Wednesday, July 23, 2008


The title may perhaps create an impression of painful loneliness, in mind and body. R K Singh is a daring experimenter. He has explored the human (more of men’s) mind in the area of sexual thoughts which are enjoyed as gossips or fantasies or vulgar jokes in small groups but never admitted openly. The intellectual and creative poet in him has not stopped at the cross level in which men often enjoy their sexual thoughts.

Using those similes, metaphors and imageries, he has in fact explored the whole of contemporary life: the human dilemmas; the decay of current day academics; nature; political satire; and also deeper aspects of philosophy of life. I liked all poems but some of them tease me with puzzles that is because they give multiple imagery. The economy of words gives a crisp reading, though at times it can become a brain teaser.

The poem PEACE MISSION is relatively straightforward :

... so much of corruption
in the system
of world peace

As he goes on in two small stanzas, the narrator rises with UN peace keeping system in dollars and earnings

…”while I worry about
freedom in Congo
untamed humans
safe sojourn”

This is a poetry without any sexual imagery. There are several such poems in this collection.

Then one comes about the plight of the academia with the title Abusing in Sleep” with bed imageries:

the academia that care
a tuppence for native
geniuses that unmake
the imported mates who
dovetail media to flourish”

The whole poetry poignantly brings out the slavish mentality with which the entrenched academia deal with native Indian English writers.

The satire on Human Rights activism is very insightful.

“Eyeless Jagannath” is a masterly poem, which ends as :

“……. Don’t blame the poets;
there is too much emptiness
and gloom to ignore”

R.K.Singh has explored such emptiness and gloom in many of his poems in this collection. Sexual imagery comes in handy. Some poems which I like very much include e “Broken Wishes”, “Group Dance”, “Liberation”, “Sexless Solitude”, “I Hang Nobody’s Picture”, “Portraits We Fear to See”, “ Body: A Bliss”, “Orgasm”, “Sodomy”, “Nude Origin”, “I’m Different”, “Perfumed Bar”, “Realisation”, “God, Sex and the World”, and “Shiva’s Third Eye”. There are also some painful parts of life e.g. about the blind in “Too Painful” and some mind probing ones, as in “Is This All”:

“With prayer’s cocktail
live animal existence
and boast, is this all?

in self-same cocoon
fungus of illusions grow
toadstools of damned tract”

The poem on “God” is an excellent philosophical and insightful one, with seven, three-line stanzas. Similarly, “Holi” brings out the contemporary human dilemmas with rituals which span all religions.

“I am No Moses” and “I am No Jesus” are very thought provoking. The later with seven stanzas begins and ends with:

“I am no Jesus
but I can feel the pains
of crucifixion”

These are the pains of the sensitive mind and a creative genius exploring the emptiness and gloom of the contemporary world.

“Wisdom” is a remarkably hopeful poem though it starts of with the travails of a sensitive soil.

There are also some nuggets about nature, “River’s Song”, “Snake”, “Rainbow”,
containing societal metaphors. The poems “Nirvana-1” and “Nirvana-2” delved deep into philosophy of life in simple words but rich imageries.

“When I Stopped” is another poem that looks like an autobiography of many Indians. It has a beautiful hopeful ending as also the poem “Long Trip” at the end.

The last poem “It Hardly Helps to Teach” is a beautiful assertion of self-reliance in life:
“no one learns from others
and it hardly helps to teach”

It is such a truthful boldness of expression that sets apart R K Singh from many others. He has no fears. He is incisive in searching and exploring and bold in expressions. He is also blessed with sweetness of the language.

When you read this book neither will you feel sexless nor will feel a solitude. It will invigorate you to live a full life.

Y S Rajan

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

Sunday, July 13, 2008


G.D. Barche. Interpreting Literature: A Myth and a Reality. (Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2008). Pages 197, Price Rs. 175/-. ISBN 978-81-7977-269-0

Interpreting a text is a knotty affair, from impressionistic, didactic, moralistic, humanistic or spiritualistic to mythic, modernist, structuralist, postmodernist, diasporic, pragmatic, etc. G.D. Barche is aware of the pitfalls of various critical approaches and theories, as he tries to locate the meaning of various literary texts. He recognizes the significance of the writer’s language in context.

Stylistics, with its armoury of analytical weapons, gives importance to form and exposes how something is expressed. One cannot do a stylistic analysis of a poem or fiction without some basic knowledge of linguistics, structuralism and poststructuralism; grammatical categories such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs etc, and noun phrases,

Verb phrases, clauses, collocations etc; syntax, diction, and vocabulary; metaphor, sound and prosody features etc (in poetry); and point-of-view and speech and thought presentation, understanding of the function of speech and dialogue (in fictional narratives); textual and rhetorical aspects – formal description, meditative reflection and metonymic dimension of style.

While the text’s intrinsic linguistic meaning or formal properties are basic to Barche’s understanding, he applies certain extrinsic contextual factors that are taken to affect the meaning of language in discourse. He effectively demonstrates how pragmatic meaning, for example, can complement semantic meaning, as he draws on ideas and experiences outside the text to formulate his interpretation. The process of his interpretation rests on cues in the text which have a different significance, or are significant to a different extent.

Barche’s book does not deal with stylistics as a discipline, rather it provides stylistic analyses of about 35 poems, 20 novels, and two plays. The focus of his analysis is not so much on analysis of the text itself but on analysis of the factors determining the meaning of a text in its social and spiritual context. His discourse-analytical approach to style in literary works is positioned against Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Upanishads, the Bhagwad Gita, concepts such as klesa and citta-vrittis; layers of consciousness and ideals of detachment, freedom, love and self; myths of sin, fall, and suffering; symbols of Shikhandi, Sisyphus, Phoenix and Icarus, Adam and Eve, Purnima and Amavasya etc; and ironies, ambiguities and existential dilemmas that control the text or relate it to different contexts.

Throughout the 26 essays, composed to demonstrate how the written words relate to what is really meant, there is an intuitive presence of Patanjali’s citta-vrittis and the various Upanishads that are the contexts of Barche’s interpretations. He also regards the reader’s autonomy vis-à-vis the text, and begins with an example of the reading and interpretation of Arun Kolatkar’s ‘Makarand’, drawing our attention to what is known as the ‘schema’ theory. However, he quotes H.G. Widdowson to caution that given the unspecific and ambiguous poetic meanings, “there is no such thing as a definitive interpretation.”

In his detailed analysis of a couple of poems by Kamala Das, Barche notes that the poet effectively gives vent to her “implicit or explicit anger” caused by klesas and nourished by viparyaya vritti. He also compares some of her poems with those of Sylvia Plath, who is equally experientially deep and psychologically complex but a victim of the viparyaya vritti which accounts for her deep-seated anger, pain and sufferings.

In another essay, Barche examines the ‘Sun motif’ in about twenty post-independent poets who show a secular rather than religious interest in the Sun. He also deals with Sunita Jain’s poetry to reflect on the ‘coupling’ complex, i.e. convergence of physical, mental, emotional, and positional elements in man-woman relationship. In yet another essay he demonstrates the rejuvenating (‘Phoenix’) aspects as against the depleting (‘Icarus’) aspects of sex a la the Chandogya Upanisad’s ‘Vamdevya Chant’ (Udgitha—Pratihara—Nidhana) in R.K.Singh’s erotic poetry.

Among the words of fiction, Barche explores the built-in Nature-Culture forces in the protagonists of Arun Joshi’s The Strange Case of Billy Biswas and Nguigi Wa Thiongo’s The River Between. He creates the stylistic context for acquiring the tyaga vritti for ‘nitya’ (as against ‘anitya’) for everlasting blissful state.

His study of Anita Deasi’s Bye Bye Black Bird and Arun Joshi’s The Strange Case of Billy Biswas shows the process of alienation and rehabilitation via a 3-tier operation, viz. construction, deconstruction and reconstruction. If the characters in the two novels fail to experience rest and joy, it is because do not accept the Upanishadic truth that a man’s destiny is to keep journeying non-stop.

Barche’s approach enables him to deconstruct the deconstruction in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things to help grasp the ‘why and how’ of things that happen in “ever puzzling and peculiar ways in this world.” He also examines facets of feminism in Indian English fiction, concentrating on Shashi Deshpande’s Roots and Shadows, Anita Desai’s Cry, the Peacock, and Jai Nimbkar’s Temporary Answers and highlights the paradoxical position of Indian women.

He studies Manohar Malgonkar’s The Men Who Killed Gandhi to reflect on existential ironies; Bapsi Sidhwa’s An American Brat and Ruth Praver Jhabwala’s Heat and Dust to highlight the psychological processes and underlying causes that bring about transformation in one’s life; Shobha De’s Second Thoughts to understand the feeings of emptiness of a woman amidst plenty, recreating the myth of Fall; R.K. Narayan’s The Guide to follow the moral import of the character of Marco as woven in the themes and caught in the tragic human situations without excluding ironies, ambiguities and moral dilemmas of the freedom to choose; and Graham Greene’s A Burnt-out Case to map the character of Querry in terms of our layers of consciousness, viz. kali, dvapar, treita and krutam. He also looks at the suggestive and symbolic instances in The God of Small Things ; the Shikhandi symbol as reworked in Shashi Tharoor’s Riot, and the expression of Patanjali’s avidya in Taslima Nasrin’s Lajja/Shame.

The last two essays of the book concern the study of Shakespeare’s Othello with a vritti approach and the study of Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq with an abhinivesa approach. The former explores the cause of Othello’s fall and suffering in terms of Patanjali’s five citta vrittis, viz. Pramana (right knowledge), Viparyaya (false knowledge), vikalpa (imagination), nidra (sleep) and smruti (memory), and the associated painful (klista) as well as painless (aklista) vrittis. He views Othello’s citta (consciousness) invariably occupied in varying degrees by one vritti or the other but chiefly by pramana vritti, which results in desolation and death.

The latter essay applies Patanjali’s psychology to explore the failure and consequent sorrow of Tughlaq, a historical character as conceived by Karnad. Barche, instead of blaming Tughlaq for his impatience, impulsiveness, lunacy, or overconfidence, locates

A very different factor—abhinivesa—a klesa, a deep-seated passion, which makes the Sultan act in one direction and is instrumental for dragging him down from an efflorescent state to a miserable one in life.

Barche’s Interpreting Literature: A Myth and a Reality, nicely printed and attractively gotup, with its enlightening articles on contemporary poetry (09), fiction (15) and drama (02), all stylistically linked to Patanjali’s psychology for various interpretations, is a major contribution to Indian English Literary criticism. He is original in the sense he adds God-dimension to the triad of writer, reader and text and is keen-sighted. His interpretations may not be the same as the original authors’ or other readers’ but he is convincing.

Barche’s qualitative and emotive approach should help enhance our thinking and feeling about the language and form of the texts he discusses just as his critique should help us appreciate “the man who suffers and the mind which creates” on a broader basis. Serious researchers, college and university teachers and postgraduate students should find the book motivating and useful in their literary and stylistic understanding.


Dr.R.K.Singh, Professor & Head, Dept of Humanities & Social Sciences, Indian School of Mines University, Dhanbad 826004, India

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