Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Voices of the Present : Critical Essays on

Some Indian English Poets



Published by: Book Enclave, Jain Bhawan, Opp. N.E.I. Shanti Nagar, Jaipur-302006 pp. 267, 2006, Price Rs.695/-, ISBN: 81 8152 132 3

This is a unique book. A rare one. Also one with an important national mission.

In the current day India when each person is busy carving a space for herself or himself and in the creative world where many are busy pulling down each other or somebody else, R K Singh, an active writer and a poet scaling newer peaks, has devoted a considerable time in researching about Indian English poets. He has avoided ideological or literary or regional filters (or blinkers!) in selecting persons. He has made a detailed study of the work of about 100 Indian English poets from 50’s up to the present. He has made a critical assessment of their work from the literary, philosophical, and social contexts.

In addition, he has shown some of nuggets of golds and pearls of beauty and wisdom through brief quotes and/or brief summaries of some of the works amongst these thousands of poems explored by him.

In his prefatory note, R.K.Singh informs the reader that he considers his present book as complementary to the earlier four books (of different authors brought out by the same publishers) which aim at promoting studies on less known/new talents in Indian English writing. He would feel rewarded if it could motivate scholars and researchers to explore some new poets in depth for postgraduate and doctoral studies.

As he further expands this idea in the last Chapter 20, one notes that the social and perceptional barriers in Indian English writing are at present heavily loaded against many good Indian English Writers and poets, residing in ordinary cities and towns of India. His mission is to open the space for all Indians so that the multidimensional nature of the Indian ethos can be seen in its totality without selective filters. More on it later.

Of the 20 Chapters, 19 are devoted to reviews and critique of poems by different Indian English poets (IEP). Of these, 15 Chapters deal with one individual IEP each either in totality of his work or selected facets of his poetry. The poets are: Krishna Srinivas, I K Sharma, O P Bhatnagar, Laxmi Narayan Mahapatra, Niranjan Mohanty. Shiv K Kumar, Gopal Honnalgere, D S Maini, I H Rizvi, Dwarkanath H Kabadi, D C Chambial, P C K Prem, P K Joy, S L Peeran and R S Tiwary.

The titling of these chapters beautifully summarises the essence of each IEP as it emerges in the details of the chapter, e.g. ‘I.H. Rizvi: A Social Romanticist’, ‘Krishna Srinivas : Quest for Reality’ etc.

Two Chapters (7 & 8) are exclusively devoted to women IEPs. The newly emerging feminine expressions of world view have been sensitively brought out. While one chapter explores expression of anger and sexuality, the other chapter deals with certain other facets of their work “filling the empty internal spaces”.

Chapter 19 explores the contributions of persons with scientific and engineering backgrounds such as Dr A P J Abdul Kalam and other poets. The author is able to understand their imagery created with different sets of filters and is able to translate them into a language more easily understandable by persons of literary background.

Chapter 16 explores many poets (men and women) of the 1980’s and 1990’s and their quest for the present. The author quotes Octavio Paz, who while delivering Nobel Lecture on Dec.8, 1990 very aptly and poignantly describes the essential drive of all these poets : “… The search for the present is neither a pursuit of an earthly paradise nor that of a timeless eternity: it is the search for the real reality.” A quote from A.J. Thomas given in the book : “Here we are: / Living in a world / where light punctures the eyes / sound pierces the ears / and touch scalds the skin / and truth outspoken / corrodes the tongue.”

R.K.Singh points out through many examples how “through sex, a very real presence, Indian English poets have been revealing hypocrisy, meanness, inner complexes, twisted nature, self-estrangement; the world that is beneath our world, the dilemmas that block and fuel our lives, the self-existence consumed by our own self-contradictions….” The eleven pages of this Chapter are full of exciting descriptions and brief quotes from various poems and has 33 references to give choices for the reader to pursue further quests in IEP.

Similarly, the Chapters 7 & 8 on women IEP jointly contain 77 references. An example of Joyshri Lobo : “….since when have I become / A piece – decorative, useful, / To be given an occasional rub, / Cleaned and varnished, / Discarded when age mellows the glitter / And dust dirties the once smooth surface ?”(‘Lament of an Indian Woman’).

In the chaper on women poets filling other spaces, the author points out that “several new collections that I could lay my hands on demonstrate women poets’ sensitivities and struggles that appeal for their lack of pedantry, moral commentary, or unnecessary romanticizing.”

In Chapter 17, which highlights A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and others, the author is happy about the development that IE poetry has a sizeable number of poets with non-teaching, non-literary, professional backgrounds. He has described about the writings of a few of them including The Life Tree by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. There are thirteen references.

The fifteen Chapters on individual poets are done very thoroughly exploring every significant aspect.. R K Singh has very skillfully explored the nuances and the origins of their Indian imagery, even while all these poets are equally well versed in classical English poems and influenced by some of the great English poets of the past. R K Singh is able to identify some of these confluences in their literary works, philosophical explorations and poetic imageries. It is also clear from many examples he has given that these authors have greatly enhanced their perceptional and literary capabilities because of their scholarship in Indian languages as well. In the case of a few authors R K Singh also points out a few specific (not widespread) deficiencies in some of the work and how they are not limitations given the whole canvas they have covered and excelled. He has also a few poets who have brought in the perspectives of Islam and Christianity as practiced in India, thus deepening the Indian cultural perspectives.

It is not a surprise that R K Singh has positioned the Chapter 1 on Krishna Srinivas, the doyen and Bhishma of IE poetry. He has borne the torch (and is still bearing) for IEP by giving them an avenue to reach an international level. His own recognition by the name through a Padma Award came too late. His epic “Five Elements” deserves some of the highest awards of the world, probably held back because of his simple origin as an IE poet. R K Singh has devoted 32 pages for him. The author compresses his contributions beautifully in two sentences : “Krishna is an epic genius, condensing and recreating in his poems the profound knowledge and wisdom of all people and all ages for people everywhere today. It is not through the big canvas of classical epic structure but through poems of short length – readable in one sitting – that he creates these subtle epic effects.”

It is understandable that R K Singh has not devoted any chapter on himself though he has a great creative record : 13 poetry books. His poems have been anthologized in over 140 publications and translated into French, Russian, Spanish, Romanian, Chinese, Japanese and several other foreign and Indian languages. It is worthwhile for some of the readers to read the forty full-length articles on his poetry recently published as a book New Indian English Poetry : An Alternative Voice : R K Singh edited by I K Sharma (2004). Some glimpses about R K Singh’s work can be seen in Chapter 19 on R S Tiwary.

I do hope that Voices of the Present will stimulate many active IE poets to take some time off their own creative work and other employment related pressures to take up a greater cause. Review the work of other IE poets referred to in this book or otherwise and publish them and doing out newer books.

This is required in the larger cause of “a process of collective discovery, affirming its richness, sensitivity and cultural complexity” that has been proven through the potential of IEP’s and the assimilative genius of Indian people. It is what has been described by Mahatma Gandhi that we can keep our windows open to outside winds but not blown off our feet.

In every field, Indians all over India have approved this Indian-ness even during the period of liberalisation, globalisation and emigation.

However, the effects of the political economy of the past and centuries of feudal domination have some oppressive characteristics against the urges of ordinary Indians aspiring to rise up. The observation by R K Singh that “many new Indian English poets have been suffering a deliberate neglect, not only by the governing-elites-cum-cultural elites of India but also by the media and academia…….” is true in several other fields ranging from agriculture, artisanal work, small scale industries, science, technology and “non-elite” academic institutions.

For example, a simple calculation of numbers of professionals in the USA or in India working for global multinational companies (MNC’s) will indicate that millions of them have come from ordinary “mushroomed” colleges of India and are not from a few elite institutions who can train only a few thousands every year. However, the media-myth, elite statements or government attention is only about a few elite institutions. Going back to 100 years ago, the great Tamil poet Mahakavi Subramanya Bharti had to struggle all his life to publish and to live. Even later due to the peculiarities of the Tamil elites’ acceptance of his great talents did not come forth immediately …. Now after decades of his death, he is a hero in Tamil Literature. This is the fate many Indian Language Writers (ILW), except for those who hit the jackpot through writing for films (script or lyrics), suffer.

But the consoling feature is that despite such an oppressive environment, so many IL and IE writers continue to flower and spread their beauties and fragrance albeit to a limited space. The publisher of Voices of the Present deserves to be congratulated for supporting the noble cause with very good attention to printing and format and a good cover. A glossary would have helped.

All those interested in Indian ethos and culture, in whatever form and content they understand these concepts, could do something positive by reading such a book and also supporting Indian English poets of their choice. Young students of research in humanities (not just English but also those who study history, sociology, psychology, education, culture etc) could choose the writings of such non-elite IEPs for their researches, writings etc.

Then they can discover the “real reality” described by Octavio Paz, the Nobel Laureate, in the context of India and Indian people.

--Dr Y.S.Rajan, Principal Adviser, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Plot No. 249 F, Sector 18, Phase IV, Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon 122015 (Haryana).


Thursday, February 15, 2007

her mother on the wall
fading streaks
Professor R.K.SINGH with his wife:

Waking with her
after tasting heaven
no memory


Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Book Review: Dr.R.K.SINGH

C.L. Khatri. Ripples in the Lake. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2006, pages 72, Price Rs. 60/-. ISBN 81-7977-164-4

C.L. Khatri has been a committed promoter of new Indian English talents as editor, critic, reviewer, and scholar. I appreciate him for effectively using his Cyber Literature, a biannual journal of English studies, to bring in the limelight several creative names from Bihar and Jharkhand. Kargil (2000), his maiden collection of 42 poems, further established his fame as an Indian English poet.

Ripples in the Lake is Khatri’s second collection with 54 poems. It is remarkable for a rare maturity in his voice: “I will walk on the highway/naked as a babe with the spring in my soul.” One can feel the irony in his articulation and choice of expression in poems such as ‘Pitrivin’, ‘Brahm-bhoj’, Brindawan’, ‘Summer’, ‘Professor Saheb’, ‘Winter’, ‘Bapu’, ‘Culprit’, and ‘Carrier Crow’. His native sensibility defies answers to the questions haunting him poem after poem. He voices the feeling of insecurity for everyone:

“Every morning when I go out

I pray to Dashanan to lend one of his heads

As a spare part

If I am beheaded, I’ll use it.

If I escape I’ll return it.”


Khatri may sound “crazy” in his depiction of the notorious politics of backwardness of Bihar, but he is not a defeatist, wearing a “spring mask”. He is rooted in the soil, confident, and challenging, when he invites detractors and critics to experience the basic humanity of the people:

“You feel pity on ous to see.

Our buffalo rides, rising cow-dust

On our return home with the retreating sun

Semi-nude, haphazard hair

Rustic tongue, home replete with

Scattered grains, straws, dead leaves…

Don’t shut your nostrils with perfumed hanky

Let your nose smell them. You’ll feel better

They are the feathers of our life.”


He sounds nearly mythical, evoking the importance of Gaya (?) for redemption of sins and final liberation:

“When you don’t get four shoulders

To carry a body to the cremation ground

Turn to us, to rest on our shoulders.”

In his ‘Hangover’ I hear the echoes of O.P. Bhatnagar in a postmodernist vein. He appears, like everyone, tolerant of “hawalas” and “ghotalas” he hears or read about each day:

“The cries still pass through my veins—

cold stolid stones

I go on with my morning ritual.”

(‘Morning Ritual’)

C.L. Khatri’s new collection continues the mindset of Kargil with aspects of difficult life in the country today: natural calamities (‘Life and Death’, ‘Bhuj’), poverty and political immorality (‘Mirage’, ‘Mother’s Cry’, Bapu’, ‘Tears’), environmental pollution (‘Culprit’, ‘Bus Ride’), superstitions and prejudices (‘Tabij’), politics of terrorism (‘English Ghost’, ‘Karbala in Grief’) etc., but here the poet is more form-conscious. Some of his poems do not read as naturally as others. At times I suspect he did not need to use so many Hindi words just as he could have avoided using the French elan vital in

‘Teddy Bear’. Yet the poet’s poems pave the way for Khatri’ to become a potent voice of the 21st century . Ripples in the Lake is very readable and affordable.


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Sunday, February 11, 2007


Rita Nath Keshari. THE POSTCOLONIAL ENCOUNTER: INDIA IN THE BRITISH IMAGINATION. Pondicherry: Busy Bee Books, 2005, Pages 223, Price Rs. 250/-, Euro 15/-. ISBN 81-87619-11-2

Rita Nath Keshari is a creative genius—poet, historian, critic, journalist, and teacher—with over 700 publications to her credit. The Postcolonial Encounter: India in the British Imagination is a critique of novels about India written by British and other Western writers during 1939-1989. Keshari re-visits the Raj with a sense of history and contemporaneity, scrutinizing “certain metaphors and symbols” that recur in India-centric fiction of Rudyard Kipling, E.M. Forster, John Masters, Paul Scott, J.G. Farrell, Edward Thompson, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and others. With a view to seeing how postcolonial India appears to the British literary imagination, Keshari chooses five different aspects for a detailed study.

In the first chapter, ‘Postcolonial British Fiction About India,’ she seeks to explore the “continuation and mutation” of colonialism during and after the eclipse of the British empire a la Edward Said’s ironic note on correction/penalization of the Orient “for lying outside the boundaries of European society.” With a deeper perspective than mere sociopolitical ethos or relationship, Keshari dwells on the discourse of power, hegemony, culture, and identity, and points out how the West has penetrated the consciousness of the non-West. To quote Ashis Nandy, “The West has not merely produced colonialism, it informs most interpretations of colonialism.”

The literary discourse as she examines ranges from Eurocentric values, or myth of racial superiority to celebration of imperialism as a liberal, democratic critique of the colonial system. Authors such as Paul Scott, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Deborah Moggach, Rumer Godden, H.E. Bates, and Valerie Anand fictionalize the postcolonial encounter between Britain and India, “infusing into their texts not only the spirit of a shared past stretching into the present but also a creative energy that transmutes the topicality of their subject matter into enduring human concerns.”

Keshari’s literary and critical survey highlights how Forster tries to negotiate the elusive Indian reality in its social, geographical, and metaphysical dimensions; how Orwell denigrates the myth of British supremacy; how Thompson is critical of the attitude—arrogant, ignorant, indifferent-- of the British rulers; how Rumer Godden exposes the personality problems of the Europeans; and how John Masters reveals the Eurasians’ predicament that lay in their social alienation from both Indians and theWhites.

In the highly readable chapter, ‘Passages to India after A Passage to India,’ Keshari traces the influence that Forster’s novel has exerted at various levels on some post-1947 novels such as The Jewel in the Crown, A Division of the Spoils, Heat and Dust, Hot Water Man etc. These novels deal with the British and the Indian encounter in India, expressing a deep-seated fear in the white race through gender and racial subordination, seclusion and superiority, craving for power, cross-cultural/interracial relation, and attitudes and values that condition relationship. She seeks to parallel the shifting dynamics of ‘us versus them’ attitudes and identity in India (and Britain) after the collapse of the British Raj.

Keshari critiques the post-Forster British imagination vis-à-vis interracial gender/sexual relations and class barriers at a time when the very idea of being ‘British’ is increasingly become problematic, as evident from the well publicized Jade Goody’s behaviour with Shilpa Shetty in the ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ Reality Show. In fact there is no dearthof racially motivated crimes, including verbal abuse and violence, in today’s socalled tolerant, multicultural British society. It has yet to come to terms with some of the darker manifestations of its past.

Rita Nath Keshari’s reflection on man-woman relationship of differing races is further strengthened in the third chapter,‘Marriage Across Boundaries,’ which seeks to analyze the theme of interracial marriages in postcolonial fiction of Hallam Tennyson, Paul Scott, Rumer Godden, Valerie Anand, and Ruth P. Jhabvala. She points to different types of cultural and historical tensions in the marital life of English women and Indian men.She also refers to Indian fictioneers such as Anita Desai and Kamala Markandaya who have realistically dealt with the theme of mixed marriage “as a new paradigm of racial relation outside the power hierarchy that existed during the Raj.” In most of the cases, however, the narrative centres on “a gloomy atmosphere and sad choices” as the individuals involved experience shortlived happiness and unforeseen problems, pointing to the fragility of relationship.

The fourth chapter, ‘Verities of Exile’, focuses on the English men and women who chose to stay on in India after Independence but soon discovered they neither belonged to the changed India nor could find any new identity. They had become “victims of forces unleashed by shifting political equations.” Their fictional representation by Harold Geach, Paul Scott, Gerald Hanley, Deborah Moggach, Ruth P. Jhabvala, and Nayantara Sahgal is “sad and pathetic” whatever their roles to manifest power and hegemony. With a marginalized existence, they simply “offer important footnotes to a crucial chapter of Indo-British history.”

Keshari logically moves in the next chapter, ‘The Historian in the Historical Novel’, to a discussion of some of the novelists who “create in their novels a fictional historian” to be self-reflexive and multi-layered. Besides blending facts with fiction, the novelist’s strategy facilitates diverse interpretations of actual historical events. Here she concentrates on novels such as The Jewel in the Crown, A Division of the Spoils, Staying On, A New Dominion, A Situation in New Delhi, and a story from A Strong Climate. The readers of these novels and short story negotiate two voices “creating a meaningful dialogue about Indo-British history.”

The focus of the sixth chapter the British missionaries who have suffered “untold hardships in India because they were neither supported nor protected by the government machinery.” Their privations, loneliness, neurosis and even suicide indicate their marginal status just as their portrayal as corollary to the imperialists’ mission was in keeping with many Indians’ perception. They also portray the new breed of seekers and questers, for example, the hippies of the 1960s that turned to India for peace and spiritual regeneration. In fact Keshari develops her text comparing the committed missionaries and the deviant questers on the one hand, and growth of neo-Hinduism like the ISKCON on the other. But I suspect here she is not as sound, organized and confident as in the previous four chapters of the book.

On the whole, Rita Nath Keshari’s approach is eclectic, even as she seeks to interpret history with an understanding of crosscultural issues such as race, identity, ethnicity, hybridity, tradition, alienation, or emotional, social, and cultural isolation, search for self and authentic life. In her postcolonial perspective, she is clear, complete and critical, with flashes of insight, in evaluating the Western imagination drawn to India for its rich life and landscape. Her book brings into focus several less known writers just as it documents the contributions of some well-known British and Indian English fictioneers to the chronicling of an important historical phase affecting the Indian subcontinent for generations. Keshari’s book is a significant research document, interesting and absorbing, on Indo-British relationship both before and after India’s independence and proves that the past still stays with us in more than one way.


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Friday, February 09, 2007