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In The Sandbox With Dr. Koshy

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.

Dalits in India do the most menial of jobs.

Dalits in India do the most menial of jobs.

Content and Style

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.

Dalit Poetry.

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
Of tremor
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.

Language Experiments.

Do I Wake or Sleep?
It had rained the whole night,
stormy winds had broken
in peals of laughter;
the trees swayed their heads
in frenzy;
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
there were
disappearance of days
taking away
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.

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About Dr Niamh

When I was a little girl (a very, very long time ago), I used to love learning new, really big words like ‘discombobulate’. As I grew, my love of words grew too, until I loved them so much, I could not stop writing them down. One day, as I was scribbling a particular word, a very peculiar thing happened. The word shouted at me, “Stop! Don’t put me there!” As you can imagine, I was shocked and nearly fell off my chair. When I recovered somewhat, I said to the word, “Could you stop shouting, please? I am not used to it.” Can you guess what happened next? No! I thought not. The word said, “I might be small, but I will misbehave if you do not use me properly. I will not tell the story you would like me to tell. I will say something entirely different!” I dropped my pen. I hoped that by dropping my pen, the word would stop talking. Alas! It did not. It carried on chitterchobbling, even after the ink had dried. I was in a pickle. I could not allow my words to run away with my story, now could I? I don’t know about you, but when this sort of thing happens, there is only one thing left to do if you prefer not to spend your time arguing. “Very well,” said I. “I will do as you ask if you will just be quiet and allow me to concentrate.” Since that day, I have been paying special attention to every word I invite into my stories. After all, a story should say exactly what it means to say and not be led astray. With love from Dr. Niamh, Ph.D in Learning Through The Imagination and Founder of Dr Niamh Children's Books. www.drniamh.co.uk

30 comments on “In The Sandbox With Dr. Koshy

  1. Thank you Niamh Clune. I do not know how to express my thankfulness to you for putting up this article.

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    • Niamh Clune
      May 30, 2013

      It’s fascinating, Ampat. So interesting to learn about the Dalit poets. It just shows that poetry emerges from the most unlikely of places. Struggle begets soul. The soul of the poet should always be able to challenge squalor and degradation.

      Like

  2. Pingback: In The Sandbox With Dr. Koshy | On The Plum Tree | BUTTERFLIES OF TIME

    • ontheplumtree
      May 30, 2013

      In the Irish culture, we often ask if English is the language of colonialism. We tend to speak it differently. I once heard a very wise man, Irish poet laureate, Seamus Heaney, say that if you can dream in a language, it does no violence to the soul. We do not speak it because it is imposed. We speak it because through it, we are enabled to express the contents of the soul. A language must be flexible enough to enable this. When we politicise it, we do ourselves a disservice. We play into the master’s hands.

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      • djazzologist
        May 30, 2013

        Yes Niamh, I agree. As the Irish music walks through us, we scrap the milk from the bones of the english language, and as the article above shows us: only the poor can truly see and write in the language of splinters, the original language of the soul made flesh, made ink, made pen! –Alan Patrick Traynor

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      • ontheplumtree
        May 30, 2013

        HA! Alan…I want to hear your Jazz!

        Like

      • djazzologist
        May 30, 2013

        Niamh, I have become the dpoetologist now! Should start a new wordpress!!! 🙂

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  3. Yes. 🙂

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  4. Thanks for the bloggers who liked it.

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  5. drpendyala2005
    May 30, 2013

    Davits in India do the most menial of jobs.
    I’m sorry for correction sir, Dalits in India do most menial jobs not for living or pleasure, rather they are forced to do such menial jobs by the mean and ugly caste system of India since generations…!!

    Like

    • Niamh Clune
      May 30, 2013

      Exactly Sir, which is what I said in my introduction….And I used that caption to illustrate the picture.

      Like

  6. yes pendyala the picture illustrates the point.

    Like

  7. Michele Baron
    May 30, 2013

    in the broad spectrum of those with thoughts to express, with words to communicate, with access to write and be read, the voices less easily heard still have meaning and value, and reach to the souls of writers, readers, and those about whom poetry might be written. thank you for the writing the article, and for “picking the plum” of its import, Dr. Koshy and Niamh Clune

    Like

    • ontheplumtree
      May 30, 2013

      Thank you Michele. It is always a risk to post something like this, as it makes its demand on the reader and raises controversial issues. I love to break with tradition, not just for the sake of it, but for the sake of disenfranchised, challenging voices that otherwise, might remain howls on the wind.

      Like

  8. Atindriyo Chakraborty
    May 30, 2013

    don’t we need to create a non-virtual third space for ourselves? Development of English literature in the hands of people whose first language is not English will be a massive institutional curiosity in a few decades. I think a third space is necessary for this sphere, something we/they [;)] never had.

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  9. Atindriyo – aren’t we creating that third space now together?

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  10. djazzologist
    May 30, 2013

    I see the now for sure… Ampat, I am glad you find such joy in writing and delving into the hearts of the Dalit Poets. This is what I sensed through the whole soul-intelligence of this article…you brought me back to my heart with this article…thank you. I hope my heart & soul will photograph so well as the woman in the photograph above…I feel her unnamed poems in her hands and face! She is God walking home through the fields of humanity!!! –Alan Patrick Traynor

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  11. Even your comments are sheer poetry Alan 🙂

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  12. Patricia Tilton
    May 31, 2013

    Very powerful article. It’s nice to know that Dr. Koshy is giving a voice to the Dalit Poets. I was not aware of them. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

  13. the secret keeper
    May 31, 2013

    Dr. Koshy, this was a most brilliant post as all you have given to us has been. I feel that everyone who has an inner burning to express from their soul the truth of our existence in whatever form it finds its way to the surface and unto the page is meant to contain that artist within them. I break rules in my writing yet struggle to try to show a respect to conform only in certain ways. It is important that you brought to light the caste system in your country. I am aware of India’s history and present day. It may not be called a caste system in my country the US but there is also an unevenness of treatment and a difficulty in breaking out of where and to whom you are born. We are the land of the free in gesture but it is a false gesture. 1/3 of our population are so unaccepting of difference and show such blatant prejudice and contempt for others. What you have show us today is something that is ingrained in a system, a history. It is good that the Dalits are allowed a voice to be heard. Their poetry is beautiful. Thank you Niamh for bringing Dr. Koshy to us again and to please continue. I am learning a great deal from his presentations. Thank you, Dr. Koshy for sharing such works of art from such amazing poets/artists. That is how I see them. What one has to do sometimes is not always what one wants to do but if you are able to express what your soul speaks through you then you have found a freedom that rises you above it all. This was/is an amazing lesson. Jennifer

    Like

    • ontheplumtree
      May 31, 2013

      Yes Jennifer, many thanks for your comments. There are inequalities in all our cultures, but the caste system in India is particularly vicious. I agree though that America is supposed to be the land of the Free! Far from it. In places, it is like a Third World country, and its bigots and racists are a disgrace! Not to mention its particular brand of continued colonialism.

      Like

  14. @patricia tilton – thank you very much. I need to clear up a slight confusion – the first poem is a Dalit one and the second and third are not. They are language experiments that are post colonial and decolonization’s voices..

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    • Niamh Clune
      May 31, 2013

      I think the idea of Dalit poetry has captured the imagination, Ampat!

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  15. @jennifer kiley – thank you for your beautiful comment – i only want to make a slight clarification – the first poem is a Dalit one, in a sense, and the second and third are not. They are language experiments that are post colonial and decolonization’s voices..

    Like

  16. Yes , it has! Good.

    Like

  17. thiskidreviewsbooks
    May 31, 2013

    What a great, meaningful post… 🙂

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  18. ty eric 🙂

    Like

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