(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
“It is not the academician but a humanitarian who dominates when I write.”
“The poetry that feels the palpitation of the common man and dares say something substantial about the helpless and the down-trodden, irrespective of caste, colour, and creed, has the nerve to connect itself to the masses.”
Let us march in search of that heaven
where milk of humanity gushes out
and springs of fraternal love flow
continuously; the clean air fills lungs;...
Where Satan and devil
Play no havoc; no Eve enticed into
eternal sin; (CP 69)
This is what D C Chambial feels for the human beings and for them he dreams of creating a world where peace and happiness reign. He is, as Shiv K. Kumar writes in the Foreword to This Promising Age & Other Poems, “a very promising poet, who should blossom into a talented creative writer.” While living in the Kangra valley of Himachal Pradesh, this poet continues to pen poetry collections which include Broken Images (1983), The Cargoes of the Bleeding Hearts (1984), Perceptions (1986), Gyrating Hawks & Sinking Roads (1996), Before the Petals Unfold (2002), This Promising Age & Other Poems (2004), Collected Poems 1979-2004 (2004), Mellow Tones (2010) and Words 1979-2010 (2012). Besides being a poet, he edits a journal Poetcrit which contains criticism and contemporary poetry. He resides at Maranda, Dist. Kangra (HP); and, can be contacted at his e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and mobile numbers: 94180 38277 / 98823 08357.
Arora: Good morning, Dr Chambial. Every poet has his own poetic creed. Please share your poetic creed.
Chambial: Good Morning Dr. Arora. So far as my poetic creed is concerned, it is amply manifest in my poetry. However, to share it with the readers, I would prefer to point that human welfare is my concern. I want to see every person, each and every being living on this earth, cheerful. The human misery prevalent in our world is what concerns me most and I feel upset at this spectacle. My ideas, though utopian like any other writer, yet not impossible; provided, all human beings begin to behave like human beings, those who care for their fellow beings and stop to exploit and oppress the common poor ones. I have firm faith in the views expressed in my poem, ‘Let Us March’:
Bright sun shines over the eastern hill
To balm the sorrow, sore wounds to fill. (CP 69)
It is a call to embrace the world, an invite to all humanity to strive for human happiness and well-being without any iota of ill-will for others.
Arora: What are the parameters of good poetry? Some critics emphasize form, some content while some believe in the fusion of the two. What is your poetic canon and how far do you find it different from the set canon of Indian English Poetry?
Chambial: The parameters of good poetry vary with the individuality of the poet. Form is an external appearance: It is like the dress of a person that one puts on to appear attractive in society/company. I subscribe to the notion of inherent content—the idea contained in the poem, the ultimate objective of the poet that he/she cherishes and wants to share with his/her audience. There is no doubt when these two merge into one, naturally, something beautiful, of long lasting value, comes out. One should always try for this “beautiful”—the eternal Truth— to strive to pull off. As Keats sings in Endymion:
A thing of beauty is joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Passes into nothingness;
Beauty and truth are not different, but one and the same thing. In larger perspective, both these attributes merge into one. Here, beauty should not be construed as mere physical beauty. It is something that ennobles a soul in search of the mystery of life and existence.
So far I, as an individual, am concerned, I don’t bother for what others say or will say? What appeals to me, I put that down in the manner I like. For me, the inherent idea of a poem, what you call “the content”, is the most vital thing. What others follow or imitate what has gone before, what the earlier generation has done [under the shadow of major voices of their times], does not bother me. I live in a society, look around myself and write. There are Indian English poets, who are pouring in books after books, without caring for the language and the content. Poetry is not an easy thing to write, it requires lot of patience, gestation of ideas that stir mind into an action of composing a poem, and maturity—though it comes with experience later. What we give to posterity must come out from the filter of experience. Intellect saturated in experience makes the thing most likeable and pleasing: it keeps past, present, and future in one. Past shapes present with an eye on future. Thus, one lives time as a whole not discretely. This seems to be my poetic canon.
Arora: A poet is his own critic. After composing a poem, he attempts to evaluate his poem as an objective critic. Do you think that an academic poet succeeds in this process of evaluation of self-criticism in comparison to a poet with non-academic background? Do you evaluate your poems as a reader?
Chambial: To some extent. Critical evaluation of one’s own work—whether poem or any other genre—is a difficult task for the creator/poet. For creator all his creation is lovely: same is the case with a poet. One has to be objective while doing so. As long as one doesn’t shrug off subjectivity, one fails to be an impartial critic. A creation is very dear to the artist as are all children to their parents irrespective of their virtues and vices. I think, this element makes the creator to falter in his/her own evaluation.
During early stages of creation, the poet/writer thinks whatever he/she has written is final; though, at times, wrong words also find their place in it. But as one matures, one begins to think that revisions and self-evaluation is of paramount significance.
An academic poet is in better position than the non-academic poet to do so, if and only if he is able to eliminate subjectivity and becomes objective. I am of the view that it is better if left to the critic/reader, who is not concerned with its creation.
I do try to evaluate my own poems after writing them, but I do not know to what extent I succeed. I always leave it to the readers and critics for fair evaluation.
Arora: Generally it is believed that a poet composes a poem for his own pleasure. Is it so in your case? While composing a poem, do you keep the reader in your mind? For what type of reader do you expect for your poetry? Is it for a layman or for an intellectual?
Chambial: Yes, it is true that a poet composes a poem for his own pleasure and satisfaction. When a poet is in trance, he has nothing in mind except the process that goes on in his mind of capturing the images and words as they come to him. His pleasure and satiety of creation reaches apogee when the poem is finished. The kind of example one can find in William Carlos Williams. After the poem is complete, an artist does inspect it like the workers in the poem:
One still chewing
picks up a copper strip
and run his eye along it. (‘Fine Work with Pitch and Copper’)
While composing a poem, only the poem remains in mind and nothing else. My poems are for those who can understand and enjoy them whether a layman or an intellectual. No distinction between any types of readers.
Arora: What I have observed in your poems is the variety of expression and communication. Sometimes your poems are so simple and clear that even a layman can understand. Sometimes you become quite ambiguous even for an intellectual reader. Why is it so?
Chambial: It too has its bearing on the moment of trance and the theme around which these are woven. When, during the composition of a poem, I am in a light mood, perhaps, the poems are lighter in poetic weight that any one can comprehend and enjoy; when the mood is serious, more conscious and the idea/theme that needs elaboration and heightening with allusions, symbols, and images then it gets heavier. Sometimes personal symbols are also responsible for such ambiguity.
Arora: Why do you sometimes attempt to be pedantic in your diction? You attempt to pack the lines with myth, allusions and images. The ambiguity enters when you employ the Indian and foreign myths along with allusions and symbols. What is your stance in this regard?
Chambial: Dear friend, I must confess that I never try to make my poems ambiguous. You must have observed that 99% of my poems are very short and composed within few minutes. I never deliberate on an idea before composition. Myths – Indian and foreign – simply creep in during the process of composition from the repertoire of knowledge that lies in conscious and subconscious, but comes to the fore when I write. I rarely write during the broad-day-light: either I write when I go to bed, or when I get up early in the morning. It is only for this reason that I put a ten-digit number after composing my poems. These include time, date, month and year of composition.
An amalgam of myths, allusions and symbols compels the reader to think. Those who have an access to them understand them easily and others find them either difficult or ambiguous. The element of ambiguity sometimes also comes from the lapse of prepositions and connectives in the process of using economy of expression.
A poem that compels reader to think to comprehend it before the pleasure that ensues thereafter is much higher than the pleasure that one gets from an easy comprehension. Because, at this stage, the reader also enjoys the trance, though partly, of the poet; and achieves almost the same level of pleasure. For this reason, I consider such a poem better than the simple one. What one gets easily gives little pleasure than what one gets after hard labour.
Arora: Your poems have the philosophical touches—particularly Indian. How far do you think that Indian philosophy helps you in solving the problems of life in this materialistic age?
Chambial: Indian philosophy I imbibed during my childhood, when I heard stories from my uncle. He almost told the whole of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Both these epics have remained my favourite. I also got a book of the Mahabharata retold by C. Rajagopalachari. Whenever I get time, out of the hectic activities of creative, critical and editorial responsibilities, I turn to it. During my college time, I also received three volumes of What Life has Taught Me, published by Bharati Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, in prize for academics, comprising essays by eminent writers. All these have their impact on me.
The Gita, to me, is the best philosophical discourse and it also helps an individual to solve one’s problems, if one has carefully read it and tried to put its philosophies in one’s life practically. What has this materialistic age given to man, except tension and frustration? Money is the only means to live the short life that God has allotted us. Has God not created us? While living our life, we have to fulfil His purpose as Milton says. When our objective is to be true to Him, all other things become subservient to it. What has Asaram Bapu got from his wealth? What are our corrupt leaders getting? Their sheen of life is short-lived and they don’t enjoy any peace of mind. Where has this materialism lead us?
The most affluent people/countries of the world are looking towards India and Indian philosophy for peace of mind. Peace comes from contentment in life. Contentment results from loss of attachment. Attachment is the outcome of desire. When one gives up all desires and becomes detached, eternal peace follows him. The Gita teaches:
विहाय कामान्यः सर्वान्पुमांश्चरति निस्पृहः।
निर्ममो निरहंकारः स शांतिमधिगच्छति।। ( 2: 71)
Peace of mind is the greatest wealth that we, the mundane people, have lost in this age of materialism. We have to realize it and work for freedom from it.
Arora: You are quite sensitive to the contemporary scenario. While presenting contemporary scenario, you become didactic in tone. Is it your concern for the society? Does the academician in you dominate you while composing poems?
Chambial: All writers/poets are bound to be sensitive. If there is no sensitiveness towards one’s surroundings/contemporary scenario, one, especially a poet, ceases to be a human being. Even such human beings, who are unable to read or write, exhibit their sensitivity towards their locale, then, how can a poet remain immune. For sure, I have a strong feel for the society: the rampant poverty, exploitation, injustice, iniquity, and corruption corrode poet’s heart and mind. Sometimes, he is angry, sometimes sorry and sometimes he also weeps. You banish all these social vices; a heaven will dawn upon this earth.
It is not the academician but a humanitarian who dominates when I write. I composed my first poem, though now lost, when I was a sixth or seventh standard student. Academician came very late.
Arora: Fiction has dominated the scene. The saleable is hit in the market. Poetry is not saleable. Poetry is losing the reader day by day? Who is responsible for this? It is said that people have no time. This is not an excuse because these people have time to go through a long novel.
Chambial: Very true. Poetry can’t stand comparison with fiction so far as saleability is concerned. Other factor is that one thinks about a theme and then weaves one’s story around that in a time that ranges from months to years in fiction. It is also easy for the reader to comprehend. They read the story, feel attached when it has semblance with their lives. Once it is finished, the book is thrown by the general reader. They feel the amount spent on it is realized. They need not imagine and think hard to reach the level of the imaginative trance of the creator in poet. People, now-a-days, look for that comes easy to them and serves to pass time but for the serious students of literature.
Whereas the physical canvas of a poet is small—a couple of lines—but the inherent idea may span eons. What a poet says is in its highly concentrated form. To see and understand the whole essence of a poem, the reader has to maximize the minimized thought presented to them through images, allusions and symbols. This characteristic of poetry doesn’t and can’t provide easy pleasure to the common reader who is not familiar with this technique.
Arora: What induced you to write poetry?
Chambial: This question has already been answered in an interview with Dr. RC Shukla. However, I repeat:
I was drawn towards poetry when I was still a student of sixth or seventh standard. One day while going to school, I saw a beautiful yellow flower. All at once, I felt an urge to write something on the beauty of that flower, as it appeared to me at that time, and wrote some lines.
Besides, the music of some poems that I studied as a student in my school days captivated my mind and imagination and always echoed in my ears. I still remember the lines by Mrs. Tara Pandey from one of her Hindi poems. These lines seemed as if they expressed my wish. The lines are:
छिन्न तूलिका नहीं है/ कैसे चित्र बनाउं मैं;
जीवन की चिर साध यही है/ कलाकार बन जाउं मैं।
The music, of William Blake’s poem ‘Tiger’, emanating from its rhythm and rhyme:
Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
still haunts me. Though, then, I did not understand its mysticism. In my moments of loneliness I, even now, hum these lines from Mrs. Pandey and Blake. It was a sort of natural urge to create/write poetry. Nothing else. I belonged to a very backward area in the hills where the meaning of education was restricted to the learning of basic three R’s.
In response to the present question, I add: This is how my poetic journey began. It was something natural “as leaves to a tree” or the movement of water in a stream – unseen, unnoticed. Poetry came to me unaware; unaware I followed it. I just let out my perceptions of life as I understand and give them permanent shape through my poems.
Becoming a poet wasn’t a conscious decision, it was spontaneous and the urge has lingered on to-date. As a pregnant woman can’t stop giving birth to a child; so, a poet can’t help writing and having his/her visions. What is conceived must be born in the form of a child, or a poem, or any other work of art.
Arora: What is surprising is the mushroom growth of poets. Everyone likes to be called a poet while the reality is that he is not a poet but a poetaster. What makes the scene painful is that the poetasters are coming into the limelight while the real poets are somewhere sitting in the dark cell. What is your opinion about such poets without poetic talents?
Chambial: This is what I myself wonder and also lament as an editor. Many kinds of poems come to me. There are poems that divide a simple sentence into two or three-word parts and claim that to be poems. True poets are very rare. I have several examples to show that people have been pouring in books after books in dozens and claim to be great poets, but when one goes through them they don’t seem to be poems at all. The fault, I think, does not lie with them; it is with our critics. Our critics are not sincere: they shower praises by the scores whether the work under study deserves it or not. They never point out the weaknesses of such poets. The critics are the true judge: they should call a spade a spade. By pointing weaknesses, one helps to correct and improve the works of such writers/poets. I, as an editor, wish to have reviews like that of IK Sharma’s [Poetcrit 24.2 (July 2011)]. When we, the critics and reviewers, are so shy to point out the flaws of a work, the mushroom growth of poets is natural. As long as our critics do not become dispassionate and judge the works on their merits and demerits, true poets have to sulk in dark cellars.
Arora: How far is your editorship of Poetcrit helpful to you in your poetic journey? I have seen that the editor uses the journals for self-projection. What kind of experience do you have when you go through others’ poems? Do you edit the journal as an editor or as a critic or as a poet or the amalgamation of these facets?
Chambial: Editorship provides an opportunity of a vast variety of material within the domain of that journal. An editor can’t escape the horrors of editing, when you differ or ask the writer to improve. Rose is not without thorns.
Most of the editors, as you have said “use the journals for self-projection.” You must have noticed that I do not publish critical articles on my poetry in Poetcrit. I use my poems sparingly, and that, too, only to fill the space.
Editing, a journal, is different: editor has to respond and act according to the situation that calls for it.
Arora: Now-a-days a poet seems to have a critic friend. The critic writes for the poet friend and appreciates him to the extent that he makes him a world poet while the reality is that neither the poet nor the critic has worth. What is your opinion about the kind of criticism that is being produced? Is it a healthy sign for the Indian Poetry in English? If it is not, what do you expect from a critic?
Chambial: I think, I have already replied to the first part of this question in your question on mushroom growth of poets. I stand by my words.
So far as the second part of this question is concerned, such criticism is only tolling the knell of good poetry. I prefer to call it sycophantic criticism. Perhaps, it is because of this kind of criticism that people’s interest in true poetry is waning.
I expect critics to be objective: evaluate poetry on its merit irrespective of critic’s personal relation with writer/poet. Only then good literature can be produced. Swift has righty put it:
‘Tis an old maxim in the schools,
That flattery is the food of fools;
It serves none – neither the writer nor the critic. The true reader sees through it. It is only the truth that survives for good. “Truth is the most valuable thing that we have. Let us canonize it” (Mark Twain). By truth, in writing and criticism, I mean true judgement.
Arora: What will be the future of poetry in future? Do you think that a miracle will occur and poetry will come to the centre?
Chambial: I don’t find any miracle in poetry, but it is sure that good poets, who do not bother about criticism—good or bad—will continue to write to give vent to their perceptions of life and leave it to posterity to judge their works. Those whose works falter in quality will soon, despite eulogies of their critic-friends, “Pass into nothingness” (Keats). Poetry is the art form that first attracted man: all first works in any literature/language of the world have appeared in poetry, and it is to continue for ever, there is no gainsaying in it.
Arora: You have been composing poems since a long time. Even then, anthologists of Indian English Poetry like Sudeep Sen and Jeet Thayill have not included you. You are not the only one but some other significant poets who have not got place. What do you think about such prejudiced anthologists?
Chambial: No anthology is complete in itself. The editors of anthologies prefer to include only those known to them or those who are well-known in the domain of Indian English poetry. A person, who does not pose much in the area, remains unknown. Even in the anthology, Brave New Wave: 21 Indian English Poets, edited by KV Raghupathi, I was introduced to Dr. Raghupathi by TV Ready, who, himself a renowned contemporary poet from Andhra Pradesh, knows me. Even in the earlier anthologies by Paniker, Parthasarthy, King, etc. all deserving poets of that time have found no place. And, to such anthologies, that I know won’t be standard or worth the name, I don’t contribute poems even when asked. These days any one comes out with an anthology to join the wand wagon of such editors who ask for poems and publish them as these appear in journals/magazines of poetry without critical evaluation.
I won’t term such anthologies merely “prejudiced”, but also the result of incomplete knowledge. And in the words of Pope: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” It is a great pity. The selection, as I have already said, to a larger extent, is based on personal preferences rather merit.
Arora: Scholars are doing research on your poetry for their M. Phil and Ph. D. It is a good sign and also convenient for the scholars to contact and get guidance. But, some universities have put restrictions that no Ph. D will be done on the living authors. Is the living author not suitable for Ph. D. or is it a harmful verdict in the field of literature? What do you think about such verdict?
Chambial: When those involved in research consider a poet/writer worth research, it is a welcome step. However, in India, most of our critics, do not take up the poet/author for research/study until the concerned poet/writer has received approbation from abroad. To me, it seems that our critics in universities want a cue from the scholars abroad to tell them that particular poet/writer is worth critical attention. I know some such scholars who, without going through the works of an author, reject them, or research projects on them, out-rightly. This is the state of affairs of evaluation and critics in India!
There are certain points/ideas in one’s work that a researcher may not comprehend: if he/she is working on a living poet and contacts him/her for better understanding, that particular poet/writer can help the emerging critic in developing his/her critical perception. It also helps the researcher to know how to examine a work in depth. Those who are already dead can’t do that. It becomes easier for both—the student and the guide—to take liberty and interpret the work(s) of an author – unknown/dead – according to their personal capabilities and prejudices.
I won’t say that a living author is not suitable for research. Those, who have five or more anthologies and their works evince maturity of their art, are as suitable as the dead ones. I consider it, in your words – “a harmful verdict in literature”. It amounts to stifling the creativity. It also makes me surmise that they themselves have worked on dead authors; hence, some unconscious prejudice, against the living ones, sits deep in the consciousness of such authorities who say so.
You, also, as a critic, must have observed that many contemporary poets have better understanding of their field and subject than the poets of yore who are highly eulogized by such critical authorities. There are some who want to remain tied only to the past, and, perhaps, forget that change is the law of nature. Tennyson has put it thus:
Old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways
Lest one good custom should corrupt the word. (Morte d’ Arthur)
Some are so obdurate that they don’t want to budge from their place or thinking; neither have they wanted to grow nor let others grow. Verily, they misappropriate their position.
Arora: How can poetry connect itself to the masses? How can it make something happen in the life of a human being?
Chambial: The poetry that feels the palpitation of the common man and dares say something substantial about the helpless and the down-trodden, irrespective of caste, colour, and creed, has the nerve to connect itself to the masses. In this respect Kabir’s poetry stands above all.
Poetry serves to affect the sensibility of the masses and those who are concerned with them. When it stirs the slumbering sensibility, it can assume the shape of a tornado, and brings about a change as has been seen in the pre-independence poetry of Makhanlal Chaturvedi, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan and other nationalistic poets of that period. Our national song, “Vandematram,” by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, in Anand Math is an example of mass literature. The people, who sang and heard it during the struggle for independence, were filled with fearless valour and were ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the independence of India.
Arora: Do you think poetry is the best form of literature even though its popularity is gradually declining?
Chambial: All literature or art is best in its own way, so is poetry. For me, poetry is the best. If you ask, why? To answer this: I find myself as ignorant as a mother giving birth to a child. In both the cases, I think it is must and natural. The question to me stands well explicated, though not apparent.
About the declining popularity of poetry, I think, it also stands answered earlier in the question pertaining to the saleability of poetry.
Arora: Is there any other thing that you like to share with the readers?
Chambial: I don’t think anything has been left out in this discourse. Nonetheless, I would like to appeal to the readers of poetry to judge the poetry that is being written on the basis of its merit than the position of the poet. They should never hesitate to pass their judgement. True judgement knows neither favour nor any nepotism. A written word is permanent; positions are transient.
Arora: Thank you, Sir.
Chambial: Welcome, Dr Arora.
Sudhir K. Arora (b.1968) teaches English at Maharaja Harishchandra P. G. College, Moradabad affiliated to M. J. P. Rohilkhand University, Bareilly. He has several significant publications to his credit including Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger: A Freakish Booker and Cultural and Philosophical Reflections in Indian Poetry in English in Five Volumes.