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Pied Poesy: Evolving Trends and Tendencies in Contemporary Maithili Poetry

Modern Maithili Literature has produced a constellation of brilliant poets who have broadened the horizon of contemporary Maithili Poetry by experimenting with new themes, techniques and styles, eclectic mores, moods and mode of writing and all these have enriched Maithili literature in a number of ways. In recent times popularity of Maithili literature in translation has gained momentum. Indeed, Modern Maithili Poetry is reverberant with strong voices, both male and female- with distinct tone and tenor. The poets- both male and female voices- together protest against the moral debasement, social evils, political anarchy, lust for power and envision a world of peace, harmony and love. Like other genres, Maithili Poetry, with its poetic opulence and beauty, is also being translated in different languages, to a great extent for national and transnational lovers of world literature. Of all the poetic efforts of translation made so far, Dr Lalitesh Mishra's Pied Poesy deserves our special attention.

Pied Poesy is a wonderful anthology of modern Maithili poems beautifully translated into English by Dr Lalitesh Mishra, a reputed creative writer and critic known for his valuable literary contributions in English, Hindi and Maithili. All the fifty five poets, as showcased in the present collection, have been chronologically arranged with a view to helping readers understand temporal and periodic transformation of 'tastes', ' form', literary trends and traditions in Maithili poetry. Their poems are really ‘intense, terse, satirical, symbolic, antagonistic and temperamental in nature’. The Editor has dedicated the book to the poets featured herein. In his Foreword Dr Lalitesh Mishra points out- "Creative artists of the 21st century in Maithili have been given more than adequate representation in this collection with an avowed objective to make a unified synthetic whole with their past tradition in terms of heightened sensibility while brooding over human crisis".

The anthology opens with poignant poems by Kavivar Chanda Jha, the forerunner of modernist tradition in Maithili literature. The first poem 'Quietude' is remarkable for evocative imagery and metaphysical and philosophical aspects of life. This poem is also reminiscent of the oft quoted poem”All the world’s a Stage" of Shakespeare. It is reflective of the poet's unflinching faith in God. The concluding lines reflect the religiosity of God-fearing poet:'I rise up early and sitting/Swot their name dearly.’

Another poem 'Nature's Fury' is a poignant portrayal of countryside life frequently affected and devastated by recurrent flood. The poet is sympathetic to poor peasants. Dual aspect of nature is well articulated here. He sometimes calls the river ‘Kamla’ ‘cruel’ and other times ‘mother’ in view of varying moods of the river affecting the majority of the people there. It contains many references to seasonal varieties of crops. He seems to be a staunch believer in power of time as he remarks:

… can anything be achieved
On one’s might alone
Time turned dim, hostile!

Surendra Jha 'Suman's ‘Dual Song’ is remarkable for nuances of expression philosophizing the even ordinary phenomena of nature which teaches us great lessons of life. He perceives the invisible forces of the Almighty behind each and everything under the sun. He avers:

Sprouting of trees and plants
Is just destiny, ceremony
But blooming is all
Your quintessence

He believes each and every matter is impregnated with energy emanating from God. He presents a beautiful imagery and metaphor of the rain cycle and the cloud to bring home this profound thought.

Further, we find the progression of thoughts from those of philosophy to the hard reality of life. Baidyanath Mishra 'Yatri's “Vulture Squatted On House” is a satire on the society and the mind caught in baseless notions and superstitions prevailing in the society at that point of time. He mocks the ideas which are far from reality. His ‘vulture’ has a symbolic meaning, suggestive of age-old beaten track. He appeals to ‘not embrace any/Meaningless endearment.’

In the poem ‘Alienated in Homeland’, Ramkrishna Jha ‘Kisun’ articulates his sense of alienation in his own land. He is critical of the caste-region-religion based compartments of people who are divided in every respect. However, he opines:

I am alone
Segregated from the mob,
Backward, ignored,
But you must have a crowd
A party to serve the nation

The poem reminds the reader of Tagore’s “Where the Mind is Without Fear’ in content and intent. He gets saddened to know-

I am here,
Why is search for me
Being made, there?

Hence he asks God- ‘Where is my country then?

His second poem“Latent Amour” is a suggestive poem that emphasizes the removal of ‘hyphen’ between two hearts and minds for humanity and love together to foster peace and harmony amongst the people. The poet has a’ distressing wait’ for the ‘removal of hyphen’. He remarks:

It’s you
It’s me.
If this conjunction ‘And’
Is removed
It only turns out
To be You-Me!

Rajkamal Chaudhary’s “Immigration” expresses his existential concerns. He feels so agonized that he doesn’t want to remember anyone or anything. His stay in the world has made him ‘black like wax’. He calls himself ‘Immigrant’ and ‘Urbanite’ in view of the apathetic attitude of the people. He expresses his disgruntlement and disillusionment:

A thought has downed now
To remain unfamiliar
With this Nature,
This woman and the river
To remain unacquainted
With this village,
This bethel
And forbear all pains and pangs
Of being an immigrant
And to remain alien
And all alone

Another poem “Vidyapati’s Impact and Mithila’s Women” satirizes people for their banalities. He expresses his sympathy for the woman whose condition has worsened from bad to worse. Nothing has worked for her betterment. He feels pained to see the pitiable condition of the woman.

Bholanath Jha 'Dhoomketu'’s “Redemption” carries mythopoeic elements and calls for redemption of soul. It is full of intertextualities and mythical allusions. The poet, through the poem, puts across the ‘significance of seminal donation’. ‘Vyasa’, ‘Bodhisatva’, ‘Parashar’, being the mythological figures, are symbolically used. The essence of the poem is relevant even today. Somdeva’s two poems,“Ascension” and “Young Generation '' are important for their authorial intent. “Ascension” questions the authenticity of mythological anecdotes of Yudhishthir’s ascension to Heaven at the cost of deaths of his four brothers. He alleges him of ‘seizing an opportunity’. ‘The dog’ stands for an ‘anchor sheet’ to ‘break the psychic seclusion of their disquietness’. “Young Generation”, on the other hand, satirizes the timidness of the new generation in dealing with the stern reality of life. It is also reflective of unemployment of the youths. The second section of the poem “Young Generation” presents stirring imagery. The image of ‘blown-out-condom’ and the ‘rush of youths in front of employment offices’ lays bare everything.

“Rebellious New Generation” by Mayanand Mishra is a pungent satire on the orthodox society where the parents dominate their offspring, ‘offspring of illusion’ in every aspect of life. He wants the sons and daughters to come out of the traditional shadow of their fathers suffering from ‘Oedipus complex’. The poet is critical of such guardians. He realistically remarks:

We are all lying in
Our graves
With nose messed up
And limbs rotten
Resting in
Our respective vaults.

Dhirendra’s poem “A Coat Draped in Hanger '' is highly symbolic. Coats remind the poet of many faces- an old man, his father, his mother, his brother. But the poet takes them as teaching ‘stiches’ that put across a new philosophy of life. He tries to forget the folds of the coat but fails to do so. He reveals:

….in the hanger of
My consciousness lurked
Many coats of reminiscences
And it’s hard to forget them

Jeevkant’s “A Matter of Joy” poetises even the ordinary days of a young man who takes delight in gazing at beauty of the clear sky, forsaking pen and brandishing country made pistols. Kirti Narayan Mishra’s “Post Existence” is an autobiographical poem which presents a contrast between childhood days and the young days of the poet. Poignant and melancholic, the poem is remarkable for ‘the agony of darkness’, and the quest for existence ‘in a clash of vested interest’. On the contrary, Mantranath Jha Hansraj’s “Odour’” sings the paean of hard toil and labour and thus underlines the progressive thoughts of the poet resonant in the poem. He gives more importance to the ‘odour of sweat’ and the ‘smell of human skin’ than to the smell of flowers and leaves. With hope and optimism, the poet cherishes the odour of human skin.

Gangesh Gunjan’s poem “All for Love” is suffused with romanticism coupled with his poetic sense. He bespeaks of creation and procreation. His thought and feeling brilliantly run parallel to love for his beloved and the love for poetry. He avers:

In fact, by falling in love
With you
I am up to create my

His second one “Night’s Stomach”, on the contrary, is expressive of the poet’s fascination with nature. The green vegetation is more appealing to him. The picturesque description of green vegetation, daylight, sprawling trees, plants and leaves, are the important objects of nature which find a brilliant articulation in the poem.

Illarani Singh’s “Gall” expresses the helplessness of the poetess. She seems to be seeking ‘light’ in ‘darkness’. She feels lost in the existential world with nothing in her hand. The imagery of ‘a gas balloon’ flying away in the sky has a melancholic tone.

“Ruckus” by Uday Chandra Jha 'Vinod', is a unique take on the social acceptance of the things he does. He mocks social preferences. Society has love and regard for the ‘big guns’ who can go to any extent. But when it comes to the common people doing the uncommon things, society throws a scaring look at them. He complains:

When Kaalidasa-Vidyapati marveled
And composed tip-toe description of damsel
It was all great,
When I praised a pretty woman
Din pervaded all around.

Mantreshwar Jha’s “Adoration” uncovers the hypocrisy, poverty and other social evils, and makes a contrast between hunger and devotion. He attaches more importance to satisfying one’s hunger rather than on devotion and worships of gods and goddesses:

Hunger then voices through his limbs
Impelling him to spurn
And deity remains

In “Why did It Happen Then” Bhimnath Jha attempts to find out the reasons for the unexpected changes during the journey from comforts to discomfort zones of life. Mahendra’s “Shades of Time” is short and simple yet an insightful poem on power of time. He tries to unsettles and demolish ‘the history of jungle’ that is always full of storms. Mahaprakash’s “A Face Amid Face-crowd” explores his own shadow in a dark room and finds nothing but ‘a visage with tears’. His reflection on relationships and frustrations in life is agonizing. He calls life a’ destroyed vessel’-

Treasured at sea-bottom,
Overarching mechanized
And destroyed vessels
I am sitting on,
Injured and mourning,
And the face
Exploring the end of
The march:

All are mine
And the countenances are
All known, friend.

Sukant Som’s “Baagmati” expresses the poet’s love for the river as her flow evokes his childhood days spent on the bank. He longs to have fun and frolics again in her lap. He wishes to go back to her with all his childlike innocence. On the other hand, Agnipushpa’s “Perennial Rivers Affection” also echoes the poet’s love for the beauty of the river Yamuna. He stands with labour and struggle for the existence of the river as she has offered him perennial affection. Further, his “Bullying” emphasizes the poetic justice and the karmic consequences by pushing behind unnecessary anger caused by an impedance or obstacle in life. He offers wonderful instances from nature:

In the sky
The moon does not halt
Its movement,
Waves do not get stalled
In the sea,
Not do new leaves
Fail to sprout
On any tree
Owing to any restraint

In the poem “Opposing Sea” Uday Narayan Singh Nachiketa symbolically underscores the importance of love in times of a crisis. He strongly holds that love has to stand against all odds of life, suggested by images of sea, a weeping person, diving fish, and migrating eagle. Obstacles test us and finally let the sea of love flow between two hearts, triumphing over the adverse circumstances. Further, Vibhuti Anand’s “Arthropod” is a suggestive poem dealing with lessons of life taken from the arthropod ‘dhanchhuha’ which keeps giving the flints in the dark night. He perceives in a man the inherent light that impels all darkness of troubles. To realize one’s inner power, it takes a lot of experience of life. And for that, he remarks:

It’s required to have
Taste in tongue
Insight in eyes
And zest in mind

Though sensitive to nature, his poetry is replete with animal or insect imagery. Like the English poet W H Auden he makes use of such elements to convey his ideas.

Ganganath Gangesh’s “Blinding Mesh” is a humanitarian call for establishing in the world an ambience of unity, harmony and peace. He disapproves of ‘a pleasant illusion’, and prefers originality to artificiality. He opines that hope and faith in God alone will uplift us from the quagmire of life lost in the maze of evils: “For Lord Sun will rise up/ Sooner or later.” He belies pseudo progressive people’s ideals as they, the poet believes, are ‘an opponent of development’, who can turn us ‘living dead’. He appeals to us to distinguish between what is good and what is bad for us.

Narayan Ji’s “Water Gets out off Pinnacle” carries a profound philosophy of life that the poet wants to put across through cyclic movement of water, used as a symbolic trope.He remarks:

The water, in its life’s
Notable conquest, bestows
The pinnacle a meaningful

In “When I Compose Poem”, Shivkumar Nikhilesh describes the creative process of his poetic writing while his “War” calls for peace and harmony in the world. He condemns wars. With great conviction he makes a ‘collective prayer/ Across the world/This sacred earth of ours/ Will stand liberated/From war- bloodshed.’

Kedar Kananhas his perceptive “Word” that brilliantly articulates the poetic power of word and stress that even the inexplicable gets expressed through the semantic flow: “Unexpressed was so much/ Within us/Which needs to be told/In this life.” while Deo Shankar Naveen’s “Weighing Scale” is resonant with a secular voice condemning the communal riots and frequent violence rampant in the country. He makes a poignant mention of Jamshedpur, Bhagalpur, Godhra, Nithari, Nandigram, notorious for heinous violence. He is concerned about the human trafficking as well. However, he expresses his bewilderment because ‘all these turn out/ To be a text/ Not an issue of sensibility/ In a post-modern deliberations.’

Sushmita Pathak’s “Unmarked” reveals her grief, agony and despair. National issues affect and distress her as “Whirlwind rises in Punjab/ Tears drop in Mithila.”. Nevertheless, she is hopeful that the ‘darkness’ and its ‘agonizing havoc’ will end and the fresh ‘crack of dawn’ will be there with its happiness. On the other hand, Jyotsna Chandram’s “Sea” is an incisive poem for it has nuances of meanings. She looks beyond and within the things appearing in different shapes and sizes. What is really remarkable is her vision and insight. To her the ‘pleasant sight’ of ‘milky froth’ and ‘neatness of sea waves’ doesn’t matter. What is more concerning is ‘the pangs disguised/ within it’. She beautifully remarks:

People looked at only
The surface beauty of it
But none
Comprehends the sea!

Another poem of hers, “Hope and Faith” shows her indignation at showy and goody goody people. She doesn’t like ‘false smiles’. The real smile springs from a pure and innocent heart:

A pure and beautiful smile
Of an infant
Brings me out
The hope and faith

Kumar Manish Anand’s “Abnegation” presents the poet’s holistic approach to life and the truth. What is appealing to him is looking at ‘things beneath/ on earth/ in their thoroughness’. He denies the ‘fragmented existence of truth’. To him half-truth has no value at all. Taranand Viyogi’s “Sermon” is replete with suggestivity. He scornfully refrains us from looking ‘back at commoners beneath’ as ‘common folks’ will appear ‘like frogs’ from the height. He is critical of the height of so-called greatness of man as it makes us cut-off from the people and society: “Do not climb up the peak/This insurmountable peak/ has always conspired/ To smooth over depths,/ And when depth did not exist/Where will despot go”. His social consciousness is symbolically well articulated in the poem.

Krishna Mohan Jha’s “Father” sublimates the fatherly feeling of a man. Though subjective, the feeling is common with one and all. He touches upon the fact of life that every son wants to be free from the shadow of his father but when he himself becomes a father he realizes the worthiness of fatherly words. The inner conflicts go on between the new generation and the old generation for goodness sake.

Vidyanand Jha’s poem “Debarment” is about the social and familial discouragement which nips zeal and enthusiasm in its bud and hinders one’s ability to grow more. The poet says one could have achieved much more but could not because of this ‘debarment’ as one is always subjected to discouragement.

Sarang Kumar presents contemporary socio-political realities. His “Charlton” is a political satire. Despite all promises, ‘good news’ of ‘good days’ never comes. The poem is also reflective of his disappointment at communal ‘riots’, and ‘idolatry culture’. He is sarcastic about ‘start up’ campaign and sneers at ‘mob lynching’ rampant in the country. Through his “Dream Weaving Life” Krishna Mohan Jha ‘Mohan’ speaks about integration of life. He calls not only for ‘woman empowerment’ but also for the oppressed and the suppressed sections of society and weaves dreams for their life. He negates the ‘world of mere flesh’ for the sake of humanity with its long-lasting values.

Raman Kumar Singh’s “Love in Metropolis” deals with unfulfilled aspirations of a subdued and suppressed woman whose ‘watery eyes’ have fear. Hiccups of life aside, she still harbors dreams and hopes for possessing a soothing ‘home’ of her own.

Ajit Kumar ‘Azad’s “Statement of Deceased” is a paradoxical take on the present reality of the world. With the first person narrative, he feels bewildered at the way of the world. He presents an analogy of a deceased person whose killer is still not satisfied with the death. He ironically presents the disillusionment and degeneration of the people in the waste land. In another poem “Sexism” he expresses his resentment and strong protest against the present communal imbroglio. He vehemently condemns the forcible act of converting a ‘mosque’ into a ‘temple’ and planting a ‘linga’ there. His satire on such a mentality is severe.

In the poem “On the Shore of this City” Dhirendra Kumar Jha deals with the futility of mundane life lost in the materialistic world. His thoughts are shrouded in temporality. His realization is that ambitions, desires, smashing of dreams are all impermanent and transient. He perceives ‘a curtain’ hung around ‘eyes of all’ and endeavors to out across his realized experience of the eternal truth for opening their eyes. On the contrary, in the poem “Human Chain” Dilip Kumar Jha vows to connect ‘innumerable hands/ for the sake of creating/ a human chain’ echoing the ‘message ‘of God. He holds that the ‘soreness of the wounds’ gets healed up in due course of time and life continues on with usual activities and hence people must hold on to hope and endurance even in difficult times.

Nivedita Mishra Jha’s “Assimilation” negates the generalized notion that ‘Woman was at the root/ Of all fracas’ and expresses her own agony representing that of woman. She is more concerned with ‘dignity’ and ‘humiliation’. With great conviction she declares that women never want war or violence.

In “Fragrance” Manoj Shandilya unfolds the fragrance of his love for mother tongue, Maithili preceded by his artistic process of poetic creativity. His incisive way of thoughts spilling out of his ‘consciousness’ is philosophically infused. The image of ‘spider’ weaving web and increasing its magnitude of procrastination is exact and apt.

Vibha Kumari’s “Self Esteem” is a bold and candid affirmation of the poet’s pride in her homely way of execution. She , in the poem, bravely deals with the theme of man-woman or spousal relationship proving that woman is not a ‘slave’; she is known for making ‘supreme sacrifice’ for love's sake. She offers many illustrations portraying women as an epitome of many qualities and virtues; and hence no less than man in any sphere of life. She terms her ‘imperiousness’, alleged by man, as ‘self-esteem’.

The poem “Feral Flower” by Vikas Vatsnabh presents a vivid description of ‘unfamiliar flowers’ spotted by the poet on a ‘woody track’. The poem, symbolic and suggestive, is reflective of the poet’s sympathy for the poor and the marginalized people of society, symbolized by 'unwanted flowers' which bloom with their beauty and their beauty diminishes without anyone watching it. It reminds us of one of the most famous and frequently quoted lines in Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

However, his ‘flowers’ head towards the cities and towns, thus articulating the poet’s urbane sense.

Irony of fate is the crux of Pranav Narmadeya’s “Seventh Threshold”. Written in a melancholic and reflective tone the poem throws light on the predicament of human life symbolized by the poet’s own subjective grief. He compares mind and heart with ‘Kurukshetra’ and himself ‘Abhimanyu’ caught in the ‘maze’. The poem also contains his ‘will to live’ despite all the odds of life.

In her poem “Earth's Vow” Sharda Jha describes the agonizing grief of the earth. With ecological concerns she feels sympathetic to the earth as she, even after giving nourishment to one and all, has to see ‘violence’ and ‘contumacy’. She puts stress on ecological balance in the world. There is a note of green poetry in this poem. She wants the people to shun the destructive ways of the world and protect Nature.

Maithil Prashant’s “Discrete from Fire of Passion” deals with the theme of Platonic love. Like T.S. Eliot in “The Waste Land”, he is critical of the mechanical sex relation between man and woman. He likes to keep away from ‘the conation of flesh’ and stand with a’ flower of affection’. He advocates purity of heart for the beautiful fragrance of love to enable humanity to grow everywhere in the world. Another poem “Question” presents the poet’s different perspectives and views on the beauty of women. From her laughter, speaking style, proud head, body language, to bust, the overall complete physique of a woman is brimming with beauty in some way or the other. He replicates the saying that beauty lies in the eyes of beholders. Maithil Prashant’s poems are thus, woman-centric.

In his poem “Vaidehi’s Village” Anshuman Satyaketu, in addition to exploration and the search for lost cultural and social ethos of Mithila, also reflects on the mutability of life. He describes himself as ‘an incognito citizen’, ‘a rebellious son’, ‘an angry husband’, and, of course, ‘a poet’. However, he is aware of the transitoriness of human life-

I will rot one day
In this isolation
And none will have
A scent of it

Romisha Jha, with her “Religion”, boldly exposes religious hypocrisy prevailing in contemporary society. She refutes the saying that if one hand gives something, the other hand should not know. Her refutation involves a psychological paradigm of ‘paralysis’. She brings home her point that feeling impelled to gift anything to anyone in distress is the outcome of mental, emotional and physical exercise.

“Flesh” by Anupriya is a take on love-ful and loveless spousal life. She condemns men's objectification of women. She reveals-‘For me/ You had turned/To be my soul/But for you/Me?/Me-just a human flesh!’. Her second one “Firefly” is symbolically a poem of hope that is aflame in darkness. She celebrates the festival of light in all her distress.

Pankaj Kumar’s “Monition” is a wake-up call for man and society to realize the importance of secularism. He doesn’t believe in raising the ‘wall’. He is pained to see escalating communalism everywhere in the country. Social ailments such as poverty, malefaction, communalism, fanaticism etc. bother the poet.

Priyanka Mishra’s “Proclamation” evokes feminine sensibility with her subjective outpourings in response to left-handed compliments for her beauty and several so-called epithets used for her. She wants women to be treated like human beings. Challenging the tradition she makes a bold expression and her wish to overleap ‘Lakshman Rekha’ is, indeed, an iconoclastic proclamation representing a new, modern, protesting voice of feminism. She discards the ‘hood of mode and morality’. In the similar fashion, Sneha Prakash Thakur, in the poem “Stoicism” takes up the cudgel of feminism and brandishes it before male-eyed orthodoxies of society doubting the morality and modesty of women. She makes the mockery of male-domination. She also takes to task so-called social ‘Lakshman Rekha’ drawn by male-dominated society.

Unlike other women poets of the anthology, Vibha Jha endeavors to highlight the importance of women in a man’s life. She presents women as a submissive, obedient and docile being. In the poem “Neck Deep”, she expresses the Indianness of a woman wearing a ‘pip or holy dot’ of love, on her forehead, for her husband. She affirms:

I cherish being immersed
With you
And that is why
Wish to get drowned along
For the whole of life
With the same gesture…

Last but not the least, Kamini pops up on the poetic scene with the apocalyptic poem, “Four Lines”. She is concerned more with the preservation of poetry, art, literature and culture in the world eroded by the flood of bludgeoning materialism and commercialization. The poem is conspicuous for carrying the poetic feeling for restoration of human, social, moral values in the world.

To sum up, Pied Poesy, of beautiful poems by celebrated Maithili poets significant for their distinctive poetic qualities, mirrors socio-economic consciousness, social realism, and hard realities of life gripping contemporary society. The book is the outcome of painstaking efforts put in by the translator, Dr. Lalitesh Mishra. For this monumental translational contribution he does deserve our praise. Barring a few typos, and a bit unintelligibility of meaning underlying in translated structures and textures of some poems, the book is excellent in its presentation of thematic variety and semantic and stylistic excellence and hence a must for those who want to grasp, in a nutshell, the quintessence of Maithili poetry being written in contemporary times. It will go a long way in encouraging other translators to bring out translations of other remarkable Maithili poets whose works deserve to be translated for the readers of world literature.


More by :  Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar

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