Literary Shelf

Contemporary Indian English Poetry

Contemporary Indian English poetry reflects intricate designs of a complex world; Literature mirrors life and age. Not only fiction but also poetry reflects age. The journey taken by the modern Indian poets is not a very easy task. Carrying the burden of a vast literature and history, they have taken / tread a path which Frost said less travelled by. That the poets have taken the route which is less travelled, added a dimension to modern Indian literature with their profound thoughts, with remarkable and distinct ideas. Their roots may be in India but they possess a global vision.. The poets have invested in their thoughts, imagery, ideas, and content.

They have contributed with themes and contents ranging from nature, terrorism, hunger, feminism, violence against children, natural disasters, metaphysics, scientific thoughts with their bold and deft fingers. Usual romance and beauty of nature do not interest them all as they reached and seen the problems faced by humanity and their focus in the complexity of a modern world. Every wound from personal to political have resulted in a beautiful verse.The poems are marked by their originality, diverse themes, imagery, and sensitivity.

Poets are the visionaries. The essay thus reveals the heart and minds of Indian poets that includes, H. K. Kaul, Abhay Kumar, Sonnet Mondal, Sudeep Sen, Rachna Joshi, Sanjula Sharma, Mayura Tiwari, Sagari Chhabra, Sharmila Ray,Sukrita Pual Kumar, Rita Malhotra, RumkiBasu, Tanuka Endow and Nibedita Sen and that they tried to portray a world humane and modify the present into something beautiful and immensely poetic.The time, space and creation of tapestry of poems are sensitive and beautiful. A common thread of failure of humane values and vision sometimes of global and many times of the future. The poets explore the unknown and this makes the Contemporary Indian poetry so special. Predominant themes of the modern poetry is the anxiety that the world today is witness and distress that is felt. Thus poets fight, assert, lament, protest, and open their hearts to the readers. This act of catharsis results in fascinating verses. By baring their souls, and hearts, the poets create an illusionary world and some of them look for a utopia which is so hard to find.

In the 1980s, the Indian society was almost devoid of poetry and full of political ups and downs. During this time, Dr. H.K.Kaul started ‘The Poetry Society of India’ in 1984. ‘The Poetry Society of India’ has played a pivotal role in popularizing poetry through its journal and nationwide seminars and Dr. Kaul single handedly undertook of the cause of representation of Indian poetry. His well acclaimed books include On the Waves, The Deep Seas, Firdaus in Flames among others.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy in modern Indian history is the turmoil in Kashmir. Dr. H.K. Kaul, 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. It 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 organizer 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. It is a modern epic of unprecedented form where the voice of the poet act as outpourings of a most tormented soul. The poet believes that

“Your subtle cosmic touch will heal
The deep wounds with a divine zeal.”

On the troubled zone of Kashmir, another poet Sudeep Sen whois widely recognised as a major new generation voice in world literature and ‘one of the finest younger English-language poets in the international literary scene’ pens a strong and sensitive poem titled. Kargil . His command over the language and use of literary devices for creating memorable verses stun many. In this poem Kargil his search for past in present makes him disillusioned and he writes


Ten years on, I came searching for
war signs of the past
expecting remnants — magazine debris,
unexploded shells,
that mark bomb wounds.
I could only find whispers —
whispers among the clamour 
of a small town outpost
in full throttle —
everyday chores
sketching outward signs
of normalcy and life.

In that bustle
I spot war-lines of a decade ago —
though the storylines
are kept buried, wrapped
in old newsprint.

There is order amid uneasiness —
the muezzin’s cry,
the monk’s chant —
merging in their separateness.

Even the flight of birds
that wing over their crests
don’t know which feathers to down.
they fly, tracing perfect parabolas.

I look up
and calculate their exact arc
and find instead, a flawed theorem.

The use of the term 'a flawed theorem' for the disaster that had taken place in Kargil is just remarkable.

Sudeep Sen makes a remarkable prayer for the recent victims of

Kathmandu Earthquake

a prayer for Nepal

Gods came tumbling down
in Bhaktapur. Everest
churned — snow, debris, death.

Wounds, personal or political, social or imaginary has transformed into a poem. This process of catharsis may be fundamental for the Indian poets, but every cathartic experience does not transform into poetry. Poets attain bliss or ananda after revealing and sharing their experience with the readers and the emotion and essence of sorrow or joy, happiness or regret, repulsion or patriotism, sympathy or kindness. In the process of revealing their beautiful minds and sensitive hearts with the profound experience of knowledge and imagery, painting portraits or beauty and solace, Indian poets are successful. But then success and poetry may just be opposites.

An artist, a poet and a diplomat Abhay Kumar's interests baffle all. Abhak Kumar’s poetic sequence on Nepal immediately before the devastating earth quake had struck the valley draws attention of the readers.. The following title poem of the book , Yatra shows poet's metaphysical insight.

The Eight-Eyed Lord of Kathmandu

The great wheel of Dharma
spins incessantly
drums rend the earth and heavens

Monks meditate in maroon robes
Wearing a gleaming white robe
I sit at the centre
safeguarding Buddha’s relics
My eyes —
benevolent and wise
bless the cosmos
heal the diseased
ease the suffering.

His poems, titled Chitwan, Dhulikhel, Shivpuri, Mankamana, Janakpur(Sita's birth place), Bandipur, Mustang, (A piece of moon/rests on earth/baked for centuries) Daman, Pokhara, provide picturesque and reflect beauty of the valley that is devastated but remain preserved till posterity in poets images, expressions and word. The poet pens for


“I am a tower of mist
an apparition from nowhere
the spirit of the earth
floating in air....”

He it seems has attained bliss or ananda in creation of God and man and looking at their creation of cosmos and beneath. He gives the physical dimension of the Kathmandu and beyond with eyes which seems apparently of a tourist but if deeply understood he has entered into the magnificent tradition of Eastern philosophy that embodies great thoughts of Shaivism and Buddhism together. The poems reveal, Abhay Kumar’s splendid poetic sequence of praise, dazzle, and wonder for a realm in which he sojourned as both a pilgrim as well as an ordinary tourist.

The poet seem to write on diverse themes. Earlier, The Poet Abhay Kumar writes in his well acclaimed volume of verses, Seduction of Delhi several memorable verses. Through the poetic discourse, the poet makes us aware of the history, beauty and myths of the cities that he visited. The poems are marked by innovative touches, adventure and distinctions. Flavours of all places are distinct. Kings and common people both adorn his canvas, prior to his Nepal Sequence, we get introduced to a great city in a beautiful and lofty way. His knowledge of history, accompanied by poetic brilliance has created remarkable poems such as Delhi, Connaught Place, Jantar-Mantar, Flower girl, Ghalib, Nehru-Park and other memorable verses. His introduction to the city with the title Delhi is most appropriate. It seems that he has personified the cities and that cities have souls.

Nature fascinated poets from the time immemorial and the contemporary Indian poets are no exceptions. Goa as destination seems to fascinate the poets as Sudeep Sen writes beautiful haikus once again,

goa haiku

glittering sea-skin
at mid-day, shadow-dance on
flint-speckled sand dunes


the oily plaits of
bronze-toned fisherwomen, curl —
mimicking herring


beach umbrellas, flags,
towels, table-cloths flutter
with wind’s roving tide

sun burn

skin smarts, sweats — acrid
air crackles the deep heat of
the slow salving salt

Goa as a destination, fascinates poet Rachna Joshi too. She very intelligently introduces us to Goa mentioning the arrival of the Portuguese and the element of Christianity with reference to the Basilica of Bom Jesus, buried St. Francis Xavier.

‘My dead-alive self
Stirs again,
With the smell of myrrh and frankincense
And baptismal waters.………….’45 (Old Goa)

Baptismal Waters! How wonderful!

Entire India is connected with monsoon. Without monsoon, India in non-existent. From Kalidas to Rabindranath Tagore, from Jayadev to modern poets,monsoon mesmerised Indian poets from the time immemorial. A fresh voice on the Indian Poetry scene, Smitha Sehgal pens on Malabar(in Kerala) monsoon

Malabar Monsoon

I cup the sonorous Malabar monsoon in my palm
Brewed, distilled
At every sip it breaks into an orchestra
The mayhem of
Drumming Gods reverberate the Earth
The maestro traces bursting silver lines across the sky with a flourish
Boisterous rain children steadily pour
Inundating the ponds where green fish meditate
Beneath the mulch a mango seed cracks open
And then
Dusk draws curtains to the waltz of fire flies
The reticent bamboo puts forth shoots and leaves, wind wheezes and whistles
Chorus of frogs pierce the night
I lie upon the red tiled floor beneath the gleaming rosewood beams
In wait for the deluge

Poets discover the nuances of life… to live and let live…their concern for the fellow men all over the world is commendable…The poet Sonnet Mondal presents thus in the poem Two worlds a remarkable view of two worlds

Two Worlds

A blue lake captures my soul in its
unmeasured, unimaginable depths
where a new world better than my home
survive drinking immortality.

Howling wolves pierce melancholy
and the dropping leaves stuck with
fever of spring bow down
before the majestic stance
of endless skies and waters.

Echoes of unknown sounds emerging
from the unexplored ends of the woods
run wildly and circle around ears
like unquenched souls.

Striking against the trunks of topless trees
they become one with lingering serenity.

The bridge connecting them to my land
is left broken for years;
perhaps broken by the conflicts
and none has dared to swim across
for both the worlds,
one of religion and other of reason
stand with obstinate swords and spears
wearing T-shirts of barriers and laws
in either side of the bridge.

He is poet with distinct command over language and theme. His use of poetic devices in the poems such as My Chained faith, Unusual Shiver in Winter Day and Enigmatic Wind are remarkable accurate.

The poets are restless and want to explore distant lands.

Ignoring the boundaries of India, the poets like Rachna Joshi explore Egypt, and enjoy celestial nights over there.

In this brief section of poems on Cairo, the poet takes us to the land of Pharaohs in the poem Luxor Nights. How wonderfully she introduces us to Egyptian mythology and gives an account of myths. Particularly in this section, present and past juxtapose.

As she travels from, Luxor to Aswan…she watches,
That night, I see the Pharoahs
Thutmos and Ramses
In their Royal Barge.’……………61(Luxor Nights)

Dreaming of Alexandria she discovers once again a profound truth.

‘just as the smallest poem
aspires to awaken
one reader before
the flame of judgement
consigns it to ashes.’…………….(Dreaming of Alexandria)

Social consciousness is the theme of several Indian poets as Sagari Chhabra ,who is a writer & film-director pens

"Wrapped in a shroud
the man in the coffin,
lay buried under
a clod of earth,
his spirit hovering
a cloud
pouring rain,
asked, why
the Iraqi children
were crying out
in horrific pain?"


For shameful Gujrat riots, she pens

I saw them
smashing a black boot
in the soft belly
of that woman
who was pregnant,
I saw them
impregnate the air
with hate;
while all the men in power
did, was watch and wait.
I walked
into refugee camps,
people were huddled
together in fear,
under blue plastic
from sheets of rain;
I saw their marred lives,
charred homes,
ashen pain.

Her work primarily centres around social issues, hunger and human rights

Disasters natural or manmade create agony in minds of men and poets with their brilliant imagery creates sensitive poems for the disasters happened anywhere on the world;

Sometimes the suffering of common man make a poet disillusioned and start loosing faith in God and Divine and thus Sukrita Paul Kumar pens

Said the rickshaw-puller, the one
with the gaping wound
on his calf:
“No, no need for the doctor.
This happens so many times, madamji,
And Allah heals it very fast” ........
.............Suffering the curse
of helplessness,
I know now
,,,,,,,Why God remains invisible.(We are Homeless)

As one of the leading voices of our times Sukrita Paul Kumar, pens poems based on her experiences, deep in sight and thoughts . Born and brought up in Kenya, the poet's selection of themes and poetry are at the same time suggestive and cryptic. Her poems speak of inner terrain of the individual and also speaks of the external world. She writes on diverse themes. Some of her poems, such as Speech, Tsunami Snap shots, Chinese Cemetery, Pilgrim's Progress, We are homeless speaks of the most matured poet and sensitive individual.

She writes on Tsunami the following touching lines

On the
lonely planet
saw water below
with corpses.
The dog is
Dragging the child
Out of tsunami thunder
Licking the wounds
And restoring sanity
In nature.

But that dog is
Not God
- he saved
this child
and let others perish. (Tsunami snapshots)

For the elderly and destitute her sensitive heart laments

Today it was an old old man.
Folding his hands
And prostrate on the ground:
“Amma, save me, I have no-one

Innocent people in the present world suffer for no fault of theirs. Indian poets have made a strong protest against the exploitation of innocence.

Mayura Tiwari writes of 26/11 and protests against Mumbai attack.

A spray of bullets and then he fell
A mangled mess on tombstone white
Then the shrieks and bullets as she ran
To put together her slaughtered man -
The blood flowed on as bodies fell
Then it trickled, and then it gelled -
A bloody rangoli on a bloody night
The pristine floor now red and white.
Like poultry on the journey back
With the butcher on a Tuesday night -
My turn now, I know my fate
Silence, more silence, and still I wait.
(Mumbai, 26th November)

Unfortunately we are not born in the age of Chaucer, or Renaissance. We are destroying our environment with greed as we are born in the age of Stupidity and thus the poet Smitha Sehgal pens against Environment Pollution

“I loved it most, years later learnt it was red snapper
In the intervening years thin streams that ran across the pristine sand of Calicut beach swelled
Spewing venom into the Arabian Sea which I had once sketched in deep blue
All I had to do was now to smear black .....”

Tanuka Endow who is an economist by profession has made the following remarkable observation of time

“I turned to touch what I had built
A handful of sand
Fell through my fingers”.
- Time

Thus the poets are able to share their inner consciousness with the readers successfully.

Smitha Sehgal, a lawyer by profession pens on Child rape a powerful and sensitive poem

One day
You will step out of your home
And find corpses of little dolls strewn in the garden
The pavement, sidewalk, streets, lifts, subways, trams, metros, gutters, manholes
Those plastic faces, the shine of the apple of cheek
Smeared with the dirt of your guilt
Heads half severed, mutilated limbs
Dangling from electric poles, branches of surviving trees
Their eyes mauled,
Tongue blue, rhymes frozen in them
Crushed on the zebra crossing like insects
Little frock and pinafore torn
Hair a mass of filth where flies rummage for remnants of sticky candies
You will stoop down to gather the frayed pieces like a scavenger
Cart away the mangled flesh ripped apart and left to rot,
Beneath the heap of those corpses, there might be a possibility
Of finding a little heart beating fast ( One Day)

Some poets are obsessed with death, Death changes a man ... a loss which remains so difficult to fill. Men even who are not philosophers or poets, turn philosophical. Death teaches us many things and most accept the life as transitory and in its limited phase recognizing and realizing the unlimited . Beauty of life lies in its impermanence and to consider every moment of life as precious and extraordinary. Looking at the burning pyre Dr. Rita Malhotra’s realizes a profound truth, that “for anything that destroys is also a creator.” Though fire, worshipped by Zorathrustians annihilates and burns but it also remains a visual symbol of bliss.

Thus time being the most powerful, and poetry being the power. In ancient Indian tradition, the poets were called Kavi or the Seer and the doctor as Kaviraj, King Seer. India remained a country of mystics and saints and thus Sanjula Sharma writes on The Temple, which focuses on the metaphysical aspects. India as all knows from the time immemorial is home to saints and sages, is home to spirituality. Sanjula Sharma, in her poem, the writes the following memorable lines:

"I enter shackled, come out free
Cares tumble out, desires flee
I stand in peace, detached awhile
From worldly woes that bridle me.

So much is left behind of me
When I enter this House of Thee
Anger, pain, grief and hope
Every emotion at Your feet I sieve.

So many footprints do I see
That came here decades before me
Each with a plea to call his own
Never in doubt of meeting Thee.

I do not know what he asks for here
Or why she silently sheds that tear
I cannot fathom in this sacred light
The million prayers whispered every year.

A vastness of space I can see
Stretching its arms to eternity
In the Holy air there abounds
Echoes of a devotional odessey

Sharmila Ray writes on diverse themes and her poems are marked by sudden twists and turns. Here is a beautiful poem titled Alphabets

Alphabets march to enter my heart
but an ancient wind stops them.
They get lost
they die
without forming a word.
However, in the evening they return
with kite.
Alphabets mother of words.
Alphabets word-forest.
And if we do loose ourselves
in the forest, it is exactly then
that we find our voice.

In the poem, Because she pens following beautiful lines.

Because we care
the stars, the everydayness and
those friends of ours are there
but in another hemisphere and
we cross the need to be extraordinary.

Love will always remain theme of poetry. Love and broken hearts are the themes of Indian poetry too and thus Rita Malhotra pens

together we crossed
boundaries of love
night after intense nights
yet with surreal timing
you broke the nest of fidelity

entangled in a mesh
of disillusionment
i burrow through tunnels of time
gather fragments of broken dreams
and pile them up on the pyre
of now-dry memories (I Shall remain the Ignited Woman)

Rumki Basu pens on Love

When tempests, desires, storms
and pain said goodbye,
I knew I left love behind,
When fragrance, sunshine, dew drops
and laughter came back
I knew love couldn’t be
far behind (Talking of Love)

On Meera Bai whom I consider the first feminist and our beloved mystic, Rumki Basu pens

For every battle you fought within
I was your soul shadow, your shield,
for every fear you shed
I gave you my wounded shoulder,
for every poem you wrote
I gave you my invincible pen,
for every song you sang
I was the centric basenote ...(Meera Bai)

I can’t withdraw like crabs,
They wear the natural helmet of war,
I fight battles
Out of compulsion, not choice.
I’m a mercenary,
there are no wars
of wrong or right
yet I offer my life (A mercenary’s cry)

The world is witnessing unprecedented violence. In such a complex modern world, love, romance and beauties of nature have taken back seats. Poets are more concerned of serious themes. Our duty, is to pass to the message of peace and non-violence. As the creators of the Upanishads realized thousands of years ago that peace is the most difficult to achieve on earth. Pens poet, Abhay Kumar the following lines in his well acclaimed poem ‘Earth Anthem”

“Our cosmic oasis, cosmic blue pearl
the most beautiful planet in the universe
all the people and the nations of the world
all for one and one for all
united we unfurl the blue marble flag
black, brown, white, different colours
we are humans, the earth is our home.”

Sun will cease to exist and before His eyes this world will perish. All our fights to outshine others eventually will come to an end. The Hindus believes in outcome of Karma. Ultimately our Karma of creation the verses will remain and rest is futile.

As the artist and poet Nibedita Sen pens on the transient life

“Who has left a story here?
In the ruins of sand castles
Half done fortress the tales of time
on broken shells and wind swept sand
these footprints have walked us through ages of love,
ages of hate and now will recede us with the timely wave
ocean knows the water-marks will never stay.”

In the infinity, in the impossible blue, Nibedita says, ocean knows/ these water-marks /will never stay.

So the Indian poets know the water-marks will not stay forever. This idea of impermanence of the identity, of self, of nature and earth is carried in their soul and psyche till today, They no what P.B. Shelly had written Nothing beside remains.

Each and every poet has his or her distinct style of writing and the content and themes possess of kaleidoscopic range. They transcend gender and region, religion and class That they are grounded in their country but possess universal vision make them and their thoughts profound and extraordinary.

So the Indian poets, with their profound thoughts, deft fingers has enlightened the world in the past and also in the present as

"just the smallest poem
aspires to awaken".....Rachna Joshi


More by :  Mandira Ghosh

Top | Literary Shelf

Views: 3699      Comments: 1

Comment I think the term 'Indian English' has had its day. The examples of writing you provide under the title of 'Indian English' prove it is 'World English' in the standard form understood and appreciated anywhere. To be precise, by 'Indian English' you mean 'Indian writers of standard world English', and not 'Indian English' in the sense of a distinct genre of English as in the current though dated Wikipedia definition.

23-Mar-2016 18:48 PM

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