Odes to turbulent times, from India’s ‘bhasa’ poets

New Delhi, May 22: The new vernacular poetry in India is moving away from the softer shades of nature and love – the genre made famous by poet Rabindranath Tagore – to negotiate the turbulent contemporary times by addressing stark social realities.

Contemporary vernacular poetry is becoming more strident according to the changing social constructs, agreed a cross-section of contemporary poets who were in the capital last week at a daylong session titled ‘Indian Poetry Festival: The Word in the World’.

Organised by the Sahitya Akademi, the workshop showcased realistic modern poetry which is defying traditional meters and rhyme to create new post-modern deconstructive formats, reflective of the influence of the emerging global poetic and musical trends.

The themes are wide, diverse and spontaneous – from poetry about female infanticide by young Punjabi writers to the plight of the tribes in the northeastern states by Bodo, Assamese and Mishing poets.

‘The essence of the emerging Indian ‘bhasa’ poetry is best captured by infamous Chilean poet Nicanor Parra Sandoval’s three line poem of six words against America, ‘U S A, Where liberty is a Statue’. The poem was flashed across billboards in Manhattan and Americans laughed when they saw it. This is the kind of democracy young vernacular poets are creating in India today,’ noted Bengali poet Subodh Sarkar said.

Sarkar, the author of ‘Mothers of Manipur’, said ‘a powerful new language of poetry was emerging from the extreme edge of the country like Manipur and Kashmir to talk about the troubled times in the state’.

‘A poem is not a bullet but a nuclear bomb. Manipuri poetry is making a strong appearance on the national literary scene. The poets are talking about pain, rootlessness, decades of violence and draconian laws culminating into incidents like Manorama (who was allegedly raped and killed by security forces in 2004 in Manipur),’ Sarkar told IANS.

He said Bengali poetry too had changed since the early modern romantic and revolutionary poets of the 20th century to become ‘more global and rooted in the times like Marathi, Malayalee and Manipuri poetry’.

Kashmiri poet Shabnam Tilgami digs into the troubled soul of Kashmir in his ghazal and poetry.

‘Before the 1990s, poetry in Kashmir was about beauty, affection and human values. But as turbulence gripped the state, the language of poetry in the state became mixed. The essence of love remained, but a group of young poets – mostly from north Kashmir – have taken up their pen to write about violence,’ Tilgami said.

Tilgami, who leads a platform of young poets in Kashmir, is one of the new Kashmiri poets who has not seen the ‘pre-1990s’ in the Valley.

‘I try to uphold the spirit of Kashmiriat – the essence of being a Kashmiri – in my poetry. Kashmiriat to my mind is about brotherhood, love, human values, taking pride in heritage and peace. I picked up the pen in the 1990s when the Valley was wracked by insurgency,’ the poet told IANS.

The trend sweeps across the central plains to Kannada territory where young poets are reaching out to villages with their ‘land poetry’ to raise consciousness about issues like displacement, land grab and land rights.

The Naxal movement and the nationalist agitations for territorial autonomy in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have spawned poetry of protest, intervention and peace, says young Kannada poet Veeranna Madiwalara, who fights against the displacement of marginalized people from traditional land with his poetry.

Madiwalara, who lives in a remote part of Belgaum district of Karnataka, works with the dispossessed in north Karnataka and protests feudal practices by ‘reading poetry in villages’.

‘I have been trying to address issues of globalisation and the proxy-dictatorship of the government in villages,’ Madiwalara told IANS.

Says poet, writer and filmmaker Sagari Chabbra, who composes in English: ‘A new generation of young poets are writing about the times – the way poor people are being treated, globalisation, violence and injustice.’

One of her poems, ‘In Gujarat Again’, questions the dual edge of faith. ‘I was Radha/ Awaiting Eternal love/Straining my ears for him who plays the golden flute / Till they come playing the local brute/ Using my faith to rape, maim and loot.’

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

IANS