Initial Years of 20th Century in Indian English Poetry
Continued from “Spiritual Quest, Mystical Region and Sufferings of Man”
Indian English Poetry a unique product of city (?) born anguish, disenchantment and despair, raises timeless questions of life and existence. Poets deliberate on the possible answers but fail to arrive at a logical finale. Age, relations, images of creation and death cause disturbance. Frightful changes and unwholesome impact of urban milieu taking place in developing and growing town areas upset poets. Disquieting in social interface and human relations, it bears out a repulsive face and understanding life looks arduous. Opinions and views undergo vast changes, and feelings of isolation and loneliness disturb as urban life engulfs.
Poets feel aching dehumanization and hesitant shakiness in bonds social set up nurses. Anxieties pester as existence is threatened. Not only urban poets but rural lyricists also feel agonies of growing fissures in relations, and the rural people suffer little fractures in life originating out of human nature and natural world. Early city poetry pertains to man’s mental and intellectual areas and the subjective outlook of man determines love, birth, death and consequent obscurity and feelings of mistrust. Earlier an understated sophistication ruled urban poets, for they are the direct inheritors of anguish and disillusionment of English poetry- a sad, terse and meaningful upshot of Industrial growth but soon, one notices its faintly conscious journey to contemporary Indian English poetry.
If a few lines of some poets form part of the analysis, it is not the interpretation or one may say rephrasing, it is going beyond what the poets’ apparently intend not but keep the options open. Element of impatience a poets create constitute possible areas of inquiry into the minds of poets.
A poet works at many dissimilar situations at the conscious level, and still at the more complex setup, he structures thoughts and emotions at an ostensibly cataleptic plane and attempts to give expression but unwittingly wishes to put restraint and here, he rarely succeeds. If he indulges in the luxury of images, metaphors and similes, it is seeking clarity of thoughts and feelings he frequently communicates. If an analyst searches for music and rhythm it hits hard, for wobbly poetic edifice in some lyrics or haphazard disfiguring of a sentence into uneven lines with little care to punctuate it warily, invites an inquisitive intellect to go beyond the visible.
Stressful upsurge and intuitive probing into life and existence drive to mystifying situations as finality eludes. Precise definition of life turns into a mirage. After words of wisdom and inner pride, much noise and laudatory claims, a man arrives at the podium of sludge. Shiv K Kumar (1921) in “Triveni” in Losing My Way speaks of truths that makes a man meditate for a long period without a ray of hope.
Here the sky is always grey.
Ashen like the dead, awaiting, immersion.
Along the holy bank, a procession
of urns, each poised for a dip.
An easy detour to salvation.
Each pilgrim’s destination is the trinity
of colours. Blue, the serpent’s gift
to a god’s body;
brown, the mud of the day’s grind –
and white of the Saraswati that never
lets its chastity be outraged…
Around me, phantoms of the dead
dancing with garlands of wilted
flowers round their necks.
Kumar is an artist, who is highly restrained, dignified in posture and conduct, measured in words and voice, and exercises authority on the subject. Undoubtedly, he is a statesman among the literary figures.
In “An Encounter with Death” Subterfuges, Kumar (a poet, novelist, translator, playwright and critic of more than 20 books including eleven poetry anthologies) is explicit and weird in depicting imminent death but extracts props from superstitions and unproven facts and therefore, a final answer eludes him.
I have communed with the
Spirit…whenever…a door handle rattles
a nipping wind howls, a dog whines
or the blue-bells clang, I feel her
presence within me.
Immanence is an attribute of God
The poet’s limitations despite intellectual prowess obstruct. No doubt, death is painful but efforts to define and constrict it to analysis with finality create difficulties for everyone, notwithstanding multifaceted religious and metaphysical enquiries because non-existing subjects fill man with fears and erosion of self-belief, a cause of anguish. Elsewhere, in Pilgrimage, he justifies erroneous notion when observes, “I was the only one to caution /that the gods had trapped us /into belief.” (Cobwebs in the Sun) Imperceptible and many a time, quite apparent change is the law of life, and creativity is not an exception.
Kumar’s technique startles, unique rhythm amazes and if one has a sense of music, the lines appear to create engaging echoes, which nevertheless instill fear. He creates mystique of questions but is not noticeable. Lines take you on a flight of varied meanings and you enjoy struggling between the facts and truths of life, and the life beyond. He gives glimpses of experiences that cudgel and provoke everyone, and each time one goes through the verse, it gives new dimensions. The tone and attitude of the poet vacillate. He knows what he wants to convey and yet, leaves it to others to dispel haziness, and he knows, it will not materialize.
Social, economic and political aspects, loss of love and warmth affect and thereafter, evaluate human relations but look phony and hypocritical in phraseology. Poems namely ‘Baptism of Fire, O Delhi!, and Poems on Adam and Eve (from Trapfalls in the Sky), Returning Home and Broken Columns from Subterfuges, Poet Laureate, Revelation and Karma from Articulate Silences speak of his mind a bit. Two Strangers on a Train, The Moving Finger and Survivors from Losing My Way, Indian Women, Cerebral Love and Pilgrimage from Cobwebs in the Sun also inspire to go further. ‘The Death of my Father, A Monkey Show and A Requiem for Autumn Leaves’ from Woolgathering give glimpses of mind and intellect of Kumar. If one notices slight alterations in certain lyrics in later editions or inclusion in a different collection, it is an effort to clarify swing in thought-process.
Kumar’s lyrical quality is an exciting experience when he touches varied thematic patterns. To fathom the intellect and heart of a scholar of Kumar’s stature gives rise to baffling questions. He is prone to creating bewildering images and turns out exceptionally confusing and incomprehensible many a time but when one moves gradually with each word and simile he structures, one begins to love rhythmical flow of verses. To measure the horizons of creativity fully is not as simple as it appears. Like Daruwalla, Jayanta Mahapatra, Nissim Ezkiel, Ramanujan, Kumar is a poet of sophistication, suavity and urban background and carries urban-consciousness with a few exceptions when he returns to the theme of Indian culture and traditions.
Uneasy journey of Shiv K. Kumar reflects over the early days in Delhi when an émigré settles down after the horrifying period of partition. Agonizing experiences and memories of the days of partition shatter and distress a sensitive poet. He recalls warm days of city and delights in music and poetry as dreams overwhelm. A new life signals hopes. He also thinks of the sad downfall and imminent choking life amidst the crowds of people, wanted and unwanted –
I think your decline began when you went on littering
Even after menopause, spawning beyond Vikas
Marg, Lodi’s catacombs, even Noida …
Even a whore has some in built censors,
But you never practiced vasectomy that you
Preached unto others. - (“O Delhi!” Trapfalls in the Sky 37-39)
It was transitory. Rebuilding structure of a disjointed life in a city and yearning for refuge in the beauty of a woman prove wistful possibilities. However, realities of spreading industrial psyche created tremors and caused grief, monotony, intellectual deliberation sans purpose of serious brooding, and analytically it was end of a life of peace and harmony. To invent multipart reasons to conceal suffering in material attainments was a big pretense, a counterfeit aspiration to live meaningfully but it disgusts.
Going to past is risky and perilous Kumar feels like other poets. Forgetting in past is a subject of choice with most of the poets and the creative artists because they feel a type of authentic experience in memories inalienable but it rarely happens. Even in an age of expansion, it irks and hurts but fills he feels, but in challenging years of post-independence, he presages future.
The poet wields enormous strength in the use of language with scholarly effectiveness and authority. Even an English author would love to imitate. Kumar is obvious, straight and effortless in the use of words but then, it needs immense patience to comprehend intrinsic meanings. He is magnificent in expression and creatively imagistic. He is inclined towards everything Indian but it also appears difficult to refuse genuine impact of English culture and language, and thus, he illustrates a few streaks of elitist preference and to be true, he transcends national borders.
Here, surprisingly, one travels to a different psyche. It proves that some poets nurtured characteristic thoughts and feelings while living in the same age. In Hazara Singh (1922), one finds a poet, who recollects experiences and wishes to share. His depth of feelings is unparallel. He is a sincere poet, who wants to live a life full of meaning and that I believe is poet’s greatest strength. Experiences give flashes of anguish as one goes through his writings.
With the passage of time, growth and progress at the material level surprised even as man expanded the horizon of knowledge and so, worries of earthly life occupied man’s energies most of the time. Individuals like Hazara Singh, for whom nationalistic thoughts appeared lofty and sacred, devoted life to the cause of welfare of people and freedom of the country. They thought nationalism as a religion. True national zeal and patriotism determined the movement of great lives. Singh, right from childhood, evinced interest in the affairs of the country and was very active during the freedom movement.
I took part in the freedom struggle during my student career. I yearned to share the lofty ideals, which inspired young men like me to join the freedom movement braving the perils that lay ahead. I have also been keen to pay tribute to the pathfinders for humanity who became legends. (“Preface,” Destination ix)
When one reads poetry of Singh, such thoughts began to assault heart and intellect with a terrific frequency. Initial reading of Hazara’s verses makes a man a bit diffident. A collective mindset of last sixty years becomes obvious where many heard about the nation and the spirit of patriotism, and found people rarely imbued with the feelings of patriotic passion. One observed many simple, modest and moderately honest people wanting the nation to grow, expand and become strong. India is strong and the people are aware of duties and rights despite certain flaws and awful crevices in the character and conduct of many presenting a dismal picture. Hazara Singh was not always in the forefront of freedom struggle but was definitely an active participant genuinely engaged in the freedom movement.
He opens horizons of a new experience. He takes back to days when people knew to sacrifice and then, poetry brings to the present to tell bluntly, what people did. An indirect warning is inherent in the lyrics. If one does not pay heed, one is likely to face a dark future. Singh dedicated poetry to the spirit of man, a poetry that pays tributes to the freedom fighters, and recognizes sacrifices. It is a poetry dedicated to the nation and to the spirit of patriotism. It makes an appeal to the wisdom and sagacity of people to think of nation. This poetry is unique, memorable and stands apart and tall. He has not written much but whatever he wrote is a document of historical significance and a testimony to the sincerity of Singh in spite of the fact that poetical language may not appeal.
Possibly, intensity of patriotic feelings drove Singh to fragile poetic ground. Hazara Singh is a nationalist, who is deeply worried about the nation, citizens and sufferings of man. He wants social and economic change and at times, goes back to the heroes of freedom movement. Nationalistic thoughts appear lofty and sacred for Hazara Singh. He devoted life to the cause of welfare of people and freedom of the country and thought nationalism as a religion. True national zeal and patriotism determined movement of great lives he often avers. Singh, right from childhood evinced interest in the affairs of the country and was very active during the freedom movement. As a man and poet, he is worried about humanity. If a man succeeds in restraining unbridled hunger, stops exploitation and lives without intolerance and acrimony, it strengthens society and the country. A man must eliminate intolerance, and only then, humankind will live. In ‘Where, Longings –Destination, he says –
Where greed ransacks not mother earth
Lust exploits not the innocent beings
And prejudice overlooks not real worth
Such restraints make a nation great.
(“Where,” Longings –Destination 1)
If everyone lives a good and just life, it will not only enrich man but the country also many wise men and artists often exhort. He deliberates on chaste relationship, love and hatred, peace and violence, humanity and universal love, enemies within, wisdom and self-revelations, charity and ethics, evaluates feelings and thought, and then, advises to nurse lofty thoughts and precisely these constitute a message he gives without being subtle. He feels, ‘If all of us resolve to endeavour thus /To improve the world as best we can/ Sorrow and suffering would fade out/ The world will become heaven itself. (Destination 125)
He feels anguished as human bonds appear shaky and brittle, and pain of fractured relations continues to haunt. Poets’ melancholic poetry is the consequence of experiences they cherish and subsequently, try to translate experiences in words despite apparent constraints of language, and as such, mundane and conventional characteristics make it ordinary. Intensity of experiences defy medium of exposition and therefore, language impedes truthful and strict transfer of intrinsic feelings and understanding, and though, the poets touch depths of experiences, and make genuine efforts to communicate what they think and feel yet succeed partially. Humankind, A Girl Child, India is Shining, The Trio, Epitaph to a Scholar, and Rabindra Nath Tagore, give a peek into the mind and heart of Singh.
Poet’s sense of scrutiny, critical analysis and experimentation is definitely sober, pure and exciting. He seems to have experienced life at different levels. If he contemplates on the destiny of man, he also believes in Karma theory. Out of life, he draws out conclusions, and is realistic. Gandhi, Tagore and Nehru appear to have vastly influenced him and he is indebted to the great men, for they are a source of wisdom, knowledge, sanctity and pragmatic philosophy of life.
If Kumar is worried about life and existence and at the personal level feels the pangs of partition, he also hints at vaguely about the country’s embryonic issues that disturbed sane hearts and minds. The poetry of Kumar frequently speaks of urban environment and life people lived in growing cities and felt the intrinsic pains, a consequence of mounting pressure on urban areas as living conditions become disgusting and agonizing despite governmental efforts to ameliorate the conditions of life through provision of civil amenities. He was more interested in life’s comforts and suffering of man in the ubiquitous complex living conditions, whereas Hazara Singh takes up social, economic, political and ethical issues. He is worried about the downtrodden and the destitute and wants a system and society where values determine life with an unflinching faith in patriotism and nationalistic spirit. That makes the poets different.