(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
Sudhir K. Arora
Flowing with the flow astonishes none but its reversal deserves appreciation. Professors and the members of Board of Studies still follow the British tradition of teaching certain English authors to the students of English literature. With the onset of Indian Writing in English as a paper for the undergraduate and post-graduate students, the works of a few Indian authors have been included. A majority of professors and scholars is still against the inclusion of a fresh contemporary voice. Something worth-mentioning occurred during the meeting of the members of the Committee, which was constituted to revise the B.A. III Special English Poetry Paper for the students with Indian perspectives. Dr. Rajendraprasad Y. Shinde, the member of Board of Studies, Shivaji University took the initiative of including the living modern Indian poets in the syllabus despite the strong opposition. He recommended C.L. Khatri’s poem ‘Two-Minute Silence’ and got success with the support of the Chairman and the like-minded members. Hence, the poem ‘Two- Minute Silence’ deserves appreciation and attention of the scholars and poetry lovers.
Here is quoted the poem “Two-Minute Silence” from C.L. Khatri’s poetry collection of the same title.
Sisters and brothers of India
Let’s observe two-minute silence
On the uprooted microphone
On the broken chair in the parliament
On the torn pages of the constitution.
Mothers and Fathers of India
Let’s observe two-minute silence
On your death, on the death
Of your fear and deference
To your vows and values.
Ladies and gentlemen of India
Let’s observe two-minute silence
On the death of dhoti and pugadi
Oxen and coolies replaced by wheels
Chopped up hands and lame legs.
Friends, stand with me
To observe two-minute silence
On this great grand culture
On this glorious century
On its great promises.
Let’s observe two-minute silence
On the shrinking space, shrinking sun
Stinking water of the sacred rivers
Sleeping birds, falling leaves
Watermelon being sliced for quarreling cousins.
Someone whispered in my ear
Can’t we do with one minute…?
(“Two-Minute Silence” from Two Minute Silence 67-68)
Dr. C.L. Khatri, who is teacher by profession, is a bilingual poet (Hindi and English) by passion. Poetry is not simply poetry for him but a means of fighting against the erosion of cultural roots and values. He writes with a mission—the mission of restoring Indian values which the Indian people have lost somewhere in the blind race for globalization in the field of materialism. With his debut Kargil (2000) he fought against poverty, violence, illiteracy, breaking bonds of fraternity, corruption and degradation while he evoked Indian ethos through his second poetry collection Ripples in the Lake (2006). Two Minute Silence (2014) is his third poetry collection, which attempts to awaken the people’s consciousness towards the cultural roots and a meaningful life with human values. ‘Two-Minute Silence’ is a poem from his third poetry collection of the same title.
Here is present the poet’s comment about the poem “Two-Minute Silence”:
“The people of my generation happen to be in the middle of the two generations: the old one and the gen-next, and have witnessed the age old value system of life operating, crumbling and finally giving way to a new market based value system. This situation of being yoked in the middle of the dichotomy of the two, as if I were on a no-man’s land between the two borders, each skeptical and hostile of the two, gives rise to a volley of the questions. Was everything sacrosanct in the old age? Was everything rotten in that age, nothing worth preserving? Is this virtually complete reversal of our approach to life acceptable? Where do I belong to? I am naturally tempted to have what I feel good in both. The poet in me is achingly haunted by these questions and finds himself like “A crane fluttering in the cage.” This sets the philosophic premise of my poetic world in which I question the reversal syndrome without being fastidious of the old or entirely critical of the new. ‘Two-Minute Silence’ is one of the representative poems of this thought and mood. The poet, having assumed the death and the decaying of what is worth emulating in the past, calls for observing two-minute silence in their memories. They constitute both abstract and personal ideals, and they were in the centre of our life-system, be it the national icons, social, cultural mores or family heads. The poem echoes one aspect of W.B. Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’: “The falcon can’t hear the Falconer / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”. What was the centre? Parliament was supposed to be the centre of our national consciousness; father and mother constitute the centre of the family. Parliament is a symbol of institutional power centre; constitution can stand for scriptural guidance like holy books. The poet laments this loss of centre that used to hold and discipline us. Now everyone assumes himself / herself as a centre leading to a sort of anarchy in society in which parents are afraid of their children; teachers are scared of students; rivers are scared of cities; the age-old cultural values and societal and religious vows are scared of market culture and globalization. Shramjeevan is threatened by mechanic or robotic life. Again human being was a constituent of nature. Now nature is being treated as a tool for human’s design resulting into ‘shrinking sun / stinking water of the sacred rivers / sleeping birds, falling leaves’; personal space is being taken over by corporate space. They are illustrative of many more such reversals which should have been avoided and need to be re-accommodated in our life. “Watermelon” is a symbol of the earth, country or state / province or land in general which has been sliced away for cross sections of agitators “quarreling cousins” whose motives are essentially to satisfy their greed. The impatient generation in undue haste is amply illustrated in the concluding line of ironic quip: “Can’t we do with one minute?” It also implies that in the new age this practice of paying homage is reduced to ritual; the spirit behind it is lost. Except this there is no use of verbal irony. Rather the poem is built on ironic design to show the poet’s ironic vision of life. It is not the death of an individual that he is mourning; it is not even complete death; it’s not irreversible. It could have been saved; it can even now be restored. But the poet puts people or this generation in the dock for being callous, for being indifferent to this lapse and hence calls them to mourn their poetic death if they can’t do anything for their life. So the poem is a shocking, jolting thunderbolt that reminds us of our pristine glory, our cultural root, if it is gone we are undone, and the need to retrieve it and harmonize it with the demands of the new age.
Some professors and scholars were interacted and questioned regarding the inclusion of this poem in the syllabus. They appreciated the initiative taken by Dr. Shinde for the inclusion of the poem in the syllabus of B.A. III. Here are the comments of some professors about this achievement.
Dr. Satish Kumar, Formerly in U.P. Higher Education Service I, Prof. of English, Principal & Dean Faculty of Arts, M.J.P. Rohilkhand University, Bareilly states: “I have come to know that Prof. C.L. Khatri’s famous poem ‘Two-Minute Silence’ has been prescribed in the undergraduate syllabus of Shivaji University. I was much heartened by this news because the Boards of Studies (English) have been coming out of the box pattern of prescribing old authors. New authors must find an important place in the syllabi of Indian universities.” He finds this poem “an indictment of the reversal of value system of normal varieties of life in the present era of economic liberalization, globalization and corporatization. Further he adds: “It is an age of transition from the old to the new. The modern man has been passing through “two worlds—one dead and the other powerless to be born”. Everything is in flux. About the poem, he states: “The poet asks the citizens of India to observe two-minute silence on the erosion of old value system which the poet expresses through highly suggestive images—“uprooted microphone”, “broken chairs in the parliament” and “torn pages of the constitution”. Parliament, the institutional power centre and the constitution, the scripture of parliamentary democracy, have been challenged by the unruly, rowdy elements. Who will guide and discipline us in this abysmal chaos? Will the “Mothers and Fathers of India”, who are in a maddening hurry, observe two minute silence on the decay of the values? He considers the poem “a monody on the effacement of perennial national and human values” and thinks that “The nerve centres of national life have paralysed.” He traces out the poet’s use of “inbuilt rony, and vivid and suggestive images to express the irreparable loss of values.” He also suggests that “some of the poems of the former President of India and distinguished scientist, known as the missile man, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam should also be prescribed in undergraduate and post-graduate courses of Indian universities. In his poems like “Poetic Walls’, ‘To Youth’, ‘Harmonies’, and ‘O Almighty, Light the Lamp of Knowledge’, he exhibits a rare synthesis of scientific attitude and poetic imagination, of reason and poetic excellence.”
Dr Rajendraprasad Y. Shinde, Associate Professor & Head, Department of English, Kisan Veer Mahavidyalaya,Wai calls this poem “a landmark in modern Indian English Poetry as it rues the loss of an age-old civilization and attacks the very foundation of this chaotic situation.” He is of this opinion that “it is truly an Indian poem that desires the old values to be adapted once again to make our lives culturally enriched. He believes that “The modern, sensitive Indian reader will surely be moved from within after reading the poem because he will learn to look at the wide-spread hypocrisy with a new insight.” Further he adds: “Khatri’s ‘Two-Minute Silence’ speaks volumes about many insignificant things that have occupied our lives. Urban civilization has become extremely insensitive about life itself. The poem seems to be alluding to Nissim Ezekiel’s famous poem ‘Very Indian Poem in Indian English’ in which the speaker addresses the audience while passing on tongue-in-cheek comments on people’s hypocrite behaviour. ‘Sisters and brothers’, ‘Mothers and fathers’, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ and Friends...these are various ways of address used by the poet to include all types of people in India who observe the rituals. The poet wisely uses two-minute Silence to express tragic loss of many good things in our lives and many wrong things that have crept in our lives.”
For Prof Ram Bhagwan Singh, Ranchi University, Ranchi, C. L. Khatri’s ‘Two-Minute Silence’ is a pain-prick to the idle soul unmindful of the loss of humanity.” Further he comments: “People today are averse to spiritual bankruptcy and deficit in human values. They are nestled in the cosy cocoon of self-interest and blissful indifference. Even a two-minute silence to condole the loss of moral, spiritual, and national property is too much for them. The poem is a colourful capsule of irony, a soft bullet-shot.”
Dr Binod Mishra, Associate Professor, IIT Patna traces “realism as the touchstone” in ‘Two-Minute Silence’. He opines that “the poet draws his readers’ attention and persuades them not only to observe silence only for human deaths but for other deaths as well. Death in the physical form only terminates life but death of various customs, mores, values and practices continue to pester all coming generations. We also ought to condole for eroding values and sacraments which often get lost amid rants of mechanized civilization hinging on the screws of gory illusions.”
While at International Poetry festival, Guntur, Pornpen Hantrakool, a poetess from Thailand commented saying: “C.L. Khatri’s poem ‘Two-Minute Silence’ projects the Western onslaught to subvert the conventional notion about social and political life and in doing so it serves as a critique of contemporary realities and presents the definition of life in changing socio-cultural dynamics of ‘technology-affected and culture-infected’ Indian society of the twenty-first century. It casts aspersion on the ill impacts of globalization on the tradition bound society.”
Prof Shaileswar Sati Prasad, Former Head, Dept of English, P.U. Patna shares his opinion saying that “The poem gives the impression that the poet is conformist and is averse to many changes taking place with the onslaught of globalization and marketization nowadays. However, the closing line is Khatri’s master stroke with multiple possibilities and intriguing effect. I wonder who is ‘someone’? Is he the representative of the gen next busy in blind race for the so called development or a poetic self of the poet himself? This anonymous persona may be fed up with the fact that the practice of two-minute silence is reduced to ritual and for such ritual fifty percent of the allotted time is more than enough. This can be one of the ways to approach the poem. In another interpretation one can argue that progressive tense towards the end shows the gradual weakening of the hold of tradition and the emergence of a new society impatient with the age old system—be it the dress code or moral code or cultural mores or the sluggish shramjeevan. Tomorrow this proposed one minute silence may be reduced to e-silence before becoming finally redundant. A subtle conflict between the two modes of life seems to operate at the deeper level of the poem….”
C.L. Khatri’s poem “Two-Minute Silence” seems to be inspired by W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”, which reveals the failure of the centre for not holding the things, the consequences of which are bloodshed, chaos and anarchy.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand…
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
(“The Second Coming”, Selected Poetry 99-100)
The poet in Yeats laments for the loss of the centre which has resulted in chaos. He sees all the things falling apart and the failure of the centre for not holding them. He sees the naked dance of anarchy and the drowning of innocence. Though he waits for the second coming, he is not much hopeful for the future. The poem ‘Two Minute Silence’ also reveals the truth of the loss of one centre. Centre has given birth to many centres and each centre considers itself the only valid centre. Centres clash within themselves. This clash gives birth to chaos, disorder and reversal. Due to the presence of many centres, the concept of one centre has lost its power. The poet in Khatri asks the people to observe two-minute silence over the loss of one centre—the centre that would bind all into one in order to maintain discipline by having control over all the activities including institutional, political, social, and even personal ones. The centre is one though its form may differ at different levels. Centre may appear in Parliament when it is a question of security and progress of the nation. It may appear in Parents when it is a question of binding all the members of the family. But, today the equation is quite reverse to what it was yesterday. Globalization has reversed all the traditional and ceremonial equations of the past. This reversal has resulted in reversal syndrome and the absence of one centre. The things that were on the periphery have displaced all the things that were on the centre. The things that used to be on the centre remain in fear of the things that were once on the periphery. Chaos dances at every centre. Everything, nay everyone has become centre. When all become centres, there will certainly be disorder, even worse than the state of pandemonium. Nothing or no one is an island but here everyone and everything is an island—the island which becomes complete in itself. Self-interest is the root cause of being various centres. Hence, everyone remains quite indifferent to others. What matters for a man is self-interest. Relationship and humanity are rusty coins which do not work in the new market value system, which is operated, rather monopolized in the name of globalization.
The poet wonders how the things of the centre are displaced to the periphery, rather thrown into the dustbin. He muses over the traditions and cultural values which are lost somewhere in the dazzling light of globalization. There was a time when Nature was in centre and man at the periphery. Today man holds the primary position by displacing nature to the periphery. The same man happily embraces the secondary position by leaving the primary position to the machine, which overpowers him. The human being has become only being with no heart, rather a robot or machine, the remote of which lies in the hands of materialism. The poet feels shocked at this reversal syndrome. He recalls the days when the city used to cry in fear—the fear of river. Now the river cries in fear of the city—the city where people feel honour in polluting the sacred things like river. The reversal is with the parents who remain in fear of their children. The corporate space has encroached the personal space, the result of which is the loss of personal relationship.
“Two-Minute Silence” peeps into the psyche of man and makes him feel the best in the past. It proves to be a catalyst to awaken his sleeping consciousness towards the cultural values, which are now swallowed by the monster globalization in the name of modernization. The poet stands on the threshold, sees the past and the present and shares what he finds the best in the past. This is 21st century with “uprooted microphone”, “broken chair in the parliament” and “torn pages of constitution.” Parliament, as the poet believes, is the national consciousness but, when he sees the uprooted microphone and broken chair, he does not feel proud of this present achievement. He recalls the days, when people neither uprooted microphone nor broke chairs but put forward their pleadings for the progress and well-being of the people. He is shocked to see the torn pages of constitution, the constitution which is the most sacred perennial source of the national consciousness.
The poet peeps into the past and finds children paying respect to their parents and living happily under their eye and care. Now he looks at the present and cries in pain when he sees the death of mother and father. No doubt they are alive, they are dead—dead symbolically as they are not honoured. Their values and vows are thrown into dustbins. The new global culture under the impact of materialism has turned vows and values into ashes. Death of deference has given birth to difference. He sees the death of dhoti and pagadi, i.e. the death of respect to them. He sees the death of physical labour, the result of which is diseased mind that has forgotten how to remain happy and satisfied. This present culture may be grand or glorious from outside but it has made man shallow and empty from within. How far is it proper to sacrifice traditional and cultural values at the altar of modernity in the name of progress? The great culture has snatched the peace of mind and given restlessness. What the poet intends to make the people understand is that they are not robots or machines but are human beings who, with cultural values, are expected to spread love, peace and happiness everywhere.
Mechanical mechanism, which has transformed a man into a machine, is an outcome of globalization. It has worsened his health. He behaves in the manner of a machine. Bodily labour is out of his reach. Being himself a machine, he is used to work as a machine. He is a robot that works according to a set programme—the programme engineered under the impact of globalization. When the poet in Khatri writes: “Oxen and coolies replaced by wheels / Chopped up hands and lame legs”, he wishes to focus the conflict of labour versus machine. Machines lessen labour, the result of which is that man does not do bodily labour. His hands are chopped while legs have become lame. There was a time when he used to work with his hands. Now machines do what his hands used to do. There was a time when he used to cross the distance with his legs. Now legs have become lame as he crosses the distances with the help of vehicles. He was happy and satisfied when he used to work with his own hands and legs. He is poor spiritually though rich materialistically. The days of oxen and coolies are over as they have given place to wheels and machines. The poet recalls the olden glorious days when people were healthy and happy. It does not mean that the poet wishes to take the people to the primitive days. What he wants is that man should continue what was the best in the past glorious days. Today man has become diseased in soul and body as he works on machines and with machines without using his hands and legs manually. Is this progress which has made man diseased in body and soul, really a blessing? The poet asks the man to muse over such progress in the name of globalization, which has made him a machine without feeling. Hence, it is better to observe two-minute silence over the death of bodily labour so that man may muse over the blessings and continue them further in future for his happiness in life to come.
“Two-Minute Silence” also raises environmental issues and makes the people realize the danger that hovers over their heads. Though it does not delve straightforwardly into the environmental issues, it awakes the people’s consciousness and makes them aware of the fact that they are on the road of progress at the cost of their lives. The poet mentions shrinking space, shrinking sun, stinking water of the sacred river, sleeping birds, and falling leaves. Space is shrinking because of the huge buildings which have swallowed forests for their existence. There was a time when there was open space and the sun was visible. Today the problem of space exists because of the population explosion. The buildings are high and people have to live in the flats. Viewing the open space and the sun seems to be out of reach of the people living in the flat. Rivers are stinking because of the pollution. Man has encroached the reign of Nature. Birds do not sing. Autumn exists. Space, sun, water, birds, leaves are some of the objects that make the world of Nature alive. Such a peaceful and blissful world of Nature had always been the source of folk songs. But today this world of Nature is dominated by the evil minded people. Nature cries in pain because of the pollution that lies within man’s mind. The poet attempts to make the people conscious of the pollution within that needs to be wiped out for the wellbeing of the humanity.
The poem “Two-Minute Silence” is a criticism against the materialistic attitude of the people who have become bankrupt as they have lost their spiritual values. The poet exhorts the people of India particularly and the people generally to muse over what good values and cultural traditions they have lost. No doubt the era of globalization has given the way to speedy progress—but progress at what cost? Indians embrace the Western ways while losing their best. He feels that Indians are passing through the transitional phase of life. They welcome the global culture but initially hesitate to say goodbye to the ancient culture, which finally fails to hold them before the Western dazzling light. He feels much grieved when he sees that the people are aping the West and do not have time for reflections. Paying homage has become almost a ritual, a formality—followed in words, not in spirit. It seems that people are dead within though they are alive physically. The poet directly attempts to awaken the lost consciousness by making the people aware of their imagined deaths so that they may save themselves before their actual deaths. People have become vagrants, for they have lost belongingness to their cultural roots. House can give comforts, not peace within. What can offer peace within is the concept of home. Home is there where cultural roots lie. What the poet intends is that the people of India will retrieve what they have lost under the impact of globalization. Indians need balance—the balance between home and house. Home connects to cultural roots while house connects to globalization, the way to materialism. For having house the people need not leave home. Cities are swallowing villages. This swallowing is the swallowing of the roots. The poet wonders and traces the cause why the snake of internal diaspora has raised its hood. Hence, the poem also raises the question of urban versus rural issue in the transitional phase.
Though the poem “Two-Minute Silence” seems to be a negative poem on the surface, it is a positive poem which offers a message of hope and bright future. On deconstructing, it opens its layers within layers where depth and maturity lie somewhere in the dormant state. It takes the reader to its depth where it reveals the way to retrieve what is lost somewhere in the dazzling light of globalization. The need is to reverse the situation by putting the head down and tail up. Uprooted microphones remind the past when people used microphones for raising their voices for the benefits of the countrymen, not for quarrelling and destructive purposes. Broken chairs, when the head is put down and the tail up, remind the situation of proper order of the chairs in which the members of parliament used to sit for reflections over the issues related to the people’s welfare. Torn pages of the constitution, though reveal the miserable and chaotic state, give a way to thinking towards the time when the constitution was given the place of the holy book. Death of fear hints towards the time when children were afraid of their parents. Death of deference opens the gate of the past when children would respect their elders. Death of vows and values reveal the truth that there was a time when children would follow vows and values not in words only but in spirit. Death of dhoti reminds of the traditional and ceremonial dress. Death of pagadi suggests that there was a time when it was honoured. Death reveals the truth of life. Death comes where there is life. The poet in Khatri comes to the positive way of thinking by following the negative way. This negative stance gives time to man to muse over what is lost and motivates him to retrieve the best.
Technically “Two-Minute Silence” is rooted in ironically mode which not only shocks but makes the reader think of the values and cultural traditions. It also reveals the mental state of the man who is in so terrible hurriedness that he does not hesitate to whisper into the poet’s ears his stand of completing the formality of two-minute silence into one minute. The whole poem reveals the poet’s ironic vision of life. Words like great grand, glorious and great in ‘great grand culture’, ‘glorious century’ and ‘great promise’ respectively reflect the ironic stances.
“Two-Minute Silence” is a very Indian poem which reminds one of Nissim Ezekiel. The way the poet addresses the people of India is convincing. In the first stanza, he addresses the people saying: “Sisters and brothers of India”, in the second, “Mothers and Fathers”, in the third “Ladies and gentlemen of India.” He is formal in the first three stanzas while becomes informal in the third stanza to the extent that he calls the people of India “Friends.” In the last stanza, he becomes so informal that he associates himself with the people of India and does not use the previous words of address. The thing that can be noticed here is the use of the feminine gender first and the masculine later. It reveals his respect and honour to the fair sex. The other thing that surprises is that nowhere he uses people of the world but people of India. He is a true Indian who believes in Indian culture and its values and so is hopeful that the lost values can be retrieved if the people of India give two-minute silence to muse over the lost values of the Indian culture. The poet has given the emotional touch by addressing the people of India. What he intends is to awake the sleeping soul through the use of the piercing words which speak more than what they are and present the things which seem to be absent. Through the path of thorns he comes to the path where roses are. He knows that poetry is the best medium of teaching values. Hence, he asks the people to observe two-minute silence as a technique of musing over what is lost so that they may retrieve vows, values and cultural roots for their applications in the present. Ironic mode and positivity out of negativity are some techniques employed by the poet for awakening consciousness towards the loss of human and moral values in life.
The poet is also noted for the use of suggestive symbols and rich imagery. The watermelon becomes the focal point towards the end of the poem. This watermelon is not simply a watermelon but is a symbol—the symbol which sometimes becomes the symbol of earth, sometimes it becomes the symbol of unity and sometimes it becomes a symbol of a precious thing for which cousins fight, quarrel and become enemies of one another. Dhoti and pugadi also symbolize traditional and ceremonial dress and respect and honour for the elders in Indian culture. The poet is much grieved when he sees this watermelon being sliced to be distributed among the quarrelling cousins.
Dr. Satish Kumar, though appreciates this poem for its contents, finds somewhere a missing link that fails to connect all the stanzas of the poem with the past. The very first stanza fails to connect it with the past though it represents the fractured character of the parliamentary system. He also raises some points regarding the third stanza. He agrees to all the points except dhoti and pugadi. Dohti and pugadi are substituted by some other kind of dress. Man wears those apparels which make him feel relaxed and comfortable. Oxen and coolies are replaced by vehicles. Is it not a good sign? Should one go again to coolies and oxen for following the life of shramjeevan? Whose fault is it if people do not perform physical activities? Is the process of globalization responsible? Is man himself not responsible? Somewhere Dr Satish Kumar finds that the poem fails to offer a synthesis—the synthesis which may come out the best of the past and the best of the present for making a better future.
However, the poem “Two-Minute Silence” reveals the mysterious synthesis on a close reading. It makes the reader feel the loss, and the moment he feels this loss he becomes aware of the present. This awareness to present and past makes him choose the best out of past and present. This awareness to synthesis becomes the touchstone for his future life. Hence, two-minute silence is a tool that connects all the people into one thread—the thread that binds them to the cultural roots.
The poet finds disorder and so observes two-minute silence to retrieve the best which is lost somewhere during this transitional phase. He follows himself and asks others to follow suit. The best things which are lost somewhere, if somehow are retrieved, can be incorporated to make India a real India—an India with cultural values. The poet seems to be inspired by Tagore’s vision of India.
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action--
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. (CP 16)
Tagore is spiritual and free from narrowness and prejudices even when he visualizes India of his dream. He is a true patriot who dreams of India—free India that will be free from caste, colour and creed. He is so much progressive that he wishes to translate India into an India where people will be free, truthful and educated. He prays to God for guiding his countrymen so that they may walk on the path of progress and make India a heaven of freedom.
If the poem “Two-Minute Silence” is decoded minutely, it also offers Khatri’s vision of India where people will be of values and follow what is best in Indian culture. He sees a vision of India—an India where people are patriots with the feeling of respect to the parliament and constitution, where people respect their elders and follow values and vows in spirit, where there is harmony among people without the clashes of generation gaps, where people do physical labour and remain healthy, where people do not pollute the environment, where people once again become the singing birds that sing folk songs, where people maintain unity and integrity among themselves and where people do not disconnect themselves with their cultural roots and where people follow the best things not in words only but in spirit. No doubt the poem reveals the postmodern traits of man who enjoys meaninglessness of life and does not know why he lives. He enjoys the absurdities and feels much pleasure in the fragmentations of life. For a postmodern man cultural values and vows are fit for dustbin. He has lost the meaning in life. This poem hits the consciousness of the people and awakens them morally and spiritually so that once again they may regain and retrieve what they have lost. Positively it will give the people an opportunity to retrieve the best so that they may associate with their cultural roots for true happiness that lies within.
Before penning this paper, a general opinion was procured from the academia. More or less the professors did not show much interest in the inclusion of the poem. They offered the plea: When there are already meaningful poems in the syllabus, what is the need to include one more poem of a fresh poet who is not yet established? The need is to teach the poems of Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Shelley and the great English poets including the Indian poets like Derozio, Toru Dutt, Sarojini Naidu, Nissim Ezekiel, A.K. Ramanujan etc. It seems that most of the professors are in the hangover of the British poets and a few Indian poets who got recognition from the West. Students did not show any interest when the question regarding the inclusion of a new poem like ‘Two-Minute Silence’ in the syllabus was asked. Their response that that they have to study if the poem is in the syllabus was somewhat predictable. If it is not in the syllabus, there is no need of studying the poem. How to complete the syllabus always remains the first priority of every student.
The question is: who is the established poet? Every established one is the struggler in the beginning. Who makes a poet established? What makes him established? If the poem is replete with form and content and passes the litmus test, why should it not find a place in the syllabus? To reject a poem on the plea that it came from the non-established poet is not logical. The poems that remind the Indian values and culture to the students should be strongly recommended for the inclusion in the syllabus. No politics in the name of the established or the non-established should be played. The Shivaji University has shown the catholicity of vision by including C.L. Khatri’s “Two-Minute Silence” in the syllabus.
Khatri, C.L. Two Minute Silence. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2014.
Tagore, Rabindranath. Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore. London: Macmillan, 1962.
Yeats, W.B. Selected Poetry. London: Pan Books in Association with Macmillan, 1974.
About the Author:
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.