Friday, January 21, 2022

Life After Fifty

Sudeep Sen’s anthology showcasing the work of Indian English poets born after 1950,tells of an India beyond the shadow of Keats and Wordsworth

Written by Jane Bhandari |
October 13, 2012 3:36:44 am

Book: The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry

Editor: Sudeep Sen

Publisher: HarperCollins India

Price: Rs. 499

Pages: 541

Sudeep Sen’s anthology of Indian poetry written in English celebrates over 60 years of India’s Independence and includes established names familiar in Indian poetry circles,some of whom are also known abroad. And why only English,you may ask? Because,says Sen,if he had included work in other Indian languages,the book would have become completely unwieldy. Indian English,with its own “chutney” flavor,is now an Indian language,and justifies a book dedicated to it.

All the poets in this anthology were born on or after 1950,the year India became a Republic. This cut-off date enables us to read the work of younger poets in conjunction with their adventurous peers,rather than against the backdrop of writers raised on Shakespeare and the Victorian poets.

Almost half the anthology includes poets of Indian origin,or Indians not resident in India. That their passports may not be Indian is unimportant. There is a sense of a purely Indian identity,which remains even if the poet was born in another country. This is a diaspora that clings fiercely to its identity,and has preserved it in spite of the cultural diversity of their adopted countries,a diaspora that could well have made a book all on its own,which I hope will happen sometime. The sense of nostalgia appears to increase in proportion to the distance from India. Many poets have contributed poems illuminating a way of living that may have vanished from the mother country,an India remembered from early childhood,or an India remembered for them by their parents or grandparents. There are poems that speak of visits to India,a foreign country made familiar by constant reference. While some poems written by writers resident in India are not immediately identifiable as Indian,the writings of the Indian diaspora often retain a flavor of Indian-ness either directly or by oblique reference,delicate,evanescent,but always there.

Ninety per cent of the writers have contributed new and unpublished work,including some written specifically for the collection. They have experimented with a wide-ranging variety of styles and forms,and written about everything under the sun with joyous abandon. The forms (thoughtfully listed in the foreword) are startling in their variety,and tempt the reader to try out a few of the less familiar,or even to Google some hitherto unknown forms. In a recent interview the dancer Akram Khan said,“Good dance transcends the form. Classical dance is my imprisonment and I mean that in a positive way. It gives me a form which I can then fight against to become formless.” The same can be said of poetry. An apparently formless poem often conceals an elaborate (and strict) rhyme scheme or an elegant rhythm. Almost every poet of worth becomes fascinated by the restrictions imposed by verse forms,will experiment with them,and find delight in producing a poem that is excellent in spite of the restrictions.

When it comes to subject matter there are no holds barred. One poet might write of a gay encounter,while another gives a tiny nod to Wordsworth’s daffodils — probably the closest mention the reader might get to school poetry. A visit to the poet’s Indian roots rubs shoulders with a sestina about drugs,a broken marriage,a wife abandoned,and an experimental poem written in the telegraphic style,which gives it a staccato quality.

In all,a collection of international standard,though one does miss poets such as Adil Jussawala and A.K. Ramanujan,not to mention Dom Moraes and Nissim Ezekiel and their peers. Perhaps they would have made a good backdrop.

A poet herself,Jane Bhandari organises the Mumbai poetry group Loquations

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