Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bijay Kant Dubey : The Ferry Man

When I read Bijay Kant Dubey's maiden poetic venture, I was reminded of Coleridge's famous remark , " No one was ever yet a great poet without being at the same time a profound philosopher" . Dubey's thought-provoking Preface to The Ferry Man is what Preface was to Lyrical Ballads The Preface to the Ferry Man sets forth in clear terms Dubey's poetic credo While going through all the 97 lyrics in this maiden poetic venture of a young poet , I could experience the truth of what Dubey says in the Preface "The stream of philosophy murmurs by from the river of poetry " .

Bijay Kant Dubey does not apologize for the use of English to express his distinctly Indian sensibility. He calls his poetry a pretty 'Anglo-Indian belle" whose father is an Indian philosopher and the mother an English lady . Using a different metaphor he calls Indian poetry in English "an English flower grown up in the Indian Land" . For all that modern linguisticians might say, Indian poetry in English continues to be an enigma , and the contradiction is succinctly put by Dubey in the Preface ,"Oh, the nice medley, the language is foreign but the literature is native" .Thus Indian poetry in English gives the lie to the linguistic theory that a language is rooted in a particular culture !

'"The Ferry Man" is imbued with Indian philosophy . It is soaked in the wisdom enshrined in Indian philosophical works like the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita and the Puranas . The metaphor of the ferryman powerfully communicates the poet's concept of the Divine which he identifies with Lord Shiva as the ferryman who can ferry the human souls across the ocean of existence . How powerless is the human soul without the strong hands of the ferryman to guide it ! The poet's trust in the ferryman is absolute and unshakable . The poet says in Lyric No 10

Ferry across, ferry across kindly
The fugacious vessel of my life .
Oh, Thou Ferryman , my Lord Siva

The poet's firm faith in the loving kindness of Lord Siva makes all fears vanish from his heart when the vessel is crossin the 'terrible sea " of existence .

The conception of the human soul waiting impatiently for union with the Divine , her lover, is a recurrent image in Tagore's Gitanjali . This is in accordance with the conventions of Vaishnava devotional poetry . - the delightful blending of romance and devotion . Dubey, too, makes good use of this Vaishnava convention. Take , for examplem Lyric No 9

The beloved is restless
In bearing the pangs of separation
Yea, innumerable pains and pleasures vex her
The heart throbs fast

And aches deeply
When wilt Thou meet me ., O Lover?

And Lyric 14

The night is dark
And I am all alone
In my house
The soul is restless
O, she the soul is love-lorn
And lying in her sick-bed
Wilt Thou come and see me my Lord ?

Man as a traveller on the dusty road of existence is a recurrent image in Dubey's poetry .

I am way- worn
The snares and troubles
Of this dusty world
Have made me much fatigued

So, I want to lie in a deep slumber of bliss .Lyric No 15

In Lyric No 17 the poet calls himself a traveller who has lost his way

I am a traveller
The real path is unknown , unseen
It is Thou , my Guide, who showest me
The invisible path of illumination

The Ferryman is is inspired by Tagore's Gitanjali. But Bijay Kant Dubey's thoughts and imagery are daringly original , fresh and unconventional . He showed great promise as a new star on the horizon of Indo-Anglian poetry with his maiden venture , The Ferryman But his later poetry shows an obsession with death and mortality . That may be the reason why editors do not show enthusiasm to include him in their anthologies!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Keki N. Daruwalla: A Poet That Dwells Apart

While reading the poetry of Keki N.Daruwalla one is bound to have the feeling that he is being transported to a bizarre world No other Indo-English poet delves so deep into the mysterious inner world of the human psyche as does Daruwalla . Daruwalla writes with a vision , and the vision follows him like a shadow . Whlle reading his poetry, the reader will have occasion to remember several poets . His attitude towards nature will remind one of Tennyson, . His morbid pre-occupation with death will remind one of Emily Dickinson . His supernaturalism will remind the reader of Coleridge . His poetry as a heap of broken images will remind us of the poetic technique of T.S.Eliot.
We can see Daruwalla's worldview in his meditative poem Ruminations . The poet has glimpses of the true nature of life . He can see violence and hatred in the air . They are so omnipresent! Man cannot wash away these evils from his mind , try hard as he will! They stick deep . As violence and hatred reign all around . the natural corollary is death- wish . The poet says

Death I am looking
for that bald bone-head of yours!

Flesh is man's ultimate destiny . Alas! it is a prey to corruption. Neither rose-water nor insense-sticks nor flowers can drown the smell of death .

The drift as it comes to us now
is aroma/stench/nausea
jostling each other

Violence can disfigure the human body . The corpse of a woman lying on the verandah of the morgue , the victim of her husband's jealousy , has a grisly look , her nose being sliced off . Man is submissive to his ultimate fate .

bury him
and he is steadfast as the earth
Burn him and he will ride the flames
Throw him to the birds and he will
surrender flesh like an ascetic.

Can man ever have a cleansed feeling such as one gets while walking to  the temple after a river-bath ? No, says the poet . Nature has a cleansed look after rain .

the hedge smiles
the leaf loses its coat of dust
the scum spills from the pool

Alas for man .!He can never experience the cleansed feeling ! Sin sticks so deep that sophisticated man is incapable of redemption .

I have misplaced it somewhere
in the caverns of my past!

Daruwalla elaborates the theme of sin in his poem The Death of a Bird . The poem has the same motif as Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment Man has to pay dearly for perpetrating sins on inoffensive animals and birds . The victim of the poet's cruelty is a king monal that was engaged in love-making with his mate . The sinner and his female companion cannot get away with the sin . "Why did our footsteps drag ?""

Depressed a bit we took the road
walking like ciphers disinterred
from some forgotten code

The consciousness of sin begets weird feelngs and sensations . The terror that the sinner experiences is more-than-life-size. The glazed eyes and throbbing heart of the dying monal fill the poet with terror and foreboding . Every incident after the perpetration of the sin however trivial has a nightmare horror . The pony's cry as it fell into a gorge drowns even the roar of the river . The sinners are even incapable of enjoying love-making!

Death and nature's cruelty , the two pet themes of Daruwalla, form the subject of The Ghaghra in Spate. The changing moods of the treacherous river are described using unconventional imagery . In the afternoon the river is a grey smudge on the canvas .At night she is overstewed coffee

At night under a red moon in menses
she is a red weal
across the spine of the land

The river's relentless fury and man's unequal fight for survival are brought out in these lines :

If only voices could light lamps
If only limbs could turn to rafted bamboos

The people take their tragedy with stoic indifference .

They don't rave or curse
for they know the river's slang, her argot

What baffles the poet more is man's indifference to the tragedy that befell other human beings . It is time for celebration for some! Women come in chauffeur- driven cars to collect driftwood to decorate their drawing-rooms . Nature's orgy of destruction is not yet over . Fishes in the fields are strangled to death through an unholy alliance between the sun and mud !

This is the frightful picture of the Ghaghra painted by Daruwalla . The world depicted by Daruwalla is not a pleasing one . It is a sombre world where man is at the mercy of relentless elements . His poetry provides a unique experience for readers of Indian poetry in English . Daruwalla is indeed a star that dwells apart in the firmament of Indo-Anglian poetry.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Sri Aurobindo : His Poetics and his Poetry

Many know Sri Aurobindo (Aurobindo Ghosh) as a mystic and as a poet . But how many in India know of his poetic theories? His critical views lie scattered in the numerous essays he published from time to time They are the gems of Indian aesthetics.Being the product of Western liberalism, Sri Aurobindo could successfully harmonize Indian aesthetics with Western thoughts . Aurobindo's essays , therefore, deserve a niche reserved for the best critical literature of the world.

According to Aurobindo, poetry is better described than defined. While trying to analyze poetry through description we make two kinds of mistakes . We think that poetry is only an elevated pastime . This kind of mistake is made by the uneducated people .Aurobindo admits that pleasure is one of the aims of poetry . Aurobindo asserts that poetry is not merely an aesthetic pleasure of the imagination , the intellect and the ear . They are not the true recipients of the poetic delight . They are not the creators of poetic delight, either. They are only its channels . Sri Aurobindo says the true creator or the true hearer of poetic delight is the soul. Poetry ,therefore, transmutes pleasure into the highest form of delight- a divine Ananda (supreme bliss)

While describing poetry the learned among us are apt to make another kink of mistake ..They consider poetry as a matter of "correct and exquisite technique " . Aurobindo admits that in all arts technique is an important first step towards perfection . Poetry makes use of the rhythmic word .This word has a sound value, a thought- value and together they make a soul- value . This power, says Aurobndo, soars high beyond the" laws of mechanical construction ". A poet does not have to create with his eyes fixed on the technique .

According to Sri Aurobindo the rhythmic word of the poet is the highest form of speech available to man . Poetic utterance has a great intensity . Why? .It is because the poets use words in a special way . We use words as conventional signs for ideas . as if they had no life in them! .It was not always so . Words had a life of their own . They denoted feelings and sensations . Sound has a natural property to raise vibrations in the soul . This made primitive languages very powerful . This power was lost when language gained in clarity and precision . Poetry tries re-gain this lost power by making use of the suggestive power of sound .


I consider Revelation as the most stupendous expression of Sri Aurobindo"s poetic genius . Among the Indo-Anglian poets only Sri Aurobindo could have conceived and written such a short poem of immense power . Only the blessed can have the rare vision of the Divine . Sri Aurobind belonged to the blessed few who could experience the vision of the many- splendoured but awesome Divine! To have the experience is one thing , but to put that into poetry is quite a different thing . The poet joins hands with the mystic in Aurobindo in shaping the poem . The seemingly unutterable experience of revelation is concretized through tangible imagery -wind-blown locks, a startled bright surmise, a cheek of frightened rose, a hurried glance behind , a thought ere it is caught - all these capture the fleeting moment of divine revelation .

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

R. Parthasarathy : His Poetic Achievements

Everyone will agree that R. Parthasarathy is one of the greatest names in Indo-English poetry since Independence. .His collection of poems Rough Passage has a three-tier structure . In the first section Exile the poet describes his life in England where he felt like an exile uprooted from his culture . In the second part Trial Parthasarathy celebrates love and human relationships . In the third section Home-Coming he gives expression to his joy of discovery when he discovers his native roots and tries to harmonize the English language with Tamil culture.

Cultural conflict is at the heart of R.Parthasarathy's poems . As a young student he was \infatuated with England and the English language . But his life in England put an end to his anglomania !He was caught in a cultural dilemma . His poetry is the product of this cultural dilemma. The first section Exile. reveals that the poet's infatuation with the English language and culture is under strain . The more he sees alien English life . the more he becomes conscious of his Tamil roots . Parthasarathy says :"English forms part of my rational make-up , Tamil my emotional make-up ". This discovery , which must have been very painful to the poet ,is expressed in the first section . His infatuation with English has taken its tol;He has lost his Tamil identity! The poet's enlightenment is expressed in these lines of haunting beauty

"You learn roots are deep
That language is a tree, loses colour
Under another sky. "

In Trial the poet is celebrating love . In England he had non- relationships . Back in India he has formed bonds of love with his own people . Love is a reality here . A look at the family- album fills Parthasarathy with nostalgic memories.. Love gives one a sense of belonging . He realizes that there is no place like home . In the last section of the poem Home- Coming the poet is in an ecstatic mood, though his ecstasy is tinged with regret.He expresses his joy when he comes back to his cultural heritage . He says

"My tongue in English chains
I return after a generation to you "

The poet feels at home when he is amidst his own people . The poet regrets his "whoring after English gods " But an important fact to be noted here is that Parthasarathy is not perfectly at home with the present-day Tamil culture . Alas! Tamil culture is now devoid of all its former glory . The poet expresses his sorrow at the decadence in modern Tamil culture . The poet says that Western civilization has sapped the vigor and vitality of Tamil culture . Even the language of Thiruvalluvar has not been spared, its pristine beauty is irrecoverably lost !. There was a time when the Tamils flocked their temples to worship their gods and goddesses, but today they worship a new set of goddesses --"the high-breasted card-board and paper goddesses of Mount Road!" R Parthasarathy laments the present state of Vaigai river , the river that flows through the temple city of Madurai . There was a time when this majestic river symbolized the vibrant culture of the Tamils The Vaigai was like the Thames of Spenser , but today she looks like Eliot"s Thames - a symbol of decadence! ..R.Parthasarathy"s criticism of present-day Tamil culture shows that he is honest to the core as a poet , and he is not a mere mouthpiece of Tamil jingoism.
As a poet R Parthasarathy is much ahead of his times .His vehement denunciation of Westernization may not be readily appreciated by a generation dazzled by the glitter and glamour of Western civilization .He will definitely have more and more admirers when people realize that a nation dies when it loses its cultural identity and starts worshipping "wrong gods"

"These ashes are all that's left
of the flesh and brightness of youth,
My life has come full circle:I'm thirty

I must give quality to the other half,
I've forfeited the embarrassing gift
innocence in my scramble to be man."

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Rabindranath Tagore : Gitanjali

A century is about to pass by since Tagore's Gitanjali took the world by storm . The world of 1913 , the year Tagore was awarded Nobel Prize for his Gitanjali, was so unlike the world of today . It was a world which stood perilously on the brink of a disastrous war and people quaked with fear as war clouds gathered on the political horizon of Europe . It was a world sick of materialism ,and despair was writ large on every face . Into this world came Gitanjali as a ray of hope for humanity . It re-affirmed faith in the innate glory of man by pointing out his spiritual potential .

Gitanjali is the supreme achievement of Tagore as a mystic poet . This anthology of 103 lyrics is in the tradition of Vaishnava devotional poetry . But Tagore's romantic touch has transfigured them into exquisite poetry which even lay readers can understand and enjoy . The imagery in which Tagore expresses his vision enables the readers to participate in the poet's spiritual experiences .

Tagore reveals himself as a mystic poet in several lyrics of Gitanjali . The opening Song strikes the key-note The allusion to the Bhagavat Gita adds a mystic dimension to to the opening song : "" Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure " The following words echo the words of Lord Krishna in the Gita : '' This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again and fillest it with fresh life " In Song2 the poet calls God the Supreme Musician and describes himself as a captive caught in the meshes of God's divine music . The poet would like to join in the heavenly music of the Creator , but his voice fails him and he can only stand in silent amazement!

AS I have said, the Vaishnava devotional poetry had a great influence over Tagore . In song after song we find the poet describing his spiritual experiences in terms of romantic love in the manner of Vaishnava poets . The human soul is depicted as a maiden and God as her lover In Song 18 we can see a sustained use of romantic imagery to express the human soul's longing to merge with the Divine . The maiden has been waiting for the arrival of her lover throughout the day But as the night comes and darkness thickens and dark clouds accumulate in the sky the maiden bursts out in anguish "Ah, love ! Why dost thou let me wait outside at the door all alone / '

Charity and self-sacrifice are depicted as the qualities that endear one to God .In song after song Tagore sets forth this idea with suggestive imagery Songs 50 and 54 extol the virtues of charity and self-sacrifice .: The poet went a-begging from door to door . All of a sudden he saw the golden chriot of God coming towards him . His hopes brightened He hoped that his evil days were at an end and would cover him with gifts . The chriot stopped before the poet . To the great surprise of the poet , God held out His hand and asked : "" What hast thou got to give to me ?"" The poet opened his wallet and gave a least little grain of corn . When in the evening he emptied his wallet on the floor , the poet saw a least little grain of gold in the poor heap ! The story narrated in Song54 shows that God appreciates even our little acts of kindness and of love . : God approaches a maiden in the form of a thirsty traveller and asks for water and the maid obliges . But before taking his leave the traveller asks the maid her name ;:" What have I done that he wants to keep me in his memory . ?"

Tagore's belief in the immanence of God in nature can be seen in Song 45 : "Have you not heard His footsteps? " A true devotee of God can hear God's silent steps " every moment , every age , every day and every night " In the concluding Song Tagore's mysticism is expressed through stately imagery The poet surrenders everything at the feet of God Almighty .. Every act of surrender is described with suitable imagery . The poet compares his mind to a rain-cloud of July . heavy with unshed showers . The diverse srtains of his songs join together to form a mighty current flowing into the sea of silence .

I cannot conclude this write-up on Tagore's Gitanjali better than by quoting this comment made by W. B. Yeats after reading .Gitanjali : " these poems have stirred my blood as nothing has for years"

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A. K. Ramanujan : "Small-Scale Reflections on a Great House"

It has been rightly said that A.K .Ramanujan is not obvious as a poet ; the poet in him has to be gradually discovered. His poems may not impress the readers on the first reading , but a closer reading of his poems will definitely reveal their myriad hidden beauties!

Ramanujan has his own personal views on the poetic process . I think we should be on our guard while making comments on his poetry in the light of the poet's own views on what poetry should be like . A poet's own views on poetry are often the will-o' -the-wisps which mislead the unwary critics . If Wordsworth found it necessary to append a preface to the Lyrical Ballads , it only shows the poet's lack of confidence . T.S.Eliot, on the contrary, set a fine example in this respect . He did not find it necessary to add any preface to his landmark poem The Waste Land In making this short commentary on Ramanujan's poem "Small-Scale Reflections on a Great House" I have tried my best not to be influenced by the poet's own critical theories .

On the surface , the poem is a quaint catalogue of things that come into the Great House but do not go out and and also an equally bizarre list of things that go out but soon come back . Even on the first reading, the reader may feel a bit uneasy and he may find the poem a deeply disturbing one in an inexplicable manner . A closer reading of the poem will convince the reader that the poem is a fine piece of social criticism. The poem will assume a universal significance when the reader ponders on this enigmatic poem .He will then recognize that the poem is an elegy on the death of human dignity and identity .

It is interesting to compare "Small-Scale Reflections" with V.S Naipaul's masterpiece "A House for Mr Biswas" The hero of Naipaul's romance detests what Ramanujan euphemistically calls a Great House. Actually the Great House is an over-crowded house like the Hanuman House in Naipaul's novel . Both the houses are graveyards of human dignity and identity . Mrs Tulsi does not allow her sons- in law to leave the house .In Ramanujan's Great House sons- in law share the same fate :

"Sons- in law who quite forget
their mothers but stay to check
Accounts or teach arithmetic to nieces "

Great House is different from Hanuman House in one way . Here there is no Mr Biswas to start a rebellion . .We are , however, informed that sons and nephews "ran away " to join the army , but , unlike Biswas, they do not stay and fight like rebels . In the Great House things and humans are all clubbed together. :

They come in every day
to lose themselves among other things
lost long ago among
other things lost long ago "

Ramanujan has no compunction to club together things and human beings in the list of things that come into the Great House but do not go out . Look at this bizarre list : straying cows, library books , dishes, servants, phonographs, epilepsies , sons- in law and women who come as brides ! Among the things that go out but soon return are daughters who come back as widows and sons and nephews who come back as corpses slain in distant battlefields . Why do daughters soon return as widows? Ramanujan gives the cryptic answer : they were married to "short-lived idiots" !

This poem is more than a piece of criticism of an over-crowded Brahmin household . of South India . It has a universal significance . When human beings lose their dignity and identity they are little better than cows , dishes. bales of cotton and gadgets like phonographs . This vision of Ramanujan conveyed through this poem exalts it to the niche reserved for the greatest poetry in world literature .

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