Literary Shelf

Indian English Poetry

- Some Notable Poets of Early Fifties

Indian English poets born after 1950s do not carry the burden of colonial hangover. The poetry of Bibhu Padhi, Rajender Krishan, Bipin Patsani Ravi Nandan Sinha, Alexandar Raju, D Srikanthmurthy, R. A. Janakiraman and Ashok Chakravarthy raises contemporary worries of man, who wishes to give meaning to life. It is very rare that they even talk of the bygone white regime. They do not speak of urban anguish and suffocation, sufferings and pains of town life with a few exceptions. They are constructive in approach and look at life as a challenge. Mostly, the culture, traditions and ethics govern the psyche of these poets. Social issues a man confronts overwhelm these poets. If they are sad and disillusioned with life, it is just a transient experience.

Human relations, value system, and political structure and its conduct oppress and dishearten the poets. They are aware of the social, political and economic thought of young democratic India with a socialistic thought towards life. The carry the memories of the war India had with China and then the frequent clashes with Pakistan. They are aware of many social, economic and political developments of far reaching consequences. Not only the social issues and destiny of man figure out the thematic disquiet of some of them but also the philosophic poetic outpouring and the spiritual quest of a few poets provoke man to deliberate on life and the life beyond. Gradually, they lead man to the soothing and challenging journey to spiritual regions, a mystical experience that usually defies correct interpretation.

Informal outlook and ease determine many verses of Bibhu Padhi (1951). A thought, an image or an incident inspires to explore meaning and quality, which ultimately result in layers of many meanings and at times, he peels off the conscious and the unconscious to arrive at what he wants to convey (The Place of Sleep, Choosing Place 43). He establishes a sort of relationship with others when he takes up unfamiliar experiences, and digs minds and psyche of many to look within and cherish the feel and taste of what lies beyond normal perception.

I rise from my place, look around
find myself far within a dark
and smoky distance of place,
smelling of the years –
a familiar smell of dampness
and night, slowly stains my skin
with it own complacency.

In a different frame of mind, he makes a few relatable observations, “I hear speeches that include / references that even I / hardly understand / or even care for - / the poverty line, the lines of / growth and unprecedented / prosperity, the scheduled castes / and tribes that are in need of / Brahmin sympathy.” (Natural History, Choosing Place 86) This simple lyric reveals the poet’s anxiety about the existing predicament of the poor and recollects a few wretchedly memorable events of history. Being a socially conscious citizen, he deprecates in oblique hints the curse of World Bank Loans and ensuing pains of the undesired responsibility, obstructions and liabilities, and the consequent burden of the white man’s bondages.

In nostalgic moments, he goes back to the days spent in a coastal town and now, when he comes to Delhi, he finds climatic changes affect the ‘gradual withering of my small brown body (Five Summer Poems, Going to the Temple 16).

I watch my tender coastal skin
dry up and shrink into a slender line.
I take off my shirt and wait
before the naked sun.
I let my simple soul behave
like a child.
Within the vast and indifferent
warfare between dust and beat,
in a gesture of surrender,
the heart opens.

The poet’s realistic and vibrant portrayal of summer in five different places and locales gives it unique authenticity without any pre-thought. It is spontaneous though backdrop efforts to present a coherent picture appear possible, for he revises the earlier thought and a fresh recapitulation determines the beauty of a lyric.

Nauseating and unbearable thought of the imminent death makes him quite pensive. He compares life to an empty stage where the drama of life is over and only barrenness and dead silence haunt (Curtains Down, Choosing Place 24). Futility perturbs and fills the life of man in the end and nothing remains, and the journey of life turns a farce despite proclamations to the contrary.

I continue to sit at my allotted place
like one who has witnessed all
and thus cannot move.
The world ends exactly here.
I know, I need not move
From this place.

Everything fades into oblivion as time rolls. It is a journey from a stage of many players and episodes to an empty stage and the tale where neither the players nor voices remain. Ultimately, a man goes from stark emptiness he refuses to accept. A difficult and bewildering question defies answer. Life changes its contours every minute and finally, faces oblivion. A man lives in apparent qualms, suspicions, uncertain future, and severe grief in urban suffocation. He visualizes collapse of life in fast changing contours of urban life where values are almost non-existent and thus, he generalizes an issue presaging a bleak future.

He speaks plainly and questions avidly as to ‘how does it feel like to be / independent, without encumbrances / or liabilities that the mind / has stored through / the accumulated years?”(Natural History in Choosing Places 86) He recounts complex events of a momentous period of history where politics played a crucial role in the life of people engaged in a serious battle against the foreign rulers (Natural History in Choosing Place 86-87) It was not a different perspective if dilemma of the people was a major issue. If people were aware of the life’s contemporary enigmas, they also knew the teething problems facing the country involved in a political struggle.

I hear the speeches that include …
The poverty line, the lines of
growth and unprecedented
prosperity, the scheduled castes
and tribes that are in need of
our Brahmin sympathy.…
The country was declared free
At an inauspicious hour
And hence must suffer
The pain that the stars deliver.
It was a British trick played on
our unsuspecting forefathers.

The poet’s insight into the prevailing ailments is superb. Politics brings disharmony. It ought to provide clean governance and strong system, and the political men must adhere to the principles of integrity and honesty.

To reach an ideal state is impossible and if a man realizes and reconciles to truth, he can provide comfort, joy and relief to people, who really need. A man must understand and recognize the truths of life and this will alone provides much needed relief to the miserable hearts, for in the world, it is difficult to find a happy man. Poverty, hunger, scarcity and exploitation rule the real world of man and this way, the tale reaches a conclusion. Bipin Patsani (1951) nurses grouses frequently against superficial value system a man holds and adheres to strongly. A “corrupt”, “immoral” and “snobbish” life dwarfs a man. Man’s concept of life and values are totally distorted and decrepit. The areas of ethical and principled functions to which a man imparts a distinguished stature are no longer valid and pertinent. The people are corrupt, immoral, arrogant, opportunists and untrue but talk of Gandhi (Cultural Stasis, Voice of the Valley). Nothing is bright and one finds ‘unhappy strain’ in the air.

Lost in the competition
Of looking for and grabbing
Opportunities we come across
While gods sit on pavements
In each street we pass
With the six-course look of pimps
In their eyes…
And nostalgic of the good old days
When power and spirit wedded
To breed culture and civilization,
We keep on waiting
For the rule of Dharma,
The Ultimate Incarnation
To hold on to the whip and rein

Patsani lyrics inquire into the purpose and meaning of life and try to explore its solid foundation. Chaotic and unethical life’s conditions disturb and complicate smooth flow of peace and harmony and therefore, the search for spiritual power and ancient glory of man continues. Today, a thoughtful individual suffers because the loss of moral and ethical values creates vacuum and desolation. Lack of faith, disbelief, insincerity and dishonesty drive a man to utter self-interest and inconstancy. Love is a creative instinct. An aspiration to merge, unite and dissolve in each other is an ancient desire and abandoning of identities leads to fulfillment and salvation (Sex: Salvation, Voice of the Valley). It is good to talk of various issues that worry man but a man must not forget man and woman relationship.

…The horizontal expansion of liquidity
For the union of mind and matter
Man and Nature
The creative instinct
The attraction for each other,
Fulfillment and distraction
Is the same as the ocean’s inclination
To the earth, and desire for the moon.

Sublimity and purity of love leads to a blessed union of the body and the soul, and deeply felt gratifying experiences elevate. He grants a ‘distinctive …physical and aesthetic potentiality’ to the creative process, and a man enjoys the choice when to consummate and to act for the ‘joy of creation.’

An agonizing absurdity of contemporary living is the painful realization that life is full of miseries and sufferings. Man is conscious of the remedies available but still runs after transient worldly pleasures. He reaffirms faith in the Infinite, the source of life and light (in Prayers I, III). He say, ‘And now that/You have given me light,/Your love and divine providence,/Give me patience,/O Father Infinite/Pat me to sleep…/ How could you collect and hide/In your round eyes/My mission soul/Which all wizards all wisdoms/Of the continents failed to help me get/In their tricky nets.’

He not only looks at the world and experiences life in varied forms but also penetrates deep and makes efforts to understand the subtle ‘self.’ Introspection and indentifying ‘the self’ remain areas of intense enquiry and in the journey to reach the reality of life he contemplates on life and its complex regions of sufferings merging in joys abundant and finally, ending up in futility.

He does not complicate life but believes in the warm and healthy bonds irrespective of the nature of links or ties a man develops in a family or society. He grows if he evinces faith in the nature of ‘relativity’ where he tries to explore into a philosophic thought, ‘We stand nowhere /However small or big /Unless we have something /To give or dig. /An inter-action /Does not kill the potential, /But makes it live /In its creative capital.’ He tries to convey that nothing is redundant, empty and futile in the vast scheme of god’s creation and each joy the god plans for man is a path to the unity and negation of duality.

At times, a journey into the ‘inner world’ works as a tranquilizer to a disturbed man. Rajender Krishan (1951) believes in the freedom of expression. The unpredictable destiny of man and society, and its predicament worries him. In ‘Solitude and Other Poems’ he communicates experiences with intensity, notices every incident, watches man’s movements closely and gives aesthetically pithy and perceptive lyrical treatment. Curiosity in mysticism and philosophy amazes and he tries to look beyond worldly limits. Understanding the mysterious power determines human life and the destiny he believes.

He has faith in the indestructible ‘inner self (soul/ Atma)’ and realizes that ‘the ethereal/apparently caged/ behind the skin’ is eternally free. A thought of oneness grants freedom as a man abandons incarcerated existence. Eagerness to probe the mystery of life continues even in routine acts,

‘That’s why
on a chosen path
the lines on the soles
keep treading and digging
the labyrinth of life
- Maya -
in quest of Nirvana (Lines).

Wholesomeness in acts grants freedom minus sufferings.

‘The inner self’ is a mirror giving true image of the central man and reflects the individual’s interior and exterior,

‘with a motley
of pretenses and beliefs
wearing different hats… cannot conceal
reality from
the mirror’s revelation (Mirror).

The nature in fury, thoughtfully offers glimpses of world’s origin and the ultimate end. The principle of creation and devastation with inkling of lethal inundation in ‘Deluge’ when sage Markandeya witnesses the spectacle of devastation is quite apparent. Anarchic life after the creation, preservation and the ultimate dissolution is the eternal divine plan of the lord a man should understand. ‘Deluge’ and ‘Realization’ unfold a cosmic plan. Solitude is transitory and ethereal but saves a man from a distressing existence.

I cannot let go
this singularity of life
where I experience
the essence of freedom…
of you perpetual presence.’  (Solitude)

The invisible power is the fountainhead of energy outside the worldly subjugation without dogmas and thus, anarchic living no longer disturbs, as identity is integral. Unhealthy, sordid and detrimental living conditions make peace illusive. Despite chaotic living conditions, a man can live a better life if he understands the message of nature.

If a man comprehends the ‘self,’ he knows the divine plan. Living in the silent areas of existence, bestows serenity. He is conscious of life’s rationale and transience but forgets the eternal truth of life and death. Past does not enlighten but distracts growth. A man should comprehend the celestial design and utilize inherent energies realistically without gridlock. Nature reveals the ancient wisdom. Man must understand the intrinsic energies, listen to the inner voice, know the ambiguity of inscrutable existence, choose the right path, pursue a principled life, live in harmony and it will lead to a wisdom phenomenon.

Cleanliness, truth, dignity, right attitude bereft of hate and greed give purpose if a man follows the teachings of virtuous saints like Buddha, Christ and Kabira, and the wise people. A man goes beyond the confusion of ‘this or that’ with the power of ‘self preserving silent prayer’ as quietness of the imploring words soothes, creates understanding and infuses resolution and faith. The knowledge of social realities grants identity and existence to man and he moves towards a collectively predestined objective.

The questions on destiny and life, creation and annihilation appear disquieting and efforts to get out of the ephemeral joys and sorrows fail, for man’s choice is not only limited but also incorrect. Man suffers from ‘great insecurity, permanent crisis and the absence of any kind of status quo’ the poet echoes M. Sturmer. He shows awareness of the social deadlock where man has uncertain joys and sufferings profuse. Embedded in the eternal plan, hunger, material longing and greed are born of desires unlimited but the man fails to satisfy the inner man.

Hunger departs
with the sensory cessation
the Sovereign
leaves the corpse
moves into a new abode

Hunger is the cause of human activities, joys and sufferings insatiable, for the mortal frame does not recognize satisfaction, truth of hunger, and the singularity leads to sufferings and conflicts. The mother earth is immaculate in its movement, and moves in a fixed and free pattern but man refuses to recognize the phenomenal truth of freedom and loves to work under restrictions. He loves living in ‘society/hoodwinked/ and disillusioned’ discarding ‘universal freedom’. Man philosophizes on life but fails to restrain feelings and thoughts, prefers ubiquitous, disgusting and appalling social system.

‘Politics’ enters human relations and hurts warmth, gives birth to distrust and lies. Politics and lies in relations sow seeds of dishonesty. A modern man manipulates relations and consequently, it results in hatred, loss of confidence and faith. A tragic and biting ‘Irony’ it is where the parents are apathetic. The parents should guide and teach youngsters the art of life. ‘…parental neglect/Mutates the toddler/ Into a disgruntled person/Discarded to live a life/Stuck in the grooves of/Coercive and manipulative societies' A lackadaisical attitude of parents destroys children’s future.

The elders must offer quality life to children. He feels upset, for the American society has little hopes to offer to future children. Apathy of parents and American society shocks when it brings psychosomatic disorder in the children. A deplorable and perilous living pattern is also entering Indian society, and he cautions against the lethal ambush. The questions of life and death perturb, and the poet falls into metaphysical ponderings. The self- righteous thought of merger of ‘the self’ and ‘the inner self’, the image of the Supreme Lord assure as he finds deliverance and harmony in solitude, and discovers fresh meaning. He is sincere and frank, and the anxieties about existence seem strongly genuine. In an unobtrusive way, he establishes a mute relationship with every lover of verses, and it speaks of bona fide elegiac power and still stays away from moralistic perspectives.

D. Srikanthmurthy (1952) is a geologist but evinces interest in poetry like K. C. Prashar. If substance and makeup of the land interests him, the man and his mind also act as an inspiration for his poetry. Just Born and Quest for Joy are two poetry anthologies he has brought out. For him beauty is /gracious but is transient.’ He talks of love, relations, struggles, miseries, poverty, freedom, exploitation and life in totality and in between social issues disturb. Man continuously makes efforts to exist in life and confronts challenges and pains but the objective stays active, the objective to get joy and happiness in life. ‘Human man/ Crave for lasting relationship /Relationship springing up /From Love and Friendship…’ and a little later he observes, ‘Now, life /Restricted and bounded /With territory, religion /Conditioning traditions /Sans ‘fullness’ / Fullness of learning /to beauty and spinning sphere.’ Fullness in life means a life of meaning and objective where if you have joys, you also face agony of struggle and failure.

Ravi Nandan Sinha (1952) wields excellent authority over the language. Metaphors, symbols, imagery and similes attract. He is a keen observer and ordinary incidents form the framework of his poetry. Contemporary worries and anxieties disturb. As he looks into the sufferings of man, he not for a moment forgets social, economic and vagaries of unethical political powers that scarcely solve issues a common person confronts. If one looks into the lyrics of Harbour Lights, one realizes the genuine concerns of the poet in Sinha, for cynicism, disenchantment and desolation disturb life of ordinary men. Undoubtedly, he speaks of apathy and calculated and subtle organized maneuvering of people’s sufferings and hardships in contemporary scenario when he witnesses disinterestedness of the system in the plight of common person and faces the problems of survival during the natural calamities and fabricated hardships. Such an attitude is obvious during scarcity and famine. Many lengthy plans at the official level simply remain on paper even as sympathy is recycled as if polythene bags and nothing perceptibly supportive happens to ameliorate miseries (Famine).

Parched villages wait
For their allocated share
Of official sympathy.
… Famine is news.
Seminars will be organized, speeches made,
Old scores settled, political gains calculated
Pain never sold so well.

Even in alleviating the miseries and agonies of the people, leaders visualize political mileage and so empty assurances continue to please people. If he is disturbed here, look at the lines ‘I have no more songs to sing;/My voice stilled by windless days…./Seedless I stand on the edge of day /And state at the wrinkled face of earth’ in Seedless.’ A sense of loss haunts and naturally, at the personal level, he is frustrated the way life of a man moves. In such verses, he makes efforts to throw a fresh look at the system and its moral and ethical fiber, and tries to find rational perspective of life and existence.

Unfortunately, the poets of the age are deeply troubled. The wide spread erosion of values in contemporary life causes lack of expectation and disdain. However, to sit back and regret is not the solution. A man realizes that it is difficult to adhere to the principles and morality in the present set up.

City life appears as imitation and illusory. People just gloat over without purpose and look at nature with hope for a happy time. People only understand neon signs in perfectly constructed streets. One comes across “toothpaste smiles” -a heightened metaphor of life and living of charade and simulation. One witnesses a strange phenomenon silently taking birth and is conscious of far-reaching consequences on environment and human life. He looks at the life of a bird, its happy singing and tuneful chirping somewhere in some far-off jungle on the top of a tree with fluttering wings, now forced to sit on a concrete structure. One can simply think of its sad song, perhaps an obituary on the death of a life. Another fine simile of ‘neon signs’ conveys multiple meaning as the poet waits (Waiting) for a spring season, ‘On the far-side/Of the skyscraper/Sings a little bird, /On this, /I wait for spring./In the glow of neon signs, /Along neatly margined streets, /In crowds of toothpaste smiles, /I wait for spring.’

He is a conscious poet, whatever he writes is clear, straight and bereft of ambiguities, and the deep reflective temper conveys genuineness in finding meaning and objective of life amidst sufferings and challenges, earthly or otherwise.

R. A Janakiraman is unhappy at the value-structure man rears up. Man is changed and degenerated and believes in the power of money and leaves nothing as a memorable heritage, ‘Children measure all things by money; so they’ve sold all virtues for money! / After giving up all the good virtues / what use in crying about high ideals!’ in ‘The Death of Virtues, Arteries 41). Children do not learn anything meaningful, and parents concentrate on materialistic achievements he laments.

The poets search for the vital links between life and experiences continues and with an easily perceptible effect, they endeavor to understand life. A few fundamental questions on earth appear irresistible as modern awareness surfaces. T. Ashok Chakravarthy* is a poet of modern sensibility and the verses emerge out of the depth of deeply felt experiences. He appears thoughtful, understands life and tries to interpret it philosophically. He is aware of the present day difficulties and his broodings wander in metaphysical areas but soon he returns to realities of life. It is also a question to live life in the world. To cut off ‘the self’ from the world and living life of a recluse, is not the purpose of man he believes. Life has a few cheers, an iota of love, sufficient time of lonely moments and sorrows, sufferings and hardship. If one treads the path hopefully, one has the guts to defeat negative forces. Life moves between the light and darkness, and the evils disturb man. If a man is steadfast and continues to reach destination in right earnestness, he has a bright future (At Times,” Charismata of Poesie 8, print 2003).

In their accursed paths of plight
Dispel to bring joys and hopes.
Like a streak of meteoric fall, yes
The theme and essence of life
Vanish even before realization
Lust to remain memories
Pleasant and frustrate…at times

More you think, more desperate and gloomy you are and so you make life miserable. Little joys a man collects in a lifetime also appear insignificant as thoughts of waste and darkness stifle even as the life offers cheers. The journey of life does not appear to terminate anywhere. When he wishes to come out, a shadow haunts. His pains increase as he desires to go beyond and wants to change. He fears to close eyes in the dark, as night burns the inner man. He wants to escape from the inferno lying within and is eager to go deep into the purpose of life but only shadows and darkness disturb. To make an exit from the aching and mystifying thoughts is difficult and now, the image of death chases. He feels agonized, cannot grasp the mystery of intricate life, and so, lives in unremitting mental distress (Inferno Ibid. 46).

The heart writhes with pain
Polluting the whole body, and
As if wrapped by death’s image
The body shivers to the bones
And hastens to crumble soon
Into the inferno of destiny.

As one goes through the poetry of the poets, one finds that lyricists cannot manage emotions and thoughts adequately and if they reach conclusion, obscurity or ambiguity in minds and hearts defies coherence and logical climax.

At another stage, Chakravarthy adores the image of a mother as in “In Mother’s Trauma,” (Ibid 29). A tribute to the womanhood speaks of pure freshness and cheers, ‘But, when I regain my consciousness/I find traces of your footprints./They glow bright, like candle flame/Leaving shadows on surround walls /In the dazzle of fondness,/… /They resemble as if…/Your pictures are hung everywhere.’

Alexander Raju believes in the life’s essentials and does not wish to challenge facts he faces but truthfully describes life honestly, and rarely hides hypocrisy and duplicity. He does not reason out what life gives. Life is a gift of ancestors and if rationale can find a solution, it leads to miseries. However, if he speaks of immortal life, vital and inimitable thought current shifts to the other world (Dilemma, Sprouts of Indignation 49, print 2003).

And once you use reason
You’re an outcaste; your life
Ends up in misery! …
We blindly follow what
Our ancestors believed;
Fear never leads to wisdom, and
We leave, with no stone up turned!

Though he imagines life as a gift with imperfections and pretense, and tries to live yet at times, he finds the world difficult and search for a life of meaning and peace in the inner world begins. World provides varied experiences but explaining the unusual phenomenon is difficult. He wishes to find delight at the level of feelings and perhaps, fears to challenge as the facts and truth of life pose a great problem. A man tries to find justification behind sex urges and relates the inner distress to spiritual aspects of life but here, a man must be psychologically strong to arrive at a philosophic solution.

To rationalize experiences of earthly pleasures is not very easy. In ‘A Millennium for the ‘Undeserved’ he speaks of indistinct value-system where “superstitions” and “false practices” fail to provide joy and happiness. A man kills a man in the name of religion even as the social plunder and violence extenuate sufferings of man. ‘All my wishes/Are crushed in the darkness/Of superstitions/And false practices/… and with fear I visualize/the advent of an age/of holy massacres /and social arson/and natural calamities/as curses for those who’re undeserved/of a third millennium!’

Gruesome killings in the name of religion disturb. He talks of “social arsoning” a truth that corrupts an already butchered social constitution where nothing exists if one speaks of ethics. He is worried because current socio-religious issues appear natural. After many years of self-governance, one unmistakably realizes that the secular thought still faces violence, and communal hatred guides men with insignificant aberrations. A fanatic approach to religion breeds social imbroglios.

‘Rainy Onam’ speaks of violence and terror. A grief-stricken and tormented heart profoundly broods over while indolently lying over the couch. He thinks of the country and future and a disquieting truth overwhelms. In moments of silence, he is disturbed.

Moments of dark silence pass
and yield to the day’s brightness,
I hear the shrieks of people
their sobs and cries pierce my heart.
is it another bomb blast
to commence a series of death…
For how could violence and bloodshed nurture
Our ancient cosmopolitan culture?

If he speaks of repeated acts of violence and terrorism, he gives expression to a strangely dreadful psychological sickness growing with each passing day. To him, violence appears embedded in the people’s consciousness.

If spiritual enquiry is the latent quality of some poems, an uncertain journey into the metaphysical realities disturbs a few poets. If to understand ‘the self’ provides a few moments of inner joy, it also gives time to think over the dilemmas of life. They are conscious of the wearisome and indefinite journey but it proves a source of inner strength and so the journey unspecified continues to guide to life’s unmeasured quizzical areas. However, they return to the fundamental truths of life and that makes the lyrics meaningful in spite of fact that some of the verses may appear unexciting and droning.


More by :  P C K Prem

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