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How to Assess and Evaluate Indian English Poetry?

Today we are calling it Indian English poetry otherwise Indian English poetry was not so what we see, term it rather than Anglo-Indian, Indo-English, Indo-Anglican, Indo-Anglican and Indian poetry in English and that too in the absence of a feeder dialect as the Caribbean English, South African English and other varieties got boosted from, getting an impetus from time to time to flourish and to be nurtured and nourished, striking the roots of nativity to have the identity and presentation of own. Indian English poetry simply speaking had not been Indian, but Anglo-Sanskrit versions, translation studies, one forming a part of oriental studies, Indian culture and India studies. The Anglo-Indians who settled here got mixed with, losing their identity, tongue and complexion. Indian heat and dust, diverse ethnicity and sub-continental features wide and varied and far flung in nature ruffled it all. What it endeared the Europeans was their service in the areas of medicine, engineering, technology, education and so on. Had the Europeans been not, medievalism would have wreaked havoc.

Sir William Jones founded the Asiatic Society in Calcutta in 1784. The Bhagavad-Gita was first translated into English? Do we know it? It was by Charles Wilkins in London in 1785. H.H.Wilson rendered Meghadutam in English in a poetical version in 1813. Edwin Arnold wrote The Light of Asia or The Great Renunciation in 1879 and The Song Celestial published in 1885 is a rendering of the Bhagavadgita. In addition to the existing ones, Raghuvamsham was in 1897 excellently by Gopal Raghunath Nandargikar. Before calling it Indian English poetry, one should keep in mind that it has taken time in evolving, coming of age. The things had not been so easy that we shall like to relate to so smoothly. Just for readymade surveys and literary histories, we cannot say it that Indian English poetry had been this or that. During the British period, there were no takers of so-called Indian English poetry and it was not Indian, but British poetry. There were no buyers of this theory nor of wayward criticism. At that time one used to support the mother languages for writing. An Englishman can be a scholar of Hindi, but can never be a Soor or Tulsi, similarly an Indian can be a scholar of English, but can never be a Shakespeare or Milton, used to hold. Should the Indians write in English, in an alien tongue? It kept engaged for quite a long time. The derivative, copious and imitative verses written in imitation as parodies used to vex the casual readers who just used to pass over cover to cover leisurely. The other problem was, where would approbation come from, India or England? There was none to publish Indian English verses.

Leave Sarojini, Aurobindo and others as they had a background of their own in spite of foreign education, overseas rearing. In Sarojini too the echoes of the English romantics and lyric-writers can be heard. She poses to be a Radha or a Mira. A songbird, she keeps cajoling. Her brother too is a poet. Apart from being related to, he was an M.P. and a writer trying to add to. Aurobindo’s poems written at an early stage were not so, smacking of the impact and influence of the Western classics and allusions and had been a radical and a movementeer too. Had the Pondicherry Ashrama been not, could he have seen the light of the day? Could one have taken up such a volume of poesy as it was in Savitri, editing and re-editing, revising and re-revising from time to time over a span? An ashramite, his works, none but the disciples highlighted them. A yogi and a sadhaka, he went on publishing his notes in ashramite journals. But did he highlight the poetry of Manmohan Ghose? What would it have happened on the heart of his wife, could anyone think of it? Perhaps the critics are silent about it. What would it have happened on the heart of Yasodhara when Prince Siddhartha deserted them sleeping? Swami Vivekananda never intended his poems to be showcased as those from a poet’s pen as was not his avocation to be a poet. As the saints continue to be singers, reciters of hymns and psalms so did he. The poems and writings of Vivekananda saw the light of the day through the Ramkrishna Mission. Had it been not, these would have never. Trailangaswami, what do we know about him? The Naga sadhus, what more do we about them?

Had we given an impetus to Indology, oriental studies, translation of vernaculars, folktales and songs, it would have been stupendous, but could not we comprehend them. How the India houses or centres were opened in the West? How was the Ramayana recited and critiqued? How the Mahabharata? How have these been in regional literatures? Who were those foreign and regional scholars working upon? The Ramlila and the Krishnalila we have forgotten them, even the puppet dances. Have we ever tried to do a comparative study of the translation of Kalidasa’s The Cloud Messenger? Have we ever tried to know those orientalists? People do not know, it would have been better had we compared Milton with Surdas, one turned blind while the other born-blind. The hunter’s, archer’s stories, what do we know about?

Without knowing the history, the no-man critics of so-called misnomer Indian English poetry try to relate it to the historical past after referring to Derozio, Toru and others. But before we conclude, it must be kept in mind Indian English poetry was not Indian English poetry, but Indic poetry, oriental poetry, Indo-Anglican, Anglo-Indian rather than what we call it today. Derozio as an Anglo-Indian boy just felt to give wings to his feelings and emotions. But death cut off the line and length and he could not reach the heights expected to scale. But it is also a fact that was the beginning stage. Under the romantics, their influence and reading, he started to write just as a starter and the influences he could not be able to shake off. Toru too was similar as she drew heavily upon the classics rendered into English, taking the company of the English and Christian converts and Bengali backgrounds to usher in. Toru and Derozio had not been so famous then as they are today. The wayward surveyors have made them turn into Indian English poets otherwise had not been. If this could be, why did we not come to study them in our B.A. and M.A. courses of studies? Even if we, read on the margins of studies just as overflows or off-shoots.

Most of the poets and poetesses we study are the writers writing in friendship and company. P.Lal’s Writers Workshop, Calcutta is one such example in the sense that after finding none around him to publish his puerile verses, Lal and other associates founded it as for publishing the self-styled poets not, poetasters, rhymers, commoners and non-poets who later on would evolve and add a dimension of own and it happened too as the writers kept evolving. The poets whom we call the moderns took time to grow since their first publications. What it appears to be a surprise is this that the first poem-writers too got a chance in Lal’s anthology of modern poetry. R.Parthasarathy too is originally a one-book poet, re-cycling Rough Passage to strike the chords. Kolatkar’s Jejuri has given him what he had to get. While including him in his history book, M.K.Naik too commented it that his poems were being collected. So it is clear they are poets before publications. Dilip Chitre’s books are unavailable and they are mainly in Marathi. Just the stray poems published in anthologies form the base of his criticism. Had Lal not given a chance to Pritish Nandy, he could not have been a poet even from his early stage. If one sees the collections of Kamala Das, one will wonder to feel how weaker and substandard is the language of hers. Not only that her collections are also thinner. This is not called poetry, but as they have got awards and the stamp of being Indian is doing the rounds so in the absence of good poets, they are poets otherwise would not have been. Criticism is not false praise, but here in the realm of Indian English poetry we do it. If one turns over the books of the fifties or the sixties, one will come to feel that P.Lal, Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das and others were nowhere to be traced. There were some others whose names we know it not as the harbingers of modernism into the realm of Indian English poetry.

Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, Keki N.Daruwalla, Jayanta Mahapatra, Arun Kolatkar, Adil Jussawalla, are the poets whom we call the writers of Indian English poetry, but the truth is far from and when they took to writing, they were not aware of it that they were going to make a name into the realms of poesy. When they were writing, taking to for the first time, they had either a handful of poems in notebooks or a book or two in their credit. With the books on the anvil, the poems to be collected, yet to be contributed and wadded, they started their journey and it was also their good luck that they got the press too otherwise would not have. It is also a fact that Lal did not publish many who suited not to the rules and regulations of Writers Workshop, Calcutta. It is better if we call them non-resident Indians as because none of these moderns is connected with Indian thought and culture, directly. For P.Lal a book of verse is just a handful of pages and it is also a fact that it is difficult to find a poet, who has what sensibility, who writes when, if one is interested in creative writing or not?

P.Lal as a poet is a faded romantic, not so colourful and dreamy. Apart from being a critic of Aurobindo, he fails to discern the impact of metaphysics. The books of verse which they have come from the pen of Lal are thinner, slenderer. To do a research work on his poetry is to corroborate the stuffs from his critical and translation works and that too has become possible now.

R.Parthasarathy has shot into fame just with one book of verse. In the beginning people were afraid of choosing him as the topic of some research work. Now the research students or scholars are doing after tagging matters from his translation works and edited anthologies, comparing him with other modern comrades.
Though we have spoken highly of Nissim Ezekiel’s poetry, Nissim is but a minority boy of Indian English poetry. Even after being in India, he knows it not India, the heart and soul of it. Secluded from Indian thought, culture, religion, philosophy, spirituality, metaphysics, cosmology, ethics, morality and didacticism, he is but a Jew, an Indian Shylock. He lives in India, but knows it not. If you ask a minority boy about Hinduism and the sadhus and sadhakas of India, the rock-built temples and heritage complexes, he will, I don’t know, don’t know, similar is the case with Nissim the poet. Nissim is conservative, orthodox and bigoted. His heart is not clean and clear. Nissim lives in India physically, but mentally in Israel.

The critics have failed to paraphrase and analyze his poetry as he delves deep into Elizabethan sonneteers and lyric-writers and the Cavaliers to draw from heavily. Wyatt, Spenser, Shakespeare, Drayton, Donne, Marvell and other are the influences which he has failed to discern. What he does is this that he hinges upon modernity and simple expression. A poet of the modern age he derives and draws from modern life and culture.

But what is strange is this, you live in India and you do not know its culture and tradition. This is quite embarrassing in Nissim. He has nothing to offer with regard to Indian life-style and manner of living, ethics and spirituality. The land of yogis and sadhus, great sadhakas and tantricas meant to him not. He was a professor and he stepped not out of his mansion, the poster boy of modernism not, but the minority boy of modern Indian English poetry.

Shiv K.Kumar as a poet is pornographic, obscene, erotic and sexual. The body is the subject of his poetry. A shisya of Vatsyayana, Freud and Lawrence, he is a bhogi, not a yogi. Kumar is carnal and sensual. The breast, thighs and hips are the animal pleasure of his. All his intellectuality consumes it in sex. He is so much obsessed with the body that words cannot describe it.

Dom Moraes is one of the Goan Christians writing in English to have got acclaim and recognition. A Beginning, published in 1958 is the first book of verse for which he wins the Hawthornden Prize followed by Poems, his second book of poems published in 1960. John Nobody published in 1965 is his third book of poems and Beldam & Others brought out in 1967, a pamphlet of verse. Absences, 1993 is another book of poems. Moraes is famous for various reasons, as for being the son of famous father, writing poetry at an early age and the award after, marriage with and divorces, drinks, tours, travels, memoirs and journalism. Collected Poems: 1957-1987 from Penguin moderates it all. In the spurt of the moment he starts thinking himself an English poet of England, but the dreams shattered as those of Kubla Khan and he found himself merely a Goan Christian. Where to go leaving Goa, Pune and Bombay? Dom as a poet though can be connected with world-acclaimed broadcasts and media, but is a lover of girls, a chain-smoker and a drinker. As a poet spoils his career with his ego and hypocrisy which but cannot be refuted.
Today people are submitting dissertations on the poetry of Nissim Ezekiel. One day many were afraid of if their research proposals would be accepted. The British-classic read professors used to think of Nissim, Lal, Daruwalla, Mahapatra, Kolatkar, Kamala as Indian, derivative stuffs rather than English. The taste had been as such.

Even if one wants to do one’s Ph.D. on any of these modern Indian English poets and poetesses, one will have to struggle to find out the slender and self-published books not, booklets of poetry and that too unavailable, can be but directly through the writers. It is better if one gets the address of the writer and one corresponds with. These are never available in the market. Even now can one get Mahapatra’s Relationship for which he has won the Sahitya Akademi award? Though we call it modern Indian English poetry, but there is nothing as that to brand them as they appear to be non-resident Indians rather than the resident.

People in the initial stage never liked to admire modern Indian English poetry and the poets writing in English as they appeared to be copious, derivative, imitative, sub-standard and puerile. The poems never seemed to be original creations and the poets wrote under the shadows of the great poets. The Indian poets never found the audience for their recitation. The self-published poets too were they not, just the beginners and starters and they got a chance in Indian English poetry.

Jayanta Mahapatra’s poetry is also lost in the jargon of words and linguistics and is difficult to comprehend. The same Orissa theme is repeated, rains and rites recurring time and again mislead us to be nowhere. It is very difficult to mean the poems of Jayanta Mahapatra. Poems to him are photo-negatives. As the poems continue to be imagistic and flimsy so it appears to be tedious to mean them. There is nothing as that is thematically strong to be discussed in his poetry.
A.K.Mehrotra has Nine Enclosures (1976), Distance in Statute Miles (1982), Middle Earth (1984), The Transfiguring Places (1998) and others as the collections. His Collected Poems 1969-2014 has appeared from Penguin India.

We do not know it if he is a modernist, post-modernist or an avant gardeist or a surrealist. Only the external description cannot be called poetry, as for example the picture of a bazaar, the mom going with the son with the umbrella shaded over. Whatever one says it, his poetry is but one of dislocation and displacement and the poet as a displaced, dislocated man. To Mehrotra, poetry is surrealism and the poet a surrealist. It is true that Allahabad hangs over his poetry too much, but is a Lahorian, a refugee in reality. In India modernism is but personal temperament. Villages are not post-modern definitely as the superstitious people even now dwell in there. The litigants, conservatives and fanatics can be found in plenty in India.

Those whose English had been weak used to think of choosing an Indian English topic as for the research work. Once when one told about submitting a proposed synopsis on the poetry of Arun Kolatkar in the nineties, it made us laugh to hear it, how could the writer of just Jejuri be a topic for a PhD. degree. But it is a fact that just for 32 poem inclusive collection named Jejuri could fetch him an award. He started with Jejuri to add and embolden his stature as a poet in English rather than Marathi and his painting background.

Just one collection Tribute To Papa can turn Mamta Kalia into a poetess. Later on she adds to Poems 78 to embolden her stance. Mamta will not do her Ph.D., she has got registered and this is all for our pleasure. Papa is also happy as for her Ph.D. registration and she also, but the reality is this Mamta may do her Ph.D. or not which but others know it not. It has circulated among the that she is going to do. Just this is enough for getting fame and coverage.

Though we call it modern Indian English poetry, but there is nothing as that to brand them as they appear to be non-resident Indians rather than the resident. How far Indian is Indian English poetry?, is definitely a question unanswered so far. How far Indian are those Indian English poets calling modern or post-modern? Are they themselves modern? Are their families? The problem is this that most of these poets and poetesses deal with personal and private thinking. Jayanta Mahapatra too is concerned more with physics rather than poetry falling short of the Big Bang theory. Kamala is mad after sex. She appears to be a Rajneeshite yogan. Sambhoga to Samadhi, sex to bliss seems to be the philosophy of her life. So many Ph.Ds. have already been done on her poetry.

There is nothing as that of Indian thought, culture and tradition, religion, philosophy and ethics, spirituality, faith and didacticism, cosmology, its canons and thinking, metaphysics, its trend and penetration. Neither the Vedas nor the Upanishads, neither the Puranas nor the branches of Indian life and philosophy engage their writing space. They are just private and personal in their conjecture, thinking, philosophy and life-style. The modern Indian English poets are least concerned about India and Indianness rather than their own stories.

Pritish Nandy whose date of birth is 1951 managed to publish his books first from Writers Workshop, Calcutta in 1967 and 1968 and the collections happened to be of 32 pages somehow. It is better you staple the material, pin and present. Pritish has made us count his innumerable titles and books of verses, but the reality is this that these are just a few leaves, a handful of poems included in and called books. Of Gods & Olives is the first booklet of verse followed by On Either Side of Arrogance. Pritish as a poet is a singer of love, the beauty of love and its sadness. The candle of love with its flickering keeps taking us far away.
Dilip Chitre’s two books, Ambulance Ride, Self, Mumbai, 1972, Travelling In A Cage; Clearing House; Mumbai; 1980 give the image of being a writer in English apart from a some stray poems published in anthologies. It does not mean that he is not talented. There is a large body of translated poetry which he has himself done it and taking together those a dissertation can be done on him. Chitre as a poet is a bilingual writer better than Kolatkar. A translator, he has translated the poems of Tukaram as Says Tuka deftly, a few of which appear in The Longman Anthology of World Literature.

Anna Sujatha Mathai as a poetess is more powerful than any other female exponent of poesy. Crucifixions (1970), We, The Unreconciled (1972), The Attic of Night (1991), Life-On My Side of the Street and Other Poems (2005), Mother's Veena and Other Poems (2013), etc. are the collections of poems authored by Anna Sujatha Mathai. Widely travelled, Mathai has passed her years in Edinburgh too.
Anjum Hasan is not only a novelist, a short story writer, an editor, but a poetess too. Street on the Hill is the collection with which she begins her tryst with poetry.

Meena Kanadaswamy is a feminist full of revolt and rebellion. Hers is a poetry of protest. As a poetess she is a rights activist, a feminist and a movementeer. A voice for the unprivileged and the have-nots, she has definitely something to show in solidarity with.

Amit Chaudhury as a poet has a few to make a way for instead of his acclaimed novels and columns. Chaudhury talks about Bombay, London, Calcutta and others while alluding to his experiences and feelings of life.

Indian English poetry is a study in minor voices and slender anthologies. It is a one book Ph.D., one of access and availability. Here books are not taken up, but the poems, poem by poem interpretation is done rather than the books. Just the book-reviews are taken to be a part of criticism. Poetry books get not sold in markets. The copies are available from the self-published poets and when the complimentary copies are gifted or parted with, the scholars may photocopy them. Even the scholars have photocopied the collections of Jayanta as for research. It is a problem with Indian English poetry that the new research students while doing the research start calling themselves authorities on Indian English poetry and side by side poets too which is but ridiculous. A few who visited Nissim and Mahapatra under the pretext of interviews also repudiating hospitality and courtesy asked them to read their sample poems and to comment upon. How can it be? A few even took the selfies with him to be posted on the nets. Many of them doing papers or writing books on Indian English literature include themselves as poets too. R. Parthasarathy even in Ten Twentieth-Century Indian Poets, Oxford University Press, India, 1977 has written about himself. How can it be? He could have definitely, but in the personal noun, using I, but used he to describe him as a poet. The modern Indian English poets are the writers of a lobby and a coterie. They include those who are of their group and times and will not give entry to the new comers. But the fact is this, has Indian English poetry stopped after them, come to cease it?

Indian English poetry frankly speaking is a study in rhymers, poetasters, commoners and non-poets breaking and tagging poetry. Had John Dryden and Alexander Pope been, they would have definitely brought our satirical compositions laughing them. God, save us from Indian English poets, those calling themselves Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Herrick, Herbert, Donne, Marvell, Dryden Pope, Gray, Blake, Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Yeats, Eliot, Mare, Masefield, Bridges, Auden, Spender. If one comes to read something standard and classical, profound and scholarly, one should never expect it from. Indian English poetry is in reality a personal and private matter rather than something original and authentic. Here the critic is no critic, but a first-book reviewer. Here the writer no writer, but a beginner, a starter whose book is on the anvil. Where to get critics for like B.I Evans, David Daiches, Compton-Rickett, William J.Long, E.M.W.Tillyard, Stopford A. Brooke?


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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