Literary Shelf

Catharsis and Modern India Literature

The world is witnessing an unprecedented violence. It is our joint endeavour that would ensure that we live in a peaceful world and pass the earth to our future generation so that they could say that our ancestors were not all that evil which seems to be doubtful looking at the disastrous consequences that the world is witnessing today. Time and again the poets, philosophers and saints acted as conscious keepers of the nation.

Catharsis as all of us are aware is a process of releasing strong feelings through artistic activities, outpours in words, plays as a way of providing relief from frustrations, suffering, anger and other negative emotions.

Literature can’t exist in isolation. Poets reveal their hearts to the readers, the reflections of the tormented souls-their personal tragedies, tragedy of the society, great tragedies that the countries of the world are facing today.

The most sensitive souls of the earth, the poets do the most peaceful protests. We don’t hold guns or cause riots but reveal our sorrows, lamentations in the most peaceful way by writing verses that should touch everyone’s heart and in the process we cleanse the society. We start the day by reading shocking incidents not just in the country but in schools.

It is extremely sad to see, that not only children are abusing each other but in some cases teachers are indulging in acts of violence this is after strict instruction given to schools not to punish the children. In some other cases the members of the priestly class are exploiting innocent girls.

Out of conflict is created wonderful piece of art, a song and a verse that motivate the people for a better society to live in, the negative emotions that the trauma brings inside the sensitive people result in positive emotions in the poet’s, singer’s, artist’s and other creative people’s creativity. Love, longings, emotional distresses for just personal reasons are no longer themes of modern literature, but complex themes for more complex societies are motifs of modern Indian literature.

Catharsis as all of us are aware is a process of releasing strong feelings through artistic activities, outpours in words, plays as a way of providing relief from frustrations, suffering, anger and other negative emotions. 
A Cathartic experience is not always to release one’s own experiences and sufferings through the medium of writing, but when the society, mankind, humanity suffers the writer as the most sensitive member of the society as the most affected by  human suffering suffers and reflects in his outpourings the trauma of humanity, of the country is passing through. Thus results a great piece of art, a wonderful verse, a melodious song. Out of conflict results a positive creation of a sensitive heart.

When a writer is writing his autobiography he pens down the facts but in several cases he fictionalizes the facts which takes the form of a novel, short story and verses. Verses are the most personal.  The process of Catharsis, I think is based on the branch of psychiatry that all of us are familiar with- psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis is both a theory of psychological development and method of treating emotional problems devised by Sigmond Freud. The theory proposes characteristic stages of personality development, and the treatment emphasizes the uncovering of unconscious emotional conflicts underlying abnormal behaviour. There is a strong emphasis of childhood experience in explaining adult behaviour. Freud believed that patient’s unconscious employ different defense mechanisms to repress childhood anxieties and conflicts that are too traumatic for them to face. By releasing the emotional stress, an ordinary individual distresses himself but a talented creator writer sometimes creates a piece of immortal literature.

The therapist’s role is to help the patient achieve insight into these psychic conflicts rather than to attempt to directly eliminate the problematic behaviour. Psychoanalysis relies on techniques such as the free association and dream analysis.

In psychoanalysis, the psychoanalyst patiently hears the victim who generally suffers depression due to internal or external, personal or impersonal, subjective and objective trauma and suffering. Blockage in the subconscious level is opened after the patient reveals his heart and mind to the analyst. Writers are mostly extremely selfless and sensitive. So not only he reveals his heart and mind in this case to his readers of his sufferings but also of the society as a whole and thus arrives the greatness and success of writers as they transcend their own sufferings and depicts the sufferings of the humanity, society of which he is the most responsible soldier, of the world to which he is the most important interpreter, of the humanity that he admires so selflessly. A good friend is needed for a depressed person who patiently hears her friend’s experiences and attitudes and in the case of writers, her readers take the roles of friends who patiently listen to writer’s outpourings and can relate their own experiences, thoughts, concepts with the writer’s philosophy, experiences and solutions.

The first half of the twentieth century witnessed many trends, outpourings of liberation from political struggle, seeking equality, justice. A trend that marked as feminist literature, was evolved when women in large numbers started writing on unconventional themes. Dominated unjustly by males in basically feudal, patriarchal society women poet’s voices were something that never happened in the past. Suffered for centuries, the cathartic outpourings have resulted in unparalleled literature. But women just not wrote on their own personal tragedies but penned verses on the suffering of the whole lot of women in different languages.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy in modern Indian history is the turmoil in Kashmir. Dr. H.K. Kaul, the celebrated Indian Poet has penned trauma of Kashmir in eloquent verses in his magnificent epic poem-Firdaus in Flames. Indian poets from the time-immemorial had made remarkable contribution by recording tragedies in verses.The epic-poem, Firdaus in Flames, by Dr.  H.K. Kaul is a brilliant masterpiece and one of the greatest example of catharsis in modern Indian poetry. Catharsis and social, political commitment goes hand in hand in his remarkable epic.

The poet sees the disaster of Kashmir through the eyes of Abdul, through the mind of the oranizer for whom the end justifies the means, through the enlightened soul of the holy man Taalib, killed by militants for preaching peace. Taalib converses with the holy souls, prophet, Jesus, Buddha, Guru Nanak and tries to comprehend the unsolved mystery of the ceaseless conflict of mankind. He engages the healing powers of virtue that on earth is overpowered by the forces of evil. In this epic poem, the poet cried out his soul looking in bewilderment at the suffering of the people of his state. Result is the catharsis of a sensitive soul resulting in extraordinary outpourings of verse. It is a modern epic of unprecedented form where the voice of the poet is cathartic- a creative brilliance as outpourings of a most tormented soul

Probably the most tortuous time of history, is reflected in Firdaus in Flames.

Poems by the celebrated Oriya Poet, Dr. J.P. Das reflect the power of poetry in the darkest of times. The overriding theme of the collection of verses titled, Dark Times is the impingement of the world on consciousness, as it demands and receives-recognition, and subsequent foreclosure. His earlier poem, Kalahandi reflects the horror of famine in modern India.

Disillusionment is the theme of many of Mandira Ghosh’s poems. She realizes that everything will disappear and even the sun too will not exist. Thus she pens Death of a Sun in four chapters in the commendable work, ‘Cosmic Tour’ published by the Late Professor P.Lal (Writers Workshop).

Commendable works have been done, by the poets Anna Sujatha Mathai, Dr. Sukrita Paul Kumar, Ms Rachna Joshi among others.

Partition, war, famine traumatized the Indian society and Indian literati revealed their sensitivity in verses, stories and novels. Indians still can’t get over the trauma of partition. Punjabi writer, Ajeet Kaur, wrote Khaana Badosh which is semi autobiographical and tells as about the horror of Partition. Amrita Pritam became famous overnight by penning penetrating poetry where she asks Waris Shah, the creator of famous Punjabi poem Heer Ranjah, to come out of his grave, to  look around and witness the disaster. Several writers wrote on Partition and celebrated novels are A Bend in the Ganges by Manohar Mangolkar and Train to Pakistan by Khuswant Singh.

Disasters can be man made or natural. Traumatic experiences can be subjective or objective. The poet transcends his or her sorrow and becomes one with all and essence of his creativity lies in it. Imagination has undoubtedly a key role in the creation but sometimes a real life trauma ignites creativity and through catharsis, by revealing his heart to the world, by releasing his emotional trauma the poet becomes one with many.

My object of selecting this topic for not just letting the world know of just the contributions of the Indian modern Indian literati but for the impact-social, political, literary, cultural in modern Indian society made by the poets and other creative artists. The social responsibility that the literati have shouldered is to be commended. It is not just that the poems and other pieces of literature are cathartic but they are also responsible for spreading social, political, apart from literary, awareness and are instrumental for eradicating immense evils of our society.

Impact of Famine Bengali literature, was my study for which I have received Senior Fellowship of the Ministry Culture. Famine resulted in creative outburst of Bengali intellectuals and thus resulted in literary treasure. Fine example of catharsis, these outpourings had resulted in social awakening for the masses and along with leaders, journalists helped to lessen famine in our country.

A Cathartic experience is never always to release one’s own experience through the medium of writing, but when the society, mankind, humanity suffers the writer as the most sensitive member of the society as the most affected by  human suffering suffers and reflects in his outpourings the trauma of humanity, of the country is passing through.
Image (c) 


More by :  Mandira Ghosh

Top | Literary Shelf

Views: 3730      Comments: 7

Comment Dear Mandiraji

Thanks for your article was thought provoking. And so was the discussion which ensued. You are right that Gita and Upanishad have influenced many modern Indian poets. But I feel, few of such compositions have been world class. After Tagore, very few have been able to turn their Upanishadic insights into world class poetry. I may be wrong in my assessment. But I think modern Indian poetry has lagged behind modern Indian prose. That is the reason poetry books do not sell (You cannot blame the reader, can we?)

22-Aug-2013 02:57 AM

Comment Thank you all, for demonstrating genuine interest in my article. I am very happy to receive all comments and greatly enjoyed to know that We Indo-English poets are just cutting and pasting the western authors? Actually the authors are influenced by Gita and Upanishads and we appreciate the exchange of ideas among all poets, writers and intellectuals. Exchange of ideas are not cutting and pasting but expanding the horizon.

Mandira Ghosh
20-Jul-2013 13:35 PM

Comment I agree with Bibhu Padhy when he says that lack of quality translation is biggest problem for modern Indian poetry. Most works are literal translation lacking juice / spirit of original. Western poets like Rilke, Paz and Neruda became world famous only because of high quality translation into English. However I agree with Sagarika that modern Indian poetry has not reached world class level. Most poems are copy paste work aped from western classics. I see hardly see any modern Indian poem which has Indian flavour and also world class composition at the same time. Ramdhari Singh Dinkar may be world class, but who is going to translate his masterful verse into English?

19-Jul-2013 10:50 AM

Comment I do not agree with Sagarika Sahu that modern Indian poetry has failed to reach world stage. When we speak about modern Indian poetry we should not limit ourselves to Indian English poetry only. The real flavour of Indian poetry lies in the vernacular languages. Tagore's Geetanjali in English is no match for the lyrical and inspirational original Geetanjali in Bengali.

The poems by Amrita Pritam, Dinkar, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Umashankar Joshi, Gulzar and Satyanarayana etc are definitely world class. Even the selected works of modern Indian English poets like Vikram Seth, Sudeep Sen, Gopi Kottoor and Shampa Sinha etc can easily find pride of place among the best contemporary poems of both the East and the West.

Dr Tapan Pradhan's Kalahandi and Equation are excellent poems in the original Oriya and have been well translated into English. However there are hundreds of world class poems written in Bengali, Oriya, Marathi, Hindi and other languages which have lost their original flavour when translated into English. The real crisis in Indian poetry, in my opinion, is lack of quality translation.

Bibhu Prasad Padhy
11-Jul-2013 10:36 AM

Comment Firdaus in Flame by H K Kaul is a masterpiece in cathartic poetry. But as regards Kalahandi, I think the Sahitya Akademi award-winning eponymous poem by Dr Tapan Kumar Pradhan most poignantly brings out the horrors of famine. Pradhan's poem is an absolute masterpiece and unforgetable.

Amrita Pritam's call to Waris Shah calling him out of grave is a chilling and powerful moment of literary catharsis. However, unlike fiction, modern Indian poetry has not really taken off to reach the world stage.

Sagarika Sahu
01-Jul-2013 12:44 PM

Comment Yes, due to complexity of problems in society, writings of any kind cannot be catalogued under any usual category now! Catharsis is what now all kinds of writings from modern writers of poetry or stories can be classified! Gone are the days of usual writings! Novelty is the mark of creativity now!

03-May-2012 02:37 AM

Comment Catharsis through fiction, poetry or drama, deals with princples derived from the reality of events. For example, the reality of partition is 'brought home' not through recorded incidents, but through exploration of its emotional and psychological effects in principle, which is the stuff of fiction. Fiction is always sans providence but claims to be representative of reality. Catharsis is thus essentially atheistic, since it is achieved through fiction. Jesus himself uses fiction as a parable to reality, but always underscores the reality behind the parable as providential. In cathartic drama and fiction, the role of providence is eclipsed by a designated resolution, where the implication is absence of God's providence in the unravelling of events. The most that can be said is that it is yet a tool of providence, the cartharsis through fiction, given the hard-heartedness of humankind in respect of awareness of the divine that would resolve all its problems in all circumstances through submission and prayer.

30-Apr-2012 07:46 AM

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.