Monday, July 29, 2013

Quest for Home and Cultural Identity


Indian poetry in English today has overcome the subjugation to the influence of English, American or Western poets and post-colonial temperament. The whole range of contemporary poetry projects the inner self of poets. Their history, experiences and surroundings are expressed through a web of symbolic representation. They display genuine love for culture and heritage with “comfortable control on universal themes”1, just as they explore “new horizons in contents”2 and maintain the Indian spirit. Obviously, they are conscious of the country’s multi-lingual and multi-religious reality and seek to present a synthesis of the nation’s diversity and differences. They share the common nationalistic spirit irrespective of belonging to any sub-categories such as metropolitan, cosmopolitan, regional, migrant, or diasporic.

Expatriate poets such as Agha Shahid Ali, Meena Alexander, Saleem Peeradina, Vijay Seshadri, Ravi Shankar, Jeet Thayil, Mani Rao, Debjani Chatterjee, ReetikaVazirani, Bibhas De, Shanta Acharya,  Sudeep Sen, and Raman Mundair etcetera make a considerable contribution to the growing oeuvre of Indian English poetry. The themes of their poems demonstrate regional/national/multicultural sensibilities.

For instance, some of Saleem Peeradina’s  most successful poems in First Offence (1980) are “those dealing with Bombay life, and its sights and sounds with understanding and admiration.” 3 Sudeep Sen’s poetry seems to have varied number of setting which ranges from “India to Italy, and America to South Africa and he moves with effortless ease from Mathura to Hiroshima, and Kali to Dali, perfectly at home with all.”4  Sen negotiates the settings of a Mediterranean country in the poem ‘Mediterranean’ recalling his own earlier experiences at home: “A bright red boat/Yellow capsicums//Blue fishing nets/Ochre fort walls….//My lost memory/White and Frozen//now melts colour ready to refract.”5  

Raman Mundair is another expatriate Indian poet who recounts her Indian background using English as a medium with time to time input of Punjabi, Urdu, and Hindi terms. According to Cecile Sandten, her collection  Lovers,Liars, Conjurers and Thieves is “centred around themes such as a strict patriarchal hierarchy which is criticized, child abuse, domestic violence, a child’s sexuality, love, desire,the body, wounds and blood. It is also about a Muslim boyfriend, immigration to Canada, immigrant disillusionment or racist murders, and it is also inspired by the Hindu epic the Ramayana, and accounts and aspects from the Indian religious and everyday life.”6

Against such a perspective, commonly noticed in migrant poets, an attempt has been made to analyse the quest for identity inTabish Khair’s poetry. At a recent event, to a question from Bill Ashcroft “whether he is an ‘Indian’ writer, Tabish Khair said that he is an Indian writer who comes from Patna , Bihar.”7 His poetry testifies to this statement. It is also the migrant sensibility which compels him to return to his roots via memory. The past which holds the present and the future determines his poetry. Despite living in Denmark, he is nostalgic for the original homeland.

The poet unwraps the sights, scenes, senses of small-town from the treasure of his memory. In ‘Summer Senses’ he writes:
The soft, sweet smell of his hookah,
The starched smell of her sari,
The smell of mangoes ripening in the straw,
               Of water cooling cement roofs, of khus,8 (WPLM.15)

In the “winters and immigrant wilderness of snow,” that is, Denmark, he misses  this olfactory sense, which connects him to the lifestyle of the small town.
The unfading memory is also unchainable, flowing with the current of consciousness. The childhood experiences, culture, tradition, religion, faith, myths, folklore, history, space, ancestors, and ancient authors in a web of symbolic representation form a metaphor of memory.

Khair through his narrative poems recreates his childhood. He recalls flying kites and related preparation and fun, as a small boy:
                 Roofs were the runaway of our flights, the cockpit
                 From which we monitored our dogfights of paper
  And tight skeletons of wood. Danger lurked
  In the corner of the eye with no computerized beep
            Of warning, and sometimes trees jumped at our kites.   (WPLM.76)

Here, the poet  mourns over the present day children who miss such games of adventure and learning. The childhood made mechanized with video games which  “Are the mythical cursors, the dots, dashes and demons, /of your computer screen?” is now deprived of the fun he had at home.

He intensely collects the strings from the past to restore what is lost. The re-construction of ancestral home and relationships helps him negotiate his traumas as a beleaguered migrant, who is conscious of exile, alienation, unacceptability, dislocation, hostility, and homelessness. He seeks to find relief by recreating the concept of home.

In poems such as  ‘Amma’, ‘Kitchen’, ‘Their World’, ‘To My Father, Across the Seven Seas’, and ‘Almost a Ghazal for My Grandfather’s Garden’, he explicitly shows his yearning for an ideal ‘home’ which provides him the desirable feeling of homeliness, love, care, security, and belonging. The poetic presence of his ancestors soothes the painful soul. He remembers his grandmother “In a starched and white sari, the fragrance of soap around you” in the poem’ Amma’. In ‘Kitchen’, he seeks to present the unity in the diverse society of India. According to the poet, it is his mother’s kitchen “where parallel lines meet”. The life lines of the people from different generation, religion, caste, and class run parallel to each other regardless of their origin, purpose, and destiny.  The poet had been a witness at one such point/stoppage, that is, the mother’s kitchen, where all these lives come to contact to blend, share and be in peace with all. The kitchen is a universal symbol of a united nation which provides the family atmosphere to every individual whether Hindu or Muslim, tribal gardener’s grandson or old servants.

The poems like ‘Poem from Outside Muharram Procession’,’Shobraat’, ‘Ganesh Stuti’, ‘Ashvatthaman’, ‘Krishna’, ‘Snakes, Outside the First Book of Moses’ reveal that his mind or observation is not confined to the context of Muslim religion only, but he is essentially secular, trying  to explore logic from every religious source. He writes in ‘Shobraat’:

              Festival of graves; festival of ghosts
              That could not exist for a Muslim, but did;
              Festival not of the past but of memories   (WPLM.13)

In the last line of this poem he regrets his inability to remember “Festival of rolls I cannot read, names forgotten”, so his agenda in the poem is to celebrate “memories”, “death in life, and life/In death” through the festival.

Tabish Khair is philosophical in the ways he replicates the thoughts of the masters and maestros like Kalidasa, Kabir, Ghalib, V.S Naipaul, Rumi, Karen Blixen,and H.C Anderson. In the poem ‘Such Richness Fills The Aspects Of This Earth’ he writes:

                 Such richness fills the aspects of this earth,
   Each man’s a beggar seeking alms of worth.9 (MOG.45)

The poet perceives  the world is so rich that in its comparison man is a beggar--rich or poor—ever  in search of ‘alms’ that is worth satisfying. This poem is a transcreation of the couplets of Ghalib, perhaps recalled by the poet from memory. The poet frames himself with the spirit of Ghalib while mediating between his inner self and the missing homeland. He demonstrates that the opinion of Ghalib has a similar kind of persuasion in him. As a  spiritual soul he turns to these maestros, testifying to his personal disenchantment while living abroad. 

The things which are beyond his reach as a physical being is acquired by configuring self in the spiritual unification with Ghalib, Kabir, and Rumi, etc. Khair’s active personal voice and expression is transmuted with the shared experiences/feelings of the classics.  This is done through translation or transcreation , a mode in which the source text is as important as  the target text. Translation which Khair does is always in accordance with the original author and his sensilbility. The selection of these verses, couplets, or stories is purposely made as part of his search for identity. In ‘No Hope In The Morning Light’, he writes:

                  No hope in the morning light.
   All faces hidden from sight.

The day of death is fixed:
  Why can’t I sleep at night?

  I know the way to heaven,
                But prefer to turn aside. (MOG.40)

The lines clearly state the helplessness and restlessness of the poet. Ghalib in the 19th century may have written it in a spiritual context but here, if we notice the mindset of the translator, then we find the transparency of agony Khair feels a là Ghalib.

Similarly, deriving from Kalidasa’s play Abhijnana-Shakuntalam in the poem ‘Arrival’, the poet reconstructs the story of Shakuntala in the hardship of an expatriate who is afflicted by a sense of dislocation, alienation, displacement, loss, and regret:

She sees for the first time those eyes outside the lost home.
She hears for the first time the streets of her lost town.
Soon their absence will fill her with the nectar of nostalgia,
a glass of half-lies she will have to drain to the dregs before
                       She sees reflected in its emptiness the truth of her loss: how
how memory can be either opium or the forge of anger. (MOG.19)

Khair voices his grief as Shakuntala does when detached from her home.The unexpected difference between the desired imagination and the actuality of world complicate the position of Shakuntala as well as of Khair in the acquired society.

The historical sense, myths and folklores occupy a decent part in his poetry. Poems like ‘Three Tribes’, ‘History’, ‘mohenjodaro: bric-à-brac’, ‘The Vanished Dravidians’, ‘Gup-Shup(Gossip):Siddharth Becoming Buddha’, ‘Pomegranate(Anaar)’, ‘Birth and Marriages’ evince the Indian history and ethos.

Tabish Khair is an Indian English poet whose concerns are about India. He is a cosmopolitan whose poems deal with small-town culture, sights, shared experiences, history through a burning nationalistic spirit. His style is simple, rich in metaphor and irony. Sometimes he may lack clarity in the images and expressions but, as a migrant he effectively negotiates the factors of exile, homelessness, rootlessness, dislocation, disillusionment, and despair. 

He views himself first and foremost as a human being, not allowing any lesser identity to narrow his self-perception: 

             I who am not of the East
             Nor of the West, un-Christian,
             Not Muslim or Jew, neither
             Born of Adam nor Eve,
             What can I love but the world itself,… (WPLM.104)

But included in this primary identity he also has various concerns—or other identities—that he identifies himself with. He conveys the cry of Rumi, in an attempt to match his personal response with proximity to the Persian poet’s sensibility.

Khair writes poems in free verse. He declines the forms of “chopped-up prose”10 for poetry and prefers the pattern of “chop up narratives.”11 His  narrative verse which appears to be very simple in form and content consists in multiple layers of themes rooted in Indian culture and heritage.

Apart from migrant sensibility, he possesses a refined mind as obvious from his attempt to identify himself with classics and great names in literature, religion, philosophy or arts. This also reflects his choices that are elevating the mind and the soul in an otherwise demotivating environment of the West. 

In his verses he reflects with imagery that are typically bound to his ‘home’ culture/tradition markers, for example ‘Ganesh Stuti’(with which begins the collection WPLM), “Boarsi”, “Ya Hassan,Ya Hussain”, shobraat-“halwa”, “Murgh Musallam, Shahi Korma, Seekh Kabab, Pulao, Makuti.”, “Mango Recipes”- “Tarkari, pickle,chutney”, “pauroti”, “Ramphal”. “Kishenbhog”, “bangles of glass”, “magical, medicinal, sacred” – turmeric, “muezzin”, “Bara- singha”, “ Khaki shorts”, “dupatta”, “Biharichokkra”, “Banarasi sari”, “the trunk of kathal”, “dhaba”, “ Padh-kéPhook-Na”, “peepul denote /divinity of sorts”, “school-darbaan”, “table”,   “chulha-smoke”,  “mud village”, “cowdung fuel”, “rickshaws”,“terracotta”, “Ammi”, and “Amma”. Khair’s sensibility is more inclined to the local than higher aesthetic aspects except when he looks towards the great classical minds for inspiration and motivation. 

To sum up,  the poet demonstrates  a migrant sensibility with a peculiar vision for his ‘home’ and ‘culture’. In his vision, he is determined to restore the connection which identifies him with those he loves. He seeks inner freedom, equality and unity, the inner realities of his self, and enriches the larger collective life. His search for identity is his search for oneness – ekatva—with the rest.


1. Prem, P C K. English Poetry in India: A Comprehensive Survey of Trends and Thought Patterns. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2011. ix. Print.
2. Ibid.
3. Naik, M.K. Narayan, Shyamala A. Indian English Literature 1980-2000: A Critical Survey. Delhi: Pencraft International, 2001. 167. Print.
4. Ibid., 173
5. Sen, Sudeep (ed).The Yellow Nib: Modern English Poetry by Indians. Belfast: Seamus Heaney Centre For Poetry Queens University, 2011.
6. Sandten , Cecile. “Looking Beyond The Surface.”Kavya Bharati 17 (2005): 187-188.
7. T,Vijay Kumar. “Indian Literature –At Home in the World.” Muse India Issue 48: Mar-Apr 2013.Web. 11 mar 2013.
8. Khair, Tabish. Where Parallel Lines Meet.New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2000. Print. Abbreviated as WPLM  in subsequent quotations in the text.
9. Khair, Tabish.Man Of Glass. New Delhi: HarperCollins and The India Today Group, 2010. Print. Abbreviated as MOG in subsequent quotations in the text.
10. Khair, Tabish. “Preface.”Man Of Glass. New Delhi: HarperCollins and The India Today Group, 2010. xi-xii. Print.
11. Ibid.

-- Namrata Prerna Horo, M.Phil, ISM,  Dhanbad
--R K Singh, Professor, Dept of HSS, ISM, Dhanbad   

The article published in Poetcrit, Vol. 26, No.2, July 2013, pp. 83-87


Monday, July 22, 2013

Poems published in The Dance of the Peacock

 My poems appear in The Dance of the Peacock (2013):


They make my face
ugly in my own sight
what shall I see in the mirror?

there is no beauty
or holiness left
in the naked nation:

the streams flow dark
and the hinges of doors moan
politics of corruption

I weep for its names
and the faces they deface
with clay dreams


My shrinking body
even if I donate
what's there for research?

devil in the spine
abusing tongue in sleep
or bleeding anus

defy all prayers
on bed or in temple--
the same heresy

oozing and stinking
onanist excursion
dead or alive


I've outlived
the winter's allergies
and depressing rains
in a human zoo

I can live
my retirement too
without pension and medicare:

the wheelchair doesn't frighten
I can live

uncared and unknown
survive broken home
the numbness of the arms
the pain in the neck
and inflation too


What is there to relish in heaven
if the vulgarity of relationship haunts
even after retiring from earth?

the loose threads of yearning criss-cross memory
I can still feel the river's twisted  flow
toward lower reaches, exhausted and stripteased

the nudity of moon and stars is beyond touch
who cares I evolve or end like them
suspended from a plane I can hardly reach?


Away from home in academics
sex philosophy and religion
I've been skeptic about all these years
revels of hell in lost memories

couldn't be a new dialect for spring
turn nude with refreshing orgasm

I still wander in my mind with fire
but no heat or light, sterile emotion
routs the spirit to live making
all presences dark and absence

fears are no bread from heaven
nor unfilled emptiness any sky

yet the eagle flies with wide eyes
nose opened to stinking patches
the mud- and ghostscapes that yield
mandate for dreams wrapped in nightmares:

I live preying for liberation
and decay with divinity

Published from: Hidden Book Press, 109 Bayshore Road, Brighton,  Ontario,  Canada,  K0K 1H0

Monday, July 15, 2013

Haiku on Revista Biografia


Reads his eyes
in the mirror--


Clings to the body
her wet red saree
waving wrinkles


my birth Buddha
lucky red


my birth Buddha
sitting on silk scarf--


small shoots pop up
fade soon in scorching sun:
life force humming


Angels whisper
when sleepless I look up--
a bad rap


Lonely sunrise--
birds flying away in search
for worms in ash

Todos os Direitos Autorais Reservados ao Autor 

Haiku from بر كرانه جهان

تمام شب، باران
تنها سرپنـاهِ زن
سقفِ سوراخ

All night rain
the gaping roof
her shelter

Monday, July 08, 2013





Biplab Majumdar, an emerging voice from West Bengal, writing for more than two decades in English and Bangla, is no exception to one of the recent trends that reflect humans caught in the process of dehumanisation. The poet shows a wide eyed awareness of the decadent air that the present modern culture breathes. He reflects on growing individualism, materialism, hypocrisy, environmental degradation, extremism, moral degeneration etc. Through his poems, Majumdar expresses the tale of humanity and benevolence. In an interview with Anil K. Sharma, he states:
       I prefer to speak for mankind in the voice of the unheard. My deeds and my creations speak for the deprived lot. I am not an active member of any social organisation and political party; neither am I leftist or rightist. But contemporary events are reflected in my writings. As a poet and writer, I think my duty is to present my thoughts, beliefs, reactions, protest, philosophy of life etc before the world in an aesthetical and artistic manner.”1
With such a wide range of subject and evolving thought pattern, Biplab Majumdar’s poems evince a blend of philosophy and social consciousness. He knows: “In quest of truth/ In quest of light, I move on/ Along path of time”2 and “Poet’s can’t resist/ Inevitable blows of reality/ They bleed through verses”3
His three collections namely, Virtues & Vices(2001), Golden Horizon(2004), and Island’s Dolphin Song(2009) are characterised by concrete experiences of life, nature, spirituality, worldly woes, aesthetic values, and tradition and culture of India. He proffers an ironic vision:

                                           Milk in polypack
                                                     Who knows when gets a leak
                                                     Life within body4
                                           Below watery epidermis
                                                   there is stream of white
                                                  transparent unworldly lustre
                                                 And some salty insult,
                                                 A terrible vow became muscular gradually
                                                 in every bones
                                                A stony promise picks up a burning charcoal
                                                 in his fist of consciousness5

Biplab Majumdar moralises life and living in poems such as ‘Life’, ‘Discipline’, ‘Humility’, ‘Truth’, ‘Patriotism’, ‘Commonsense’, ‘Courtesy’, ‘Peace’, ‘Righteousness’, etc. To quote from the poem ‘Simplicity’;
                                        Simple living and our simple wants
                                               Faith in god in humble chest,
                                               Keep us healthy, happy and wise
                                               Simple life is always best.6

With a didactic streak, he presents the advantages of a simple life which leads to ‘Dharma’ or righteousness. The poet’s irony lies in his playing with the adage ‘Simple living and high thinking’ or the nursery rhyme, “Early to bed/ Early to rise/ Makes a man healthy/ Wealthy and wise” and thus, sounding philosophical too.
However, the modern reality pertains to have an overall satisfaction from the perspective of wealth and richness. The idea that emerges from the poem is that dharma affects the future according to the karma accumulated7. The poet brings out the importance of human values that often get reflected in the way we live our own lives.
It is true that globalisation is not synonymous with finer sensibility and human sensitivity. Everyone around is addicted to ‘self’:
                                         A man who thinks for self alone
                                                Lives in self made glass capsule,
                                                His soul suffers, the world ridicules
                                                Inevitably he dies of dire suffocation.8

Human beings fail to realise their internal enemies that make them restless and often corrupt their existence.
Analysing the contemporary reality, Biplab Majumdar reflects that life is a picture of light and shadow, where good and evil co-exist, yet there also exists a way out that can set things on the track by looking within and changing the self. He is convinced that ‘self-revolution’ alone can reconstruct life and society:
                                         When we are our own enemies
                                                Want to get rid of our hellish past,
                                                Self-conquest is our firstmost goal
                                                Self-revolution is then basically must.9

This idea is further strengthened in the poem titled ‘Thinking’ and even more in the poem ‘Forgiveness’, where he appeals to the people to understand their true self;
                                           Let’s focus the light within us
                                           Our past misdeeds, our secrets sins,
                                           Let us forgive ourselves first
                                           To make our heart neat and clean.10

The poet here stands out for his deep insight. Majumdar seeks to contain inner restlessness through meditation and exploration of the self for positive communication. He tries to mirror his “emotional escape” through “perpetual deconstruction”11 of life which is directed towards the idealist human unity and  universal peace and happiness. He echoes what Sri Aurobindo propounds as spiritual:
it is in the service of spirituality that Art reaches its highest self expression. Spirituality is a single word expressive of three lines of human aspiration towards divine knowledge, divine love and joy, divine strength and that will be the highest and the most perfect Art which while satisfying the physical requirement of aesthetic sense, the laws of formal beauty, the emotional demand of humanity, the portrayal of life and outwardly reality...expresses inner spiritual truth.”12
Thus, the great thinkers, philosophers and radicals held the view that poets are not religious men but with experience of life and intense observation they learn to live life more purposefully. Biplab Majumdar’s vision of spiritualism seems to revive the ideas of the great philosophers and thinkers for the enhancement of human life: “Poets are worshippers/ Eternal worshippers of truth/ To enlighten world.”13

 As a seeker of truth, Biplab Majumdar paints his poetic canvas with the practical colours of experience. He partakes of beauty of nature and without overlooking the negative aspects of human existence: “We live like the earth/ Being wounded, bloody by dear ones/ Compelled to cry within.”14

 In the poem ‘Dead Bird’, Biplab Majumdar pictures the image of a cage that projects the depressing condition of a bird in the following lines: “The emptiness of a cage without birds was/ swaying within my heart”15
Like a keen observer the poet views the rampant absurdity that prevails within and tries to correlate it with the contemporary mindset:
                                           Never you will see
                                                 Butterflies sit for minutes
                                                 Mind is fugitive16

The poet conveys the self-illuminating ideas melded into nature, subverting what Coleridge said in one of his poems:
                                                 O Lady! We receive what we give
                                                 In our life alone doth nature live.17
Further, his poems reflect an awareness of the ultimate reality through the decaying standards of human life and behaviour. With his ironic vision of social reality, he seeks to set things on the right track:
                                                 Adjust according to time and place
                                                  Be strong in woe, humble in weal,
                                                 Keep balance in pain and pleasure
                                                That is life where peace does dwell.18

The poet visualises an idealist midway to accommodate virtues and to face the adversaries with a positive frame of mind:
                                                 Let’s break off the chains of past
                                                 In order to develop a newer vision,
                                                Let’s turn and march on ahead
                                                 To give our life a better dimension.19

Thus, his idea reminds one of Sri Aurobindo’s vision which pleads for an organic, fresh, prophetic and missionary life against the mechanical, uninspiring, flat and complacent life.  

To sum up, Biplab Majumdar is a potential poet who is equally alive and responsive to the present situation of the world:

                                       Wish to mop up the grains of jealousy
                                       from all human hearts

                                       Wish to extinguish all the burning candles
                                       of selfishness with a single puff

                                        Salty pang absorbed in the blood gradually, why
                                        the invitation of alphabets embraces me
                                        so intimately?20

 He intends to make each and everyone aware of the degeneration of the social beliefs and customs that cause the existential crisis. He believes that the need of the hour is to develop a sensitive understanding of our common human situation. Though the anthology English Poetry in India:A Twenty First Century Review (2012), edited by Pronab Kumar Majumder, features him as a 21st century poet, he largely shares the sensibility of the earlier century. The present century is less didactic and is characterised by a greater sense of tolerance for differences, varieties, and a ‘newer’ sense of morality, including sex and sexuality.


1.     Anil K. Sharma. “Literary Legend Speaks.” Contemporary Vibes. Vol.4, Issue No.14, March  2009, p.9
2.     Biplab Majumdar. Golden Horizon. Kolkata: International Poetry Society of Kolkata, 2004, p.14
3.     Ibid., p.16
4.     Biplab Majumdar, op.cit., p.27
5.     Biplab Majumdar.Island’s Dolphin Song. Kolkata: International Poetry Society of Kolkata, 2009, p.10
6.     Biplab Majumdar. Virtues & Vices. Kolkata: Mainstream Publication, 2001, p.16
7.     Subhamoy Das. “What Is Dharma? - About the Right Path of Righteousness”. 3 March 2013.
8.     Biplab Majumdar, op.cit., p.110
9.      Ibid., p.45
10.                         Ibid., p.84
11.                         Biplab Majumdar. “Preface.” Golden Horizon. Kolkata: International Poetry Society of Kolkata, 2004, n.p.
12.                         Quoted in R.K.Singh. Savitri: A Spiritual Epic. Bariely: Prakash Book Depot, p.52
13.                         Biplab Majumdar, op.cit., p.14
14.                         Ibid., p.10
15.                         Biplab Majumdar. Island’s Dolphin Song. Kolkata: International Poetry Society of Kolkata,2009, p.16
16.                         Biplab Majumdar, op.cit., p.14
17.                         Dr.A.K.Choudhary. “The Rays of Truth in Biplab Majumdar’s Epiphanies”. Poetic Perspectives of Biplab Majumdar. (ed. Arbind Kumar Choudhary). Begusarai: IAPEN, 2012, p.13
18.                         Biplab Majumdar. Virtues & Vices. Kolkata: Mainstream Publication, 2001,p.9
19.                         Ibid., p.46
20.                         Biplab Majumdar. Island’s Dolphin Song. Kolkata: International Poetry Society of Kolkata, 2009, p.13                                                 

·        R.K.Singh, Professor of English. Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian School of  Mines. Dhanbad-826004

·        Pallavi Kiran, M.Phil (English), Research Scholar, Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad-826004

Published in The Journal of Indian Writing in English, Vol. 41, No.2, July 2013, pp. 34-40.