Poet, Author, Editor, Creative Writing Consultant

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Indianization of English Poetry: Some Thoughts ( prepared for The Delhi Poetry Festival at JNU, 10th January 2014)

The Indianization of English Poetry:
1) If it means the writing of poetry in English by Indian Poets, this began a long time back. We have famous poets like Sri Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), A. K. Ramanujan (1929-1993), and others that have followed like Nissim Ezekiel (1924-2004), Adil Jussawalla, Keki Daruwalla and Kamala Das (1934-2009).

2) If it means the writing of poetry in English with Indian Settings and References, then again these very distinguished poets and others have done that. Ramanujan’s poem, “Prayers To Lord Murugan” addresses the ‘lord of new arrivals, lovers and rivals’ to ‘arrive at once with cockfight and banner’… had references to a god which an English reader would be hard put to understand. 

In Adil Jussawalla’s collection (The Right Kind of Dog), “A Song for Eklavya” refers to Eklavya’s story (in the Mahabharta). The Indian reader will ‘know’ the reference.
Nissim Ezekiel’s poem, The Professor, is in fact a satire on the Indianisms we use everyday. Some lines read, “We are keeping up. Our progress is progressing.” And “If you are coming again this side by chance, Visit please my humble residence also. I am living just on opposite house's backside.” ( Rukhaya MK, in ‘Telling it like it Is’ calls  this Indianism an adaptation of the language to adopt to the native language structure. It highlights mother-tongue interference).

3) If it means the inclusion of Hindi words in the English dictionary, then that too , as we all know, is in existence, words like jungle, curry, chai, being a few of them, known not only to the English but also the global reader.


What we are, however, talking about today , when we talk of the Indianization of English Poetry, is the assimilation of English as a language into our own writing of poetry in a way that it becomes more ‘comfortable’: reaches a wider audience, is read and understood by many more, and allows more Indians to take to writing in English with comfort and freedom.

This has also led to the development of what is also called HINGLISH, when the spoken language has lent itself to the written word. This is the non-elitist, everyday-speak form of English. Just like Urdu , a mix of 3 languages (Farsi, Arabi, and Hindi) was made popular by poets like Ghalib and Iqbal, so also it may be that one day Hinglish is the language made popular by today’s poets in India.

There is a breaking of elitist chains with youthful voices willing to experiment and produce new work. When free verse came into being, there was initial protest. When free expression in a language more attuned to Indian ears (but originating elsewhere), takes place, there is bound to be protest, but it will finally be welcomed and appreciated.

The Indianization of English poetry will bring more colour and life. It may be an initially disquieting presence, but it will free the Indian voice, bringing it from the stiff proscenium venues to the open stage.

A word of caution: This liberty accorded by today’s freedom of expression does not mean that one can write anything in the name of Indianization of English Poetry and hope to get away with it.

Whatever we do, we must always use our language with care and we should not dim the intensity of the poetic gaze.

Given below, a poem in Hinglish.

In Praise of Hinglish

We are putting away, writing off
what they call it? 
Partridges in the pear tree.
Now we are writing about peacocks 
dancing away in the jungle.
More correct, I thinks.
What you thinks?

Writing off and away, we are,
 Sammy and Harry 
Writing about, now, 
Sweetys and Harry Singhs.
Doing jungle mein mangal.

We are 
Doing poetry
with words 
like drinking the cutting chai, 
eating the pav bhaji,
I am liking it. 
Writing all this in Hinglish.
What this you saying?
Like only English Vinglish? 

But why? 
We are also making
Our words rhyme and sing
Telling our poems
to a certain praaji,
Or even this lovely Auntiji.
Or a close fraand.Not girlfraand! 
How can you suggest such a shocking things!
But I must say, dear,
We are having
the poetry within us.

It will find a way. 
Chalo, likhona, puttar.
Write it anyway
No agar magar about it now.
What difference between bull and cow?
One and same thing.
I am liking it. 
Writing all this in Hinglish.
What this English Vinglish?
Write in Hinglish
I am understanding it so well only.

© ABHA IYENGAR, 9th Jan 2013 for The Delhi Poetry Festival.