I was reading off and on a number of Indian poets writing in English and a few of them had become my close friends over the years. Besides Dom Moraes, I got to know rather well Kamala Das, the poetess who writes poetry in English and stories in Malayalam and R.Parthasarathy during his stint with the OUP in Chennai during the Seventies. In fact, even now I read R.P. and get moved by some memorable lines.
A.K.Ramanujan, though I don’t know him personally, I had listened to him, read him much and had talked with his many friends. He is perhaps, the highly gifted poet and translator and Tamils feel elated when they read his translations of the Tamil classical poems. He had lifted Tamil classical poetry’s universal reach for the first time. Even in India there is a realization that in the all India literary context, classical Tamil can lay claim to an original poetical tradition, not matched by the great body of Sanskrit literature. So, Ramanujan would remain a milestone in the contemporary world literary scene.
I was reading through the latest edition of “Modern Indian Poetry in English” 20001 by Bruce King. The anthology opened my eyes about the pan Indian perspective of the old and the new generation of Indian poets writing in English. The Indian English language literature is now an international force. Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and Arundati Roy winning the Booker Prize and V.S.Naipaul winning the literature Nobel had brought Indian literature much recognition in what was once considered an alien medium. As the poetry survey writer puts, `it is now irrelevant to ask English is Indian language, as to ask whether the monsoon is English’!
Today, the world outlook had changed since Eliot wrote his Wasteland that revolutionized the first half of the 20th century English poetry. The late 20th century poetry belongs to the Russian and other European language poets who have shaped today’s man’s poetical sensitivities.
World poetry’s variety and universal appeal
I was going through the Penguin book of the “Twentieth Century in Poetry.” What range of topics poets cover! Two world wars, The jazz age, The Thirties, Fascism V.Communism, The Holocaust, 1933-1945, the Fifties, Communism, 1945-1989, End of Empire: Rural life, The Cold War: 1945-1989, The Sixties, Civil rights, 1930s-1968, Vietnam, The Middle East, Politics, The Seventies, Ireland, The Environment, Travel, Work, Home, Love & Sex, Children and Family, The Individual, Oppression & Exile, Crime, Vice and Low life, The Eighties, The Media, The Arts, Sport and Leisure, Science and Technology, The collapse of communism and its consequences, The Existence, Sci-Fi & Space, Unfinished business: 2000.
What a span!
The unfinished business 2000 has some of the most original poetical lines. Here are a few: The year 2000. Peace. All realists turn into utopians, all utopians into realists. All Americans turn socialists. Peace. All Calvinists anarchists, all machinegun players’ harpsichordists. Peace (A Dutch poet).
There is a poem on the computer bug. “When the angel of mayhem appear in their IT systems, demons as digits, collapse of world markets and zero will be lifted high as the laughter of Galileo…”
Another Poem: Prophecy:
Your children will wander looting the shopping mall for forty years, suffering for your idleness…”
Poets’ lives are never easy! More so in modern history. Shelley is the most celebrated poet who sang of Liberty and much of the Englishtenment ideals. Yet, his life was stormy and tragic at the same time! He underwent all sorts of resistance. Poet is a lonely person and the same time a rebellious spirit.
This is perhaps the price to be paid by poets for being poets! For standing up to things, values and visions that demand a high price! For those who give form and shape and much poetical force to such visions!