‘With Surmah thing the black eye’s fringe
‘Twill sparkle like a star;
With roses dress each raven tress,
My only loved Dildar’
— Henry L. Derozio (Song of Hindustanee Minstrel)
What a lovely use of Surmah and Dildar there (The text that I refer to is accompanied by a half page explanation of what Surmah is, but for those of you who don’t know consider it to be kohl/kajal).
Okay, I am going to drop an aphoristic bomb when you’re least expecting it – “Most powerful poetry dawns at intersections”.
When languages, cultures, traditions, socio political powers or human values meet/collide/interact they bring in a new awareness to ‘what there already is’ and point to a space of ‘what there could be’. From there on a play ensues that sometimes does not subside for centuries. It is true for any significant poetry movement across the world e.g. the Beat Poetry Movement which had Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg at its locomotive, and which happened at the centre stage of conflict of post-world war II conscience clashing with the nationalistic values of establishment in American literature.
A case in example is, ‘Indian poetry in English’ which begun as early as 1826 with Henry L. Derozio – half Indian and half Portuguese who taught English literature in Calcutta. He was succeeded by Michale Madhusudan Dutt (Madhu) who gave this nascent poetry movement’s romanticism a new flair. He wrote innumerable poems in English and simultaneously introduced blank verse in Bengali poetry. Madhu is most renowned for his epic proportion poem “Meghanad Kavya’ where Meghanad son of ‘Ravana’ of Ramayana is hero.
Sunil Gangopadhyay received the Sahitya Academy award in 1985 for his lovely fable ‘Sei Samay’ translated in English as ‘Those Days’, which covers the life of Madhusudan Dutt. Mr Gangopadhyay took Madhu’s letters for reference in his novel, an excerpt – “Beni went to look even though he knew Madhu didn’t like others messing up his books. Choosing two, Beni asked: ‘Madhu, Can I borrow these?’ Madhu said: ‘Take as many as you like. Only don’t take the Life of Byron. I am reading that. ” It is this meeting of Byron – the mad, bad and dangerous to know heroic figure with the villainous but acutely skilled Meghanad that brings us to the case in discussion – Intersections enable us to discover new poetic horizons of what we already possess and create possibilities for what there has been not.
These intersections sometimes involve more than two players, and there the shades and hues become even more complex. Agara Bazaar – the famous play by Habib Tanvir where a cucumber seller uses poetry as his pitch. “Farhaad kii nigaahen, Sheeriin kii hansliyaan hain majnuu kii sard aaheN, laila ki ungliyaaN hain” – this was written by Nazir Akbarabadi in the era when Mir Taqi Mir had passed away and Ghalib was 14 years old. This poem defies the dominant language – Urdu/Persian at that time and brings in the delightful intersection of locality, commonality and fluidity by the use of regional rhythm and tone against the structure and complexity of Urdu poetry of those times.
The ‘Bombay school of poetry’ movement by Arun Kolatkar and Dilip Chitre, who wrote both in Marathi and English has been a continued tradition. Keki.N. Daruwala displays this in many cases –
‘Saheli’ what a beautiful word!
And when she came to see me
This friend from my long-lost school days,
She asked, what about your Mian?
– (The Happy Woman Speaks to Herself)
Notice the use of ‘Saheli’ (A female friend) and ‘Mian’ (referring to son of Keki) in the above couplet.
In current times Ranjit Hoskote brings the case of intersection, he denotes –
“Forests die quietly as the pages catch fire.
The flames play across my chalky walls
and river mist kills my windows.
I wake up wearing a halo of leaves:
my own laureate, my own hangman.
– (The Poet in Exile)
Ranjit explicates the case of intersection ‘The Poet in Exile’ brings together a cluster of themes that have exercised me greatly. Here, you will find my three key figures, Ovid, Ghalib and Bhartrihari: poetry and power, the poet and the court, centre and periphery, belonging and exile, posterity and extinction, sensuality and renunciation. “
Let’s be straight about it – colonialism is a vile thing. Poetry within colonial era and post-colonial times has to be conceded in light of writing in language of dominating power. This article is not to urge you to seek nostalgic re-affirmations with the ‘mother’ tongue but to rather move you to surreptitiously hide that seed of defiance in your language(Which as illustrated is rather more of poetic tradition), to be aware of the rivers of intersections and conflicts on whose shores the poem stands.
I end with another aphoristic bomb – “There are only two kinds of poems – living poems and dead poems and any poem that does not invoke a conflict is dead.”