(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
Shaleen Kumar Singh
Contemporary Indian Poetry in English is at the point when critics and scholars are making diverse opinions about the future and growth of this offshoot of knowledge and art. The rapid growth in the field of Information technology and massive development in the sphere of literary, social, cultural, moral and ethical values has also affected the reading and writing habits resultantly which Indian poetry writing canons are also adversely affected. The Indian English poetry scenario also witnesses these changes and at such critical hour drawing of future image is no less difficult task. This brief write-up attempts to figure out the future of contemporary Indian Poetry writing in English in the backdrop of these paradigm shifts.
Keywords: Indian, Poetry, Footprints, Media, future, English.
Before making any predictions or any prognostication regarding the future of contemporary Indian poetry in English, I would deliberately cite the statement of Prof. Satish Kumar that he made way back in 2001 while writing the ‘Preface’ of his illustrious volume, titled A Survey of Indian English Poetry. He writes:
Indian English poetry has attained both fecundity and excellence of craftsmanship represents various faces of the development of our multitudinous cultural and national life right from the beginning of nineteenth century to the mid nineties of twentieth century… post independence Indian poets in English Nissim Ezekiel, A K Ramanujan, Keki N Daruwala, Jayant Mahapatra, Shiv K Kumar Kamla Das and many others have succeeded to decolonize English which has become a language of modern India…it has also a genuine recordation of the primary human emotion which are timeless and ageless. It is a dynamic and growing literature to which new editions are being made every day. Its future is immense. (Kumar)
After fifteen years of the publication of this book, another acclaimed critic Sudhir K. Arora too in his voluminous critical volume on contemporary Indian poetry in English, titled Cultural and Philosophical Reflections in Indian Poetry in English attempts to map out the situations as well as the future of Indian Poetry in English and in this task he comes across a weird yet a blatant reality that he records as:
What seems to be strange is why the modern poets followed the footprints of their predecessors in the end in spite of the fact that they rejected them on the ground of idealism, sentimentalism and fellow feelings, and social relationship with the inner development leading to the spiritual society of the people. The case of P Lal is a glaring instance. He reacted against the poetry of Sarojini, Tagore and Aurobindo but later on he himself produced the transcreations of the scriptures that promoted cultural values with the awareness of the past. Why did Ezekiel the prince of ironical mode, shift to the spiritual theme in his later poetry and write hymns? Can anyone forget Ramanujan and Parthasarthy who out of alienation and uprootedness found roots in their Tamil culture? (Arora vii-viii)
May be, keeping this thought in his mind Arora terms his volume as Footprints as he holds that the ‘inner journey or searching’ has no footprints somewhere out rather they are within the self of the man. One can reject the other but certainly not one’s own self. In the end of second decade of twenty first century, if one looks at the glorious tradition of Indian poetry in English that has peerless pioneers like Henry L. Derozio, Sri Aurobindo, R. N. Tagore, Harindranath Chattopadhyay, Michal Madhusudan Dutt, Toru Dutt, Sarojini Naidu, Swami Vivekananda, Rama Sharma and later in the Post-independence Indian English times inheritors like Nissim Ezekeil, Dom Moraes, A. K. Ramanujan, Shiv K. Kumar, Kamala Das, P. Lal, Jayant Mahapatra, Arun Kolatkar, O. P. Bhatnagar, R. C. Shukla, R K Singh and a number of others, one can easily recollect the comment of Prof. O. P. Bhatnagar who has observed in his paper ‘East -West Encounter in Indian Poetry in English’:
With the period of incubation over Indian poetry in English, has flourished as a liberalized art. Its quality can be measured by the publication of a hundred volumes per year pouring in from people from all walks of life and genders… the new poetry is free from anxiety of exile, alienation, crisis of identity, justification of writing in English or writing poetry in English at all. (Bhatnagar 240)
In the view of Bhatnagar, Indian poetry in English is measured with the touchstone of publication of books and its growing readership that has resulted with the growing interest of the people who have found poetry by indigenous poets as interesting and also the vocalization of their own lived experiences. It is the time when people have a little earth and a little sky to live and soar but if we take contemporary poetry into account when even the future of published books is at stake. It is the time when e-books, kindles or pdfs are replacing the traditional reading habits on the one hand, and on the other, the dimensions of human thinking, wonders and even dreams are shrinking that the man has started to believe in instant gratification of human desire much similar to instant coffee or instant pizza that are also available at a phone call or an email. It is the time when Facebook/ Whatsapp/ Twitter have replaced the traditional newspapers, books or journals where poets or writers are just a click away if they wish to reach their audience. The pros and cons of such situations are rather difficult to assess and foretell. One can precisely neither hope nor get disheartened. However, the need is to chaff out the real poetry and real poets from the ever splurging flood of poetry on the social media platform is still a debatable topic. Today nearly everyone (knowing English) who has Facebook or Twitter account is a poet (or say poetaster) and nearly every third or fourth of them is an editor of an online journal of English Language and Literature. The periodicity of these journals is either monthly or bi-monthly interestingly. Nearly all such journals publish poetry without even feeling the need of editing or reviewing such poems from their board of Editors or Referees because the names of the Referees and the Reviewers are also written under the policy of ‘Give and Take.’ So no one is unhappy and everyone is happy to see each of their brethren published in particular way only and not to read the other. The scene is much like the technical sessions of present day seminar (organized to consume funds and oblige the fraternity to invite and get themselves invited) where everyone is anxious to read his/her paper and go straightaway without listening to others. On the one hand, the books are being published by the professional businessmen to please and oblige so that their other trash and junk could be purchased and consumed in the University Libraries or other Government and Non-Governmental agencies, on the other hand, the books are being reviewed and praised by pseudo reviewers cum flatterers in selected newspapers and magazines both online and offline. These reviewers cry hoarse and are never tired in writing the eulogies of these trifling called books that are merely produced from the material copy-pasted from the ocean of Internet or the books that are out of print. In such critical times, there are thousands of books and even millions of poets and sadly no reader and also no qualitative and universal poetry.
Now let’s muse over the word ‘Footprints’ used by the critic Sudhir K Arora. Today, neither there are any footprints to follow nor we are supposed to have such acumen to acknowledge or inherit the glorious legacy that has enriched us in the past. There is darkness without any silver lining so no footprints are visible to the eyes of poet. Like Thomas Gray’s ‘The Bard’, a sincere poet has no option but to bewail the grim atmosphere. The lives of contemporary humankind are also devoid of what we call in the words of Wordsworth ‘for this, for everything we are out of tune’. Today, poetry writing is as ephemeral as its fleeting comments received on various social media where they are showcased. Poetry journals, festivals and reading meets too have become a prey to professionalism and commercialism where elites or so called big names (the poets who have been anthologized and included in nearly every poetry anthology published from Metros or big publishing industries) are invited to deliver a talk on poetry and poetry workshops. At such places, no new face is being seen and if, it is being seen or heard, is the result of nepotism or favoritism.
In the recent years, the UGC policy regarding the implementation of API (Academic Performance Index) in the colleges and universities has also produced so many poets and authors and writers that any sane mind could even think of. It looks as if a deluge of authors and writers was somewhere hidden or obstructed and now it has got the path to flow and meander. Scholars and poets are in so much haste to get them published that more than dozens of books including the books of poetry and criticism are being published online and offline. Besides, influential and resourceful persons are getting their poetry translated in Indian and European languages and also get them published by various publishers of repute. Every research scholar and professor of English is poet also because creative books are also counted in the academic performance of a teacher of Higher Education. So, the dictum has changed to ‘the poets are not born but made’ and has come to be axiomatic truth in the present context.
Now, more poetry is seen than read, more poetry is published than written and more poetry is analyzed than felt. Sadly, there are no readers but writers of poetry only. Now, whose footprints are to be followed in this dark where no hand or crutches to hold you when you fall and no stick to lead you anywhere? It’s a rather difficult question to be answered at present. What we have is hope only.
Despite all such odds, ‘All is not lost’. There are handfuls of seniors like Jayant Mahaparta, K. N. Daruwalla, R. C. Shukla, R. K Singh, Bibhu Padhi, Hoshang Merchant, D. C. Chambial, R. K. Bhushan and others and also a little substantial number of fellows like Arundhathi Subramaniam, Vikram Seth, Meena Alexander, Ravi Shankar, Sidhartha Bose, Shanta Acharya, Sujata Bhatt, Sukrita Paul Kumar, Meena Kandaswamy, Sunil Sharma, Manas Bakshi and others (the list can be extended) among us who can be regarded as the torch bearers of the Contemporary Indian English Poetry and on whose shoulders one can rely on. Let’s hope for the best.
Arora, Sudhir K. Cultural and Philosophical Reflections in Indian Poetry in English: Footprints, Volume I. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2016. Print.
Bhatnagar, O.P. “East West Encounter in Indian Poetry in English.” Indian Writing in English: Tradition and Modernity. Eds. Amar Nath Prasad and Kanupriya. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2006. Print.
Kumar, Satish. A Survey of Indian English Poetry. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2001. Print.
About the Author:
Dr Shaleen Kumar Singh is presently serving as Assistant Professor and Head of English Department at Swami Shukdevanand Postgraduate College, Shahjahanpur, U.P., India. His recently edited book From Home to House is published from Harper Collins, India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.