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The Growth Of Indian Poetry English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2337 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Indian poetry has a full and ancient past. During the last four thousand years it was written in the languages belonging to both the major linguistic groups, the Indo-Aryan and the Indo-Dravidian. Indian poetry in Sanskrit and its popular forms flourished primarily from the middle of the second millennium BC to AD 1,000. During the one thousand years, Indian poetry was written in most of the Indo-Aryan and the Indo-Dravidian languages including Assamese, Bengali, Guajarati, Hindi, Kashmiri, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu.

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The growth of Indian poetry in English was a direct result of the British influence and rule of India. Early Indian poetry in English was a borrowed plume in every possible way. Right from syntax to sentiments everything was so imitative that it looked a perfect alien bride. Both in its inspiration and guidance it depended on England. Even the imagination was slavish.

The nature, quality, expanse and dimensions of, both, mind and imagination, depend upon the freedom linguistic elasticity offers the user. Attempts to keep the rigidities of British syntax, word use, phrase making, and melody have either improvised poetry in English or made it as complex and abstract as follows:

“The ageing chemist in his drawing room, terse,

Gentle: the sea like soapsuds in the night,

Seen from the ship: the moon, leprous, inverse,

Rising: the girl at Hanoi with her white

Hands and dog’s ears, dripping with amber light:

Have these things shaped me for the craft of verse?

Do they remain, giving a sad insight?

And have I changed for better or for worse?” [1] 

Yet another reason for the poverty and monotony of Indian poetry in English was the monopoly of its practice by elites placed either in a few metropolises or educated abroad. The publishing industry, which also got localised in these metropolises, felt overawed by this elite class of poets and refused to patronise others. It is only the Writers Workshop which respected the urgencies of expression of the common man. Indian poetry in English has since found its roots in the rural areas and men of genuine feelings over-ride the restraints and constraints of a medium calling for nativization. More poetry in English has now poured forth from a variety of people representing the life and spirit of this land. This secularisation has, obviously, led to the remoulding of English to the native needs of expression termed as Indianization.

The term ‘Indainization of English’ is generally used in the pejorative sense without understanding the dynamics of linguistic change of this medium in the country. We cannot both, use English in Indian Contexts and yet keep its British cultural antecedents and linguistic sanctities. Objections to this process of acculturation of English come from those pedagogues who are either suffering from colonial chauvinism or academic purism. But aside of these reservations, English in India has continued to serve its changed contexts remarkably well. Though the Indian novelists in English have accelerated the process of desired linguistic deviation, it is the Indian poets in English who have stabilised the naturalization of English to native hues. Braj B. Kachru, errs when he opines this process as “linguistic and cultural characteristics transferred to an adopted alien language”. In fact, it should be rightly described as naturalization of a language wherein it does not act alien. It is only when the stereotypes of languages, word use, and collocation, phrase and image making are dismantled that the medium can be made amenable and reconstructed to house the native feel of life. English when separated from the rigidity of its British usage, rightly becomes neutral to develop as an independent dialect, as in the case of the Caribbean, the West African and South Asian. The wider is the dissociation of language from its socio-cultural and geographic-political roots, the greater is its freedom to serve the new user.

The ever increasing number of Indian English poets has led to a definitive growth of English as Indian. The exercise of the personal and the private in the form has led to a sizeable naturalization of English to the feel of the local hand, men and events cape in the country. English, in this process of transformation, has undergone some mutilation of its traditional grammar, syntax and usage. Hence, the Indianization of English is a historical corollary and it must be understood and accepted as such.

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The increased use of Indian landscape and the dissociation from Christmas trees, lilies, daffodils, dales, and nightingales have changed the texture of English in its usage for creative purposes. Consequently, there is a shift in the import and suggestiveness of the language, facilitating ease in taking liberties with the British bound norms and forms of making inflexions compounds and phrases, and patterns of making images and sentences to suit the Indian ethos and imagination. The faddists generally charge Indian English poets of not creating but importing translations of their native thought and feel structures and consequently, the corresponding linguistic patterns in English, not knowing the urgency and purpose of manipulating a foreign medium to our purpose and use. English itself in England has undertone this process of enrichment from French borrowings. Bloomfield is of opinion that expressions like – ‘a marriage of convenience’, ‘it goes without saying’ or ‘I have told him I do not know how many times’, are ‘Word for word imitations’ of French phrases. [2] Here the Indian has the advantage of being, both, French and British and lender and borrower in one; and this acceptance, accumulation, and naturalization of English as a medium of expression is obviously going to be on his own terms rather than on the terms dictated by colonial straightjackets. English cannot be Indian unless its British identity is tampered with. Not that it has to be done deliberately. It is happening in a natural course of its use and usage in the country. Its dialectical variations have multiplied according to the field and feel in which it has been used in different geographic-cultural and socio-professional contexts in the country. No two English spoken in our country are of the same frame, order, register, and texture.

Narrowing down the generalization of English in India to that of the variety used and practised by the poets; we find that most of the Indian poets in English come from the educated class whereby the parameters of its criticism and analysis are likely to be less controversial. Further, the shift of poetry as medium of expression from the Westernized urban elite to the native has given English sufficient ground not merely for cleansing its British affectations and associations but also for naturalization it to Indian sensibilities. No deliberate attempt to Indianize English would succeed in taming English to our respective needs unless it is decolonised through a gradual and wider usage in life styles common to the local contexts in general. The African English is the most admiral model to learn from in this direction.

Indian English poetry over the past two-hundred and fifty years departs from any stylized representation of reality of the Indian life and scene or any stylistic experimentation with language to assert national identity. Instead it makes conscious use of language, thereby making language more malleable to change with ease and naturalness. The features of change in this form can be observed in the areas of using words with shades of meaning not attributed to it before, compounding, phrase making, transfer of idioms, lexis, collocations, appellations, use of prepositions, change in morphological features, coinage, syntax, assimilation of Indian words and myths, and above all in image making. The excessive use of the spiritual, transcendental and metaphysical mode has also affected the tone and texture of this poetry. Besides, one could also note the continued use of polite diction and Latinity in this poetry. Generally there is a scaling down of high seriousness to simplicity and human concerns. There is no strict classification or movements among poets in this regard. The poets exhibit these changes and characteristics of change in entirety or in parts in their own ways. The ever increasing poets from the non-elite and non-urban tribe have led to the right naturalisation of English to the Indian milieu and ethos. Though the jingoism of aesthetic slavery to colonial rule in academic criticism may pick holes in the very credentials of this expressive medium and form (poetry), the current of changes cannot be denied or averted, as witnessed in the ‘Gaelicization’ and ‘Africanization’ of English in Ireland and Africa. While there were strong political overtones to and behind this change in these countries, fortunately or unfortunately, there is no such political fervour behind the change in India. More than Douglas Hyde, Brendan Behan, and Synge; it is Chinua Achebe, Gabriel Okara, and Amos Tutuola who come closest to our situation and provide a parallel to this change in open affirmation of the fact that no Indian should accept the British modes and models of English if he is to use it as a medium of his expression in the country. Therefore the changed contexts of landscape, culture and linguistic anodes and patterns not only alienate the language from its roots but also force it to put on the local colour, texture, usage, form, and function.

There are three questions that come to the fore when discussing about Indian poetry of English:

Is Indian verse in English only sometimes “Indian” and occasionally poetry?

Must Indian poetry in English be “Indian” before it can be true poetry?

In what exactly lies the “Indianness” of Indian poetry in English?

To begin with the first question, “Is Indian verse in English only sometimes ‘Indian’ and occasionally poetry”?; the second part of this question is easily answered. All Indian verse in English produced during the last two centuries from Henry Derozio to the present day does not automatically qualify as genuine poetry. As a recent anthologist puts it, “Publication in the field of Indo-Anglian poetry has been ample and indiscriminate. For every reckonable book of Indo-Anglian poems I have read, I have probably read ten that need not have been read at all. They may be Indo-Anglian, but they are not poetry”. [3] We might agree, some Indian verse in English is only occasionally poetry, mostly because it is very much a poetry of occasion. Most of the numerous sonnets and verse celebrating the motherland and the illustrious leaders ( Sarojini Naidu’s “To India”, and “The Lotus”, Humayun Kabir’s “Mahatma”, V.N.Bhushan’s “Ninth August, 1942”, and R.R.Srestha’s “A Light onto our Path”) are cases in point, cullied in random. Conventional sentiment couched in conventional diction and imagery can hardly rise to the level of genuine poetry.

In trying to find a satisfactory answer to the first part of the question, viz. “Is Indian verse in English only sometimes Indian”, one is on comparatively safe ground in spotting obvious imitations, which has made an uncomfortably large part of this writing a whispering gallery of echoes rather than a chorus of authentic voices. Thoreau wrote in Walden, “The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same”. The history of Indian poetry in English shows a similar process at work. When the head monkey in London puts on a new literary thinking cap, all the descendants of Shri Hanumanji in India dutifully do the same. Kashiprosad Ghosh’s Shair in The Shair and Other poems was obviously an Indian avatar of Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrel in The Lay of the Last Minstrel. The romantic sun indeed continued to shine in India long after it had ceased to shed on Britain the ‘light that never was on sea or land’, because literary geography inevitably implies a time-lag similar to the one which physical geography presents. After Victorianism succeeded romanticism in Britain, in due course Tennysonesque and Swinburnian melodies (some of Harindranath Chattopadhyaya’s lyrics are typical examples) and Arnoldian musing (One recalls Gordon Bottomley’s well known description of Indian-poetry in English as “Mathew Arnold in a saree”) becme the models to be aped. Modernism arrived after independence (again with the inevitable time-lag) more than a generation after it had entered Britain.

Indian poetry in English is thus only occasionally poetry and only sometimes poetry. This leads to another strain of thought that – why must Indian poetry in English be always “Indian” to establish a nationality. H.W.Longfellow is reported to have said, in connection with the novel Kavanagh, “Nationality in literature is good, but universality is better”. Longfellow’s statement leads to a similar plea: Why insist that the Indian poet must talk of the banyan and the Champak, and not of cedars and wisterias; of parrots and water-buffaloes and not of redbreasts and unicorns; of mangoes and guavas, and not of pears and peaches?


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