Literary Shelf

Indian English Poetry

- Poetic Scenario After 1940

Continued from "Poetic Scenario in Early Years"

After 1940, it was not only a period of social and political upheavals but one witnessed a visible transformation as science and technology effected life of many nations. India noticed changes at all levels and material growth led to expansion of existing cities. Indian English poetry, at that time, was limited to elite of the society, mostly restricted to urban areas but it extended its influence to English knowing rural people in search of better, rich and comfortable life, who slowly began to migrate from rural areas and settled in crowded cities with interest in English language and writing. Thus, English writing also began to grow in metropolitan ambiance and carried rural frame of mind in the backdrop. It becomes imperative that one looks deeply into metropolitan poetry and its contours cautiously to understand nearly inimitable amalgamation of rural and town experiences and thoughts. Poetry emerging from urban environment depicted pains, pleasures, agonies and living problems of city life. To understand literary landscape properly, one ought to go back to pages of social, economic and political history keeping in view culture and heritage, and discernible and reasonable imprint on man and life.

Metropolitan poetry and its contours

Urban/town poetry automatically defines its specific area, tentative period and borders of creation with typical and expected flexibility. Shiv K Kumar, Keki Daruwalla, Nissim Ezkiel, Pritish Nandy, Kamala Das, Jayanta Mahapatra, Gieve Patel and many others attract critical scrutiny. One can refer back to poetry in view of Tagore’s poetic scope. Urban poetry articulates intellectual perspective and pessimism. Pessimism often appears as a reaction to the not very comfortable living conditions of city life where instinctive struggle for survival with a spirit of antagonism suffocates and where the poor and the labour class suffer as loss of values perturbs. If careful evaluation reveals forced and temperamental inclination and interest in negative and cynical thoughts, it also suffers from true understanding of man and environment, and to this extent, town poetry not only carries weaknesses in interpreting knowledge of life’s baffling predicaments with its good and bad areas but also demonstrates vague influence of alien poetry.

A spirit of self-created alienation causes melancholy. Poets unmistakably carried impact of interlinking of cultural and linguistic interests. It was a period of vast changes not only in the material world but also in the inner world and therefore man, confronted contradictions in integrating various influences, and in the process, a visible erosion of Vedic values and cultural heritage is quite apparent, and it proves an invariable headache to the poetic and creative psyche. Distrust and melancholy are quite evident in poets belonging to urban areas. At the end, urban poets signal a future of hesitant hopes and joys, and so it becomes its strength.

Glimpses of the poetry of K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar Krishna Srinivas, Hazara Singh, I. K. Sharma, Som P Ranchan, Kailash P Verma, Baldev Mirza, D.H. Kabadi, N P Singh, Kedar Nath Sharma Syed Ameeruddin, H.S. Bhatia, Amarendra Kumar and others offer an entirely different lyrical point of view. Life, if offers some not very encouraging moments, it also gives foretaste of hope and good future. Poets transport a man to a world of feelings and earthly issues confronting the country, and advocate the cause of the suffering. Social equality and economic justice remain dominant themes. If a few poets like Singh, Ameeruddin and Majumder take liberty in the use of language and irritate, overall message in poetry they wish to convey, overwhelms shortcomings. Mirza stuns and provokes with perfect simplicity of phrase.

Poets look sad and not very hopeful but remain infused with a spirit of optimism, zeal and unrivaled excitement, and therefore, try to usher into a region of happiness. Such inseparable features, nay virtues of Indian English poetry give enough delight and pleasure as one goes through each verse and comes back to it after some time, for in that case, a sense of permanence in grace and delight makes it more enjoyable. T.S. Eliot is appropriate, when he says -

The person whose experience is limited is always liable to be taken in by the sham or the adulterate article; and we see generation after generation of untrained readers being taken in by the sham and the adulterate in its own time… The element of enjoyment is enlarged into appreciation, which brings a more intellectual addition to the original intensity of feeling. It is a second stage in our understanding of poetry, when we no longer merely select and reject, but organize. We may even speak of a third stage, one of reorganization; a stage at which a person already educated in poetry meets with something new in his own time, and finds a new pattern of poetry arranging itself in consequence.” (Selected Prose 51)

If one learns to appreciate poetry correctly, it will definitely add to the beauty and enjoyment of life and so a fresh whiff of aesthetic majesty will make life cheerful. Constraint of space did not allow talking of numerous poets, who enriched and strengthened Indian English poetry. Interestingly, poets of late seventies and early eighties, not only give expression to thoughts and emotions of contemporary times in totality, where science and technology changed the entire continuum of society, they also speak fearlessly of sickness of the system and ethical degeneration of the rulers. Now, secular, catholic, universal, intellectual and emotional approach to life and society has become the hallmark of contemporary poetry. Quite appropriately, poets go back to past to seek parallel connotation, and return to present to define relevance of life, and nearly extinct value-system.

It may look a little digression but a brief mention is required about the truth of poetry of this period. Urban poetry dominated the scene in early years after freedom and until 1980, and a little after, city poetry not only determined the journey of contemporary Indian English poetry but also dominated its contour and temper with confidence and authority. Poets of urban areas (mostly born between 1921 and 1952…) were easily accessible to one another with reasonable frequency, exchanged poetic and intellectual aspirations comfortably, and influenced poetic horizon, its idiom, nuances, phrase, thought and emotional content, and therefore, one does not find noteworthy or significant characteristics or variation in city poetry.

Many urban poets had education from foreign universities, and were well-connected and influential men and women from sophisticated rich families, known teachers, civil servants, who had visited a number of countries, gathered experience, and thus, had effective and mutually promotional creative relationship. Poets wielded excellent and inimitable command over language and its niceties, simply amazing but carried inseparable attributes of intellectuality and snobbishness in conduct and expression.

Shiv K Kumar, A. K. Ramanujan, Nissim Ezkiel, Pritish Nandy, Keki Daruwalla, Kamala Das, Jayanta Mahapatra, Gieve Patel, Dom Moraes, P Lal, Keshav Malik, Jussawalla, Arun Kolatkar, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, R. Parthasarthy, Vikram Seth, Meena Alexander, Gauri Deshpande… are some prominent poets, who continued to become part of anthologies fellow poets or friends edited with gratifying introduction.

Therefore, frequent circulation of poets and poetry of some of these poets from cities made notable impact. Perhaps, poets or may be, editors of anthologies or certain critical books on urban poetry did not look beyond metropolitan regions or possibly, they did not want. Such an innocent but significant neglect or ignorance of poets belonging to regions of rural or small towns naturally resulted in inappropriate and incorrect appraisal of Indian English Poetry and therefore, persistent highlighting of city poets appears a well-orchestrated self-promotional poetic endeavour of a few dozen poets.

It is possible, perhaps many did not know that a different poetry with an overriding constituent of Indian perception, culture, heritage, society, background and tradition also took birth at the same time but did not find suitable recognition and acceptability because of its staying in the background (of remote rural or small towns) without complaint or cribbing. Either the poets belonged to different mindsets and dispositions or lived in not very important regions. They did not find poetic expression as a coherent group. However, Indian sensibilities continued to guide poetic yield and poets looked at life, living of rural and urban areas dispassionately, and preferred to live in union with nature and man with hopes and optimism in spite of certain materialistic thoughts, teasing questions of livelihood, shifting and persistent changes in social, economic and political spectrum.

These poets (also born between 1913 and 1952… and after…still strengthen roots of Indian English Poetry) value ethics, religion, culture and tradition, and try to maintain apparent innocence and chasteness, elegance and dignity in expression and do not hurt susceptibility. They are aware of social and economic issues facing man, society, and they talk of urban life but generally, anxieties and uncertainties of man’s providence in modern context constitute poetic area with sporadic meandering in regions of philosophy, spiritualism and metaphysical realities. It is quite natural and to seek inspiration they visit and revisit past, resurrect it to imbibe motivating qualities and care to think of history, myths and legends not only of India but also of other countries depending upon poets’ background and education.

K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar, Krishna Srinivas, Hazara Singh, Srinivasa Rangaswami, R. Rabindranath Menon, I. K. Sharma, Som P Ranchan, Kailash P Verma, Baldev Mirza, I.H. Rizvi, D.H. Kabadi, N P Singh, Kedar Nath Sharma Syed Ameeruddin, H.S. Bhatia, Amarendra Kumar, P. K. Joy, Aju Mukhopadhyaya, R. C. Shukla, Dwevedi, P C K Prem, D C Chambial, R.K. Singh, and many others offer entirely different lyrical perspectives.

Eager students of contemporary poetry observe far-reaching changes in the contours of poetry after 1980. One observes a new and rich crop of poets from the rural areas as well that experiences joys and anguish of metropolis. Urban poetry, one finds, also slowly but imperceptibly undergoes changes where issues concerning the country, the people and the neglected segments of society get inspired expression but an unbroken thread of melancholy travels in lyrics and that puts questions on the urban poetic output and its lopsided portrayal of sadness appears disheartening and at times, cut off from reality. No doubt, poets speak out like agitated reformists in very strong words with persuasive frequency and exert pressure on realism. However, poets of rural and urban surroundings exhibit poetic range of universality and catholicity that appears unparallel as one scrutinizes poetic output, which continues to grow with amazing rapidity.

Poets are conscious of a turbulent anguish of age as they live in difficult times and it looks, they try to interpret and define life as sociologists and therefore, certain irritants surface that weaken poetic efforts. Many worn-out social messages that poetry contains, irks finer sensibilities. Life is never at peace with itself the poets know and emphatically say so in lyrics.

Poetry after 1980

Poets after 1980 are vigorous, genuine, categorical and confident about what they say about life, man, existence, identity, worldly issues of varied kinds (social, economic, political etc. etc.) with trifling exceptions and it is no exaggeration. A cursory glance at the poetic output finds it overwhelming, for more than one thousand poets continue to enrich poetry. To evaluate array of thoughts and emotions about life and the world in entirety through lyrics is not the objective here because it is entirely different in scope and treatment. A careful look at a huge assortment of poetic minds amazes. Hundreds of poetic collections have appeared from different regions of India. Verses speak of a brilliant future for Indian English poetry and the poets demonstrate, it looks, skillful use of language, deftness and authentic hold on idiom, nuances, metaphors, similes and symbols, stunning intellectual power and social awareness with a few occasional aberrations and quirks. Passionate probe into the realities of metaphysical world and the psychological and philosophical areas of man’s life and existence, taunt and discomfort poets. Scope and sweep of poetry consistently and frequently expands limits and so, poets assert presence with authority and confidence.

Lyricists of this period belong to various regions of the country and therefore, it is difficult to make an exhaustive list of poets engaged in the art of poetry writing, who serve its cause with devotion and passion. Some poets of earlier period still write verses with zeal, and new poets have arrived in the meantime. Notable poets who appeared a little earlier and after 1980 like Ameeruddin Syed, Kedar Nath Sharma, Darshan Singh Maini, Aju Mukhopadhyay, Pronab Kumar Majumder, P C K Prem, D. C. Chambial, R.K Singh, Manas Bakshi, Shujaat Hussain, Mohammed Fakhruddin, Pashupati Jha, Vivekanand Jha, C. L. Khatri, Amarendra Kumar,Gopikrishnan Kottoor continue to inspire young poets. Bipin Patsani, V. S. Skanda Prasad, K.V. Raghupathi,Suresh Chandra Pande, K. B. Rai, Kailash Ahluwalia, O. P. Aroraand Roman Basu contribute to the poetic world and stand firm. R. K. Bhushan, T. Ashok Chakravarthy, A. K. Chowdhury, Binayendra Chowdhuri, Hemang Desai, K. V. Dominic, Saptarshi Dutt, Krishan Gopal, O. N. Gupta and Gopal Lahiri work silently and register presence pleasingly. Jacob Isaac, Mahadeva R. Iyer, R. A. Janakiraman, Nikhil Devprasad Joshi, Prakash Joshi, P. K. Joy, Motilal Jotwani, Krishan Gopal, Bhagirathi Mahasuar, R. Madhavi, Aldous Mawlong, Binod Mishra, Niranjan Mohanti,Lajpat Nagpal, B. S. Nimavat, V. G. Nanda, Bibhu Padhi, P. Raja appear, delight, thrill and celebrate poetry. Nar Deo Sharma, Jaydeep Sarangi, Sunil Sharma, N.P. Singh, and Rabindra K. Swain and many others continue to offer meaningful and memorable lyrics to instill confidence and faith.

To critical examine poetry is not the objective, which forms a separate frame. However, it is appropriate to say that poetry of Krishna Srinivas Ameeruddin Syed, Kedar Nath Sharma, Aju Mukhopadhyay, Pronab Kumar Majumder and Rajinder Krishan to name a few, is mostly ethical and thematic in nature with minor digressions into social and political regions, and grace and modesty is the poetic strength. Fakhruddin is a master artisan of Hiaku and zen and in little pearls speaks of man and humanity. He does not offend. Chambial, Singh, Krishan Gopal, and Sarangi express thoughts in images and carry freshness. Bhatia, Bhagnagar, O. N. Gupta, Arora, Bhushan, Dominic, Sunil, Swain, Iyer and many others are mostly worried about contemporary man and society. They nearly touch all wings of life from human relationship to politics, from poverty to nauseating richness, from scarcity to hunger, and from loss of values to inhuman and violent conduct of man in different living conditions and that for the poets, constitutes a grave modern tragedy.

Poets philosophize on life and existence seriously and at times, casually. Some repetition in philosophical outpouring irritates. History occupies some poets but facts do not support many thoughts they try to promote. An ordinary man is the subject of poetry but he is not a hero. Few tears flow out of intense empathy and the lyric ends. Poets appear genuine in poetic flow but despite emphatic tone and emotional outburst, an intrinsic weakness hurts sensibility. However, exceptions exist and generalization is impossible.

It is impractical to give names of poets, who probably gave wonderful lyrics to the poetic world. To the unknown and known poets, I sincerely feel apologetic for failing to do justice. Perhaps, yes, perhaps, many left out names in poetry, might appear more authentic and powerful contemporary voices. Nothing remains unidentified for long. It is the law of life and so, poetry is not an exception.

At times, a little ‘digression and reiteration’ occurs but it is inevitable. I find, poets touch realities of life and existence and at the same time, mark down parameters of emotional upsurge. At another level, as observed earlier, they appear quite worried about Indian mind. Native consciousness continues to travel verses with an idealistic frame. They are genuine in efforts to reach truth of life, truth about which Dr Radhakrishnan spoke so eloquently -

From the beginning the Indian felt that truth was many-sided and different views contained different aspects of truth which no one could fully express. He was therefore tolerant and receptive of other views. He was fearless in accepting even dangerous doctrines so long as they were backed up by logic. He would not allow to die, if he could help it, one jot or title of the tradition, but would try to accommodate it all. (Robert A McDermott’s Basic Writings of S. Radhakrishnan 93)

The great truth in various shades is the fountainhead of verses and the poets not only exhibit anxiety for Indian culture and heritage but also through lyrics, try to comprehend the depth of truth of universal dimensions encompassing humanity. Notwithstanding careful probe into multifaceted consciousness of humanity, it is difficult to arrive at an irrefutable judgment, and naturally, contradictions surface, vanish and then, re-emerge to ascertain facts and truths of life, and subtly drive inquisitive minds to offer varying definitions and meanings to the identity of man.

At this stage, poetry appears competent to find appropriate answers to implicit predicament of life, existence and identity many poetic minds believe with a few limitations because absolute truth eludes. Even if not in focus, many poets often rush back to past to draw sustainable stuff in order to strengthen poetic impact. In poetry, poets do not draw material from the present only but they look ahead, search around in present, go back to past and analyze and then, draw poetic conclusions about life and existence and if it justly happens poetry stands strong otherwise, inessential extrinsic sources cause damage to the spirit of poetry. Indian English poetry is not only a depiction of man’s latent desires with ethical undertones but it also holds richness of truth that makes life meaningful. In the process, if a few aberrations and distinct deviations emerge, it is quite natural, for logical synthesis between art and life undoubtedly offers variations and predictable restrictions.


More by :  P C K Prem

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Views: 3335      Comments: 3

Comment premji
your study is vey vast and equally deep
any publisher would be anxious to publish it

v v b rama rao
18-May-2016 21:15 PM



17-May-2016 08:02 AM

Comment Thanks for a comprehensive essay on Indian English poetry.There are several silent rivers flowing gracefully, not demanding attention.A reassessment is quite desirable and your scholarly endeavour is highly commendable.The quantum of data collected and shared is, in deed, astounding and admirable.regards.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
15-May-2016 22:34 PM

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