A Critical Survey of Indo-English Poetry, T.V. Reddy,
Authors Press, 2016, Hard Bound, pages 757, Price Rs. 2900/- $150
This is an unusual book. The writer, being an acclaimed poet, has taken up this stupendous task which took him almost two decades to complete. The objectives of UGC Visiting Professorship have been meticulously fulfilled. Selection, choice, literary criticism, evaluation and appreciation without loopholes succumbing to value judgements appeal to and reward research scholars.
T. Vasudeva Reddy (b.1943) retired Principal, formerly UGC National Fellow as Visiting Professor has done his best in this book published last year in 2016. He has been a highly praised and widely read poet, novelist and literary critic in English.
To begin with, here is what is recorded from an interview of Dr Reddy by Sanatanu Halder, published on 26th February 2013. The following are the questions and answers of Dr Reddy which readers would like:
Why do you write poetry?
Writing poetry is purely creative, and it gives me so much pleasure and happiness. It gives me immense delight which cannot be described or expressed in words. And that is why, in order to forget the exhaustion and tiresomeness of the professional life, I spend my time in my creative writing.
Nature is always present in your poems. Are you influenced by the English Romantic poets?
Yes, I was so much influenced by the British Romantic poets. Right from the good old days, even when I was a student, I was fond of Romantic Poetry-the poetry of Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats. Naturally, it had made a deep impression on me. Moreover, I was born and brought up in a village which was surrounded on all sides by the beauty of nature. So the influence of my surroundings was there deeply on me. That is why I was very much impressed and began drawing so much of pleasure in describing the objects of Nature which I saw.
What do you think of ‘art is for art’s sake or art is for morality’s sake?
These two schools appear to be two different ends, but at one stage they merge together. They get united. Even though a poet writes for himself, or for his own pleasure, he happens to be a member of the society. Therefore, in whatever he writes, he will be communicating with something and that will be the message to the society.
The work describes three phases of Indo-English poetry:
The first (after introduction) is ‘Early phase’ beginning with poets Toru Dutt, Kailkini up to the nineteenth century poets. The second phase is modern poetry beginning with Nissim Ezekiel and Krishna Srinivas up to Gauri Deshpande and Meena Alexander – post Independence till 1980. The third phase is the continuation of the assessment of the work of stalwarts Pranab Mukhopadhyaya and K V S Murti up to Lakshmi Prasad and Vinita Agarwal. Phase one, called early phase has a brief life sketch and the review of sixteen poets, phase two called modern poetry has thirty-one poets and phase three called recent poetry in Indian English has eighty poets. In all one hundred and twenty-seven poets till 2016 are covered.
During the period of UGC National Fellowship as a visiting professor from 1998-1990, Prof Reddy visited various universities and libraries in various institutions of higher study. Collection of poems and getting information about their work is not easy. Our university libraries have well equipped libraries and the study took a long time. He spent nearly eighteen years to organize the material he began to collect, select poets and get their work and write about their life and poetic contribution. In all it has been two decades of work. It was sent to press and this book came out in 2016. This book is intended not only for poetry enthusiasts of the general public but most importantly for research scholars pursuing higher research work. The general plan followed was to give a brief life and work sketch of the poet, some poems that could be culled and then the scholar’s assessment of the distinctive quality of the poet’s achievement.
In this review, I picked up passages which I considered to be particularly useful for general readers too to understand the poet’ work. The assessments of this author are his personal conclusions which every reader need not accept totally.
Throughout the book the author is frank and outspoken. He comments that the average Englishman may not be mentally prepared to accord equal status to Indo-English literature.
He writes “Heavily under the shadow of the self- imposed inhibition, Gordon Bottomley described Indo-English poetry as “Mathew Arnold in a sari”-an unnatural and incongruous appearance but it is unfortunate when Professor V.K. Gokak, a recent learned Indian scholar, aping the farmer made an addition in an unsympathetic imitation-“Shakuntala in skirts.”[p.22]
He goes on further while writing about Toru Dutt and Sarojini Naidu expressing his feeling: “As the poets of the farmer group were all either senior professors or academicians or editors or renowned book publishers and leading journalists, they had easy access to the publication and they could get quick recognition without any hurdle or hardship. In contrast, the recent poets of the second generation of the post-independence period i.e., strictly speaking poets of the post emergency period coming from the different professions and regions of the country and representing the entire nation from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Andhra to Assam without any support or sympathy from the literary or academic circles, have made an earnest attempt in poetry and contributed to the muse. [p.24]
Dr Reddy studied the work of the eminent literary critics like Professor K R Srinivas Iyengar who wrote: “The three parts of Savitri are respectively the Aurobindonian versions of the Divine comedy, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained…In a sense Savitri is the life divine turned into poetry”…Savitri is indeed the most comprehensive of all comprehensive epics as it embraces the whole gamut of human experience starting from the Vedic to the modern scientific age and surveys all the worlds seen and unseen.[p.85,-86]
The author’s treatment of Kamala Das’s and Shiv K. Kumar’s work are said to be similar: ‘Kamala Das who has chosen the confessional mode fills her poetry with the stuff of sex and stretches it to the extreme limit of its elasticity, and later Shiv K. Kumar follows more or less the same line with a more polished and academic taste.” [p.113] The success of Kamala Das is not appreciated. Frankly Dr Reddy opines: “In the period she was writing, she became popular overnight by shaking the world of readers by exploding sex bomb and in this late period when she failed as a poet, she wanted to come into limelight by hijacking the literary world and the elite by hurling the religious bomb emitting empty conversion…. All her quest for identity ended in multiple failures - marital, sexual, spiritual, religious and psychological. Her lack of respect for the institution of marriage led in the long run to her lack of respect for and faith in rich heritage and religion and at last in the humanity itself.” (p.158,159]
Coming to the recent Indo-English poetry Dr Reddy’s findings are realistic. “I.K. Sharma’s poems are neither academic nor abstract, nor are they cocoonish; they are all well-designed, well-crafted and well grafted with clarity and immediacy of effect and interwoven with laces of irony and subtle humour, a quality rarely found in Indo-English poetry…Sharma is neither a sentimental romanticist nor a self-absorbed urbanite shut up in an irony tower; on the other hand he is a realist with abundant zeal to reform the society and pragmatic idealist who is very much alive to the reality and all-embracing reality with an all-round vision.”[p.356,357]
About Vikram Seth the authors assessment is this: “Vikram Seth had been educated in England also. His poems appear to be rational, anti-romantic and hedonistic in their tone and perspective. They deal with sex and travel games and his youthful experiences and then mostly, his themes are light-hearted and non-serious.” [p.415,416] This is Dr Reddy’s opinion of Vikram Seth’s work: “His study of economics and his research strong in that subject led him to the obstruction of the springs of emotion and his poetry is divorced of the hueart-beat. [p.417.418]
About his own poetry Professor Reddy abstained from writing about himself and so he included the critical article on him by Dr. K. Rajani. This is honest and he appears to have accepted what Dr Rajani has written about his poetry: “His poetry is a concrete proof of his deep-rooted corruption and excessive exploitation at all levels in the society”. [p.431]
At this stage of the poetry of the present day we see various the stalwarts coming up. This is what Dr. Reddy wrote about D.C. Chambial’s poetry. “He wrote about his constant preoccupation with the deterioration of values that has assumed cancerous dimensions in the society.” Now he is undoubtedly an eminent poet of protest, anger portraying the injustices and inequalities in the society leading to restlessness and disorder…His poetry as a whole is a synthesis of art and nature and it reconciles the two irreconcilable elements of the objective and the subjective. His poems are imbued with rich Indian sensibility with deep roots in the Indian tradition, heritage and culture and as such we hear the authentic voices of a wholly unaffected by the diluting impact of alien influences and impulses … In technique and craftsmanship his genius lies not I the usage of images and symbols, not even in the usage of conventional artistic devices, but in the imaginative expression of his felt experience in emotively modulated words with precision. [p.443]
Ramakrishna Singh has come up with important aspects of both poetry writing and the teaching and research in poetry. He has formed a political theory. He wrote: “Poetry is an art, a verbal art which, when effective, generates some physical, emotional or psycho-sexual sensation stimulates some sensuous, spiritual or exalted pleasure or provokes some mood or aesthetic sentiments, thoughts or ideals.it is also the subjective expression of a social vision, reality or protest, and an extension of the poet’s self. However, I have no taste for didacticism in poetry.” [p.458-466]
“Hoshang Merchant has become the chief spokesman of the much-despised unnatural tribe of the same sex people and his poetry is an ingenious mix of various poetic forms -free verse, canto, ghazal and elegy… Homosexual literature, especially gay poetry, is a deliberate attempt in espousing the cause of gay identity and in strengthening gay liberation movement and unnatural relationships.” [p.533]
“Gopi Krishna’s poetry is an expression of blood, pain and death and it is graphic sketch of pessimism bordering on cynicism. His themes, though they seem to begin on a right note, get trapped in the abnormal zones of horrific imaginings and wild conjectures and al his efforts in creating realism end in different shades of artificiality. His style is generally laboured and imagination are hardly found. And on the other hand, his gruesome zones of macabre situations.” [p.555]
“Prof. Susheel Sharma’s poems reveal the creative maturity, poetic imagination and keen perception of the writer. More over the remarkable feature of his poems is their thematic range is wide and varied dealing with not only th e socio-political-cultural matrix of the society but the much needed humanistic and existential concerns of the predicament of the modern life. His poetry is one continuous message for the present human race, blindly racing to reach the glittering goal of materialism, commercialism and consumerism which ultimately leads only to stagnation and suffocation, cut-throat competition and chaos, loss of peace and extinction of moral values.” [p.615,616]
Kedaranth Sharma is a committed poet who writes on themes related to everyday life in a simple style free from any trace of ambiguity. In the words of Dr. Atma Ram, the distinguished writer and critic, “The poet seems to assimilate whatever he borrows from other books/authors. Nowhere does this hamper the flow of freshness of his creative venture.” [p.667]
Makarand Paranjape confesses “If you read my poems you will discover that it has this erotic tinge. Passion is a trigger to transformation. Probably the strong influence of D.H. Lawrence is at the root of his handling of the subject of man-woman relationships and it has directly shaped the process of his probing into human relationship; and speaking on the books of Lawrence he says: “They moved me greatly and helped me reinvent myself as a writer.”[p.682-683]
“Ms. Tulasi Naidu in general is marked by simplicity of style, stark clarity and forcefulness that is capable of delivering the meaning as well as her feeling for music; her images have structural value and they are organically more functional than decorative. To a large extent she has succeeded in her direct war against the aggressive enemy i.e. the mechanical and prosaic free verse divorced from both sense and melody and rhyme and rhythm.” [p.688]
“S. Padma Priya embraces a wide range of subjects from love and life to hope and desire, from socio-economic subject to political and cultural fields, from human psychology to morality and god. Poetry is a striking medium for her to spread the message of peace in the strife-torn society and in this disturbed world where anarchy prevails with unsocial forces of terrorism. To her there is nothing greater then compassion and ‘Goodness is God’; as such she tries to make use of poetry as an instrument to spread the message of peace and harmony thereby promoting goodness which alone can transform this life on earth to life ivine.”[p.713]
“Meena Kandasamy’s main focus is on caste discrimination and as such in her two poetry books she seems to have taken extreme liberty with religion and mythology and tried to present women characters of Indian mythology from a vengeful perspective.” [p.714]
“Dr. Lakshmi Prasad presenting his varied ideas and thoughts on a wide range of themes in a simple and natural style without falling into the trap of pedantic expression; more over and social surroundings and activities. He has the natural instinct to observe the minute details of nature with all its captivating sights and musical sounds and with the strength of this experience he writes poems to delight himself and to delight others.” [p.734]
This last part justifies the authors plan of action. The reader would see for himself/herself that the poems selected for the assessment of respected poets are the basis of his comments. He starts saying that Indo English poetry has a history of less than two centuries. The poetry of Toru Dutt, Sarojini Naidu and Shri.Aurobindo are still read and esteemed. Some of the remarks made by the author like the one on Daruwalla may not be acceptable for all but the remarks may be debatable. “Daruwalla’s poetry is marked by unevenness and more often his lines degenerate to the declamatory and there is a uniform betrayal of Indian sensibility…Shiv K. Kumar is more a scholar and a critic rather than a poet…P. Lal’s Writer’s Workshop which began with good intentions has now ended as a commercial press.” [p.743].
The number of standard journals which have come up in an inventory and Dr. Reddy has given almost a full list of those starting from the editors like C.D. Narasimhaiah up to Met- verse Muse edited by Ms.Tulasi Naidu.
The author concluded his book explaining his candid assessment of recent poetry and his own concept of good poetry which deserves to be quoted here.
“Modern poetry is the direct result of the process of human evolution through industrial revolution and socio-economic and socio-political changes resulting in the rise of the middle class on one side and on the other in the rise of socio-political dictatorship in the guise of petrified democracy. Modernism does not mean the outright rejection or discarding of the old and traditional modes of expression, nor does it mean simply following new modes of poetic expression, its meaning lies in imparting the meaning of life’s experience to poetry, already bedimmed by an excess of urban realism and socialist formalism …. The greatness of a poem lies neither in its power-packed thought and intellect nor in its profuse use of poetic n of life imagery, but in its organic projection of an inner vision of life which gets heightened by the rhythmic music of the lines…. Though modern poetry in Indian English is usually marked by forced and uneasy expression and scarcity of depth of utterance and though natural flow of the lines is a rare feature, occasionally a glimpse of poetic spark is observable…What is commendable in the recent years is the fact that some writers from pure middle class village background without any connection with metropolitan life and institutions and without any formal education and professional experience abroad have succeeded in scaling the heights of poetry-writing. The poetry of such writers deserves greater admiration and it does indeed need greater focus and deeper study… A good poem, springing from creative flow with effortless ease, has a magical effect and lasting appeal on the mind of any sympathetic reader. A poet, if his poetry is to survive the onslaughts and ravages of the whims and whimpers, kicks and tricks of time, should see that his poetry liberates itself from the fetters of sex and propaganda, material lures, fanatical faiths and perversions, from the physical and vital influences, mental barriers and psychological obsessions. It is to this end a poet should strive to progress by absorbing different streams of all directions and dimensions and arrive at the noble synthesis of diverse creeds, cultures and contradictions, finally striking a symphonic note out of discordant strings and strains. A humanistic approach is needed to the understanding and resolution of the existential predicament as well as the complexities of life hardened by the ingrained inequalities of all kinds and dimensions, and the onus is all the greater on the contemporary poet who is morally obliged to transform his poem into a glowing torch capable of illuminating the perverted fanatical minds so as to tread the path of peace and love.” [749-752]
These details cited extensively are meant for transmitting information and material for research scholars and poetry enthusiasts. Hopefully the study may spur on the budding poets and inquisitive learners.