Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

Introduction: Subaltern Discourse?

Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

Introduction: Subaltern Discourse?

Article excerpt

Indian writing in English, especially fiction, continues to capture the attention of readers all over the English-speaking world. Conversely, although there is a strong and flourishing tradition of poetry in English within India, with India's first Nobel Prize for Literature having been conferred upon poet Rabindranath Tagore in 1913, poetry in English from India has not impacted on the contemporary world in the same manner as the fiction. While poetry in English in India seems to have been written from the early nineteenth century, the first novel in English by an Indian, Rajmohan's Wife, was serialized in a littleknown journal called The Indian Field in 1894.1 If the provenance of poetry in English is older than that of the Indian novel in English, its marginalization is, for the thinking mind, a subject engaging enough to be explored.

In the Indian philosophical and literary tradition, it is poetry that is the first form of utterance and address as exemplified by the ancient Indian texts of the Veda, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Mahabharata and the Valmiki Ramayana. Over centuries, from Rig Vedic poetry evolved poetic drama, and, prose, as a medium of literary expression, is a late entrant. The Mughals may have used it in Persian, to delineate the history and administrative achievements of a bloodline, but it is really after the coming of the British that native Indians acquired a penchant for literary expression in prose.2 By then, Derozio, Tom Dutt, and later, during the Nationalist movement, Tagore, Aurobindo and Sarojini Naidu had already captured public attention as poets. The kind of veneration and fan following these poets could drum up is at present a distant dream for poetry in English in India.

The absence of a Great Cause like the World Wars or the Partition of India may be one of the reasons for poetry having ceased to be a major mode of expression. The marginalization of poetry in English in India may be symptomatic of poetry having been "outmoded like the fletcher's art"3 with a sharp decline in the taste and publishing of poetry the world over. But is that really so? Culturally, the world over, poetry is accorded a place of eminence in the layperson's imagination. Consider this line from an aerobatics display brochure that describes the manoeuvres of an MIG fighter plane as "precision poetry in the sky". Likewise, at a Congress Convention in Hyderabad, India, in December 2005, a banner, in the grip of poetic frenzy, boasts:

GANDHI TO SONIA

PEACE IS IDEA

PRIORITY TO AGRICULTURE

RESPITE TO FARMER

It is well known that after the horror of 9/11, people in New York expressed their confusion and anxiety in a flurry of poetic activity, as also, writing poetry kept prisoners of Guantanamo together, holding on to a sense of self and culture.

Today, one of the reasons for a decline in taste for the writing, reading and publishing of poetry may be attributed to the change in lifestyle; our rushed, pressurized existence which makes us prefer literature that is undemanding of our time. In comparison with good poetry, popular and even literary fiction is much less demanding and therefore more engaging than poetry. Read and forgotten, this genre does not expect us to go back to it again and again asking it existential questions. This fiction is mere storytelling. Read it, listen to it and move on. Poetry, on the other hand, for the middle-class reader, is associated with difficulty; is as feared as mathematics. Its layers of meaning demand a far greater level of engagement, ask uncomfortable, unanswerable questions and so is best, shunned. Yet, as a classical art form, poetry refuses to die. Age upon age, it somehow barely survives despite failure or a decrease in demand. This holds true for all classical forms of art perhaps because the classical is connected to spiritual enrichment and refinement. It may be pertinent to dwell on this thought that as long as spiritual hunger prevails in man, poetry will never die even though, in contemporary times, it makes nothing happen. …

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