Category Archives: Indian English Literature

“a high-class cheez”


Novelist Chandrahas Choudhury on the state of novel in English in India:

In a scene early in Vikram Chandra’s massive 2006 cops-and-robbers novel Sacred Games, the small-time gangster Ganesh Gaitonde sells some stolen gold and feels, for the first time in his life, wealthy and powerful. He goes looking for pleasure on the streets, and a pimp offers him “a high-class cheez.” But no sooner is Gaitonde left alone with the prostitute than he begins to feel set up. He has only one way of finding out whether his “cheez” is as high-class as promised. “Speak English,” he orders the woman. When she complies, Gaitonde cannot understand the words, but it doesn’t matter. “I knew that they were really English,” he thinks to himself. “I felt it in the crack of the consonants.”

The prostitute’s utterances in English earn her fee, just as the Indian novelist who chooses to write in English has often been accused, especially by readers and critics at home, of being inauthentic or a sellout, forcing characters with their roots in the words and worldview of some other Indian language to “speak English.” The debate, of course, is old, fraught with the historical baggage of India’s British colonial past…

More here.  To read more of Chandrahas Choudhury go here.

Dalit English Poet – Meena Kandasamy


Recently I came across an exciting voice in Indian English poetry: Meena Kandasamy. I first read her poems in a blog and found about her through blogs, her own as well of others. This is an indication in itself that blogging is beginning to be the dominant medium for accessing poetry. Blogging has several advantages in this respect as it unshackles the poets from being dependant on publishers or magazines. It is as democratic as is currently possible. More and more poets, despite their background, can find their  readers without being subjected to the humiliating process of the publishing industry.

Meena Kandasamy has some interesting things to say about blogging. She is a Dalit writer from Tamilnadu who writes poetry in English. She is also an active translator. Her blog makes for interesting reading. A new voice in the field of Indian English Literature, she is very articulate about the aspirations of the dalits. One of her recent blogs was insightful. Here she talks about blogging, caste oppression and women. Here is an excerpt:

from: Meena Kandasamy blog

Big media houses which own the major publications rarely give opportunity to Dalit (ex-untouchable) writers, and there’s an absence of Dalit/anti-caste writers who write in English. The elitist writers want to write the feel-good stuff, India Shining myths, and that’s the work that gets into print. So, I wanted to tap the power and enormous outreach of the internet: how anyone can write and be read/heard in the virtual space. I was not writing because anyone was commissioning me, I didn’t have to follow other people’s diktats, I could speak my mind. Google and tagging ensure that I can get heard without having my own column in any newspaper. Sometimes its helped me bring some happenings to light—such as the recent inside story of Dalit students being beaten up at a law university in Chennai (the mainstream media merely reported it as a “clash” at first) and so on. Blogging on feminist issues, with a caste perspective, was also something that I set out to do, because feminism in India forgets that caste exists at all, and that women at the bottom of the caste hierarchy do suffer more.

Since the cost of establishing alternative media in India is extremely high, activist groups have taken to the Internet in a big way. There is a hunger to use the potential of this media, and human rights defenders are doing it the right way. The campaign to free Binayak Sen; the exposes on state terrorism, fake encounters and police atrocities; the virulent speed in which fact-finding reports can be circulated; the ease with which the LGBT community in India came together and organized their shows of strength in every major city—these have all been possible because of the digital sphere and the space for social networking, discussion and dissemination that it allows.

She has another blog where she has posted several of her poems. She has published a collection of her poems called Touch. Kamala Das wrote the forward where she calls Meena an exciting writer. Believe her. Or decide after reading her poems. One of them is ‘Becoming a Brahmin‘:

Algorithm for converting a Shudra into a Brahmin


Step 1: Take a beautiful Shudra girl.
Step 2: Make her marry a Brahmin.
Step 3: Let her give birth to his female child.
Step 4: Let this child marry a Brahmin.
Step 5: Repeat steps 3-4 six times.
Step 6: Display the end product. It is a Brahmin.


Algorithm advocated by Father of the Nation at Tirupur.
Documented by Periyar on 20.09.1947.

Algorithm for converting a Pariah into a Brahmin

Awaiting another Father of the Nation
to produce this algorithm.

(Inconvenience caused due to inadvertent delay
is sincerely regretted.)

While this poem is a frontal attack, there is a nuanced poem which is rich in irony yet trenchant in its critique of the caste system – varna system.


Have you ever tried meditation?
Struggling hard to concentrate,
and keeping your mind as blank
as a whitewashed wall by closing
your eyes, nose, ears; and shutting out
every possible thought. Every thing.
And, the only failure, that ever came,
the only gross betrayal—
was from your own skin.
You will have known this.

Do you still remember,
how, the first distractions arose?
And you blamed skin as a sinner;
how, when your kundalini was rising,
shaken, you felt the cold concrete floor
skin rubbing against skin, your saffron robes,
how, even in a far-off different realm—
your skin anchored you to this earth.
Amidst all that pervading emptiness,
touch retained its sensuality.
You will have known this.

Or if you thought more variedly, about
taste, you would discount it—as the touch
of the tongue. Or, you may recollect
how a gentle touch, a caress changed
your life multifold, and you were never
the person you should have been.
Feeling with your skin, was
perhaps the first of the senses, its
reality always remained with you—
You never got rid of it.
You will have known this.

You will have known almost
every knowledgeable thing about
the charms and the temptations
that touch could hold.

But, you will never have known
that touch – the taboo
to your transcendence,
when crystallized in caste
was a paraphernalia of
undeserving hate.

Photo from: Meena Kandasamy blog.

Bibliography – Indian English Literature


Here is a fragmentary bibliography for the study of Indian English Literature. I am posting these fragments with the hope of putting together a more comprehensive bibliography some day.

General Resources on Indian English Literature

1. King Bruce, Modern Indian English Poetry. New Delhi: OUP, 1989.

2. Khair, Tabish. Babu Fictions: Alienation in Contemporary Indian English Novels. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001.

3. Lal, Malashri. The Law of the Threshold. Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1995.

4. Mukherjee, Meenakshi. The Twice Born Fiction. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann Publishers: 1971.

5. Naik, M.K. Twentieth Century Indian English Fiction. Delhi: Pencraft International, 2004.

6. Shirwadkar, K.R. The Indian Novel in English and Social Change. Bombay, Shalaka Prakashan: 1991.

7. R.K. Dhawan, (ed.), Indian Women Novelists, vol. I – IV, New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1991.

8. M.K. Naik, S.K. Desai, G.S. Amur (eds.), Critical Essays on Indian Writing in English. Delhi: Macmillan India, 1972.

9. Sudhakar Pande, R. Raj Rao (eds.), Image of India in the Indian Novel in English 1960 – 1985. Bombay: Orient Longman, 1993

10. Viney Kirpal (ed.) The New Indian Novel in English: A Study of the 1980s. Bombay: Allied Publishers Limited, 1990.

11. C.D. NArasimhaiah (ed.). Makers of Indian English Literature. Delhi: Pencraft International, 2000.

12. K.K. Singh.

Indian English Poetry After Independence. Jaipur: Book Enclave, 2006.

13. Jaydeep Sarangi (ed). Explorations in Indian English Poetry New Delhi: Authorspress, 2007.

14. M.K. Naik.  Indian English Poetry: from the Beginnings upto 2000. Delhi: Pencraft International, 2006.

15. Saryug Yadav and Amar Nath Prasad (eds.) Studies in Indian Drama in English. Bareilly: Prakash Book, 2003.

16. C.L. Khatri and Kumar Chandradeep (ed.) Indian Drama in English : An Anthology of Recent Criticism. Jaipur: Book Enclave, 2006.

17. Basavaraj Naikar (ed.).  Indian English Literature, Vol.I – VI, New Delhi, Atlantic Pub., 2007.

18. Nandini Sahu. The Post-Colonial Space : Writing the Self and the Nation. New Delhi: Atlantic, 2007.

19. Nand Kumar. Indian English Drama: A Study in Myths. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2003.

20. K. Venkata Reddy and R.K. Dhawan (eds). Flowering of Indian Drama : Growth and Development. New Delhi: Prestige, 2004.

21. Neeru Tandon (ed.). Perspectives and Challenges in Indian-English Drama. New Delhi: Atlantic, 2006.

Shashi Deshpande: That Long Silence

1. Joshi, Padmakar. Shashi Deshpande’s Fiction – A Study in Women Empowerment and Postcolonial Discourse. New Delhi: Prestige Books. 2003.

2. Saikat Majumdar, “Aesthetics of Subjectivity, Ethics of ‘Otherness’: The Fiction of  Shashi Deshpande”, Postcolonial Text, vol. 1, no. 2 (2005).

3. Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, “The Feminist Plot and the Nationalist Allegory: Home and  World in Two Indian Women’s Novels in English” in Modern Fiction Studies. vol. 39, no. 1 (1993). p. 80.

4. Parvati Bhatnagar “‘Go home like a good girl’ : an interpretation of That Long Silence by Shashi Deshpande” in R.A. Singh (ed.) Critical Studies on Commonwealth Literature. Jaipur, Book Enclave, 2003.

5. V.K. Pandey. “Sufferings and suppressed desires of women in Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence”  in Binod Mishra (ed.). Critical Responses to Feminism. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2006.

Girish Karnad Hayavadana

1. Tripathi, Vanashree, Three Plays Of Girish Karnad: A Study In Poetics And Culture. Delhi, Prestige, 2004.

2. Manoj K. Pandey. The Plays of Girish Karnad and Tradition. New Delhi: Adhyayan, 2007.

3. P. Dhanavel. The Indian Imagination of Girish Karnad. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 2000.

4. Jaydipsinh Dodiya. The Plays of Girish Karnad : Critical Perspectives. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 2004.

5. Mohit K Ray. “Tradition and Avant-garde in Girish Karnad’s “Hayavadana” in R.A. Singh (ed.) Critical Studies on Commonwealth Literature. Jaipur, Book Enclave, 2003.

6. Sudha Shastri and Amith Kumar P.V. “Locating Bakhtinian Carnival in Girish Karnad’s Hayavadana and Naga-Mandala” in Urmil Talwar and Bandana Chakrabarty (eds). Contemporary Indian Drama: Astride Two Traditions. New Delhi: Rawat, 2005.

7. Anshuman Khanna. “Karnad’s Hayavadana: myth redefined” in K.V. Surendran (ed.). Indian Literature in English: New Perspectives. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2002.

Mahesh Dattani Final Solutions

1. Charu Mathur. “Dramatic structures in Mahesh Dattani’s Tara and Final Solutions” in Urmil Talwar and Bandana Chakrabarty (eds). Contemporary Indian Drama: Astride Two Traditions. New Delhi: Rawat, 2005.

2. Venkat Ramani. “Meaning in Abyss: Dattani’s seven steps around the fire” in Urmil Talwar and Bandana Chakrabarty (eds). Contemporary Indian Drama: Astride Two Traditions. New Delhi: Rawat, 2005.

3. Sangeeta Das. “The sensational issues in the plays of Mahesh Dattani” in K. Venkata Reddy and R.K. Dhawan. Flowering of Indian Drama : Growth and Development. New Delhi: Prestige, 2004.

4. Neeru Tandon. “Mahesh Dattani and Badal Sircar” in Neeru Tandon (ed.). Perspectives and Challenges in Indian-English Drama. New Delhi: Atlantic, 2006.

5. Reena Mitra. “Mahesh Dattani’s Final Solutions and Other Plays: “A Living Dramatic Experience” in Reena Mitra. Critical Response to Literatures in English. New Delhi: Atlantic, 2005.

6. Amar Nath Prasad “The plays of Mahesh Dattani: a fine fusion of feeling and form” in Amar Nath Prasad. British and Indian English Literature : A Critical Study. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons, 2007.

Jayant Mahapatra

1. PRASAD, MADHUSUDAN ed. The Poetry of Jayanta Mahapatra New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1986.

2. MOHAN, DEVINDER. Jayanta Mahapatra New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1987.

3. DWIVEDI, A.N ed. Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse Bareilly: Prakash  Book Depot, 1984.

4. King Bruce. Modern Indian English Poetry. Delhi: OUP, 1989.

Nissim Ezekiel

1. KARNANI, CHETAN. Nissim Ezekiel. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1973.

2. DWIVEDI, SURESH CHANDRA. ed. Perspectives on Nissim Ezekiel New Delhi: K.M. Agencies, 1989.

3. “Nissim Ezekeil Special Issue”, JOURNAL of Indian Writing in English 14.2, 1986.

4. RAHMAN, ANISUR. Form and Value in the Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1981.

5. WISEMAN, CHRISTOPHER. “The Development of Technique in the Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel” in KULSHRESHTHA, CHIRANTAN, ed. Contemporary Indian-English Verse: An Evaluation. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1980.

6. SREENIVASAN, S. “The Self and Its Enchanted Circle: A Perspective on the Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel” Littcrit 16.1&2, 1990.

7. RAIZADA, HARISH. “Nissim Ezekiel’s Poetry of Love and Sex” in Madhusudan Prasad (ed) Living Indian English Poets. New Delhi: Sterling, 1989.

8. DAS, BIJAY KUMAR. “The Search after Reality: A Study of Ezekiel’s Poems” Journal of Indian Writing in English, 10.1&2, 1982.

Daruwalla, Keki N.

1. DWIVEDI, A.N. “K.N. Daruwalla’s Poetry: An Assessment” in DWIVEDI, A.N ed. Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1984.

2. INAMDAR, F.A. “K.N. Daruwalla’s Poems: Individual Response” in RAM, ATMA. ed. Contemporary Indian-English Poetry Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1989.

3. KING, BRUCE. “Keki Daruwalla: Outsider, Skeptic and Poet” The Indian Literary Review, 4.2, 1986.

4. MUKHERJEE, PRASENJIT. “Relating the Subjective: An Approach to the Recent Poetry of Keki N. Daruwalla” Chandrabhaga 4, 1980.

5. NABAR, VRINDA. “Keki N. Daruwalla: Poetry and a National Culture” in Shahane, Vasant and Sivaramkrishna, eds. Indian Poetry in English: A Critical Assessment. Madras: Macmillan, 1980.

6. NAIK, M.K. “‘Drama Talk’: The Poetry of K. N. Daruwalla” in Naik Studies in Indian English Literature New Delhi: Sterling, 1987.

7. Prasad, Madhusudhan. “Keki N. Daruwalla: Poet as Critic of His Age” Literary Half-Yearly, January 1987.

8. VENKATACHARI, K. “The Idiom of Autochthon: A Note on the Poetry of Keki N. Daruwalla” in Madhusudan Prasad (ed.) Living Indian English Poets. New Delhi: Sterling, 1989.

Ramanujan A.K.

1. DWIVEDI, A.N. A.K. Ramanujan and His Poetry Delhi: Doaba House, 1983.

2. King Bruce, Three Modern Indian English Poets, Delhi: OUP, 1994.

3. BHASHYAM, KANAKA & CHELLAPPAN, K. “Encounter and Synthesis in the Poetry of A.K. Ramanujan” Journal of Indian Writing in English July, 1984.

4. CHAR, M. SREERAMA. Prayer Motif in Indian Poetry in English. Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1988.

5. PAL, K.S. Ezekiel and Ramanujan: A Comparative Study. Delhi: Astha Prakashan, 1981.

6. DEVY, G.N. “Alienation as Means of Self-exploration: A Study of A.K. Ramanujan’s Poetry”, Chandrabhaga 6, 1981.

7. MARZI, TAQI ALI. “A.K. Ramanujan’s ‘Particular Hell'” in SHAHANE, VASANT and SIVARAMKRISHNA, M. eds. Indian Poetry in English: A Critical Assessment Madras: Macmillan, 1980.

8. NAIK, M.K. “A.K. Ramanujan and the Search for Roots” in PRASAD, MADHUSUDHAN ed. Living Indian English Poets. New Delhi: Sterling, 1989.

9. NAIK, M.K. “Landscapes and Inscapes”, Kavya Bharati . 1, 1988.

10. DAS, BIJAY KUMAR. ” Ramanujan’s ‘A River’: An Explication” Journal of Indian Writing in English 13.2, 1985.

11. PARTHASARATHY, R. “How It Strikes a Contemporary: The Poetry of A.K. Ramanujan” SHAHANE, VASANT and SIVARAMKRISHNA, M. eds. Indian Poetry in English: A Critical Assessment. Madras: Macmillan, 1980.

12. REUBEN, ELIZABETH. “The Presence of the Past: The Sense of Time in the Poetry of A.K. Ramanujan” Journal of Indian Writing in English. 17.1, 1989.

13. SRINATH, C.N. “The Poetry of A.K. Ramanujan” in DWIVEDI, A.N ed. Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1984.

Das, Kamala

1. KOHLI, DEVINDRA. Kamala Das. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1975.

2. Rahaman, Anisur. Expressive Form in the Poetry of Kamala Das. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1981.

3. RADHA, K. Kamala Das. Madras: Macmillan India, 1987.

4. De SOUZA, EUNICE. “Kamala Das” in Shahane, Vasant and Sivaramkrishna, eds. Indian Poetry in English: A Critical Assessment. Madras: Macmillan, 1980

5. DWIVEDI, A.N. Kamala Das and Her Poetry Delhi: Doaba House, 1983.

6. RAGHUNANDAN, LAKSHMI, Contemporary Indian Poetry in English: with Special Emphasis on Ezekiel, Kamala Das, Parthasarathy and Ramanujan, New Delhi: Reliance Publishing House, 1990.

7. KULSHRESHTHA, CHIRANTAN., ed Contemporary Indian-English Verse: An Evaluation. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1980.

8. AGRAWAL, ISHWAR NATH. “The Language and the Limits of the Self in the Poetry of Kamala Das” in SINHA, KRISHNA NANDAN Indian Writing in English 1979.

9. Daruwalla, K.N. “Confessional Poetry as Social Commentary: A View of English Poetry by Indian Women” in RAM, ATMA. ed. Contemporary Indian-English Poetry Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1989.

10. JUSSAWALLA, FEROZA. “Kamala Das: The Evolution of the Self” in Journal of Indian Writing In English 10.1&2, 1982.

11. BREWSTER, ANNE. “The Freedom to Decompose: The Poetry of Kamala Das” Journal of Indian Writing in English 7.1&2 1980.

12. RAMAKRISHNAN, E.V. “Kamala Das as a Confessional Poet” Journal of Indian Writing in English 5.1, 1977.

Gieve Patel

1. KAPOOR, PREM P. “Violence, Pain and Death in the Poetry of Gieve Patel” in RAM, ATMA. ed. Contemporary Indian-English Poetry. Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1989.

2. NABAR, VRINDA. “Gieve Patel: Poet as Clinician of Feelings” The Indian Literary Review. 3.3, 1985.

3. SAHA, SUBHAS. “Gieve Patel’s On Killing a Tree: An Analysis” in DAS, BIJAY KUMAR, ed. Contemporary Indo-English Poetry. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1986.

4. SARMA, M.N. “The Ambiguous Fate of Being Human: The Poetry of Gieve Patel” in SHAHANE, Vasant and SIVARAMAKRISHNA, eds. Indian Poetry in English:  A Critical Assessment. Madras: Macmillan, 1980.

5. VIBHAKAR. “Gieve Patel’s Poetry: An Exploration of the ‘Body'” in DWIVEDI, A.N ed. Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1984.

Amanuddin, Syed

1. DWIVEDI, A.N. Syed Amanuddin: His Mind and Art. New Delhi: Sterling, 1988.

2. DWIVEDI, A.N. “Re-creating ‘The Living Scenes of Contemporary Life: The Poetry of Syed Amanuddin” in DWIVEDI, A.N ed. Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1984.

3. DWIVEDI, A.N. “Poetry of Syed Amanuddin: A Study in Diction and Versification” Journal of Indian Writing in English. 13.2, 1985.

4. YASEEN, MOHAMMED. “Syed Ameeruddin’s Poetry: A Critical Appraisal” in DWIVEDI, A.N ed. Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1984.

Honnalgere, Gopal

1. SRIDHAR, S.N. “A Note on Honnalgere’s Zen Tree and Wild Innocents” Journal of Indian

Writing in English 3.2, 1975.

Raja Rao. Kanthapura

1. NAIK, M.K. Perspectives on Indian Fiction in English New Delhi: Abhinav  Publications, 1985.

2. K.K. Sharma, (ed.) Perspectives on Raja Rao Ghaziabad: Vimal Prakashan, 1980.

3. Meenakshi Mukherjee (ed.) Considerations: Twelve Studies of Indo-Anglian Writing, New Delhi: Allied, 1977.

1. NAIK, M.K. Raja Rao Madras: Blackie & Sons, 1982.

2. NARASIMHAIAH, C.D. Raja Rao New Delhi: Arnold Heinemann, 1973.

3. NARAYAN, SHYAMALA A. Raja Rao: Man and His Works New Delhi: Sterling, 1988.

4. RAO, K. RAGHAVENDRA. The Fiction of Raja Rao Aurangabad: Parimal Prakashan, 1982.

5. SHAHANE, VASANT A. “Raja Rao: Kanthapura” in PRADHAN, N.S. ed. Major  Indian Novels: An Evaluation New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1986.

V.S. Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas

1. Hamner, Robert D., ed. Critical Perspectives on V. S. Naipaul. Washington, D. C.: Three Continents Press, 1977.

2. Hughes, Peter . V. S. Naipaul. London: Routledge, 1988.

3. Kamra, Shashi. The Novels of V.S. Naipaul: A Study in Theme and Form. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1990.

4. King, Bruce. V. S. Naipaul. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2003.

5. Kumar, Amitava. The Humour & the Pity: Essays on V.S. Naipaul. New Delhi: Buffalo Books , 2002.

6. Macdonald, Bruce F. “The Birth of Mr. Biswas.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 11.3 (1977): 50-54.

7. Manjit Inder Singh. V. S. Naipaul. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 1998.

8. Mason, Nondita. The Fiction of V. S. Naipaul. Calcutta: The World Press, 1986.

9. Panwar, Purabi. V.S. Naipaul: An Anthology of Recent Criticism. Delhi: Pencraft International, 2003.

10. Rai, Sudha. V.S. Naipaul: A Study in Expatriate Sensibility. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1982.

11. Ramadevi, N. The Novels of V.S. Naipaul Quest for Order and Identity. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1996.

12. Walsh, William. V. S. Naipaul. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1973.

13. S.P. Swain “The crisis of identity: Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas” in Mohit K. Ray (ed.) V.S. Naipaul : Critical Essays. Vol II. New Delhi, Atlantic Pub., 2002.

An Essay on Nissim Ezekiel’s Background, Casually

from: google images

from: google images

Nissim Ezekiel’s poem ‘Background, Casually’ is one of his most known poems. If ‘Night of the Scorpion’ is a popular anthology piece, this poem is more keenly read by the more academic readers of his poetry. The poem’s significance to Ezekiel’s oeuvre lies partly in it being an autobiographical poem which is seen to indicate crisply his ‘official view of life’ as it were (whatever that means). Ezekiel’s general tendency in his poems to be more communicative than be imagistic is evident here. Similarly, the ironic tone that swings between whipping the self and the society around it is also on abundant display in this poem. Some of the other recurrent motifs of Ezekiel’s poetry that we see in this poem are:

* finding satisfaction in limited ambition

* a set of experiences stated as providing deep insights

* use of unrhymed metrical lines

* probing the question of identity in a firm social context

* controlled fragmentation unlike the modernist tendency of obscurity

The poem is divided into three sections which approximate the childhood, adult and old-age experiences of the poet-speaker. The three sections do not merely present a chronology of significant experiences but reflections over these experiences that draw out lessons on the status of the identity of the self. Allow me to comment, in a rather school boyish manner, stanza by stanza.

Background, Casually
by Nissim Ezekiel

from: google images

from: google images


A poet-rascal-clown was born,
The frightened child who would not eat
Or sleep, a boy of meager bone.
He never learned to fly a kite,
His borrowed top refused to spin.

Notice the references to facts twisted to accommodate the present assessment of that fact. The first line for example is the present valuation of the past. The line also introduces a preference made all through the poem: the self perception of the speaker as a poet. This self-perception is immediately attached to irony with the addition of rascal and clown. From irony, this present perception of the past slides to self-pity, a rather clever ploy that corners the readers sympathy as well as explains away the lack of heroism in the self. The reader is required to agree that this ‘boy of meager bone’ with not even the skill to fly a kite, is not destined to achieve anything too noble; so the assertions of self-satisfactions at the poetic achievements of this self in the third section of the poem come to be accepted easily.

I went to Roman Catholic school,
A mugging Jew among the wolves.
They told me I had killed the Christ,
That year I won the scripture prize.
A Muslim sportsman boxed my ears.

I grew in terror of the strong
But undernourished Hindu lads,
Their prepositions always wrong,
Repelled me by passivity.
One noisy day I used a knife.

The second stanza slips from third to first person. In the 2nd and 3rd stanzas the multicultural mix of the society in which the speaker has grown up is introduced through the self-pity ploy. These two stanzas insistently introduce a major strand of this poem’s thematic: identity. The challenge to coherent formation of identity is indicated here as related to the mixing of cultures that are not devoid of intolerance toward one another. Amid the unhappy school life, a poetic career has without much ado announced itself: ‘That year I won the scripture prize’. This line is suggestive of the inclination of the child.

At home on Friday nights the prayers
Were said. My morals had declined.
I heard of Yoga and of Zen.
Could 1, perhaps, be rabbisaint?
The more I searched, the less I found.

Twentytwo: time to go abroad.
First, the decision, then a friend
To pay the fare. Philosophy,
Poverty and Poetry, three
Companions shared my basement room.

The last line of the 4th stanza is typical of Ezekiel in the use of antithesis. Intimations of failure are always around the corner in his autobiographical poems. The above two stanzas squeeze a long duration into rapidly moving lines. Growing up amid diverse influences the speaker expands the base of the incoherence of his identity to include yoga, zen, jewish theology. The alliterative line ‘philosophy, poverty and poetry’ burdens the experiential statement with the load of a life-time inclination. Many of Ezekiel’s poems suggest this inclination: ‘Enterprise’ for example. Usually they indicate symptomatically the poetic credo of this poet: to treat personal experiences philosophically to produce poetic significance.


The London seasons passed me by.
I lay in bed two years alone,
And then a Woman came to tell
My willing ears I was the Son
Of Man. I knew that I had failed

In everything, a bitter thought.
So, in an English cargoship
Taking French guns and mortar shells
To IndoChina, scrubbed the decks,
And learned to laugh again at home.

The second section of the poem brings in adult experiences as suggested toward the end of previous stanza. Amid rather tedious lines the above quoted stanzas introduce the summary dismissal of the self that recurs in Ezekiel’s poems. The sense of failure is recurrent. But Ezekiel usually positions these statements strategically in the poems. Their function is not to state to the reader the sense of the speaker’s disillusion. These lines are positioned by Ezekiel in such a way as to herald the experiments that lead the self toward the present significance. This strategy is also to be found in ‘Enterprise’. The stanzas also indicate the speaker’s decision to turn away from the metro-centricness of the colonial mentality. The last line could have been interpreted as being puerile patriotism had it occurred in a poem less ironic than ‘Background, Casually’.

How to feel it home, was the point.
Some reading had been done, but what
Had I observed, except my own
Exasperation? All Hindus are
Like that, my father used to say,

When someone talked too loudly, or
Knocked at the door like the Devil.
They hawked and spat. They sprawled around.
I prepared for the worst. Married,
Changed jobs, and saw myself a fool.

The song of my experience sung,
I knew that all was yet to sing.
My ancestors, among the castes,
Were aliens crushing seed for bread
(The hooded bullock made his rounds).

A lasting question, something that has characterized Ezekiel’s approach generally, is introduced in the first line of the next stanza: ‘How to feel it home’ is a question raised by many of Ezekiel’s poems about identity. What I want to indicate is that the manner Ezekiel frames the identity question is apparent here. Ezekiel makes out a case for homely feeling as a measure of identity. With homely feeling comes a responsibility. For Ezekiel, this responsibility requires that one not only see ones home in appreciation but also with a certain critical distance. Ezekiel practically indicates the figure of the ‘homely critic’ as the frame of reference. This homely critic manages a stance that is not shy of scathing criticism, yet asserts the value of home. It is thus that Ezekiel develops a critique of Naipaul’s tourist perspective of India in his well known essay that appeared in Adil Jussawala edited ‘Penguin New Writing from India’: ‘Naipaul’s India and Mine’. It is an essay that would have won the prize for walking the tight rope. For in this essay, Ezekiel defends the indefensible. The essay was written at a time when the patriotic pitch was so shrill against Naipaul that anybody critcising him would have sounded like whistling along. Ezekiel maintains a remarkable cool in pointing out the perspectival problem in Naipaul’s narrative. We easily see Naipaul’s ‘An Area of Darkness’ full of prejudicial whining at personal slight and inconvenience rather than a balanced criticism.


One among them fought and taught,
A Major bearing British arms.
He told my father sad stories
Of the Boer War. I dreamed that
Fierce men had bound my feet and hands.

The later dreams were all of words.
I did not know that words betray
But let the poems come, and lost
That grip on things the worldly prize.
I would not suffer that again.

The third section swiftly moves on in life: the speaker is mature now. He is through his experiments. He is ripe with his experiences so that he can now give out his conclusions. That is, within the poem the narration of experiences is now over, and it is time to draw out philosophical implications. ‘The later dreams were all of words’ picks up the theme of poetic career. The poem is now poised to give us a peep into the poetic process.

I look about me now, and try
To formulate a plainer view:
The wise survive and serve–to play
The fool, to cash in on
The inner and the outer storms.

This is a remarkable stanza which very concisely states a complex attitude to poetry. The speaker puts simply that his approach to poetry is rather pragmatic. The inner and the outer storms are not to be seen as problems to be solved: it is not a measure of ones wisdom to solve them. The wisdom is in playing the fool yet cashing in on these inner and outer storms by making them the subject of ones creativity. It is a pithy way of saying that the poet has to respond through his/her creativity.

The Indian landscape sears my eyes.
I have become a part of it
To be observed by foreigners.
They say that I am singular,
Their letters overstate the case.

I have made my commitments now.
This is one: to stay where I am,
As others choose to give themselves
In some remote and backward place.
My backward place is where I am.

These two stanzas, jerkily moving away from the earlier stanza, sum up the speaker’s socio-political stance. The colonial divide between the metropolis as the centre and ‘India’ as a backward place is alluded to here. Staying in India is seen as a committed move. The ambivalent place of the ‘homely critic’ is stated in the first line of the above quoted stanzas: ‘Indian landscape sears my eyes’. The necessity to assert ones commitment to ones station arises because of the ‘the foreigners’ viewpoint. From their point of view, being in the ‘backward place’ warrants an explanation. The speaker seems to agree that his station is backward, though it is his own.

What I find interesting in the poem is the way it frames the question of identity. The poem quite clearly takes India as the place from which this view is generated. The view that raises the question of identity and the backwardness of the place, first of all, sets up a binary opposition. This binary opposition conveniently sets up two categories: something called India and something called foreign. With this opposition there is a termination of the question. Then the poem sets out to resolve the puzzle. It admits that the ‘identity’ of the speaker spills over a pure category. That is what the ‘foreign’ experiences suggest in the poem. Therefore, the speaker has to point out the ambivalence in the identity of the self – critical yet committed to home. This view at once enables a distance from the totalized category of ‘India’ and an identification with it. The problem of course is that, the binary invoked here deals with essentialisms. The perspective developed in the poem is very comforting in a way, and often is seen as politically correct too. But it confronts the question of identity in a reductive polarization between ‘India’ and ‘the foreign’.

Anand Thakore, the poet


“Surfaces of things / Willfully arranged to center me”

Says an innocuous line from Anand Thakore’s poem ‘Glacier’. I think it is an apt way to describe the human self. Though the poem bends in other directions, I would like to read in these lines a commentary on the way human life is ‘placed’ by things. The poem too accumulates several things in its movement. The idea that human life is entirely given to things, that it is the place of things that really direct human existence, is quite strongly brought out in the above quoted lines of the poem.

Anand writes poems which are dense in the way things are touched, caressed with words. It is always that the ‘he’ ‘she’ or ‘I’ of the poems are surrounded by things in his poems. In this respect his ‘Sequence addressed to hanging objects’ is very interesting.

Anand Thakore is a Bombay poet. That is the things of Bombay make him for me in his poems. He is a singer among other things and a passionate poet. Very alert to the craft of writing poems, very alive to the life of words in poems, very keen to the music of the lines, Anand writes like only a musician or a painter can.  Many poets push the words for their ideas, some for its sound. Mahapatra is like that: he gives importance to sound.

For Anand craft is all.  His poems display a desire to exhibit virtuosity. Wherever it clicks the poem becomes masterly. How many Indian poets have tried villanelle for example? Anand manages it very well in ‘Vacillations of a recondite nudist’ and two other poems. Apart from Keki Daruwala not too many Indian poets have tried dramatic monologue. Anand has a Mahabharata series which are dramatic monologues.  A Ghazal? That too. Very few Indian poets writing in English try ghazal form, fewer still succeed. Anand wins over here, even if you are an aficionado of Urdu ghazals. You keep coming across such fetes by him which makes you get more and more interested in reading him on. Anand’s eager explorations of poetic forms reveals his desire to hone his pen as a crafty one. He is a stylist.

Anand Thakore1

Some arresting lines from his collection Elephant Bathing

Rain poured in torrents when I reached the grounds…

Like a great hurt beast no will could tame. (Dead, at your mother’s funeral)

He is published by Harbor Line, Bombay. Here is the Ghazal:


Shall I hold my tongue, lord, or call tonight?

Contain myself, or start another brawl tonight?

My dead mentor returns. Shall I silence him with words,

Or wrap his image in a shawl tonight?

I am lured by the dark I longed to outgrow.

I long to crawl back into that caul tonight;

And the words of the saints fade like bad dreams.

Their voices will not fill this hall tonight.

Leave me, Lord, leave me alone with my song,

For I shall not be your thrall tonight;

And leave the door open, behind you, when you leave.

I have another guest to enthrall tonight:

Come, my heart, let us be friends again,

And celebrate the ancient fall tonight.

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things, II


Feminist theories have questioned the implication of Simone de Beauvoir’s formulation, “One is not born a woman. But becomes one”, by focusing on

from: Google images

from: Google images

the lived body. That is, it is not sufficient, in feminist politics, to attend only to the social control and view woman as a socially constructed body. This view taken to its limit, would lessen the agential power of the female person. Thus, it is argued that attention should also be given to the lived body in its various daily practices and experiences in their location as an important dimension of a person’s identity. The argument is that the socially constructed body as well as the lived body are to be the scope of feminist analytic. We can bring this insight to understand the image complex in the novel under consideration. The image complex of Ammu and Velutha in The God of Small Things releases two kinds of possibilities. One is obtained when we focus on the staging of subversion; this has something to do with the way lived body is instrumentalised by Ammu and Velutha to assert (as a conscious choice) themselves as agential bodies. The second is obtained in the clash with the regimes of power that it sets up and the re-imposition of social control on their bodies – via Ammu’s being imprisoned and Velutha’s body being broken. An attention to these two issues emanating from the image complex of the affair between Ammu and Velutha also raises the issue of social control (i.e. socially constructed body) and lived practice (i.e. lived, agential body). What it suggests is that the two are in excess of and in exodus from each other. Ammu’s choice to seek and find Velutha’s love indicates that she is exercising her agential power to not subscribe to the prescriptive social control. It suggests that socially constructed body and lived body do not ‘fit’ each other: no body-person displays all of the social production of the body – it is always less. Thus socially constructed body is in excess of the lived body. No lived body is all about socially constructed body; a body person exceeds in desire and in deeds the socially scripted body. Thus, lived body is in excess of socially constructed body, despite internalisation. This excess thus marks the sites of both overdetermination and transgression.

The polemical voice of the narrator has the following comments to make about the extreme violence that the police unleash on an unarmed and sleeping, Velutha:

these were… history’s henchmen sent to square the books and collect the dues from those who broke its laws. Impelled by feelings that were primal yet paradoxically wholly impersonal. Feelings of contempt born of inchoate, unacknowledged fear – civilisation’s fear of nature, men’s fear of women, power’s fear of powerlessness.

‘Fear’ as a response to powerlessness is significant. This focuses on how, though socially constructed body is a site of control, of determinations, the mechanisms of control are also signs of anxiety about the uncontrolled, lived body. Thus, social control is attempting to escape the challenges thrown by the lived body; avoid the destabilising effects of the free body-person. This exodus from the lived body is the way of the social control to restructure the lived body so that its being does not destabilise, unsettle the matrices of social control. Lived body too is in exodus from socially constructed body, to avoid being ‘fit’, to defend its freedom, to slip out of straightjacket; it is always in a mode of escape.

The two processes, viz. the excess and the exodus, produce a site external to the other. Lived body’s excess and exodus are aimed to create an outside site where social control is not operational. This is a site of subversion, transgression, resistance and alternatives. This ceaseless production of an exterior to social control that lived body tries to generate is an attempt at circumventing the present controls; it is an excess in relation only to controls present in the present. Thus, Ammu finds in Velutha the means of escaping the claustrophobic caste and gender controls inscribed on her which are made effective through an economy that renders her dependent on her male sibling. Velutha finds in Ammu the means of escaping his subjection in an economy of bonded labour and caste oppression. Their sexual relationship becomes the exterior space wherein their bodies are attempting to loose the shackles of social control.

On the other hand, the excess of socially constructed body is outside lived body as these controls are beyond application: the overdeterminations are yet to be operational. They are tomorrow’s control. This excess space hence forever expects the excess of the lived body, anticipates transgression. In the novel, Velutha’s father’s sense of loyalty to Ayemenem house that leads him to confess his knowledge of the affair between Velutha and Ammu to Mammachi, his landlady, is as instance of the excess of the social control.  Similarly, the sense of outrage based on defilement of caste purity with which Mammachi and Baby Kochamma react to this is another instance. It is to be noted that the control on the body of Ammu is cross-stitched with her caste. Further, the caste/class prejudiced police institution too acts as the excess space of the social control that becomes operational at the instance of transgression.

If we now reflect on the staging of the subversion through their bodies by Ammu and Velutha, and the resultant violence on them, it is possible to look differently at the two processes discussed above. The two processes of excess and exodus are producing another phenomenon: it is a mechanism of perpetuation. Because, while the excess of the lived body is aiming to escape the present control, the excess of the social control is already in anticipatory mode. Thus, in the postponement of the present control, there are already signs of the excess of social control catching up: postponement becomes a perpetuation.

In The God of Small Things the processes of subjugation and mechanisms of oppression are portrayed through a variety of narrative techniques: characterisation, ironic juxtapositions, scenes of violence, small acts of defiance by characters, etc. Apart from these aesthetic codes, the historical and polemical codes in the novel too function as a direct and indirect commentary on the will to power of the ‘Big Gods’.

Shashi Deshpande and Indian Feminism


Shashi Deshpande is one of the novelists whom you can read with seriousness. She is never after gimmicks. There is an ernest voice, very serious about the story being told and its manner. She is one of the writers with little posturing.

from: google images

from: google images

Her novels usually have women as the protagonists. This has led readers to call her a feminst writer. She has often complained against this title. Earlier I used to find this discomfort puzzling. In an earlier entry on Kamaladas here, I have in fact been vocal about writers’ hesitation to the ‘feminst’ title. But then I heard her at a seminar in Dharwad where in interactions she explained her reluctance.

Shashi Deshpande is of the view that in calling her novels feminst, one straitjackets the works; imprisons them with the label. She feels that while she is feminist, her novels are novels. She hasnt written the novels as a debating voice, to develop a thesis in a debate. She feels her novels are open examinations of the experiences of people in specific setting. In other words, I understodd her to be saying that ‘do not read these novels only within the framework of feminist concerns, they are novels like any other with a gamut of issues and experiences.

from google images

from google images

Absolutely fair. It is true that labeling a work is not much of a tribute. Categorizations invariably raise questions of in and out. Every category becomes an exercise in the imposition of certain limits. Then these categories themselves become a type of concession. For example, first label Shashi D as a feminist, then read her within the limits of feminist concerns, then make concessions by saying things like: ‘she is ok among the feminist writers’ as if outside the confines of the label she would not deserve place. This becomes another way of exclusion.

The issue is equally relevant in the case of Dalit literature too. More discussion here. Assertion of identity cannot be punished with a ghetto label. The issue is rather complex, not available to this kind of  simple discussion. For example, one may say that the category is an assertion of identity, not a limiting label. That through the label one is signifying ones politics. That the work itself is political in its claim of that label. For example, a dalit writer may say that in claiming the label ‘dalit’ for the work, s/he is asserting the value of the work.

Sucharita, a friend of mine, herself a writer, has an interesting take on Shashi D here. I found the reaction of her mother v. interesting. Let me quote.

I remember presenting Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence to my mother. She was still teaching English Literature in college at that time and managing life in an extended family. She said she lapped up the narrative not for its literary subtleties or niceties but for the empathy it created for the woman in the narrative.

Sucharita goes onto further observe:

I remember asking the question of other ‘female’ elders who read the book after that. It was identification primarily that made the novel appealing to them. Jaya, Indu, Sumi, the list goes on …. strong, intelligent, educated, urban women who speak out, question, introspect, present in a literary microcosm the condition of women in India at large. Her prose is clear, simple, stark, setting forth a narrative of familial issues and crises arising from them. The long silence that has enveloped women across cultures forms the crux of her plots, the silence eloquent with unheard and unuttered doubts and worries, self questioning and suppressed grievances.

It appears to me that Shashi D’s appeal lies in the feminist themes. Her plots mold into emphatic pictures of feminist points of view. Many of us are blinded by this optics to such an extent that we fail to see any other merit in her. For example, I was thinking of her novel That Long Silence. I think in this novel the use of the modernist idiom is very interesting. THe manner in which Shashi D in this novel weaves together two kinds of intertextuality is also very interesting.

from: google images

from: google images