PCK Prem’s History of Contemporary Indian English Poetry: An Appraisal, Volume I.
New Delhi: Authorspress, 2019. Pp. 740. Price: Rs 2900 | $ 150. HB. ISBN 978-93-89110-11-1
PCK Prem’s History of Contemporary Indian English Poetry: An Appraisal, Volume II.
New Delhi: Authorspress, 2019. Pp. 679. Price: Rs 2500 | $ 125. HB. ISBN 978-93-89110-11-1
PCK Prem, a former academician, civil servant and member of public service commission, Himachal Pradesh, India, is a renowned author of more than fifty five books—poetry, novels, short stories, criticism--in English and Hindi. He has now come out with his second amazing critical book on Indian English Poetry in two volumes after his monumental monograph English Poetry in India: A Comprehensive Survey of Trends and Thought Patterns published by Authorspress, New Delhi in 2011. I have been fortunate to be part of both these books as my poetry is discussed in detail in both, along with several others, and also I contributed a long introduction to the first book.
The present book under review has two volumes, the first one carrying 740 pages and the second 679. Both the volumes are superb in their appearance—capturing cover pages, superior quality papers used, excellent lay out and very good binding with hard covers. Many congratulations to the renowned publisher Shri Sudarshan Kcherry of Authorspress, New Delhi! What makes PCK Prem distinguishing from other critics is that he is using a narrative style entirely different and appealing. His is an exploration of poetic ages and poets both chronologically and thematically, with sub chapters and telling captions for each poet detailed. Just by looking at the contents pages one can learn a lot about the book and the poets. Prem has taken such utmost care and pain in collecting the materials and moulding them into these magnificent volumes. The groundwork he has done on nearly 200 poets dealt in these volumes is marvelous. He has thoroughly gone through almost all the poetic collections of these poets before writing on them. He has given sufficient quotes from their poems and even without reading any poem of any poet one can get a good idea of the poet’s style, contents and themes.
Let me begin the review with the first volume. There are fourteen chapters in this book followed by an epilogue which introduces a few critics and editors of Indian English poetry and their works. As a prologue to the chapters there is a long introduction of Prem in which he makes a survey of Indian English poetry from 19th Century till present. He has pictured both chronologically and thematically almost all the Indian English poets analysing decades after decades.
Chapter I of the book is entitled “Beginning and Growth—Early Poetry I”. Starting with the depiction of early literary scenario, the author then writes about the religious movements and goes on to the aspect of nationalism. Prem shares the anxieties and drifts in poetic thoughts and then writes on the distinctive spirit of universal love and secular attitude. The author then speaks about the poets’ influence on society and changes that took place in literature, especially in early poetry.
Chapter II is titled “Socio-political Awakening, Spiritual & Mystical Quests and Sufferings of Man – Early Poetry II”. In this chapter Prem writes about the scenario of the beginning of the 20th century. It was an age of transformation. Even though the British Government had assured that independence would be given to India it was not fulfilled and it caused for anger and resentment among the freedom fighters and the writers. Gandhi arrives in India and under his leadership India gains freedom. Independence gives momentum to the life of the nation and it creates unity among the people. The author then writes about the early poetry based on religious beliefs and their traditions. The poetry then depicted saints and holy men as well as anecdotes from epics and scriptures. Life after death was a chief concern in the early poetry.
In Chapter III with title “Poetic Scenario – A Little before 1920 and after” Prem examines the poetry that existed just before 1920 and moves forward with poetry after 1980. Urbanisation started and the poets living in urban areas wrote about urban life and sensibilities. There was amalgamation of rural themes and urban themes in their poetry. At the same time there were poets settled in metropolitan cities concentrating on the life of city people. The background of the poets reflected in their poetry. National consciousness and feelings as well as happenings in other parts of the world were also matter for their poetry. Eras of Renaissance, Romanticism and Reformation could be discernible in Indian English Poetry. Industrial growth and various movements found material for the poetry.
Having written in general about the poetic eras, themes and movements, Prem now starts analysing poets one after another in Chapter IV entitled “Continuity in Thought Patterns Strengthens Consciousness”. Poets born in the 3rd decade ‘1921-24’ of 20th Century and their poetry are focussed in this chapter. There is a brief introduction to the scenario after Independence, and its influence on man, society and creativity. Poets Shiv K. Kumar, Nissim Ezekiel, Hazara Singh, Maha Nand Sharma, Rachakonda Narasimha Sarma, Srinivasa Rangaswami are studied in this chapter in detail in forty eight pages of the book. Before analysing each poet, Prem starts with a descriptive caption about the main feature and area of the poet in bold letters which gives an overall awareness of the poet’s trends. This is something unique which I have not come across in any such critical book. For example one can find the following caption at the beginning of the analysis on Shiv K. Kumar’s poetry: “Age creates affirmative possibilities amidst bewildering situations as unreciprocated questions stare at the intellect for want of response while realities challenge and one confronts life with some doubts, cynicism and hope and that give meaning”. Since space doesn’t permit me to touch upon Prem’s critique of these poets and other poets coming under various chapters I am not going to discuss on each poet or any one particular.
Chapter V with the title “Steady Thought Patterns and Perception” deals with the poets born in the 3rd decade ‘1926-29’ of 20th Century. Poetry of Keshav Malik, Mahendra Bhatnagar, P. Lal, Jayanta Mahapatra, A. K. Ramanujan, R. Rabindranath Menon, Kailash P Varma and K. V. Suryanarayana Murti is discussed in detail with sufficient quotes on sixty one pages.
Chapter VI is entitled “Religious-Secular Thought and Universality”. Poets born in the 4th decade ‘1932-34’ of 20th Century are discussed on the forty two pages of this volume. The poets studied are Arun Kolatkar, O. P. Bhatnagar, Baldev Mirza, I. K. Sharma, Som P Ranchan and Swami Nem Pal.
Chapter VII is named “Secular Ambiance and Anxiety”. It deals with the poets born in the 4th decade ‘1934-36’ of 20th Century and their poetry. The poets analysed on fifty three pages of the book are Kamala Das, R. Parthasarthy, Binayendra Chowdhuri, N. P. Singh, G. S. Sharat Chandra, K. B. Rai, Anant Kadam, K. D. Katrak and H. S. Bhatia
Chapter VIII with title “Towards Indian Consciousness” writes about the poets born in the 4th decade ‘1936’ of 20th Century. The poets analysed on thirty pages are J. Bapu Reddy, Iftikhar Hussain Rizvi, Dwarakanath H. Kabadi, Lajpat Nagpal and Motilal Jotwani.
Chapter IX is entitled “Steadiness in Thought Patterns” and the poets discussed are those born in the 4th decade – ‘1937-38’ of 20th Century. Poetry of Keki N. Daruwalla, K. N. Sharma, Kailash Ahluwalia, Amerander Kumar, Dom Moraes, Ashok K Khanna, Mahadeva R Iyer, V. V. B Rama Rao and A. Padmanaban is studied on the pages 358-415.
Chapter X is titled “Continuity Strengthens Consciousness” and the poets analysed are those born in the 4th decade ‘1940’ of 20th Century. Poetry of Dilip Chitre, Gieve Patel, Adil Jussawalla, Eunice de Souza, Yayati Madan G Gandhi, P. K, Joy, Aju Mukhopadhyay and R. A. Lakhanpal is discussed in detail from pages 416 to 461.
Chapter XI titled “Realization & Stability” speaks about the poets born in the 5th decade ‘1941-42’ of 20th Century. On pages 462-506 Prem has analysed the poetic works of P. K. Majumder, Onkarnath Gupta, K. C. Prashar, Gopal Honnalgere, Syed Ameeruddin and Mohammed Fakhruddin.
Chapter XII is titled “Regions of nearly Idealistic & Meaningful Existence” and the poets born in the 5th decade ‘1943’ of 20th Century are discussed in it. The poets thus presented on pages 507-551 are T. V. Reddy, O. P. Arora, R. C. Shukla, A. N. Dwivedi, M. S. Venkata Ramaiah and Abdul Rashid Bijapure.
Chapter XIII with the title “Consciousness and Realization” deals with poets born in the 5th decade – ‘1944-48’ of 20th Century. The poets discussed here on pages 552-611 are Saleem Peeradina, Nar Deo Sharma, P C K Prem, Bhagirathi Mahasuar, Pritish Nandy, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Hoshang Merchant, Jasvinder Singh, R K Bhushan, B. S. Nimavat and Vinod Khanna.
Chapter XIV the last chapter of this volume is entitled “Possible Stability and Judgment”. Poets born in the 5th decade ‘1949-50’ of 20th Century are studied in this chapter comprising pages 612-664. The poets studied are Vijay Vishal, D C Chambial, R. K. Singh, S. L. Peeran, V. S. Skanda Prasad, Krishan Gopal, Virender Parmar and H. C. Gupta.
Pages 665-726 constitute an Epilogue of the author. Prem has given a list of renowned critics of Indian English Poetry. They are: Bijay Kumar Das, M K Naik, Bruce King, Satish Kumar, Iftikhar Husain Rizvi & Nasreen Fatima Rizvi, P C K Prem, Sudhir K Arora, O. P. Arora, T V Reddy, and K. V. Dominic etc. He has also enlisted the names of reputed editors of books on Indian English Poetry. They are: Vinayak Krishna Gokak, Pritish Nandy, R Parthasarathy, H. S. Bhatia, Niranjan Mohanty, Shri S N Joshi, Syed Ameeruddin, K. Ayyappa Paniker, P C K Prem, C R B Lalit and K. V. Dominic etc. The author then shares with us titles of some reputed journals on Indian English Poetry such as The Journal of Indian Writing in English, The Literary Criterion, The Journal of the Poetry Society India, Indian Literature, Asian Quarterly, The Journal of English Studies, Littcrit, Indian Literary Panorama, The Quest, Poetcrit, Creative Writing and Criticism, Cyber Literature, Writers Editors Critics, Contemporary Vibes, Taj Mahal Review, Harvests of New Millennium, Phenomenal Literature & Verbal Art, Poetry Chain, Biz Buzz, Platform, Kohinoor, Voice of Kolkata, Creative Writing and Criticism, Deshkaal, Indian Journal of Postcolonial Literatures, Interdisciplinary Journal of Literature and Language, International Journal on Multicultural Literature, Metverse Muse, MIT Journal of English Language and Literature, Replica, The Literati etc.
PCK Prem then goes on with a brief review each of the famous critical books on Indian English Poetry. The reviews thus made are on Bijay Kumar Das’s Modern Indian English Poetry, M K Naik’s A History of Indian English Literature, Bruce King’s Modern Indian Poetry in English, Satish Kumar’s A Survey of Indian English Poetry, Iftikhar Husain Rizvi and Nasreen Fatima Rizvi’s Origin, Development and History of Indian English Poetry, Sudhir K Arora’s Cultural and Philosophical Reflections in Indian Poetry in English in Five Volumes and T V Reddy’s A Critical Survey of Indo-English Poetry. There are also review articles by D. C. Chambial and K. V. Dominic on P C K Prem’s English Poetry in India – A Comprehensive Survey of Trends and Thought Patterns, and O P Arora on P C K Prem’s Towards Indian Consciousness-- A Study of Ten Poetic Minds in English Poetry in India.
Prem then gives brief appraisals on the edited poetry anthologies such as: Dr Vinayak Krishna Gokak’s The Golden Treasury of Indo-Anglian Poetry, Pritish Nandy’s Indian Poetry in English Today, R Parthasarathy’s Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets, H. S. Bhatia’s Modern Trends in Indo-Anglian Poetry, Niranjan Mohanty and D C Chambial’s Poetry of Himachal Pradesh, H. S. Bhatia’s Prevalent Aspects of Indian English Poetry, S N Joshi’s Nascent Warmth, Syed Ameeruddin’s International Poets, K. Ayyappa Paniker’s Modern Indian Poetry in English, and PCK Prem’s Contemporary Indian English Poetry from Himachal.
History of Contemporary Indian English Poetry: An Appraisal, Volume II deals with the poets born in the 1950s and after. PCK Prem divides the book into several chapters as he has done in the first volume. Again as in volume I, the author makes analysis of the poets and their poetry taking each decade after decade till the present. In the long Introduction of seventeen pages Prem makes a survey of Indian English poetry from the 19th century. He analyses poets and their themes in the chronological order of their birth. Also he brings forth trends and aspects of each decade, both rural poetry and urban poetry. The second volume has two major divisions—Part I and Part II. Chapters one to six are there in Part I and seven to eleven in Part II.
Chapter I is entitled “The Strengthening of Consciousness” and the poets born in the 6th decade ‘1951-52’ of 20th Century are discussed from pages 31-77. The names of the poets are: Bibhu Padhi, Bipin Patsani, Rajender Krishan, Vikram Seth, Ravi Nandan Sinha, D. Srikanthmurthy, Katta Rajamouly, R. A. Janakiraman and Alexandar Raju.
Chapter II with the title “Power of Realization” deals with the poets born in the 6th decade – 1952 or so of 20th Century. The poets are: Lalit M. Sharma, P. Raja, D. S. Varma, Pashupati Jha, Dalip Khetarpal, Gopikrishnan Kottoor, M. T. Ahmad and Tenneti Venkateswara Rao. They cover the pages 78-124.
Chapter III is named “Poets & Region of Perception” and the poets born in the 6th decade – 1953-55 of 20th Century are studied in it on pages 125-164. The names of the poets are: Sankasan Parida, Anil K Sharma, Manas Bakshi, S. A. Hamid, Kamalaprasad Mahapatra
Suresh Chandra Pande and Deepak Thakur.
Chapter IV is given the title “Continuity in Perspectives with Some Variations is the Strength”. Poets born in the 6th decade – ‘56-60’ of 20th Century are analysed in it on pages 165-228. The names of the poets are: K. V. Dominic, K V Raghupathi, Sailendra Narayan Tripathy, Parvat Kumar Padhy, Gopal Lahiri, Suresh C. Jaryal, Sunil Sharma, Rajiv Khandelwal, Ashok Chakravarthy Tholana and Rabindra K Swain.
Chapter V entitled “Understanding Teaches Art of Life” deals with the poets born in the 7th decade – ‘1961-70’ of 20th Century. It covers the pages 229-294. The poets are: Aldous Mawlong, Suman Sachar, C. L. Khatri, Bijoy Kant Dubey, Arbind Kumar Choudhury, Shujaat Hussain, M R Venkatesh Prasannanshu, Biplab Majumdar, Sudhir Kumar Arora (Isheetiva), Harish Thakur, Vihang A. Naik and P. V. Laxmi Prasad.
Chapter VI with title “A Change in Thought & Emotions Beautifies Lyrics” deals with the poets born in the 8th decade of 20th Century. It covers the pages 295-330. The names of the poets are: Mandal Bijoy Beg, Kanwar Dinesh Singh, Shankar Divyasingha Mishra, Jaydeep Sarangi, Kiriti Sengupta, Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar and Vivakanand Jha.
Part II of the book deals with Contemporary Indian English Poetry and Women Poets. Chapters VII to XI are set apart for women poets.
Chapter VII is titled “Women Poets” and on pages 331 to 338 Prem makes a survey of women poets from the 19th century till present. He has established here beautifully how the women poets have registered their presence through eloquence and articulation.
Chapter VIII entitled “Women’s Poetry of the Last Three Decades of 20th Century” speaks about poetry of ethical strength and modern sensibility. From pages 339-397 the following twelve poets are studied: Sukrita Paul Kumar, Meena Alexander, Anjana Basu, Etty George, Hetty Prim, C. D. Irene, Nirmal Thakur, Tulsi Naidu, Mahashweta Chaturvedi, S. Modi, Asha Viswas and Rita Malhotra.
Chapter IX with the title “Women’s Poetry of the First Decade of 21st Century” speaks about the poetry of women poets up to a period of 2005. The poets discussed are: V. Lalitha Kumari, Chandramoni Narayanaswamy, Madhavi Lata Agrawal, Meenakshi Verma, Suparna Ghosh, Nandini Sahu, Maria Netto, Esther Syiem and Nalini Sharma. They are dealt in detail on pages 398-450.
Chapter X entitled “Women’s Poetry of the First Decade of 21st Century Up to 2010” writes about continuity in enigmas of life and realities. On pages 451-528 the following poets are analysed: K Pankajam, Renu Uniyal, Srishti Sehgal, Purnima Ray, Rita Nath Keshari, Indira Babbellapati, Rizio Yohannan Raj, Sreyashi Ghosh, Nita S Nagarsekar, Janet Wilson, Satabdi Saha, Suraksha Giri and Uddipana Goswami.
Chapter XI, the final chapter of the volume, is entitled “Women’s Poetry of the 2nd Decade of 21st Century”. The chief characteristic of the poetry of the period is contemporary consciousness and cultural heritage. Sixteen poets are analysed here on pages 529-603. The poets are: Meenakshi Hooja, Sangita Mehta, S. Padmapriya, Jose Large, Shernaz Wadia, Sunitha Srinivas, Nita B. George, Smruthi Bala Kannan, Molly Joseph M., Vinita Agrawal, Poonam Dwivedi, Vinayana Khurana, Sangeeta Mahesh, Geetika Kohli, Aparna Chatterjee and Chitra Lele.
Pages 604-665 constitute the Epilogue of the second volume which is the same of the first volume of which I have commented above three long paragraphs.
Before winding up my paper let me add a few sentences about the labour and pain behind the creation of these voluminous books. Prem is a close friend of mine; more than that, like an elder brother and he has shared with me the background of his major works. He told me that he had worked six hours a day for long four years to complete the composition of these volumes. He had to search for the primary sources and materials here and there and collected many books from his poet friends and book bazaars. The impetus behind his hard labour is not profit motive but sheer love of Indian English literature, particularly poetry and he wants to see his countrymen and future generation read and study Indian cultures, ethos, philosophies, traditions, emotions, dreams and beauties. When we examine the syllabus of English literature in our schools, colleges and universities we will be shocked to see that importance is given primarily to British literature, then American literature, Canadian literature and finally Indian English literature. Why should we go on studying these foreign literatures giving least importance to our own? Isn’t our Indian English literature rich and competent as the British, American, Canadian etc.? Aren’t our legends Kalidasa, Vyasa, Valmiki etc. greater than Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth etc.? Then why don’t study their works in English first and then the foreigners? We should be proud of our country and its literature. Indian English is accepted as a separate English like British English, American English, Canadian English, Australian English etc. We have our own syntax, pronunciation, intonation etc which have connection to our own mother tongues. We should promote it at any cost. It is through this English that we speak to the world sharing our culture, history, philosophy, traditions, way of life etc. One can’t understand why the curriculum committees and board of studies run after British and American literatures when they make syllabus for English literature papers. Of course an English literature pupil and student should be aware of foreign English literatures. But the primary importance should be given to our own Indian English literature. More papers should be on our literature and less on foreign. But most unfortunately the practice here in all our States is just the contrary. It is not because there are not sufficient materials for teaching in Indian English literature. The committees are either prejudiced against Indian English literature or they are ignorant of the literature here. They are ignorant in the sense that they don’t care to read Indian English literature created every year. The hang of the British legacy of Indians’ inferiority complex is with them even now.
The importance of PCK Prem’s History of Contemporary Indian English Poetry: An Appraisal is to be estimated based on the statements I have made above. These volumes are gems-like rich critical materials for Indian English poetry, particularly in the college/university level and for those doing research on Indian English poetry. An English teacher who loves Indian English poetry will surely recommend these books to the college/university libraries, and if financially affordable, would buy a copy personally. I congratulate PCK Prem once again for composing such a unique book! I also extend my congratulations and gratitude to Shri Sudarshan Kcherry once again for taking such a financially burdensome project, just because of his love of Indian English literature. He is no doubt the greatest publisher in India promoting Indian English literature and publishing maximum number of critical and creative books in this literature. I wish all lovers of Indian English poetry an enlightening mental feast!