Understanding Indianness in Indian English Poetry requires an understanding of India first – Alok Mishra

“When I first read about this concept in M. K. Naik’s book, I was curious to inquire further. Indianness in Indian English Poetry is my research topic now. The deeper I go into this abyss, the more I know about India.”

Tells Alok Mishra, a noted Indian English poet and literary critic, about his acquaintance with the topic of Indianess. Critics have finally woken up to this prominent issue in Indian English literature. Earlier, people seldom bothered to inquire whether an Indian poet writing in English bothers about Indianness or not. However, with rising numbers of research papers written on this topic, Indianness has appeared in the intellectual and literary circles with an emphatic presence.

It takes no rocket science to understand that Indian English poetry, in its initial phases, was an imitation of the British poetry of that time. Derozio, Dutt-kins, and other early English poets in India borrowed much from the English poets that eclipsed the originality (if there was any). Toru Dutt, among the earlier English poets in India, remains an alone hero for the Indian thoughts, Indian cause, and Indian themes. Her poetry was close to the Indian spirit even when she was not in India herself. There are critics who don’t agree with Derozio being attributed to titles in Indian English poetry.

“Derozio, no doubt was a poet of substance… but what substance? People of his time called him out for perverting the minds of Hindus and compelling them to come to the fold of Christianity. K R Srinivasa Iyenger calls out ‘Derozio men’ for sheepishly believing in anything West and ridiculing anything east. Derozio presented the West to the eagers in the East and a few went with the flow. His poetry was mimicry of the lofty British Romanticism wrapped in a shallow understanding of Indian methods – thus failing on both fronts. Out of the early Indian English poets, only Toru Dutt, despite her unconsciously giving in to Christianity because of her father’s whims, reflects what India stands for since the dawn of the civilisation… an eternal quest and many exemplary personalities to follow.”

Once again, Alok Mishra leaves no room for ‘sympathy’ or ‘respect’ when it comes to commenting on the poets of the early Indian English literature. After Toru Dutt, it was Sri Aurobindo who carried the flaming torch of Indianess to a very considerable distance. Sarojini Naidu and Tagore do feature on that list but their idea of Indianess nowhere comes close to what Sri Aurobindo envisioned and presented to the readers.

After the Indian Independence in 1947 and after modernism and post-modernism affected Indian English literature, it was the poets like Nissim Ezekiel and A K Ramanujan who carried the idea of Indianness in their poetry with an impact that was useful and ideal. Nissim Ezekiel, more than any other modern Indian English poet, represents the thoughts and Ideas that resemble the best of India. Though Ezekiel was not an Indian by origin, he understood India better than the poets like Kamala Das or Pritish Nandy who are not only mediocre in their theme selections but also in their execution of the poetic act.

Jayant Mahapatra presents the religious and spiritual ideals of India in a very distinct way. And to understand him, one has to understand India first. However, with his recent actions and statements, the poet has sent mixed signals to his readers. Understanding the mammoth idea of Indianness sometimes takes a toll on any genius mind and the same seems to have affected Mahapatra in his late years.

Indianness is about the religious and spiritual richness of India. It is about the ‘look inside’ attitude of Indians that is not found anywhere else in the world. It is about the great personalities like Ram and Krishna, Buddha and Mahavir, Vivekananda and Paramhansa, Sri Aurobindo and Yogananda, Goddesses of death and Goddesses of prosperity, Shiva who consumed poison for the welfare of mankind and Vamana who liberated the world from Bali… without understanding the sacrifice that Bharat and Lakshman made for their elder brother Ram or that Karna had to embrace injustice for his friendship’s debt, without getting to know about Vishnu’s 10 Avatars for the greater good of Mankind, without knowing the Adi Shakti, without knowing the Gita or Upanishads, without learning about the Vedas, without knowing the importance of Aatma and Parmatama, without having any idea of Bharat that stands for tolerance and Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam… no one can fathom the essence of Indianess and hence it is impossible to either write about it or look for it in someone’s writings.


BY Agraj for Intellectual Reader

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