreach and stretch for to get the books by them and without reading them and imbibing the spirit expressed in, one cannot clutch him along to stride across with the hurrying steps of own, a poet so moralistic, didactic and scholastic trying his best to restore, resurrect and renovate that. Such is the fervor and spirit of the poet under our purview, scrutiny and perusal. There is no talk without life sans values, life is purposive and meaningful and you lead a meaningful life, this is the message of the poet which he seeks to impart, extend to, tender and share with one and all, whoever be he to come to, whatever be the occasion to say to. The remedies of the illness, of the disease; the ills of the society that ail it, he offers them, the diagnoses of them all. Poetic fragmentation is the thing of his deliberation; the fragmentation of the age and the self not merely, but his two haves, how to join them? But after reading him, giving time to, we feel it within that he taxes and burdens with his moral lessons. There must be something as the recreational aspect in his poetry which can lighten the load, always weight-laden and burdened with. It will be difficult for a reader to extract the pleasure and this is not the motto behind his writing. The age, the sickness of it and the remedy with the possible diagnose have evaded him as always and his mind and perception cannot go beyond the reach of it.
A small poem entitled Poem can be borrowed from to show does he mean to say it?
A dark night travels
in between man and reality.
A journey uncertain
that a sleep undertakes
to measure night.
And a man
in fields unchartered
remains a mystery.
(Oracles Of The Last Decade, ibid, p.49)
Something of the consciousness layers he uses and applies in to write down his poetry. To read one line, one stanza or one sentence is to be transported into another as is the jerk of transportation; it lifts and throws into another domain. The current poem is in reality a very complex poem as because several ideas and images lie in interspersed with, interconnecting and dovetailing them all to come to a mesmerized conclusion. What it is real is unreal and what unreal real, just our feelings make us think in the likewise manner. The journey of life, man’s time-span and temporary presence, night and sleep have been presented metaphorically to convey a meaning and these can be felt in parts and their fragmentation. Death too is a sleep and we sleep to compose, relax and forget the tensions, worries and cares of life, all that vexes us. Man too is but a walking shadow as these leave not behind wherever goes he in the material and physical business of his concern and necessity; it keeps following and haunting him.
Katoch is an up-keeper of human worth and values which have nurtured us so far, the light which has guided from since long. Such an optimism how can he do away with? Still carries with him to impart a lesson whenever there is time to talk of.
A Thought can tell of how he uses in the anti-thesis, presenting the whole panorama of thought and idea, all about Gandhi and Gandhism, the legacy and heritage of the freedom movement, the sacrifice made for it, Gandhists and Gandhian disciples in contrast:
Gandhi is a sublime thought
Merged totally in the transparent air
Along the western coast
Moving across the entire country
In an Olympian race of peace
Truth and non-violence
Ending up with a volley of bullets.
He was not a different man
As a thought.
It was a single word
With numerous fragments of smiles
Here without a tear man is killed
To allow destiny of socialism to stay on.
A dull politics in man’s life
Makes living a rationed item, an insult
To man, emotions and thoughts
Bogus lives continue to govern
Like crooked cosmetics vendors
In elections repeated.
Gandhi refuses to die
As a man and thought
Like a nectar infuses life
To rotten men wishing to be sovereigns
And a man in the fields
And streets unknown
Continues to walk with a stick
With monkeys untrained around
To enact a scene as if in a circus.
(Rainbow at Sixty, ibid, p.59-60)
Let us pick a few stanzas from the concluding part of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach:
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating , to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
(Poems, Matthew Arnold, London Macmillan And Co., 1888, p.64)
P.C.K.Prem though one of the current scenario is not a modern, modernist or post-modernist, but a follower of his own trend and liking, as he likes to side with the masters of his choice, the Victorian age personae and protagonists, mouthpieces and spokesmen. Faith and doubt, how to restore back intellectual depth and sobriety, are the things of his poetry swapping their positions as per poetic situation and placement, imagery and metaphor.
A stanza from Matthew Arnold’s The Scholar Gipsy will suffice it to say:
Go, for they call you, shepherd, from the hill;
So, shepherd, and untie the wattled cotes!
No longer leave thy wistful flock unfed,
Nor let thy bawling fellows rack their throats,
Nor the cropp’d herbage shoot another head.
But when the fields are still,
And the tired men and dogs all gone to rest,
And only the white sheep are sometimes seen
Cross and recross the strips of moon-blanch’d green
Come, shepherd, and again begin the quest!
(Poems, Ibid, p. 139 )
Intellectual spirit and depth with a questioning of its own, what it is readily available in Matthew Arnold and Aldous Huxley; what it is in ever-present in Tennyson’s Ulysses, all these things one may find to one’s satisfaction in him lying muted in and muffled so easily in his poetry and thought-content. To take up the poetry in the negation of these masters of English poetry is to misinterpret and misunderstand him as because he tells what they have told. Even though P.C.K.Prem is a contemporary poet, his material is one of The Waste Land and The Hollow Men which we do not know it perhaps how much intellectual, spiritual and religious from his essence. It has often been seen that the poet does not remain stuck to one position and thinking, as keeps changing the tracks of thought, idea, imagery and reflection and it is a characteristic of his poetry that he refers to so many things in a single poem. Images keep swapping places and positions as do the metaphors, comparisons and contrasts. Sometimes the anti-thesis overtakes us by surprise. Katoch as a poet is existential, nihilistic and sceptic as he lapses into the broodings of nothingness and his poetry borders on the razor edge of existentialism. Apart from the angst and bewilderment which he feels and seeks to endow poetry with, he comes up with strange propositions to make and reimburse. But sometimes the way he handles the poetic imagery in relation to thought, idea, image and expression marvel us. He is such a poet who keeps his poetry packed with thoughts, ideas and images. His poetry is the poetry of motifs drawn from the fall in standard, loss of values, moral degradation and spiritual barrenness and this sterile civilization of ours. He is a poet of thought and tradition; the legacy of the past, the heritage stuff which he examines and re-examines. The crisis which he feels within is the malaise and crisis of the age he is born to and his poetry a witness of all that gone through and felt.
One such poem Mist can certainly be pointed out in this context while clutching along myth and mysticism, Divinity and self-realization:
It is lovely and fresh
To disturb casual relations
Bouncing back with visuals
And thrown impulsively at random
To paint a façade of truth.
It shall look a suicidal proposition
To bring alive figures and faces
Of buried past.
Toward a path digging illumination
In wet soil and dark tunnel
On a closer look it opens gates
To joy and innovation
Where obsession takes birth
In messy psychosis of various beings
And in a clique of celestials
Descending after ages on earth
To straighten and redefine man’s destiny
To a more articulate yet disturbed end
And without pity as shown to Bali
Eerie moments in uptight mental state
Exhort to repudiate a thought
Constructing prophesy like a pyramid
In deserts of shadows and ghosts.
(Rainbow at Sixty, ibid, p. 17-8)
Modern thought and tradition not, but the sublime things of our legacy, heritage, history, art and culture are the things of his narration and the poet seeks to rejuvenate, resurrect and renovate which once took the space and scapes from us and held the faith tight into its grip over, letting not it slip by. Sublime things will remain sublime lest understanding changes it not. But it is not faith which upholds and bolsters his proposition, but apart from it he seems to derive from doubt which too nourishes it sometimes and presents the
things in a duality. The mythic ice cannot be cut if one asks it not in good faith and confidence. The make-believe materials are easily available in any sort of ancient literature which we go by for our profit and pleasure.
The stanza pattern which he has taken up for the poem named Mist is not normal, as the first consists of five lines, the second of just three lines and the third and last contains in more irregularly. Illumination, spiritual illumination, sadhna, the recourse to it lays it, the light coated under the misty sheet and layer to be delved deep and to be laid bare of.
In the poem, Father, drawn from Rainbow at Sixty, he talks on very beautifully about the harmonious co-existence of Rama, Allah and Jesus with nothing to see as the demolition of the Babri, the aftermath or the post-effects of it. A simple man he had been in the quest of Rama no doubt and he saw, felt and realized it in his village, never went
outside this range of viewing in turbulence, disharmony and political tumult to accost his faith. The so-called secularist shedding the crocodile’s tears and the hardcore fanatics never did he like, took to in admiration.
In the poem, Images, the modern poet paints and sketches in words the pen-portraits of the Indian politicians donning the Khadi clothes and calling themselves leaders and politicians, Gandhists, Lohiaites, nativists, secularists, democrats and socialists, but God knows who is what? What his principle and philosophy? The gods of small things, they keep strutting and walking on tip-toe.