Friday, August 6, 2010

Golden Voice of New India

Golden Voice of New India
                                           - Prof. Irina Burova*

The history of the Indian literature began about 4,000 years ago. Anglo-Indian literature is far more younger, having started to form only in the second half of the 19th century.

It is worth mentioning that before the World War I two great men of letters whose creative work was inseparably connected with India had been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), an English prose writer, poet and journalist got it in 1907, and in 1913 it was presented to Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1841), an Indian writer, poet, artist, composer and public figure. Kipling spent the first six years of his life in India and later, in 1882-1889, worked there as a journalist. He was the first to tell the world about the real life of the British India, sighing deeply over “the White Man’s burden”, the one that was making him propagate European civilization in distant lands with marked cultural traditions of their own. Knowing India much better than most of his contemporaries, Kipling was pessimistic with respect to the perspective of achieving mutual understanding between the representatives of the two worlds, having coined his skepticism in his famous “East is East, and West is West”.

Rabindranath Tagore wrote in Bengali. The extent of his creative work popularity with his compatriots can be understood from the fact that a lot of his songs (and he wrote some three thousands of them) became folk songs. Tagore was introduced to the West thanks to William Butler Yeats and Ezra Pound who believed that the Bengali poet’s creative work was full of the supreme wisdom and reminded of things that would slip one’s memory in the chaos of the Western way of life. Familiarity with Tagore’s poetry due to its translations into English first permitted European readers to hear the mystic voice of India. Tagore managed to achieve what Kipling had so much doubted about, namely, to bring together two worlds, the Orient and the Occident. Having presented his people with faith in their native tongue, their cultural and moral values, Tagore absorbed the achievements of the British culture as well, which made his works an integral part of the Western literature. To a considerable degree, his entry into it proved to be quite natural due to the fact that many translations of Tagore’s works were authorized.

Tagore’s example gave an incentive to the unprecedented development of writing in numerous languages spoken in India, however, modern Indian authors, as it is easy to see, tend to be bilingual, like Dilip Chitre (1938—2009), or prefer writing in English to facilitate their access to the world’s reading public while demonstrating loyalty to the aspiration for combining oriental and occidental traditions in their literary work. The works by the outstanding thinker Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), a natural combination of Vedanta, teachings of Hindu mysticism, and elements of Western European philosophy, have been the striking instance of such an approach. The “magic realism” of Salman Rushdie (b. 1947), one of the greatest Anglo-Indian prose writers of the second half of the 20th century, also developed through the synthesis of oriental and occidental cultural traditions.

Abhay K. (b.1980) who has been keeping on this trend in the Anglo-Indian literature may be called the most distinguished among the modern Indian poets writing in English. A graduate of Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, he is a career diplomat who served earlier in Moscow at the Embassy of India and is currently serving as Consul at the Consulate General of India in St. Petersburg. Since his literary debut in 2006 he has published his memoir “River Valley to Silicon Valley – Story of Three Generations of an Indian Family (2007; Russian translation, 2008) and a poetry book “Enigmatic Love: Love Poems from the Fairy-Tale City of Moscow” (2009). The growing global concern for the environmental problems prompted the author to publish the e-version of another collection of poems, “Fallen Leaves of Autumn” (2010). Furthermore, the Indian poet has contributed to two separate anthologies of poetry published by the Forward Press, UK, “Natural Spirit” edited by Michelle Afford (2006) and "A Moment of Déjà Vu" (2007) edited by Annabel Cook. His poems have also been published by Russian magazines such as “Literary Petersburg” and “Women’s Petersburg”, as well as by “EASA Annual”.

Abhay K’s memoir “River Valley to Silicon Valley – Story of Three Generations of an Indian Family” has become a favourite modern piece of Indian prose with Russian readers. The book wins the audience with its naturally sincere narrative mode and serves two main purposes- portray the drastic changes that have taken place in the life of Indian society and understand the true source of the author’s exuberant energy and thirst for creative experimenting. Abhay K. may be described as a self-made modern man who has been using every opportunity to develop his natural talents.

Most poetry has been written about love. Since time immemorial love has been treated as a great mystery, an irrational emotion akin to obsession or malady that conquers hearts of men and women, turning their lives into either celestial bliss or bitter suffering. Few poets have escaped the temptation to write love poetry, and Abhay K. is not an exception from the general rule. While in Moscow, he wrote a series of beautiful poems on the enigmas of love that made up his first collection of poems, “Enigmatic Love”, bringing together the results of deep meditations on its eternal and invisible power. To cite Abhay K’s introduction to the book, “love is the vehicle riding on which life enters this world, love helps the new life grow into a full-fledged mature adult and the cycle continues”. Love will exist till the stars turn cold or even longer, and it is the universal guide that leads us both in this world and hereafter.

The poet sees the world as permeated with love. As he has put it, “I am overwhelmed by the love that I have found on Earth – in warm and innocent smiles of the strangers passing by, in the blossoming flowers, in shining stars under a clear blue sky, in the grass rustling with the wind, in the fallen leaves of autumn every year, in the rising and setting sun every day, in the velvety soft skin of grandma and her stories, in father’s fingers that led me everywhere, in mother’s hugs and care, in curious looking eyes of cats and dogs, in the endless crushes I had since my childhood, in the first embrace and first kiss, in the cry of the new born baby and many other such divine and deeply spiritual experiences”. Love has become the greatest value in Abhay K’s moral philosophy that he faithfully and impeccably follows in his everyday life and creative work.

“Enigmatic Love” sets an example of how to treasure every moment of life (“A Birthday Song”, “Home Coming), the optimistic tone of the sequence is contagious and inspiring. And, of course, there is the lady of the poems — warm, tender and sweet, the real Angel, the Princess, the Right One, the adored bride and the Muse of Abhay K’s poetry. Famous sights of Moscow are only a part of the reason for the poet to call it a fairy-tale city. For Abhay K, it is his lady love whom he met in Moscow who turned it into a magic land of dreams come true. And the collection of love poems might be regarded as a precious present, bringing to mind the famous “Epithalamion” by Edmund Spenser, the first poet writing in English to celebrate his own bride and create a poetic monument to his love.

The period of Abhay K.’s service in St. Petersburg has been marked by the full-scale development of his distinctive talent for painting, his paintings having been displayed at numerous group and solo art exhibitions in St. Petersburg and Paris. Some of his canvases replenished private collections of Russian, French and Japanese connoisseurs of modern painting.

It was in St. Petersburg that he finished up his work at another book of poetry, “Candling the Light”. I was lucky to help editing its Russian translation, and it was a choice pleasure as I felt deeply inspired by the very outspoken, sincere manner of the poet and his noble way of thinking. It should be noted that all the translations were authorized by Abhay K. who has a fine command of the Russian language.

Abhay K.’s lyrics is philosophical, his poetry is always aimed at searching the truth and the purpose of human existence. The young poet is tormented with the thought that the world is filled with pain and suffering, while it can and should be so beautiful and happy. To some extent, this motif resembles poems by Jayanta Mahapatra, one of the leading English-speaking Indian poets of the first half of the 20th century, but his works are permeated with the feeling of unconquerable loneliness of the poet failing to live in harmony with the world around him, which is in opposition to the general mood of Abhay K’s poetry.

The author of “Candling the Light” possesses an inherent sense of inner harmony with the world. He does not have to make efforts trying to bring West and East together as he sees the world as an indivisible, single whole and so he is not merely proud of his home country, India (“Musings from India”) but feels himself a citizen of the planet Earth. Thanks to a remarkable openness of his personality and love for the world he can stunningly easily adapt himself to the surroundings, he is able to see the joy and beauty of life in the cool and chilly spring in Moscow (“Bolshoi Theatre”) and in the hot and sunlit lanes of the Old Delhi, (“The Old Delhi Book Lane”), he feels at home and at ease almost everywhere (“Not a Stranger Any More”), he knows the world is far from being perfect (“When Tomorrow Comes…”, “Hell an Heaven”, “The Dark Side of Life”) but his sincere optimism tells him to learn how to see the things which are good and kind and teach his readers to do the same (“It’s Never Too Late”, “As Good as It Gets”). The aforesaid allows to present Abhay K. as the poet who gives the Indian English poetry a fundamentally new supranational character, concurrently preserving a careful and respectful attitude to traditions.

By keenness of perception of the surrounding physical reality and exactness of its description Abhay K.’s poetry might be compared to the works by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra (b. 1947). Although the poets resemble each other by the use of a common motif of reminiscences about the happy childhood, the golden dream that was left in the irrevocable past, Abhay K’s poems are free from the rational aestheticism and affectation peculiar to Mehrotra, possibly the consequences of the poet’s reaction to the aesthetics of the Western Avant-Gardism or, in the later works, to Postmodernism. The poems included in the collection of “Candling the Light” are full of the feeling of gratitude to life regarded as the supreme value (“Life Is Brief”, “Immortality”). Abhay K. sees it as a holy way leading to good and the truth, the way everybody has to pass. And he believes that people are able to do it (“Hero”, “Man (I)”).

Whatever Abhay K. is writing about, he does so from the spiritual need, trying to share his spontaneous thoughts and feelings (“In Love with Failures”, “I Am Not a Poet”); such impressionistic qualities of Abhay K’s poetry are advantageously reinforced with his predilection of free verses. Free verses excellently convey the flow of the poet’s meditations, while the use of parallel syntactic constructions, anaphoras and repetitions provide his lines with additional energy and rhythm increasing the aesthetic effect produced by bright and radiant images created by Abhay K’s luxuriant imagination.

Russian readers cannot help admiring Abhay K’s Moscow cycle of poems included in “Candling the light” and feeling a warm gratitude for the wonderful Indian poet who writes on Russia with such a genuine love.

*Irina Burova,
Professor, PhD, Dr. Sc,
Department of the History of Foreign Literature,
St. Petersburg State University,
April 2010

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