Tag Archives: Indian English Poetry

FLOWERS FOR YOUR HAIR

Shruti Sareen

© Divya Adusumilli

© Divya Adusumilli

These starry violets
with their thin green stems
and their aster-y white brethren
How would they look amassed
in the jungle of your long black hair
green stems tendrils intertwining
and stars shining? Or should I give you
a bunch of those gorgeous butterfly-
flowers- deep orange, red and yellow?
They would stand brilliantly
against the dense blackness of your hair.
There are some fake light orange ones
they look like plastic when the sun
sines through them, no, I’d rather
not give you those. There are some
fallen flowers. Would you rather
have those, or freshly plucked ones?
What would you say to a bunch
of snowdrops, with that stray curl
you tuck behind your ear?
There’s a wealth of azure blue-purple-
-pink tufts in the far corner
I could give you those, a bit
of the sky. I could make a chain
of these white daisies with
blue-purple centres and tints of orange
and garland you with it. They bloom
with the sun and close at sunset.
There are some blue exotica
with rings of orange. I don’t know
if you’d fancy ’em. There are the
laughing orange and yellow nasturtiums
they droop. A bit flimsy for your hair,
I think, they might not stay put.
I wonder if you’d care for marigolds
in a bright and cheerful mood, on
a sunny day, there are pale yellow ones,
and orange ones ,I call them liquid gold.
There are way too many flowers here, I am
surrounded by them, scraggly pea-pods,
tall hollyhocks, foxgloves and what not
some mild, some tempting, some guarding
But if you’d wind that black mass
and tie it in a bun, I’d give you
just one single poppy, wicked-
crimson, intense-passion, its
pods bursting with black seeds
pregnant with opiate desire.

***

shrutiShruti Sareen studied in Rajghat Besant School KFI, Varanasi and went on to do English literature from Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. With a keen interest in Indian Poetry in English, her MPhil looks at the depiction of urban spaces whereas she is currently pursuing a PhD on twenty first century feminist poetry from the University of Delhi. She also teaches at a college in the university.   She has earlier had poetry accepted by The Little Magazine, Muse India, Reading Hour, The Seven Sisters Post, The Chay Magazine, Ultra Violet, Kritya, Brown Critique, E-Fiction India, Thumb Print Magazine, Our Private Literature and  Vayavya. She blogs at www.shrutanne-heartstrings.blogspot.com.

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THE MYTH OF RE-CREATION

Sukrita Paul Kumar

Sukrita - endgame

ENDGAME

In the slaughterhouse
-as in concentration camps-
Live wafts of death-smell
fill all nooks and corners
slide up the cracks in the walls
entangle in cobwebs and
settle in little pits in the earth

In the slaughterhouse
Pores on the animal skin
are gaping wounds,
the hair stand upright in fright
Or lie supine in numbness

Why do the sheep climb up the walls
And the walls stand on top of the roof

Force-fed, fattened and fearful
Hogs, chicken, as also cattle
Each in full knowledge of
What lies in wait

The demons of death grow larger
As the green pastures,
azure ponds, flighty streams
awaken in the genetic memory
of all in the slaughterhouse.

One on top of the other
In the slaughterhouse
they run for their lives
within themselves
get slaughtered
again and again
while live wafts of death-smell
slide up the cracks in the walls.

THE MYTH OF RE-CREATION

The white of the bark
Is the frozen heart of the white
Turned white when Columbus
landed on the shores
Of what he thought,
the land of spices

The deepening red
of the leaves every fall  thence
Is not the sudden
blushing of the damsel
It is the blood of the Indians
rising from
The womb of the earth below
Forever pregnant
with the lava of unrecorded
genocide
Streams of leaves dropping as tears

Every inch savagely cultivated
Beauty a metaphor of atrocity
Moments of  joy
Pumped from lungs
on ventilators
Men and women in love
their hearts beating
on pacemakers

Staking  their riches
at our casinos
They will lose
Said the Chief each year
We’ll get our land back
With their money,
Let the season pass.

***

Sukrita Paul KumarSukrita Paul Kumar, has published several collections of poems in English that include Without Margins, Apurna, Folds of Silence and Oscillations. Her two bilingual collections are Poems Come Home (with Hindustani translation by Gulzar) and Rowing Together (with Hindi translation by Savita Singh). She was the Guest Editor of Crossing Over, a special issue of “Manoa” (University of Hawaii, USA). Sukrita’s major critical works include Narrating Partition, Conversations on Modernism, The New Story and Man, Woman and Androgyny. Some of her edited/co-edited books include Speaking for Herself: Asian Women’s Writings (Penguin), Ismat, Her Life, Her Times (Katha), Interpreting Homes in South Asian Literature (Pearson).  Currently, she is on deputation as Programme Coordinator of B.Tech Humanities, Cluster Innovation Centre, University of Delhi.

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DIBRUGARH 1974 – BANGALORE 2014

KVK Murthy

All that remains is an absurd prophecy
by a fortune-teller on the bank – a laugh
to mark another weekend. And his care
for our step: a slip, and we would be
silt discharged a thousand miles off,
he said. The current giddied us, and where

we stood the water swirled west, the far side
missing as a memory. A mile, two perhaps…
Beyond, we guessed hills, history,
and somewhere east, forbidden, its wide
fabled swerve a dream inlaid on maps
consecrating a country.

Later, headed home we horsed
about those wives foretold, the dozen kids;
behind, that silent swell receded, set
on its inexorable Heraclitean course,
time keeping pace on tarmac-ed skids.
We were not quite twenty-five yet.

Four lifetimes now, and it returns
to niggle, a flame unexpunged by age
or circumstance: the perfunctory kiss
others wrested (adept of course) burns
like lover’s gall. That silly Sunday sage,

smiling wisdom, didn’t foretell this.

***

???????????????????????????????KVK Murthy is a retired banker living in Bangalore in perfect symbiosis with roaches and silver fish among books dealing largely with the 17th-19th centuries (by choice).

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INTERPRETATIONS OF LOVE

Mihir Vatsa

© Divya Adusumilli

© Divya Adusumilli

I

To love
is to be in a battlefield
after ceasefire
to sense your hand
over my skin breaking
in the sun
to know the colour
of our clothes and yet
search in that difference
for warmth within
the fabric
to wait
together for our people
to take us home in
photo frames
to wait
together for vultures
in the waning sky—
without moving
without speaking.

II

There is certain friendship among cars
waiting at a red light; between you and I,

laughing at them. If urbanity is culture,
we could put honks into a song and play it

through earphones, discover peace
in irreverence. Our mothers could

probably wake up after such a dream,
not us, who live by the noise of the city.

And where must these professionals go,
if not away from homes, from walls

that personalise, from families unaware
of their ten-a-day smoking habit.

The next green breaks the infant trysts;
we inhale silence like mountain air,

greedily, hungrily, unsure if it could
ever return from disrupting intervals.

I shadow your fingers on the table. We
love each other without falling in love,

speak when nothing makes a sound,
& stay still, the warmth of your hand

melting my shadow.

***

Mihir VatsaMihir Vatsa grew up in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand, and currently attends Delhi University for an MA in English. Winner of the 2013 Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize and a 2014 Toto Award for Writing, his poems appear in SOFTBLOWEclectica MagazineUCity Review, and The Four Quarters Magazine, among others.

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THE MYTHOPOEIC IN CONTEMPORARY NORTHEAST INDIAN POETRY

Rini Barman

"A need to leave the water knows" by Nitoo Das

“A need to leave the water knows” by Nitoo Das

Does the day break
With the sound of guns?
No,
It breaks with the cry
Of that bird
Which nibbles through
The night’s darkness
Very slowly[i]

These lines from Nirmal Prabha Bordoloi’s poem “Dawn” address the irony of human existence and freedom within the paradigm of a larger society which holds the key to any form of agency in the Northeast, and would be the best way to introduce the symphony of verse formations in the contemporary times. Looking at the limitations of the canon of Indian Poetry in English, as it presently stands, it is important to etch out some of the issues that remain controversial and in need of address. In delving into politics of canon-making from within specific and consciously constructed categories, the myth-folk-unity manifested in poetry from this part of India has been hitherto stereotyped under conventional mainstream formulations. This essay will attempt to suggest ways in which multiple possibilities could be addressed in order to create ways of reading literary texts that are inclusive and expressive of subjective realities. Indeed, in resisting stagnant definitions and cultural hegemony, we are looking at ‘Northeast Literature’ as an amorphous category. Hence, one of the alternate approaches would be to figure out the multiple possibilities, and the discourses emerging from this sphere in terms of poetry, arts, literatures and other popular representations.

That literature from the Northeast is conflict literature is a huge myth because these poets writing in English share the romanticism and mytho-poetic vision of their vernacular counterparts both past and present. The common bond of poetic sensibility is predominated by love for the land, nature, myths, narrative tribal folklore. The universal coherence of these poets, gets reflected in their love for the land and the love of humanity which coalesce into surreal images.[ii] The interactive nature of their poetry helps to form an integrated, committed and conscious discourse on the present times. Rooted and autobiographical, these poets are also not particularly concerned with technique, form, and symmetry; they are not remarkable experimenters with metre or craft.  It has been noted that contemporary verse from the Northeast subverts all compartmentalised definitions of rootedness and rootlessness. Often lacking the linguistic sophistication of the metropolitan poets, perhaps the fluid nature of diversity in this body of work renders it impossible to form the canon. Further, these poets create a ‘mytho-poesis’ that acknowledges individual creativity as a living experience. Joseph Campbell writes that this communication itself will function as a living myth. But this is true only if one’s recognition and response to the mythic images are uncoerced. He goes on to express the characteristics of this communication carries “a mythological canon, symbolically organized, ineffable in import by which the energies of aspiration are evoked and gathered toward a focus.”[iii]

While at one level, Northeast writing developed as an opposition to Indian English writing and this tradition was perpetuated particularly through poetry, some writers and poets however feel that they need to write about conflict because the national media  and the mainstream haven’t spoken about it with empathy. However, that doesn’t mean that the only stories from Northeast are about conflict, the subterranean tales are never brought to the focus of academic syllabi, just as there are stories of floods and terror, there are also stories of love and peace. This means that our approach to reading conflict in any genre of literature also needs to be undertaken with subjectivity and care because one of the most important mediums of connecting different cultures is fiction and the perspective to which that fictional work is written go a long way in building bridges that can be cultural, literary and political.

Mamang Dai’s poems landscape the past and the present with recurrent images embedded in nature. They are not just an impassive witness to the existential despair of men and women as in the contemporary wasteland of modernist poets (who form the canon of Indian Poetry in English), but a living presence for small scale commotions.  Mamang Dai and her philosophy of animism is reflected in the poem ‘Green in the time of flood’:

Time is a miracle where the colour green is wrapped
in the stillness of waiting
like the birth of days before time,
and every night the rain cloud descends,
yet the meaning of words is dancing before our eyes
in the mysterious fire of a single flame
lit from the fire of your hands

In many parts of the Northeast, Christianity has not been able to totally displace the local folk religion but co-exists and beside it lies an uneasy tension. The animistic worldview contains both the observed or physical world and the unseen or spirit world without any sharp distinction between the two realities; what happens in one affects the other. The earth plays a prominent role because it is viewed as a living entity and Mamang Dai’s verse resonates with the ecofeminist trends of contemporary times, though her characters have bodily connections with nature, this is not the Euro-centric association between women’s bodies and a degraded nature; it is rather a reconfiguring of nature, bodies, and the relationship between humans and the natural world. To use Stacy Alaimo’s terms from Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space, it is a “grounded immersion [in nature] rather than bodiless flight [from nature]and how it reconstructs and redefines gender, nature, and the body partly through a denial of value hierarchies and value dualisms”.

I am the woman lost in translation
who survives, with happiness to carry on./../
I am the place where memory escapes
the myth of time,
I am the sleep in the mind of the mountain[iv]

These lines talk of the bodies of men and women who are personified with the help of tribal(animist) associations with nature, and partly through a re-conceptualization of nature as a dynamic agent. The past re-creates itself, with the rocks, the clouds, the estuary mouth, who have been a testimony in this poem that ‘peace is a falsity’. In an interview with Subash N. Jeyan[v], Dai says, “Ours is an oral tradition you know, I was trying to meet people and collect and record these oral narratives. You know, the small histories which were getting lost and when you talk to people even small things can trigger these memories off”.

In her book Legends of Pensam she investigates primitive customs and beliefs of her people to recount the many legends that influence the lives of Adis. Her documentation of these tribal lores, ensures that they are preserved and not lost and forgotten in the sweep of modernisation[vi].

Anjum Hasan’s poetry finds solace in spaces that are not just antagonistic, but flows out of one another. Deep longing and alienation in these poems are choked with an awareness of existential despair. Memories become subterfuges in her poems, taking the cue from the chapter, ‘the dialectics of outside and inside’, her poems “Where I now live” and “Distant Gods” seem to question “Where can one flee, where find refuge? In what shelter can one take refuge ? Space is nothing but a horrible “inside-outside”.[vii]

In the poem “My Folks” the poet characterises certain uncharacteristic qualities of her clan/folks, who despite having ‘hills in their blood’ seem to be moving out of the hills, and who, despite being story tellers ‘with vast memories’ have ‘no name-plates.’ On a similar note, the poem ‘hills’ portrays a multi-dimensional view to the understanding of the solemn hills. They are ‘clichéd things’ they are ‘metaphor for every loveliness’ and ‘home’ too. Perhaps the divided persona of the poet who is not domiciled surrounds the culture scape of Anjum’s poems; it is a celebration of a cosmopolitan outlook which keeps moving back and forth with the nostalgic artifacts in her evocative poems and her novels, too.

Robin Ngangom, a Manipuri poet from Shillong, employs clean and fresh images that paint elegiac vignettes of scenes like the persevering poetry of Jayanta Mahapatra. In “This Stranger, My Daughter,” “The Landscape of Return,” “The Face” and “The Faces” striking images float, highlighting a melancholic overview and his frantic search for identity.  Both the poets steep their verse into tones that are now conversational, now dramatic, now lyrical, now prosaic, and simultaneously honest. Ngangom while commenting on the aesthetics of experience and not just aesthetics of style says living with the menace of the gun does not permit him to indulge in verbal wizardry or woolly aesthetics, but is a constant reminder that he must perforce master the art of witness. The hills of Manipur and Meghalaya haunt him passionately as he celebrates their ecological glory blending the traditional pattern of life with the modes of transition:

Solitary light
on eastern hills,
tender rivulet,
evening bells,…

Hills with spires of churches
hills with rice-fields for siblings
hills with genial steps
where earth’s tribes
intercourse”[viii]

Robin’s second collection of poetry, Time’s Crossroads, has been divided into two parts: ‘Poems of Love and Despair’ and ‘Poems of Time and Tide’. The ‘lost times’ bring peace to the mind as a token of immutable love. He says “The poet loses his metaphors, when you don’t return, and he merely repeats himself in the dreadful arithmetic of the day…/…./The murmuring river is hushed as it loses its course in a sunless kingdom/…/And I write these letters of winter, asking you to return to the hills, on grey pages I send you happiness because it has left my home…”[ix]. Poetry for him bridges the gap between the paradoxical worlds of the primitive and the modern, and forages an identity that has been homogenised by the lens of the mainstream while discussing the land of the clouds.

 …Above all this poem is not for you or about you,
even though I am jealous of the widowed city
that holds you in her embrace../../
It is not a poem that will speak of the things for which we have no remedy..[x]

These lines from Mona Zote’s  ‘Anti-love poem’ stands out because of its questioning of the whole purpose of poetry, similar to Uddipana Goswami’s rhetorical lines  

…They were dreamers who thought poetry
Was about nation, revolution, freedom/../
Their dreams died as they slept…

The already entangled issues of identity, style, content, is compounded here not only by the dissent (political) brewing within the region but also by the all conspicuous asymmetric power relation between centre and the Northeast. Uddipana Goswami’s subversive verses are also iconoclastic, in inspiration and function. In her poem ‘Mother Goddess Kamakhya’, the power of images and myths provide a verbal representation of hunger and satiation of the goddess, as understood in the conventional religious sense of the term (the archetypal destructive goddess). She says:

The mother goddess loves blood.
She drinks thirstily
Goat-blood, pigeon-blood, bull-blood.
And once a year, she menstruates.
A great event: the only time her devotees
Consider menstrual blood sacred.
(You cannot worship a vagina
And expect it will not menstruate)

satirising the political bloodletting of the Northeast culture-scape through the female experience of menstruation, which is often subjected to constraints of controlling hunger and fasting.

The body, as a visual expression, actively participates in the transmission of myths and folklore. The mythological narrative or legend surpasses the aesthetic line of vision. Such an extraordinary way to use the body as a visual expression of the native cultures should be recognised, valued and studied. Every part of the body is used to express and say something.  Body as a site that is exploited is a recurrent motif of poems by Nitoo Das, Uddipana Goswami, Nabina Das among others. Northeast poetry could then be contexualised within the body-politic too.

Kynpham S. Nongkynrih’s poem “Sundori” has a musical tragic quality, which is achieved through the device of repetition that emphasises the blame game in the region and rings like drumbeats. He writes

Beloved Sundori,
Yesterday one of my people
Killed one of your people
And one of your people
Killed one of my people
Today they have both sworn
To kill on sight…

Ananya Guha while referring to this poem states that Kynpham “leaves one gratified to taste his poetic impulses; range and flexibility as a poet. From love, politics, satire and the world of Nature typified by his home land, Nongkynrih emerges as a very astute craftsman chiselling horizons of poetic edges with every poem. What is striking in his poetry is always an after thought as the poet can infuse the lyrical with the satirical, the humorous or love or the political at the same time…”[xi]

Desmond L Kharmawphlang, a poet and folklorist writes “I wintered in its silken cacoon and a season later I was spun into thread whistling looms: I became a folktale. Deft fingers plucked me and I exited the tale, grafted my tongue of experience: I became a proverb”, to suggest the living rhythm of oral literatures that bind the tribal lives in harmony. In discussing the problems of poetry in translation and its influence in folk life, he says: “The imperviousness of languages and texts to translation is not a new phenomenon, but the exigencies of the problem were felt primarily by poets with an interest in folklore, anthropology, and linguistics and among folklorists, anthropologists and linguists with an interest in poetry. This led to the development of Ethno-poetics, which studies creative expression of non-western and marginal cultures through translation, performance, and criticism”[xii].

In order to specify the myths of cultures the term “folk-myth” has been found handy. The oral-written continuum can be stressed here to make the tribal literary study fundamentally useful. The co-operation between the folklorist, the poet and the historian can be a possible way of bridging the several fissures that occur while forming criticisms over such a huge body of work.

Temsula Ao from Nagaland is a prominent poetess whose concern with the loss of identity is often portrayed through use of myths intricate in the ancient Ao-Naga religion. She describes an Ao-Naga folk belief that the transient human soul takes the form of a bird, or an insect in “Soul-bird”:

They are chanting prayers,
But I watch a lonely hawk
Soaring
Amidst the swirling blue..
The mourners depart
From this obscure bit
Of disturbed earth…[xiii]

Such a metamorphosis is of enormous importance to the memory of people, the sighting of birds, especially hawks (‘See that keening bird in the sky? / That’s your mother’s soul/saying her final goodbye..’) is considered the last appearance of the loved one on earth.

Temsula Ao’s poem, “Stone-people from Lungterok”, comprehends all knowledge (‘the poetic and the politic’) that is transmitted orally and all crafts and techniques are learnt by imitation and example as well as the product of such crafts. In this process, folk poetry, craft, dance, rituals become forms of ‘folk speech’ holding significance of expression within folk literature. Folklore is an echo of the past (‘ Stone-people, savage and sage, who sprang out of Lungterok’) but at the same time a vigorous voice of the present, so we are looking at the timelessness of such an understanding that is past and that have been facing tussles under forces of social stratification. Here, folks and myths provide a metamorphosis too, when communities seem to be losing their way in the midst of cultural colonisation, the traditional storytellers and shamans could be evoked to recall the lore of the tribe.

The power of the poetic image in Y. Ibomcha’s poems ‘Story of a dream’ is enormous because the traumatising objects become the erotic, bullets become ‘luscious fruits’. It is interesting how the ‘thanatos’ (death) is overpowered by ‘eros’ (of the senses/life/love). In the poem ‘the rivers are deeply moving’, natural sands ‘soak up ancient stories’ while the river carries ‘tremulous memory-shadows’. The waves are overwrought ‘like aroused breasts of newly married women’ as boats float on the river and the image reminisces about their ‘poignant maidenhood’ The poet, (and eventually the reader) on seeing through the image begins to see the way the image sees itself. David Miller[xiv] suggests, this reflects “transparency of soul” and calls the strategy “poetic in the extreme.” Miller means metaphor turned diaphor. This, he says, implies “a certain transparency both within oneself and toward all things”.

Interweaving folklore and sexuality has remained a contested domain as it traces the link of the community to their history, as well as to a historical tradition of resistance. Oral expressions help in the representation of a sub-culture, whose imprints have been denied adequate space within the dominant discourses of class and gender. Poetry from the Northeast too constructs gender consciousness and espouses on a society liberated from any form of authoritarianism. Mona Zote says “Mizo society is so inherently self-contradictory that it took me a while to see it’s just the same old patterns of patriarchy and class at work here as elsewhere”. This is evident in her fragmentary styled poems like “Rez” where the ‘boy and his gun’ becomes an image that sums up our times; likewise, in ‘What poetry means to Ernestina in peril’ voices out how farcical institutions like the Church has made ‘drunks of us all’ and a poem should remind a woman in the hills of ‘sweat and dusty slaughter’, ‘raw like a side of beef’.

Nitoo Das’ poetry deal with the inner conscience of women that is equally political and performative. ‘How to cut a fish’[xv] draws our attention to the ‘victimhood’ of the fish, of the ‘body’ that is to be soon consumed despite the ‘resistance of the white flesh staring eye’. Because the constitution of the entire fish will have to be dismantled and wrecked, to leave no bones intact so that they ‘do not disturb afterwards’. The imagery and tonal contours of the voice speaking in the poem ranges from the raw to the violent; yet the violence evoked would be more of the organic sort than alluding to anything destructive. The corporeality of the two bodies (just as a master and a slave) – that of the fish being cut and of the one cutting it – is juxtaposed.

From this inner world, we move to the subtle exploration into the outer with Nabina Das. A contemporary poet from Assam writing in English, she touches on nostalgia that food and memory carries in the prose-poem ‘Come, Aitaa’[xvi], in which the current of socio-political underpinnings cannot be ignored or wished away. The conjoining of the personal and the political, the inert and the violently volatile, all combine to create a dreamscape that is at once beautiful and shocking. “Come Aitaa, she says… we want radishes in this year’s garden green gourds climbing a common fence, sure, you can have some also coriander to sprinkle on the pitika for a late afternoon meal bhoot-jolokia that no one will eat, the army fancies it now we know the newspapers have it all, the tea shops get their fortune told; Come Aitaa, Let’s talk about the one-legged pigs and calves born this year the ducks that won’t stop chasing the hens even if you yelled, about the corner-shop Bipin I’m not sure, his ma died crying for he was gone in the forest, they say, to become an insurgent, but the mother said… to find the old dog Gela of the mangy coat–to those stories Aitaa, my answers are slippery feet on oil… I’d have to invent a new fairytale”.

The oral-written continuum is evident from this instance; if asymmetrical relations of power have established what is the projection of interior turmoil, neo-colonialism and terrorism do seem to go hand in hand. The grandmother’s (Aitaa) plight here may be comparable not only to the woman speaker but also to that of the subject of a form of domination to which she has no access, let alone any control over.

Another trend of contemporary cyber-poetry from the Northeast that has arisen over the past decade dwells on the interactive nature and connectedness of the worldwide web with poetry that is integrated, feminist, interactive, committed, and conscious of itself. How do we classify this assemblage of cyber-poetry then, where the personal becomes the political, where verses subvert traditional tales of history and mythology, simultaneously detaching the poets and creating realms that they are very affectionate of ? Cyber-poetry could also be a way of challenging the print – elite culture which dominates the process of canon-building. As chroniclers of paradoxical realities, Northeast poetry could also be read through the “presence of myths and legends from a past that is still within touching distance of the present, as it were. These add a different dimension to these works. Indeed, we must also look at English translations of original works to get a full flavour of this rich legacy of legends and myths that still live even today”. [xvii]

The language of poetry from the Northeast is thus multi-faceted. Aruni Kashyap, poet, author and translator, says “Sometimes I wonder how different my first year in Delhi University would have been if the ‘Twentieth Century Indian Writing course’ had included at least one author from North East India in its syllabus. During those years, Indira Goswami was heading the Modern Indian Languages and Literary Studies Department of Delhi University; yet, her stories weren’t included in the syllabus of the English department of India’s premier university. If her brilliant novel The Moth Eaten Howdah of a Tusker, about the turbulent life of three high-caste widows in a religious monastery in Southern Assam, was part of the syllabus, people would have known about an Assam without the shadow of the gun, an Assam without ‘some terrorist activity…”[xviii]

To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture[xix]. As these poets have themselves pointed out, the politics of language no longer concerns them, as English is used for subversive intent. However, one needs to highlight the current trends of a new readership outside the Northeast. As Mitra Phukan writes, the metro-isation of the Northeast is a trend more visible in the world of publishing and writing. Every publishing house worth its name is today seeking out and finding writers from the Northeast. Thus, English, the metro-ised language, becomes the key to unravel the linguistic complexities of such a diverse literary mosaic. However it is not so simple, because more often than not, it is through English that the literatures of the region have been homogenised. Even the few institutes which offer courses on these writings club them as “Northeast literature” with compulsory background readings on insurgency and tribal conflicts, while the realms of harmony in folklore, myths, ecological features are kept under the surface. So while unsettling the canon of Indian Poetry in English, it is through language that we fall back into the trap of creating counter-canons, and thereby reading poetry from the Northeast solely from the perspective of political crisis can lead to stagnancy of another plethora of writing that also captures the mundane breathe of an individual who has absolutely no access to the policy makers of his area.

Nilamani Phookan’s lines “Poetry is for those who wouldn’t read it, …  for the anxiety in fire and water, for the mothers of five hundred million sick and starving children,  for the fear of the moon turning red as blood…” is a discourse of class and speaks truly of the audience of poetry as a genre. In the recent years, marketing nostalgia and terror through literature has become almost an erudite exercise, and the very nature of canon seems to be against shedding the shackles of class. This raises a few debatable questions, “Do we reject the canon of Indian Poetry in English entirely?” “What are the consequences of reading the Northeast through the representations of a class of elitist poets who have had the advantage of English instruction and who cannot be easily accessed by the lower classes?” “Does it lead to romanticising the victims of everyday dissent and suffering and gets thrice removed from reality?” “Does the poet become a passive observer of the world around him?”

The intervention of a translator also determines readership. Much that is written about today in the fictions and poetry in English coming out of the Northeast has never been placed through this language, before an “English reading public”. This obviously also is a play of class even within the northeastern region too, as writing in English was naturally the only way to get published. Another issue here would be, without a translator what would happen of the “unwritten word”, the oral folklore, which is poetry too? In the poem “An Obscure Place” Mamang Dai speaks about the unheard tales of her home which have an oral legacy that is shamanic in nature.

The history of our race
begins with the place of stories.
We do not know if the language we speak
belongs to a written past.
Nothing is certain.[xx]

One of the complications of translated poetry and language differences, as A.K Ramanujan points out in ‘The Interior Landscape’[xxi], is that of ‘translating a non-native reader into a native one’. He states that the translations and the afterword (which some readers may prefer to read first) are two parts of one effort. Anyone translating a poem into a foreign language is, at the same time, trying to translate a foreign reader into a native one.

There is thus a need to adopt a more holistic appreciation of Indian literatures which can create a form of inter-connectedness across the country, yet retain their indigenous flavour of diverse genres and cultures that we co-habit. Just as writers like Rushdie and Walcott refuse to see the English language as a barrier, using it for its pan-Indian, inter-regional versatility , Northeast poets writing in English too are convinced that the English language is now , ‘the property of the imagination’. The ethno-socio-linguistic components can only be cast as a pattern of the poetic abundance in the region. The emerging multiple perspectives help to deconstruct the multilayered reality of the region and the people and in turn enrich the poetry canon. 

In the words of Aruni Kashyap: “…Writers from the Northeast do not write with a sense of regret or bitterness though their fiction emerges from a very violent and brutally exploited region. Though India has a tenuous relationship with its northeastern states this fraught bonding seeps into the fiction (poetry) of this region in complex ways and as if stresses that fiction isn’t a place for confrontation, but of integration, of connection. In fact, I believe, anger is a tiny and insignificant emotion to write from…”[xxii]

Northeast poetry is a symphony of narratives, songs, folklore, myths and nuanced storytelling that wishes to transcend its expiatory aspects. As has often been pointed out, oral poetry is a way people transmit their culture, law, tradition, ceremonies, generation after generation; the purpose of poetry is not so much representation as the earnest endeavour of producing an effect, which is at the same time aesthetic and emotional. In fact, it is important to question the ‘wooly aesthetics’ of the arm-chair poets and critics studied under the canon of Indian Poetry in English.

Reading poetry from the Northeast is but a moment of confronting such paradoxes and yet focusing on the melody that is ever-present as conflict of the conscience pervades all great poetry of the world. The complexities of multiculturalism and cultural diversity, particularly in societies with both indigenous and immigrant communities (also illegal immigrants in the recent decades), require cultural policies to check any form of hegemony in the realm of literary expressions. A challenge to both the domiciled and the poet living outside the region lies in the fact that while lying at the heart of a community’s identity and cultural heritage, they are representing phenomena that are constantly recreated and studied in retrospect, as poets and artists also bring innovative perspectives to their work. Therefore, traditional creativity is marked by a dynamic interplay between collective and individual creativity and it is significant to locate this dynamic within the parameter of academics too. A genre of immense potential, the myth and folk visions of poetry from the Northeast are ever-changing, and will evolve its alternative vistas further, in the years to come.

Works cited

Alaimo, Stacy. Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space. Ithaca: Cornell University P, 2000

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space, Maria Jolas trans. Boston: Bacon Press,1958

Campbell. Andrea, ed. 2008. New Directions in Ecofeminist Literary Criticism,  Intro. first published byCambridge Scholars Publishing

Dai, Mamang. 2004. River Poems. Kolkata: Writers Workshop

Daruwalla. Keki N. The Hindu. ‘Poetry and the Northeast: Foraging for a destiny’ Sunday, Nov 07, 2004, http://www.hindu.com/lr/2004/11/07/stories/2004110700350500.htm accessed : 25 march 2013]

Das, Nabina. 2012. Blue Vessel.Éditions du Zaporogue.(ebook)

Goswami, Uddipana. 2010. We Called the River Red, Poetry from a Violent Homeland. New Delhi: Authors Press

Hasan. Anjum 2004.Street on the Hill. New Delhi: UBS Publishers’

Distributors.

Ngangom, Robin. ‘Alternative poetry of the North-East’ http://www.museindia.com/viewarticle.asp?myr=2010&issid=32&id=2014accessed:15 December 2012

Ngagom S. Robin and Nongkynrih ed.. 2009. Dancing Earth , an Anthology of Poetry from North East India. New Delhi: Penguin Books

Ramakrishnan E.V and Makhija Anju. 2009. We speak in Changing Languages (Indian Women poets 1990-2007): Sahitya Akademi

Zote Mona, http://www.poetryinternational.org/piw_cms/cms/cms_module/index.php?obj_id=13505 (Accessed on 20 July 2012)

————-. 2005. Poems. New Delhi: India International Centre Quarterly,India International Centre.


Endnotes

[i]  Bordoloi, Nirmal Prabha, ‘Dawn’ Bezbaruah. D.N trans. Dancing Earth, An anthology of poetry from North-East. India pg 73

[ii] Guha, Ananya .S. March 2011. “North East Indian Poetry: ‘Peace’ in Violence” in The Enchanting Verses International

[iii] Pope, Stephanie. “Mythopoesis in the 21st Century Or “Poetry In The Extreme” https://mythopoetry.com/mythopoetics/sch12_pope_mythopoesis.html accessed:24 April 2013

[iv] Dai, Mamang. ‘The Voice of a mountain’ http://www.museindia.com/viewarticle.asp?myr=2006&issid=8&id=354accessed:20 April 2013

[v] The Hindu, Jan 3, 2010, accessed:20 April 2013

[vi]  Rao, GPS. Issue 48, Muse  India. ‘Legends of Pensam’ http://www.museindia.com/regularcontent.asp?issid=36&id=2553. accessed:21 April 2013

[vii] Bachelard pg 218

[viii]Ngangom, Robin. 2009. ‘When you do not return’ Dancing Earth , An anthology of poetry from North-East. 198-200

[ix]————————-(1988) Words and the Silence, Calcutta: Writers Workshop.

[x] Zote, Mona. January 1,2011. ‘Building the universe of the poem’. The Hindu http://www.thehindu.com/arts/books/article1020727.ece .accessed on 21 July 2012)

[xii] Kharmawphlang, Deshmond. ‘Why Ethno-poetics’, Indian folklore, serial no.27 November 2007, pg 8-9

[xiii] Ao, Temsula. ‘Soul bird’ 2009. Dancing Earth , An anthology of poetry from North-East. pg 4-5

[xv] Das. Nitoo, Boki. 2008 page 82

[xvii] Phukan, Mitra. Muse India, ‘Writing in English in India’s North-East’ http://www.museindia.com/featurecontent.asp?issid=48&id=4026. Accessed:27April 2013

[xviii] Video link Aruni Kashyap in http://youtu.be/CQsXvrG0pwY accessed : 21 March 2013

[xix] Fanon, Frantz. 1952. Black Skin, White masks

[xxi] Ramanujan. A.K ‘Theory and practice of translation’ (114-141) Vinay Dharwardker, Post-colonial Translation Theory and Practice , Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi, ed. 1999 Routeldge.

[xxii]Kashyap. Aruni, ‘Where The Sun Rises: The peripheral imagination, writing the ‘invisible’ India’http://ibnlive.in.com/group-blog/The-North-East-Blog/3304/where-the-sun-rises-the-peripheral-imagination-writing-the-invisible-india/63572.html  accessed:21 March 2013

Rini Barman

Rini Barman

Rini Barman is currently pursuing her Masters in English Literature from Jamia Milia Islamia and has graduated from Lady Shri Ram College in the same field. Her writings  have been published in Muse India, The Seven Sisters’ Post, Kritya.in, The Bricolage-An independent Arts and culture magazine,The Four Quarters Magazine, the Eclectic and several other dailies of the North-East.

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POEMS

Karthika Nair

© Divya Adusumilli 2013

© Divya Adusumilli 2013

Constancy III.

They are here. Again. Night rises in my gut. Skies capsize.
Henchmen. Overlords. Allies. High priests. Demigods. Perhaps
Even kings. Here. A constellation of despots and lies.

Do not speak to us, Masters. Do not blaze Faith Honour Duty
Allegiance to God and Country in hearth and head until we
Yield: pledge future, selves and reason. Do not hail prophets, holy
Spirits, the saints. Do not invoke heaven and hell. Do not

Browbeat, do not cajole. Do not feign pity, nor kinship, nor
Entice with promises of unseen treasures — justice, safety
Freedom.  You would arrive, we knew, with the threat of gifts — and more.
Only answer, then leave: where is the battle this time, on whose
Rightful land? And how many men will you summon from our door,
Enlist as living shield for heroes? Spare him. Spare us. Spare us

Three days. And he is yours. Yours, for we never had a choice.
Hunger or royal dungeons are yet more spears to tear out
Entrails — war but a swifter end. Now leave, lest rage find voice,

Blight you, finally hurl: may you never taste faith or grief,
Amity, awe; you waging war and peace to metre
Time on earth, may your eyes never enjoy your own fief.
Three days, then, to steep each nook of home and heart with his
Lilt, his laugh. Three days to touch a gaze in relief,
Etch smile and sudden frown in folios of the mind.

Ghazal: National Identity, post 2005

Madagascan. Mauritian. Muslim. On market days, or in
the metro, I wear many a passer-by identity.

Once kings, I hear, asked the gods to sanctify identity.
France these days adds national to clarify identity.

Le Pen rises. Holland resists. We migrants walk the oceans,
dance on barbwire, hawk tomorrow, hope to buy identity.

Faith, nation, vocation and corneal tinct condense to numbers.
Digits – and biometrics – now shanghai identity.

Prefectures: in tense, twisting lines we inch from dawn to dank noon.
Shame and hope drip on forms that grant and deny identity.

And one day it slithers home: “He shouldn’t call them scum. But, fuck.
Bad immigrants outweigh the good — vilify identity!”

It hadn’t been so, love. You had hailed the PACS* but voted light blue,
hummed Bach, wooed rap: worn a proud, won’t-classify identity.

A museum, rules the State, for settlers from Spain to Benin.
Not left nor right aligned: this time, justify identity.

Display the migrants, is the decree, that make this nation great.
Star-crossed Nijinsky I bring to rarefy identity.

Poetic justice? Your Flemish chief loathes the French, preferred you
purely Asian. Let’s go invent an SI identity.

French-Indian, poet-producer: like sofa-beds and motels.
We portmanteaux people – you grumble – belie identity.

Red the passport: French; pink permit: Flemish; steel: an O.C.I.**
Chromatinic I am, a walking tie-and-dye entity.

* PACS is an acronym for Pacte civile de solidarité, which can be literally translated as “civil pact of solidarity”. It is a form of civil union in France between two adults (whether of the opposite or the same sex), conferring legal rights and responsibilities to the partners. In 1999, the PACS was legalised by the left-wing government, in the teeth of much conservative opposition.

** O.C.I. Overseas Citizen of India

 
Karthika-Nair
Karthika Nair was born in India, lives in Paris, and works as a dance producer. She is the author of a poetry collection, Bearings (HarperCollins India, 2009) of DESH: Memories, inherited, borrowed, invented (MC2 Grenoble, 2013) and of the forthcoming The Honey Hunter (Young Zubaan, India, and Editions Hélium, France), a children's book illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet. She also scripted DESH, choreographer Akram Khan's 2012 Olivier Award-winning dance production, together with performance poet PolarBear and Khan.

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