Qualities of Indianness in Indian English Poetry
Indian Poets writing in English around fifties have produced a fairly voluminous body of verse that is often deeply rooted in the traditional Indian sensibility and is yet strikingly modern in expression. The question of Indianness is not merely a question of the material of poetry, or even sensibility, it is tied up with the factor called the audience. Indian English poets write for Indian audience, but they also write quite inevitably, for non-Indian, western audience. Thus, consciously or unconsciously they cannot help using their Indianness at least some of the time, in some way, to a greater or lesser extent. This had become a way of identifying oneself for the early Indian English poets, even the best modern Indian English poets continue to exploit ‘Indianness’, but in a more subtle and sophisticated manner.
Every human being is influenced by the environment, culture and tradition of his time and place. Just as western poets show their culture Indian English poets also show the same characteristic. Indian English poets such as A.K Ramanujan depict the Hindu tradition of Cremation and the process of throwing the ashes in the river in ‘ The Obituary’
“Being the burning type,
he burned properly
at the cremation”.
It is easier for a writer to write about what he sees and hears. Like William Wordsworth who wrote about the ‘daffodils’ after he saw thousands of daffodils in a valley, he is inspired to write a poem by what he saw. Likewise Kamala Das saw wrote ‘the dance of the eunuchs’ when she saw them dancing on the streets of Calcutta. Wordsworth had stated, “ Poetry is a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, recollected in tranquility”. For an Indian English poet living in India what else would touch the emotion other than India and the things happening in and around it? Therefore, Indianness can be found in their poems by default.
The best that a poet can hope to do is try to be as natural and honest as possible, and to concentrate upon the poetical enrichment of material, and not to be content with the decorative use of Indian imagery. More important than the level of material, the imagery, the detail, is the level of sensibility. An Indian English poet expressing an Indian sensibility will speak more authentically and achieve greater depth and possibly greatness, than by assuming cosmopolitan stance.
Now that the Indian English poet is writing in a foreign language, which was adopted and used by Indians in a very small percentage, mostly for formal, official or professional purpose, and it is not really a language of the streets. It has been observed that Indians tends to use English that are outdated and wooden. Due to this the poets also have to write in a language, which the reader will understand and will feel to be real. This makes it interesting for the non-Indian reader because it gives the Indian experience more vividly and makes it exotic. Poems such as “ The Railway Clerk’ by Nissim Ezekiel makes intensive use of English as it is used by Indians. The suffix,’-ing’ is used in a wrong manner unnecessarily; this is very typical for Indian users of English. And the sentence constructions are not up to the standard use of language but the way Indians use. It is not that the poet is not able to write in good English but to show how Indians use English and the poet used it as a vehicle for humor and satire. Yet through the language we can find the Indianness of the poem. Indians writing their poems in such a language maybe attributed to the fact that most ‘educated Indians’ are ‘Bilingual’ or ‘Multilingual’ and they hear a lot of language, other than English around them, as there are many different other languages in India. There are many prominent Indian English writer who also write in their own language. A.K Ramanujan has published two collections of verse in Kanada and translated some from Kanada to ancient Tamil. Kamala Das has written prose in Malayalam. In any case the poet’s other language will surely affect to the greater or lesser extent the way he or she writes. And the use of Indian words in their poems is also prominent due to ‘Bilingualism’. And all this attributes contribute towards the Indianness of English.
Indian poet cannot help but to exploit Indianness in their poems. Indian English poets increasingly feel the need to evolve an Indian Idiom, and not stick to British rule of correctness. The poet may like to write about the superstitions of crows or those details about the cow but in the readers mind he may do it for exotic appeal to non-Indian readers, even though the poet may be able to justify his Indian material for poetic reason. The validity of Indian English poetry depends on the creation of a new idiom- Indian English Idiom which is distinct from the idioms of the writers all over the world who write in English. There is a demand as it were in the past for the creation of an Indian English idiom to give authenticity and identity to post nineteen-sixty Indian poetry in English. It is a fact that recent poets like Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, Shiv K. Kumar Daruwalla and a few others have succeeded to some extent in creating a new Idiom for Indian English. For example, Ezekiel uses a number of Indian words like “guru, goonda, burkha, chapatti, pan” etc. These obviously make it more Indian in sensibility.
Somehow a reader is always able to find what the Indian poet writes as ‘Indian’ because the Indian poets are tuned to be Indian consciously or unconsciously. Any other Indian poets in their own language are free from this entrapment. This is due to the fact that an Indian poet writing in English will be compared to its western counterpart and therefore its differences are noted. An Indian writer cannot escape being Indian in His writing because he is an Indian.
Indianness can also have positive effect for a writer. An Indian reader would prefer to read a poem that they can relate to, while at the same time, the same poem will be read by a western reader, will have the Indian effect and exoticness of the eastern world. A reader will be able to identify the poem as a work of an Indian.
Indianness can also have a negative effect. Readers from the west maybe confused with the Indian usage of English. It is to be noted that Indian English have not achieve a status of its own yet. C.B Cox notes that “ We now accept that American English has a character of its own,’ and that is the result of “ a tradition of great American literature. Indian English has yet to achieve this status…this creation of living language, a truly Indian English, is the task of the novelist and the poet”.
Indian poets have a certain disadvantages when writing in English, but poets always have ways of coping with handicaps, and sometime talents performs brilliantly with one hand tied at the back. And Indian poets are still able to perform brilliantly in spite of many handicaps.
Indianness: Illustrations from the Prominent Poets:
1) Jayanta Mahapatra:
All the prescribed poems of Jayanta Mahapatra deal with the Orian Landscape and possess Indian sensibility. In “Dawn at Puri”, Mahapatra underlines the importance of Puri and what it means to the Hindus. Women wish to die at Puri to attain salvation. Mahapatra writes:
“ her last wish to be cremated here
twisting uncertainly like light
on the shifting sands”