Poetry, a form of literature which uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language to communicate, is beyond just that. In my opinion, poetry is an art form just like dance or music or sculpting or drama or cinema or painting. A writer uses the canvas of words to communicate his ideas. One page of beautiful poetry can contain greater wisdom than a thousand pages of prose. This is because of the unique propensity of poetry to lend itself to multiple interpretations unlike prose, where from, only one or a few meanings can be deciphered. The second propensity of poetry is that unlike in prose, thought and language cannot be separated.
In my opinion, a poem springs forth from deeply felt intense emotions. It may be intense joy or intense sorrow or even intense anger or even a combination of different intense emotions.
The history of ‘English Poetry’ is long and glorious. Today, the English language has spread far and wide and every country has writers, who use English as their medium of communication. Therefore, generalisations regarding the usage of the English language are unwarranted. The term, ‘Indian English Poetry’ is obsolete and inappropriate. The correct terminology would be ‘English Poetry in India’.
English Poetry in India:
There has been a gradual evolution of English Poetry in India. I would like to highlight some important trends in the same.
Our earliest Indian poets writing in English were all influenced by their western counterparts. Pioneer poets like Henry Derozio, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Romesh Chander Dutt, Toru Dutt, Rabindranth Tagore and Sarojini Naidu were influenced by the style of writing of the English and French litterateurs. The dominant themes of these earliest poets writing in English in India were nationalism (no doubt, inspired by the Indian freedom struggle), spiritualism and romanticism.
The second stream of poets like Nissim Ezekial, Keki N. Daruwala, Jayanta Mahapatra, Ravi Nandan Sinha and Kamala Das have written poetry of a personal nature often revealing their mindsets and personal traits. They have written fewer poems espousing larger causes, aspirations and sentiments of the people.
Contemporary or modern English Poetry in India has shown an interesting trend. There are poets like Prof. Hazara Singh, Dr.Krishna Srinivas, Dr. P.Lal, I.K Sharma, Aju Mukhopadhyay, Manas Bakshi and Nithie Victor, who have risen above their personal aspirations and have lent a voice to the voiceless majority of people of our nation. I would like to call these poets as ‘Social Poets’.
Another category of contemporary poets write more about their personal experiences and yet, they end up espousing larger social and moral causes. Poets like Dr. N.P Singh, Prof. Dr. M.Tirumeni, Pronab Kumar Majumder, Dr. D. C Chambial, Dr. P.K Joy, Sumit Talukdar, Dr.T.V Reddy, Allyosha Balkrishna, Vikram Seth and P.C.Katoch belong to this category.
Others, like myself, really cannot be straight- jacketed into any particular category of poets because we write about all topics under the sky. No theme is outside our vision or scope. No theme is taboo for us and it should not be.
English poetry in India is on the right path and is sure to scale great heights provided two fallacies are immediately remedied.
The first obstacle is the lack of availability of the works of individual Indian poets writing in English in the larger public domain. The main contributor to this lop-sided development in Indian Publishing is the fact that none of the mainstream publishers of English literature in India are concerned with the objective of bringing meritorious talent in English poetry to the masses. The ‘Big’ publishers don’t look out for ‘merit’. Instead, they look for ‘recommendations’ and ‘connections’ and therefore fail to espouse the cause of poetry, which they consider not having ‘Financial viability’. They appear to have forgotten the words of the famous French economist, Jean Baptiste Say, who said that ‘Supply creates its own demand’. By publishing more poetry, be it in English or in any of the regional languages, poetry will reach the masses, which will begin to want more. Poetry should not remain a niche genre only for the elite. Rather it should become subsistence of the masses.
The second problem ailing the writers’ community in India is the almost blatant lack of recognition and patronage by the State. We find more people from the field of cinema, sports and other forms of art and culture winning various National awards like the Padma awards than litterateurs, who contribute richly to the growth of culture and shape public opinions. Litterateurs are largely neglected by the State and the media. This speaks volumes of a nation, which was known to pride itself for encouraging writers and dramatists. An outstanding example of state patronage is Poet Kalidasa, who received the patronage of the Gupta rulers in ancient India.
The ultimate goal of every poet is to have his works read and the many messages of the works must be deciphered and interpreted according to the individual sensibilities of the readers. I pray that all writers, writing in whatever language, get their due, in both respect and remuneration. A writer must not be judged only on the basis of the awards that he wins or does not win. The ‘Sahitya Akademi Awards ‘or ‘the Padma Awards’ are not the only yardsticks of judgement for a writer’s success nor for that matter, ‘The Booker’ or ‘The Nobel Prize’. A writer and his works are more than that. The literary contribution of a writer contains his soul and summarizes his life. A writer should be judged on the basis of his merits and talents, which should be recognised and honoured. Literature and litterateurs must be celebrated as national and global treasures.
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