In 2016, Sudhir K Arora’s colossal production, Cultural and Philosophical Reflections in Indian Poetry in English in five Volumes, an Authorspress Publication New Delhi surprises everyone. It is undoubtedly a huge critical work of strenuous efforts of many years. Each volume carefully traces the cultural and philosophical reflections and moorings of poetic yield in a systematic approach and highlights the poetic voyage through different enlightening and scholarly corridors namely - Footprints, Pathfinders, Signatures, Milestones and Journey. Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Gitanjali and the world began to recognize Indian English Poetry, though the first Indian English poet is Henry Derozio despite the fact that Kashiprasad Ghose was the first Indian, who published his poetry in English and the rest is history. He makes interesting references to the impetuous and uncharitable observations of Parthasarathy and Daruwalla and terms the remarks as ‘A Literary Offence’ Arora does not agree with the two critics, and tries to evaluate the poetry of the initial years.
It is correct to say that poetry of early Nineteenth Century had impact of English culture but slowly it began to disconnect as Indian sensibilities and consciousness crept into the thought and emotions of creative artists. It was a different regime and therefore, it Indian poets of different regions were a little cautious, modest and culturally embedded in the niceties of conduct it does not mean that they did not raise voice against the unsympathetic attitude of the white-man.
He observes, ‘To declare that the early Indian poets were mentally slave to the extent that did not raise their voice against injustice, oppression and exploitation towards Indians is not wholly true.’ Arora cites relevant and brilliant poetic lines of G. N. Vesuvala, Chattopadhyaya, Annaji Rao, Jhabavala and Fredoon Kabraji besides others, who gave eloquent expression to thoughts and feelings and spoke of the difficult situations where injustice, prejudices and partiality of the white-man towards Indians were obvious, and who tried to awaken Indians to fight against discrimination and foreign domination.
Arora does not agree that the real poetry began with Nissim Ezekiel as is made out and it took birth only after 1952. Indian English poetry was born much earlier. However, poets and anthologists like Parathasarthy, A. K. Mehrotra and Daruwalla perhaps were not aware of the contribution of earlier poetry. It appears unfortunate. If he recalls Furtado, it is not out of context. Arora’s argues well and cites facts. He makes it clear that the real Indian English poetry took birth much earlier and one cannot forget the contribution of earlier poets. If a few poets and critics of the so-called urban school of poetry made harsh comments, it was out of intellectual snobbery and incorrect understanding Arora opines. His ‘Introduction’ to the book makes interesting reading and the students of literature feel amply rewarded. Indian English poetry stands firm notwithstanding certain inconvenient and immature remarks. He refers to a few poets and speaks encouragingly of the poetic contribution they make, and he believes, poetry, ‘…will be written, loved and read for its therapeutic values.’
After a meaningful and at times, provocative Introduction, he scrutinizes the poetry of important poets of the era. His evaluation is unbiased and mostly, he concentrates on the poets’ cultural and intellectual anxieties during the difficult period in the history of India. The poets understand the people’s concerns about the social, economic, political, religious and philosophical regions of man’s life. Poets or for that matter, the thoughtful individuals and creative minds cannot abandon the thought of heritage and man’s intrinsic thoughts and feelings, is the truth. These aspects of man’s character often remain unexpressed in many ways. However, author genuinely highlights the poets’ anxiety for culture, heritage, philosophical worries about the nation and humankind, and here, he is quite successful. Concentration on specific areas of human intellect and emotional world creates real problems of pinpointing but the author has beautifully done it and so, indirectly, he informs a discerning man about the burning issues people faced during the uncertain age of many violent conflicts, social and religious movements, emergence of political parties, and consequential struggle for freedom.
Some creative artists were emphatic, outspoken and straight while a few were modest and mild, and still more joined the philosophical stream in subdued temper and spirit. Therefore, he carefully and critically looks at the poetry of Henry Derozio, Kahsiprasad Ghose, Shoshee Chunder Dutt, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, The Dutts –Govin Chunder, Hur Chunder, Greece Chunder and Omesh Chunder, Nobo Kissen Ghose, Behramji Merwanji Malabati, Toru Dutt, Cowasji Nowrosji Vesuvala, Joteendro Mohun Tagore, Manmohan Ghose, Sri Aurobindo, Joseph Furtado, Romesh Chunder Dutt, Surojini Naidu, Rustam B Paymaster, G. Annaji Rao, Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Pundi Seshadri, Dhan Gopal Mukerji, Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, Fredoon Kabraji, Jehangir Rustomji Patell, Ram Tirtha, S. H. Jhabvala, Sri Paramahansa yogananda, Samuel Solomon, Beram Sakharvala, Raman Vakil, Kapil P. Thakkar and many others.
It is a remarkable evaluation of Indian English Poetry and an analytical contribution of Dr Sudhir K Arora to the Indian English Poetry of the pre-Independence era also. One can rightly evaluate Indian English Poetry if one is aware of the poetic history up to first half of Twentieth Century and then, a wholesome analysis would put the poetry in right perspective. Select Bibliography in about fifty pages amazes but it is extremely relevant for a scholar of literature.
‘Pathfinders’ forms the subject matter of Volume II. It is equally enlightening and significant. Introduction traces the poetic thought right from the beginning. Arora mostly concentrates on the cultural and philosophic anxieties of creative artists. He briefly touches upon the prominent features of poetry right from the day of Derozio. He does not forget to briefly underline the important poetic contribution of Kashiprasad Ghose, Shoshee Chunder Dutt, Michael Madhusudan Dut, Govin, Hur, Greece Chunder Dutts,Nobo Kissen Ghose, Toru Dutt, Manmohan Ghose, Sri Aurobindo, Joseph Furtado, Ramesh Chunder Dutt, Sarojini Naidu, Hasan Shahid Suhrawardy, Gnnaji Rao, Tagore, Vivekanand, Harindranath Chattopadyaya, Swami Ananda Acharya, Puran Singh, Ram Tirtha, SH Jhabavala, Sri Paramhansa Yogananda, J Krishnamurti and Humayun Kabir etc.
He opines that Henry Derozio, Toru Dutt, Sri Aurobindo, Sarojini Naidu and Rabindranath Tagore are the pathfinders in Indian English Poetry, who were in truth, torchbearers for the poets of the post-Independence era. He emphasizes unequivocally and forcefully pure Indianness and consciousness, and refutes the frivolous allegations of some poets, who do not give any credence to these poets. He does it in a modest way when he makes a brief appraisal of poetry of these poets. He asserts the spirit of heritage, culture and philosophical anxieties of poets and thereafter, tries to take the readers back to Indian history, myths, and legends and in the process, he draws attention to the rich trove of Indian heritage.
In volume III ‘Signatures’, he makes a persuasive and exhaustive study of the poetry of Nissim Ezekiel, A. K. Ramanujan and Arun Kolakar, who to him appear to fulfill the criterion he underlined in the beginning. It is possible many may not agree but the study shows the critic’s discriminating spirit and enthusiasm to make a difficult choice. The astute critic brought out the present book in 2016 and to my mind, had he included certain left-out names, who also jealously advocated the cause of Indian culture, heritage and the philosophic worries of the age, it would have been much better.
Volume IV throws light on the ‘Milestones’ of Indian English Poetry. He talks comprehensively about the poetry of Shiv K Kumar and his Where have the Dead Gone?, Keki N. Daruwalla, Jayanta Mahaptra and his Relationship, Land and Hunger and R. Parthasarathy. The scholars of various regions often talk of their poetry with passion and most of the academics know what kind of poetry they wrote. Arora’s articles on the three poets are interesting, elucidating and wide-ranging.
Volume V ‘Journey’ is a lyrical voyage through many stages of trials and tribulations, challenges and understandable reformatory approach. Arora in introduction of each volume apprises the reader of what happened before and for the convenience of unwary readers, he recapitulates whatever he wrote earlier. In the first chapter, he speaks briefly of the poets, who showed the path to future poets and gives a list of poets, who are writing poetry today. In Chapter 2, he tries to give moderately a clear and reasonably excellent idea of Indian Culture so that an academic is able to appreciate the poets from the cultural point of view.
Interestingly, he interprets and defines superbly the concept of ‘Satyam, Shivam Sundram’ and ‘Gayatri Mantra’ so close to an Indian heart. In the poetry of Sri Aurobindo and Rabindranath Tagore, he finds eloquent and comprehensive depiction of Indian Culture rich in intellectual content and peculiarly chaste variety and so he tells scholars to take care of the poets and in doing so, he dispels fears certain quarters created about the authenticity of these poets. In the chapter Spiritual Heritage: Saint Poets, he keeps the flag high and again, underscores the transcendent, comforting and humanitarian poetry of Swami Vivekananda, Rama Tirtha and Sri Paramhansa Yogananda. Toru Dutt, Sarojini Naidu and Kamala Das find sufficient space in Chapter 5, a chapter exclusively devoted to women poets.
Now, when he speaks of the poetry of Nissim Ezekiel, Ramanujan, Daruwalla, Shiv Kumar, Jayanta Mohaptra, Arun Kolatkar, R. Parthasarthy and Niranjan Mohanty, he highlights the poets’ shift to modern idiom and thought because they do not talk much about the Indian Culture and heritage but concentration on man’s life forms the edifice of poetry. He argues that the poetry of Hoshang Merchant, R. C. Shukla and Gopikrishnan Kottoor tries to establish synthesis between the realities of life and the dreamland where the poets often go to find solace.
Each Volume contains an exhaustive list of works cited and the last volume has a list of bibliography that runs into more than one hundred thirty pages demonstrates author’s resilience and determination to guide future researchers and academicians to the right path even as they evaluate Indian English poetry.