Book Reviews

Sensitivity and Cultural Multiplexity

in Recent Indian English Poetry

AADI Publications, Jaipur
ISBN 978-93-82630-33-3
Price Rs. 995/- Hard bound, pages 230

The book under review presents works of fourteen poets representing women, the Diaspora, the academics, other professionals like administrators, entrepreneurs etc. Social inequity, rampant corruption, penury, anguish, and disappointment are the subjects dealt by these poets. The paradigm shift in theme, imagination and expression in Indian English Poetry tends more towards native ways of thinking which reflect contemporary sensibility and sensitivity, cultural multiplicity and multiplexity, a variety of languages, sub-cultures, traditions, habits and practices. Poetry written in English by our poets is being cherished as poetry about our ambitions, aspirations and conditions of living. Indian English poetry reveals the poets’ love and devotion to our tradition. Regionalism in literary expression is a literary category in our aesthetic. Indian English poetry is rooted in our soil, our cultural heritage and our basic ethos. The poems selected for analysis in this book are based on the above considerations, says the author, VVB Rama Rao. I want to briefly touch upon the poets and their works in this review in order to make it as short as possible.

1.R K .Singh from Uttar Pradesh, an academic writing poetry for more than three decades, is a catharsis of small emotion, says Som Ranchan in his Foreword. As per the poet, poetry provides an opportunity for expressing one’s intimate moments with the same passion as while talking about the interwoven outer realities and believes that poetry helps one to traverse boundaries of hesitation to see the joy of fulfillment. He says, “I believe in unity of mankind and equality of sexes, and am secular and non-moral in my attitudes and values.” as told in one interview, quoted by the author. His concerns are real and expression revealing. His collection of poems ‘Sexless Solitude and Other Poems’ is the subject of elaborate study in the paper ‘Profession and Performance’. Brevity and pithiness of expression in R.K Singh’s poems are striking. There is seriousness, authenticity and scope for interpretation in his poems. Many of the poems in this collection deal with Nirvana, a state where individuality becomes extinct by being absorbed into the Supreme Spirit. Mr. Rama Rao has subjected most of the poems in this collection for analysis.

2. Six volumes of D C Chambial’s poetry composed during the period 1979 to 2004 have been studied in the second essay ‘Towards Crystallization’. The poems of Chambial which at times show a melancholic disposition also take refuge in Vedanta and religion. The author observes that the poet acquires the vision traversing through wide vistas of ever widening thought and intuition and projects it for the perception of the reader from time to time and as he advances in age, his experience and other factors determine/influence his progress and growth, the quality of his mind also undergoes subtle transformations. The speakers of his poems have a thinking mind and a feeling heart. Grief and melancholy coupled with filial devotion, oozing pathos, appeal for peace, all find place in his poems. ’ He is the editor of POETCRIT, a bi-annual journal of poetry, criticism and reviews for more than two decades. Through his poem ‘A cry for peace’, the poet makes a poignant appeal for peace thus;

Ask no organization,
Summon no conference
To mock at our peeping rags
Rattling bones scare no more.
We’re showpieces to your philosophy,
We want peace! Give us peace!

3. Indra Kumar Sharma, the first Indian English poet from Rajasthan, Jaipur uses mythology and folklore in his poems and argues for both brevity and stark simplicity in expressions. He has produced six volumes of poetry during the period 1976 to 2010 and this study focuses on his collected poems (2010) in essay titled ‘Here’s Poet’s Plenty’. Brevity, forcefulness and authenticity of feeling are displayed throughout his poems. He is a poet with strong social commitment. Poems on themes such as humour, vanity, fecklessness, Shringara, poverty, inequality etc., are amply represented in this collection of poems. I want to quote just one poem here on sadness experienced in his poem on death ‘On Her Death’ which is a fine example of his poetic sensitivity:

life we glide on skates of wood
in death we slide into a bed of wood
yet we hear not the cry of the one,
who fondly gives us the matchless wood

4. Usha Akella, literally a passionate feminist, lived in Australia and America. Nurtured on alien soil, the poet emerges as a new woman, self-respecting, assertive and vehemently independent. She gives succinct descriptions of the realities around us. Two collections of her poems ‘Kali Dances So Do I’ and ‘The face That does not bear the footprints of the world’ are taken up for analysis in the essay ‘Diaspora Indian Poet of God-related Intellectuality.’ The first one is basically an autobiographical poem. In her second volume one can see a massive transition to love of God. Poems taken up for analysis amply describe her attitude to God and her conviction at that. A single poem from her first collection tells us the superiority of her creative ability.

Here I go again
using my poetry as a begging bowl
for you to toss in fame

in quarters of applause
and pennies of nods
and dimes in laughter

my heart is aching for Nirvana

The begging bowl and Nirvana here connects this poem to Buddha, who threw away the last of his earthly possession i.e. the begging bowl to make his renunciation complete. The author has done full justice in showcasing the poetic superiority of this Diaspora poet with ample illustrations.

5. Two volumes of K V Raghupathi from Tirupathi (A.P) have been analyzed in the essay ‘Everlasting Wisdom’; on two long poems ‘Voice of the Valley’ and ‘The Wisdom of the Peepal Tree’. Raghupathi is a nature worshipper and he communes with nature. In one of his poems he says that all change, all improvement, all progress start from one’s own self. He also reiterates that the riddle rooted inside has to be removed by self-effort alone.

He who has understood others,
Has never made an attempt to understand himself.
He who wants to penetrate into the known,
Has to first end himself to be known to himself.
He, who never covets others, is the most coveted of himself.
He whose expression is nameless and simple,
Is worth being listened to.
From the stem you grow, through the boughs and branches
And dwell with flowers; the fruit will be yours….

In ‘Wisdom of the Peepal Tree’, the poet prays the peepal tree to make its roots of wisdom penetrate each cell in his body and enter his veins and arteries till he achieves the merger of his body with nature. Raghupathi’s work is a deft blend of the ancient Indian tradition of acquiring wisdom with devotion, faith and selflessness and the modern way of giving expression to ideas and the author has given full justice in giving due credit for his works in this essay.

6. P C K Prem’s long poem ‘Monto’ a mini epic is a satire on the lasciviousness which has been taken up for an elaborate analysis by Rama Rao. The essay title given by the author ‘Monto – The Fabulous Scoundrel’ gives a hint at the characteristics of the protagonist. Monto, the fictitious character, a civil servant indulges in sexual activities with his maid servant after sending his wife to her parent's place, then with the daughter of a local leader, with a budding young artist and also sleeps with the wife of his superior who went on a foreign trip. Look at the way the poet describes his movement towards the poetess who is enamoured of his eloquence and comes to him igniting his lasciviousness, he grows high

.. and moves forward
and teaches the young poetess
the art of emotions through experience
and becomes Vatsayana,
and gives her a kiss unasked
for he has hit eye of fish and so has won her
Monto is wanton but nobody knows.

The pleasure loving Monto, as D C Chambial observes, maybe a distortion of the Hindu mythical character Manu, who ordained Manu Smriti. The poem reveals the poet’s sardonic humour and at times scathing criticism of the politicians. Though thematically the poem depicts the darker side of the central character, it is a rich poem with references to scriptures, which the author has amply substantiated.

7. Analysis of two collections of poems ‘From the Core Within’ and ‘The Door is half open’ by Susheel Kumar Sharma has been included in the essay ‘The Poet-Pilgrims Progress’. Deep thinking and cerebration make SK Sharma’s poetry powerful. The consequences of war have been deftly articulated with an appeal and craving for peace in ‘Seven poems on the Gulf War’ from the first collection. The author has quoted salient portions from many poems. One important thing in Sharma’s poetry is that he uses Sanskrit words in his poems. The poet thinks that mundane things are not worth bothering for those who think beyond earthly life. In poems on conscience, his angst, despair and helplessness are intense. His intense love for his departed father puts a sob in readers’ hearts too when he writes about immersing of bones and ashes thus:

But every where it catches the
Attention of the new comers
Who stare at its emptiness
Though it is full to the brim
With memories – sweet and sour

Rama Rao’s efforts in popularizing the poetry of S K Sharma has greatly succeeded here.

8. Asha Biswas is a unique poet socially concerned, whose poems are rich in relationships. She is a sensitive and insightful poet with suffering, sadness and deep thoughts as her basic poetic feelings. The very first poem is about the pain of the loss of her mother, intense, even after long years.

 …. I read
some of her old letters
a strange smell of folded
brown paper leaks into the room.
In a separate folder, the photos
of our ancestors are kept.

Her vigorous imagination demands multiple readings. Brevity of expression is another hallmark of Asha Biswas’s poetry. The horror of bombing in ‘The bombed city’ brings before the readers scenes of destruction. Some poems are enigmatic, many thought provoking and a few pensively personal. The poet says: “I still believe that a poet should be guided by inner convictions and should aim at aestheticism. A poet should try to be a poet first and should not build his/her web with lies and propaganda. However, contemporary issues cannot be ignored……” Rama Rao needs to be congratulated for including this talented poet in his essay ‘Intellectuality and Imagism’.

9. T Vasudeva Reddy, with seven collections of poems has addressed all sorts of emotions in his works. All these volumes have been subjected to criticism in the essay ‘Flowering, Maturity and Crystallization of the Poet’. Reddy’s themes and subjects vary from cultural decadence, death, poverty, penury and pain, satire, farmers’ pensiveness, helpless destitute, sinful politicians, historical monuments, and much more. A joyous poem penned by him titled ‘Sailing Saree’ is a pleasure to read.

As she glides with ease
aided by wafting breeze
the sailing end of her saree
spreads the voluptuous snare
and turns the shallow minds lazy

10. Chandramoni Narayanaswamy who is highly educated and worked in the high echelons of administration and judicature deserves acclaim for she is imaginative, large-hearted, compassionate and above all highly talented. Two volumes of her poems are the subject of study in the essay ‘Conviction and Practice’ here. She is pensive and melancholic. She says at the beginning of the volume ‘Unseen Abode and Other Poems” : ‘I have always regarded poetry as the language of silent sufferings, the angst of one’s heart bursting out with or without words. …” Most of the poems included for analysis by the author are brilliant pieces of writing and represent deep sadness, to quote one, though I want to quote a few more, due to constraints on word counts, I abstain from it.

Tears swelling drop by drop,
sorrow laid layer upon layer
by dumb sufferings not all my own,
but witnessed by eyes
too proud to weep
and stored in
too strong to forget.

She is a brilliant poet with a heart full of compassion and writes on contemporary issues such as animal sacrifice, poverty, rag pickers/rickshaw pullers , widowed women’s’ plight etc. which produces pangs of pain in the readers’ hearts too. The authors efforts in show-casing too many good poems with deep critical analysis needs to be appreciated.

11. Manas Bakshi has nine collections of poems. He has written many poems on ‘poems’ which are taken up for a brief study by the author in the essay titled ‘ Progressive Humanist Poet’. To the poet, poetry is an experience of joy and hope of aspiration and ambition. His ability to put across his emotions in an appealing way makes his poems superior. Though in few places the vocabulary is tough, Bakshi is a blessed poet with imagination and vision and the author prefers to call him a progressive humanist poet, as the title suggests.

12. P Raja, a professor of Linguistics, who deals with sexuality directly, is from Tamil Nadu. Three volumes of his poems are taken up here for analysis under the title ‘Fun and Fecundity’. Most of his poems are in the first person and he is fond of a sensuous poetic expression, that tickle and make even serious readers chuckle. He tells about his creative process as; “Once inspired, the flame leaps in me. I feel I am possessed. It is like virginal conception. And I try to be true to the flame.” The poet’s fascination for beauty is noteworthy as revealed in many of the poems. His humanism is reflected in poem about Gujarat earthquake and social awareness in many others. Some of his poems are mischievously humorous too which are a pleasure to read.

13. Rajiv Khandelwal, an Engineer and Technocrat is an enthusiastic poet and his two volumes of poetry have been critiqued here. The author has titled his study as ‘The Anatomy of Love”. Obviously Khandelwal is a romantic poet. He is fascinated by imagination and has a flair for titillating expressions. The poet believes that sublime love is in the mind, which is beyond flesh.

14. Mamta Agrawal’s three collections of poems have been selected for dissertation in the last essay in this book ‘Pristine Femininity’. She depicts in her poems the bond between man and nature. She is compassionate, imaginative and has a great social awareness which are incredibly displayed throughout her poems. For instance the devilish practice of female infanticide has been painfully depicted in one of the poems. She values relationships more than anything else as is revealed in her poem ‘A tribute to Motherhood’, which shows love at its sublimity encompassing the whole cosmos. The poems taken up for analysis are of high quality. I just want to quote a single poem here on subtly divulging landing of a butterfly on a flower which is such a fine piece of work with a lovely trope.

A gaily painted butterfly hovers over
A dainty flower, as a miniature helicopter
Patiently waiting for a landing signal,
The flower welcomes the timely arrival
And guides it to its destination …

Though I wanted to include at least one poem per poet, I had to limit it for the sake of brevity and no bias intended. Personally I congratulate the eminent poets whose poems have been selected for this book. The poems included in this book are of commendable quality and the author’s detailed analysis gives them a meaningful subsistence. The efforts of the author is praiseworthy and the book a precious possession for poetry lovers. The author’s yeomen service to Indian English Poetry will ever be remembered with these scholastic essays which more than connote his sharpness and shrewdness in elucidation which are displayed throughout the book. Rama Rao makes it clear that his aim is to record literary appreciation intended for readers who have a flair for pondering over creativity in imaginative expression, and not a final pronouncement or judgement.


More by :  Pankajam K

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Views: 3501      Comments: 1

Comment An excellent review of Mr. Ramarao's scholarly work that provides intelligent insights into the poetic skills and acumen of some eminent Indian English poets. Thanks dear Pankajam, for your exhaustive review and for showcasing excerpts from each poet's works. Kudos and respects to Dr. VVB Ramarao for compiling such a wonderful anthology.

Padmaja Iyengar
26-Mar-2015 15:13 PM

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