Who is on the plum tree?
Among other things, as Dr. Koshy looks at Content and Style, he draws our attention to the Dalit poets. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, Dalits are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system and despite laws to protect them, they still face widespread discrimination in India. It is one thing being oppressed by an external colonialist power, but quite another to be oppressed from within your own culture. Perhaps it is to these subversive new voices gusting through the untouchable margins of society that we look for a new uprising, a new interruption of syntax and perfect narrative. We look for something unexpected that makes us feel, be jarred and challenged. Isn’t that how we express the inexpressible and fulfill the role of poet? Thank you Dr. Koshy for the great post.
By Dr. Ampat Koshy
To say that India, the nation on earth with the second largest population, is full of mind-boggling diversity is a cliché . It ought to have unity too but does not, in many respects, as the concept of nation in all its awesomeness is still only being defined by its myriad citizens. Coming to poetry, this is best exemplified by the fact that its many strands do not follow any predictable pattern. As a critic with the courage to be different, honest, and speaking for the lesser or silenced or unheard and unknown voices in India, trying to forge a new future for them, I want to briefly delineate some of these controversial strands for the readers. My limit is naturally that I deal only with English poetry or poetry in translation.
By Dalit poetry I mean poetry written by Dalits who themselves no longer perhaps particularly care whether they are thus referred to or not, by themselves or others, or their poetry talks of their sufferings or not. What has emerged is something stronger than the efforts of the ones who try to push them down as this poem shows, by matching or surpassing the best in poetic power. Written by Anilkumar Payappilly Vijayan, it is a study in how to effectively intellectualize any ‘untouchable’s’ multiplying sufferings in its choiceless historical implications and subtle nuances.
No Clear Demarcation*
(of, by and for a nil)
We thus arrive at the fault lines
Step by step
Mere repetition, our fears
Earlier the earth was Euclidean
Flat and uncorrupted by mafia
With parallel lines embracing only
Far away from the field of vision
We neatly made it Riemannian
Curved, explorable manifolds,
On the surface, all parallel lines,
Once untouched and untouchable,
Get together before our sad eyes
* From Ezra Pound’s Canto XLV ( © to the author. )
This is a far cry from Dr Ambedkar and his significant document “The Annihilation of Caste” but at times grips me much more in its chilling post- Poundian in the Hugh Kennerian sense of the word realism, honestly.
In terms of totally disparate classification, I could now talk in an apples and oranges kind of fashion of Keralites or Bengalis writing in Englishes along with those in and of other Indian states, my choice of mentioning those two states very clearly highlighting visibility and not necessarily quality. Or of poetry by Muslims, Marxists with their post colonial and anti-capitalist outlook represented at their virulent subversive best by Atindriyo Chakraborty in his previous Wednesday’s article, (pro-) Maoists, Christians, oppressed adivasis or tribals, women, children, the differently abled, lgbt poetry, the people in Kashmir torn on three or four or even five different political fault-lines, the ones in Gujarat who feel the heat, North Easterners like Susma Sharma Gurumayum, those who write poetry for the ecology and environment and/or socially conscious poetry, poetry for its own sake or poetry as humour, the very important group of translators or bilingualists or multilingual poets etc., etc. I love the chaos in this kind of classification, but it is essentially mapping the real underbelly of the nation speaking in its ‘other’ varieties, multiplicity, pluralisms and variegatedness, not recognised but more powerful than the ones that are seemingly in the corridors and echelons of power or in the groves of academe right now.
To end with, I offer two short powerful poems, one by Bina Biswas and the other a poem by Lohian Lohi. Both are writing in a tradition set going wittingly and unwittingly by G.V. Desani, Nissim Ezekiel and many others, but turning Ezekiel’s parody of our so called lack of knowledge of English – that is actually making us celebrate the strength of our creativity in the midst of an alien tongue’s strangling clutches – inside out, celebrating decolonization like Amos Tutuola did in Africa through unregulated Indian varieties of English, in an experimental use of language where mother tongue interference often becomes a blessing and not a curse. It shows the enormous girth and width of the rainbow poetry is in India. These two are not the only ones again, they are flanked by many others like Priya Karunakar who came much earlier, Kamala Das, yours truly, Ro Hith, Rave Rajah, Jayakrishnan Vallapuzha, Avy Varghese, Ra Sh etc.
Do I Wake or Sleep?
It had rained the whole night,
stormy winds had broken
in peals of laughter;
the trees swayed their heads
the birds’d trembled in cold.
A blushing morning woke up with
glory in her face.
In her voice
the calling of the dove.
Hope’s gay dreams
smudged my eyes;
my soul flew
from its brief dwelling
and was set free.
Breeze, bird, and flower
confessed the hour,
and left the woman to her dream!
© Bina Biswas, from ‘Forest Flowers,’ published by Authorspress India 2013
Her use of “had”, articles or their lack, semi-colons, of “birds’d,” prepositions like in, “calling,” and “smudged” are what make the poem come alive besides its Romantic Keatsian and Wordsworthian echoes and I am thankful here that she got an editor who was ready to preserve her language in all its oddities and quirks including her Bengali use of articles. Language is what makes her poem and such poetry so lively in its distinctiveness.
Lohian’s love for remarkably extreme innovation is equally noteworthy. He murders the English language sweetly and gets a result that I love with all my heart.
BETWEEN FEBRUARY AND MARCH
Between february and march
disappearance of days
evenings and mornings
smell of smoky nights
taste of barefoot on mud road
that always the same way
hung beneath the weeping sky.
© to the author. ( The capitalization, grammar and punctuation in the poem is intended.)
Many will criticize me saying that their use of English is probably unintentional but while I personally know that it is not, having spoken to them on this issue, what interests me much more is the effect their poems have on me as a reader. My fear is that the narrow colonial brown babus will make them compromise from pushing it even further to its best results, something I do see happening more and more, alas! I enjoy them and for me this is the mark of whether the poems succeed or not. I have also met powerful visual, auditory and vocabulary based experiments in the poetry of Michele Baron, Mary Jane, and Arne Torneck, to name some from outside India.
To sum up, poets need to be extremely courageous like me and to constantly push the envelope in terms of content and style to get anything worthwhile done these days.
Wishing many such happy efforts to all of you with equally interesting results, signing off from the sandbox with much love and even more poetry in store for the next time by hopefully equally radical, extreme, dissident and different voices, Dr Koshy.