Poetry of truth prospers in India’s lifestyle angst

November 2nd, 2011 - 3:34 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 2 (IANS) A genre of realistic poetry in English is seeking the unbridled literary creativity and beauty of the medium to beat the lifestyle angst - and connect to spirituality, politics and roots in India’s growing modern jungles.

The internet is India’s new poetry workshop. Over a dozen portals dedicated to young poetry helps budding writers post their poetry to readers. The writers vary in profile - from the young college student under pressure to the harassed professional.

English poetry in India made a milestone journey in the first few decades of the 20th century when an early generation of Indo-Anglian poets, with exposure to foreign education and life, documented their Indian experience in realistic verses. It moved away from the ornamental sonnets of love and pining - a legacy of a bygone Wordsworthian ethos that reigned in the greater part of 19th century poetry.

The two World Wars and the struggle for i ndependence influenced the sensibilities of modern Indo-Anglian poets, colouring the verse with a measure of aggression and a personalised angst. And also a sense of freedom.

“Poetry helps me reconnect to my roots in Malabar… it marks a return to my carefree childhood days,” poet and novelist Anita Nair, whose debut anthology “Malabar Minds” conjures up the magic of the land to which she owes her allegiance, told IANS.

Nair says she deals “with the sensuous existence that she identifies with Malabar - and of youth and human emotions”.

The poems read like travelogues following the landscapes and mindscapes of a turf where life flows like lazy afternoons - in the odd toddy vends and on the beaches, in the midst of nature, buses and everyday concerns.

For young Dalit feminist poet Meena Kandaswamy from Tamil Nadu, poetry is a tool of rebellion against the system and the “oppression that young Dalit women still face in contemporary India”.

“You have to accept my poetry as it is. It is the only language I know,” Kandaswamy says of her poetry laced with sexual innuendos and spiritual imageries.

Kandaswamy, often hailed as one of the fieriest petrels of the new Indian poetry, reinterprets characters like Draupadi, Sita or Kannagi as rebels “who refuse to collude with patriarchy”.

According to poet Ranjit Hoskote, “In Kandaswamy’s poetry (in the anthology ‘Ms Militancy’), there is an element of self-dramatisation… a result of an acute self-consciousness of having to address the pressures of perception that attend poets, women
and poets, who happen to be women”.

Hoskote’s poetry, on the other hand, threads itself to a personal element which draws from spirituality and the genres of art that he explores in his dual life as an independent art critic and curator.

He started publishing poetry in the 1990s and has translated works of several foreign and Indian language poets.

Late poet Agha Shahid Ali had observed: “Hoskote wants to discover language as one would a new chemical in a laboratory experiment.”

“This sense of linguistic play, usually missing from sub-continental poetry in English, is abundant in Hoskote’s work,” said Ali, a renowned Kashmiri poet who began to publish in the 1970s and used his poetry to chronicle accounts of personal events and sometimes political.

One of his long poems, “Kashmir Without a Post Office”, acclaimed worldwide, gathers material from the 1990 uprising in the valley and its violent political consequences.

The generation of 20th century modern pioneers, which includes legends like Rabindranath Tagore and Michael Madhusudan Dutt, came to be best represented later by Sarojini Naidu, Toru Dutt, Nissim Ezikiel, P. Lal, Jayant Mahapatra and Dom Moraes.

Since then, every generation has witnessed a new wave of poetry. While the 1960s and 1970s were characterised by poetry of rebellion, the decades between 1980s and 2000 have seen love - of a bolder kind - and new oppression return to the creative space.

John Oliver Perry, a former emeritus professor of English in the US, who conducted regular studies in India in 1971, notes “that unlike a poet in English-dominant cultures, an Indian English poet stretches his or her linguistic resources (and those of his indigenous readers) far beyond what is enlisted in their common everyday life”.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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