Category Archives: Literary Criticism

“Every country is home to one man and exile to another”



from: google images

T S Eliot’s poem ‘To the Indians who Died in Africa’ is an interesting Eliot piece. It is not often you read a poem by Eliot which refrains from striking the grand pose. He tended to invoke the giant issues of human soul every time he penned a poem, except of course, when he wrote those cat poems. But this is a puzzlingly small-aimed poem. A bit advise not grand wisdom, I guess. That this poem in imbued in the war and empire atmosphere is obvious. What he has to say to the Indians is funnily passive, “Look, it is ok if you die absurdly in a foreign country’.  It is noteworthy how Eliot deploys rhetoric to persuade the reader that it is indeed true that there was a common purpose among the Indian and the English soldiers.

It appears to me that in the first two stanzas the speaker   evokes the image of the ‘normal scene’ so that we see how different it is for one to die in a foreign country. Then of course he goes on to assert that this need no more be seen as unusual or as tragic. He seems to suggest that the place where a man meets his destiny is his destination. He associates destiny with the inevitable culmination of one’s life as well as one’s efforts. He suggests that the divide between home and exile is illusory; that the opposition between ‘our’ and ‘your’ is not real. Every country will have such places where ‘foreigners’ are buried (whether it is the English midlands or some village in Punjab – ‘Five Rivers’). He emphasises that the common purpose really erases the differences that notions of ‘home’ and ‘exile’ foster; the divide that notions of national difference highlight. The death of an Indian soldier in Africa fighting Germany and defending England may appear absurd. But the speaker points out that the Indian and the English soldiers are united in a common purpose. As for greater meaning in such lives and deaths, he says it is to be seen only after ‘final judgment’.


To the Indians Who Died in Africa

* T. S. Eliot


A man’s destination is his own village,

His own fire, and his wife’s cooking;

To sit in front of his own door at sunset

And see his grandson, and his neighbour’s grandson

Playing in the dust together.


Scarred but secure, he has many memories

Which return at the hour of conversation,

(The warm or the cool hour, according to the climate)

Of foreign men, who fought in foreign places,

Foreign to each other.


A man’s destination is not his destiny,

Every country is home to one man

And exile to another. Where a man dies bravely

At one with his destiny, that soil is his.

Let his village remember.


This was not your land, or ours: but a village in the Midlands,

And one in the Five Rivers, may have the same graveyard.

Let those who go home tell the same story of you:

Of action with a common purpose, action

None the less fruitful if neither you nor we

Know, until the judgement after death,

What is the fruit of action.


Eliot, T. S. “To the Indians Who Died in Africa.” Collected Poems 1909-1962


This is what Narayan Chandran has to say about this poem:

It is intriguing that T. S. Eliot has repeatedly drawn upon Indic sources, especially the Bhagavad-Gita and its philosophy of disinterested action, while writing on war and world affairs through the 1940s.  Eliot’s Occasional Verses, particularly “To the Indians who Died in Africa,” betray the poet’s imperialist biases, unlike much of his poetry, in which they do not seem to surface visibly as in his prose writings and conversations. Couched in the language and imagery of the Gita, Eliot seems to tell the Indians that their action is its own reward; the irony hardens as we recall historical facts and situations that drove hapless Indians to support the Allied war effort in many theaters outside India. The essay also looks at two other British writers on Indian themes, Kipling and Forster, whose texts seem to cast an interesting sidelight on “action,” whose punning resonance Eliot seems to relish in writing his war poems. Eliot, evidently, had little use for the philosophy he quoted back to the distressed Indians.

* Chandran, K. Narayana – “A receipt for deceit: T. S. Eliot’s ‘To the Indians who Died in Africa”.  Journal of Modern Literature March 22, 2007.

A.K. Ramanujan’s ‘A River’


image from: the telegraph

image from: the telegraph

R. Parthasarathy, in his introductory note on Ramanujan in Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets, reads ‘A River’ as a poem that exposes the callousness of the old and the new poets to suffering. But the irony in the poem extends to the speaker also, mocking the irrelevances he indulges in.

There are people who hold AKR very highly as a poet primarily for the technical finesse of his poems. One of the legends about him is that he used to revise his poems umpteen times, some undergoing as many revisions as sixty. It shows in his poems. No flab in them, pared to the minimum, enriched in possibilities through irony, line division and word placement.

A.K. Ramanujan in his poetry is a modernist to the T. In his themes as well as poetic strategies, he displays the international modernist attitude. He is right there with other modernists in writing about the existential issues, about the tension between being and world, about duality in relation to past, about scrutinising the self. His poems deploy all the modernist poetic trappings: tension, irony, obscurity, fragmentation, montage-like structure, ambivalence, imagistic, concrete.

“A River” immediately invokes binary structures: “new poets” and “old poets”; city of “temples and poets”; songs of “cities and temples”; the flood in the poems and as “people” saw it; a “couple of cows”; pregnant woman with “identical twins” etc.

The poem also presents alternative perceptions of the river in Madurai. One of them is available in poetry – old and new – which “sang” of cities, temples and the river in flood. On the other hand, “people everywhere” saw something else, which the speaker also concurs with. The speaker of this poem as the persona “he” has seen Madurai and has heard reports of the flood. The river as seen by the speaker is different from this report, which in turn is different from the description available in poetry old and new.

Thus, the view available of the river is diverse. The old and new poets see only the richness of the river when in flood; they see none of its impoverishment during summer. How about the present poets? This speaker sees the impoverishment during summer and the damage it causes during flood. He sees no richness. Thus, a dual view is available from the poets.

People seem to have a different “kind” of view. People seem to see the river in a contingent manner – as the flood is rising. The speaker-persona has his own report, which is different from the view of the old and new poets or the views of the people. He seems to pick up the details from the oral reports “everywhere” and then adds his own “poetic details” that veer away from the pathos of what he is describing with the triviality of his additions. Thus, instead of a serious criticism what we get is an unsure comment on the situation ending in parody. The indeterminacy in the poem is the result of the multiple possibilities that memory presents.

A River

In Madurai,
city of temples and poets,
who sang of cities and temples,
every summer
a river dries to a trickle
in the sand,
baring the sand ribs,
straw and women’s hair
clogging the watergates
at the rusty bars
under the bridges with patches
of repair all over them
the wet stones glistening like sleepy
crocodiles, the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun
The poets only sang of the floods.

He was there for a day
when they had the floods.
People everywhere talked
of the inches rising,
of the precise number of cobbled steps
run over by the water, rising
on the bathing places,
and the way it carried off three village houses,
one pregnant woman
and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.

The new poets still quoted
the old poets, but no one spoke
in verse
of the pregnant woman
drowned, with perhaps twins in her,
kicking at blank walls
even before birth.

He said:
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
and then
it carries away
in the first half-hour
three village houses,
a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda
and one pregnant woman
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.

Alain Badiou’s 15 Theses on Contemporary Art

Any thoughts?
Alain Badiou

15 Theses on Art
Published 2004

I think the great question about contemporary art is how not to be Romantic. It’s the great question and a very difficult one. More precisely, the question is how not to be a formalist-Romantic. Something like a mixture between Romanticism and formalism. On one side is the absolute desire for new forms, always new forms, something like an infinite desire. Modernity is the infinite desire of new forms. But, on the other side, is obsession with the body, with finitude, sex, cruelty, death. The contradiction of the tension between the obsession of new forms and the obsession of finitude, body, cruelty, suffering and death is something like a synthesis between formalism and Romanticism and it is the dominant current in contemporary art. All the 15 theses have as a sort of goal, the question how not to be formalist-Romantic. That is, in my opinion, the question of contemporary art.

1. Art is not the sublime descent of the infinite into the finite abjection of the body and sexuality. It is the production of an infinite subjective series through the finite means of a material subtraction.

2. Art cannot merely be the expression of a particularity (be it ethnic or personal). Art is the impersonal production of a truth that is addressed to everyone.

3. Art is the process of a truth, and this truth is always the truth of the sensible or sensual, the sensible as sensible. This means: the transformation of the sensible into a happening of the Idea.

4. There is necessarily a plurality of arts, and however we may imagine the ways in which the arts might intersect there is no imaginable way of totalizing this plurality.

5. Every art develops from an impure form, and the progressive purification of this impurity shapes the history both of a particular artistic truth and of its exhaustion.

6. The subject of an artistic truth is the set of the works which compose it.

7. This composition is an infinite configuration, which, in our own contemporary artistic context, is a generic totality.

8. The real of art is ideal impurity conceived through the immanent process of its purification. In other words, the raw material of art is determined by the contingent inception of a form. Art is the secondary formalization of the advent of a hitherto formless form.

9. The only maxim of contemporary art is not to be imperial. This also means: it does not have to be democratic, if democracy implies conformity with the imperial idea of political liberty.

10. Non-imperial art is necessarily abstract art, in this sense: it abstracts itself from all particularity, and formalizes this gesture of abstraction.

11. The abstraction of non-imperial art is not concerned with any particular public or audience. Non-imperial art is related to a kind of aristocratic-proletarian ethic: Alone, it does what it says, without distinguishing between kinds of people.

12. Non-imperial art must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star.

13. Today art can only be made from the starting point of that which, as far as Empire is concerned, doesn’t exist. Through its abstraction, art renders this inexistence visible. This is what governs the formal principle of every art : the effort to render visible to everyone that which for Empire (and so by extension for everyone, though from a different point of view), doesn’t exist.

14. Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Empire no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves.

15. It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent.

SAGE free access


SAGE has announced its annual free access period. If you have registered you can access all SAGE journals till 15 October 2010. If you havent registered, you can register now and access the journals. You can read full articles online or download pdf files. Access to such prestigious journals as Journal of Commonwealth Lit, Journal of Consumer Culture, Theory Culture, Memory Studies, etc etc.

Procedure is not complicated. Registration is free, folks, so ENJOY.

If you are a member go here:

if you are yet to register go here:

Questioning the Conceptual Validity of Nativism


Among the literary critics in India are some who feel that the quiet acceptance of the Euro-American critical models in literary criticism in India is a problem. They insist on developing native models of literary criticism.  This school of thought is less pronounced these days though some years ago it was in circulation more prominently. I am unsure of the conceptual validity of this school of criticism. My article on the issue “Violated Spaces: Questioning the Conceptual Validity of Nativism”  was recently published in The Atlantic Literary Review, January-March 2009 issue. Below is an extract of the article.

What is nativism? It is a bad question. Because before completing itself as a question, it takes on the shape of answers. These become visible if we attend to its parts: the first part ‘what’ is already imposing a structure to the possible answers as ones that offer an essence, an identity as against, say, a time, a space or a mode. The second item ‘is’ presupposes singularity, presence, not something past, yet complete, total and definite. Contrast it with ‘are’, ‘may be’. The third item is a name, indicating an already formed entity, the ‘ism’ suggesting its reaches as a model and programme of action. The symbol item ‘?’ asserting it to be a question despite the answers already posited, presenting the sentence as a seeker of answers but that are within the structure of the question itself. There is yet another item which is unstaged in the sentence: that is the asker, the seeker who may also be the provider, the one structuring the answers. Thus the question is an act – a performance, an action in time/space, a pretence and in its insistence on structuring, a law. Some of the difficulties alluded above are implicit also in the conceptual field bearing the name ‘nativism’.

Why should we talk about nativism? I consider this concept a major departure from the imperial and brahminic paradigms of cultural criticism in India. In sentiment, nativism is both anti-imperialist and anti-brahminical. But practically, in some of its manifestations I am here considering, it is neither entirely free of the structures of thought that are entangled in imperialist or brahminic discourses, nor does it have the potential to be a pan-Indian theory in literary and cultural criticism. While the conceptual terrain of nativism makes the claim for a native theory of being, of cultural self, the very condition of the proposition and its field of operation are violated by the simultaneity of the singularity of self and the extensive plurality of everyday life. In this sense, the hope that nativist thinkers entertain, of inhabiting an uncontaminated homogenous space, is always already violated. This paper is concerned not so much with the merits of nativism, whatever those might be, as the problems with the concept.

The journal is published by the Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi.

Embedded Imagination and Otherness in Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence


Intersections is a journal maintained by Australian National University’s Gender Relations Centre. The current issue is a special issue on “Face)t)s of Woman: Gender in the Indian Cultural Context” guest edited by Subhash Chandra. The journal’s editor is Carolyn Brewer.  It has several interesting articles including those by Joya John, Malashri Lal, Chaitya Das etc. Access to the journal is free. My article on Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence appears in the issue. Below is the basic argument I make in the paper. Here is the link. Do visit.

Shashi Deshpande’s novel That Long Silence, through details of everyday practices, routine, mundane, and particular stories, engages with issues of collective identity. The novel explores how images of nation are embedded in the ordinariness of lives and how the nation-state through an affective mechanism of individuals’ imagination institutes them as citizen-subjects. Through this exploration the novel develops a critique of the patriarchal construction of ‘nation’ and contests the legitimisation of the male discourse as the ‘normative’ national discourse. I wish to argue in this paper that the equalised terrain of the victimisation of women that the novel presents glosses over the cultural marks of the women characters represented in the novel leading to the appropriation of the cultural other into a universalised brahminical ‘woman.’ This critique is further supported by calling attention to the way there is a belittling of female discourse in the novel.

Links to good books from India


I wish to share some links here. These are publications that are off beat hence it is likely that books published by these publishers are not easily found. While Flipkart and other such online stores have the titles, good old book shops are not likely to keep too many of the titles brought out by these publishers. But they publish some of the best work being done in India.You can find a lot of well researched books with honest scholarship. The range of books published covers virtually all fields of contemporary scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. Some of the best translations of books from Indian languages into English are available with these publishers, esp Seagull. Film scripts, plays, diaries, autobiographies, anthropology, cultural studies, fiction… list goes on. You can order books online or browse the catalogue. Happy hunting…

Please recommend links to your favorite  publishers. navayana














The collective distributing set up some of the leftist publishers have:


Blog links



Chinua Achebe’s Poems


I have been fascinated with Chinua Achebe for a log time… well ever since I from: wikipediaread, what else, Things Fall Apart. His fame quite strongly is built on his novels. But I like his poems a lot too. He is forthright in his poems. They are clearly political and display the same poise of mind that empathizes with the miserable, criticises the exploitative yet is not intolerant of humanity whatever its colour may be. Here is one of his poems I like a lot: Butterfly. I like the kind of symbolic value that Achebe brings on to butterfly while celebrating its meekness. The apparent criticism of anthropomorphism really targets in this poem the nature of force in society. Firmly based in a contemplation of the human society, Achebe in this poem questions the terminology of ‘value’.


** Chinua Achebe

Speed is violence
Power is violence
Weight is violence

The butterfly seeks safety in lightness
In weightless, undulating flight

But at a crossroads where mottled light
From trees falls on a brash new highway
Our convergent territories meet

I come power-packed enough for two
And the gentle butterfly offers
Itself in bright yellow sacrifice
Upon my hard silicon shield.

Another poem that really hits us is Refugee Mother and Child. I think this poem captures the sentiments of love and hope amid extreme misery. Yet Achebe is very clear that what he is doing is writing a poem about it. He is very often ironical. If it is the figure of ‘I’ that receives ironic treatment in Butterfly, in this poem it is the images of the society outside the refugee camp that reads about it in newspapers, and where normal life goes on with school life and the rest. But the focus in Achebe’s poems is always on empathy rather than on irony. I think this is a great quality. That is one of the reasons I like his poems.

Refugee Mother and Child

No Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother’s tenderness
for a son she soon will have to forget.

The air was heavy with odors
of diarrhea of unwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in labored
steps behind blown empty bellies.

Most mothers there had long ceased
to care but not this one; she held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s
pride as she combed the rust-colored
hair left on his skull and then –
singing in her eyes – began carefully
to part it… In another life
this would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she
did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave.

Below are some links to Achebe treasure: readings and interviews.

Go here to listen to Achebe reading his poems.

Or here.

Achebe on  Youtube here.

Read about this interview at African Writer here.

Amazon has Chinua Achebe’s collected poems.

For an interview with Achebe go here:

Chinua Achebe in Conversation with K. Anthony Appiah here.

No Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother’s tenderness
for a son she soon will have to forget.
The air was heavy with odors
of diarrhea of unwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in labored
steps behind blown empty bellies.
Most mothers there had long ceased
to care but not this one; she held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s
pride as she combed the rust-colored
hair left on his skull and then –
singing in her eyes – began carefully
to part it… In another life
this would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she
did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave.

Raja Rao’s Kanthapura, nationalism and caste


Raja Rao’s Kanthapura enacts some of the motifs of postcolonialism. In my previous post here I point out that Raja Rao critiques the simple position al010that the discourse of colonialism instituted a notion of the natural superiority of the colonising race and this was internalised by the colonized. In the second piece on the novel I point to how the novel problematizes viewing colonial modernity as having had a liberating impact on the Indian society. Let me take this reading further.

The problematising potential of the novel extends to anti-colonial nationalism too. In order to examine this let us turn to another dimension of the novel. The emergence of novel as a genre in 19th century India raises the question of whether it is derivative. While there is a debate on this issue, the novel’s role in enabling the notion of nation-state to take shape is an important one. Benedict Anderson has argued that novel is partly responsible for a community to imagine itself as a nation. The novels written in 19th century and even beyond in India may be used to support this claim. While in Kanthapura, the action is restricted to the village itself with none of the characters venturing too far out, yet the village is not insulated against the happenings in other places. In fact, the stimulation for action is not local. The grand events that form the focal points of the novel take place in response to events elsewhere – Lahore, Bengal, Gujarat, etc. The village community moves from an insulated identity towards a national identity. In one sense, Kanthapura chronicles the formation of a national identity within a remote village. This thematic is also supported by the manner in which the village becomes a kind of a microcosm of the nation. The narrative tends towards mythicizing. For example Moorthy’s fast, Ramakrishnayya’s death, the receding of the flood, and nationalist struggle itself are mythicized. The narrative takes recourse to Vedantic texts and Puranas and inserts nationalist struggle into them. For example, in a harikatha, Jayaramachar brings in an allegory between Siva, Parvati and the nation. The three eyed Siva stands for Swaraj. Later Rangamma standing in as the commentator of Vedanta after the death of her father reads the Puranas allegorically, interpreting hell as the foreign rule, soul as India and so on. Shall we say nation is thus constructed hermeneutically?

The process of imagining a community – of imagining nationhood – also underlines the homogenising tendency of nationalism. The congress workers, who so vehemently are ‘swadeshi’ and give up anything foreign, unwittingly embrace the European model of nation. This notion requires a nation state to have a singular form. A nation is a community of people who have a common language etc. Thus in Kanthapura, Congressmen including Moorthy follow the same model of the nation-state. Sankaru epitomises this: his insistence on speaking Hindi even to his mother instead of the local language Kannada; his fanatic resistance to the use of English and so on. This conception of the nation informs that of everyone: e.g. the narrator visualises Moorthy {when in prison} to be wearing kurta pyjama instead of dhoti. The Hindi teacher is not from any Hindi speaking region but a Malayali [Surya Menon]. Thus, the very conception of ‘Nation’, which is conceived after the European model of the nation-state, undermines the ‘Swadeshi’ spirit of nationalism. Any pure form of nationhood untouched by colonialism is seriously questioned.

Another problem arises when this novel is read as a record of a nation-in-the-making.  It would seem to exemplify Jameson’s argument that third world literature is necessarily a national allegory. When we keep in mind that Benedict Anderson’s thesis about the emergence of nation-state is a work on the emergence of nation-state in Europe, Jameson’s argument seems to put third world literature in the past of European literature. This only re-enacts the familiar theme that comes across in the colonialist historiography of Indian nationalism: that Indian nationalism is a learning process as has been pointed out by Ranjit Guha (Subaltern Studies I). This particular view of nationalism characterises Indian nationalism as a response to the stimulus of colonial administration. The view of the history of the colonised society as a march towards the teleological goal of becoming ultimately ‘Europe’ places them always at a past time in relation to the colonisers present time. The denial of coevalness of time is a necessity in the discourse of colonialism.

This view of India’s history being bound to Europe takes us to Dipesh Chakravarthy’s thesis that as far as history as a discourse is concerned, Europe remains the sovereign theoretical subject of all histories, including the one we call Indian (Provincialising Europe OUP, 2001). Further, he says, as opposed to other narratives of self and community, history is the meta-narrative that looks to the state/citizen bind as the ultimate construction of sociality. Other constructions of self and community speak an anti-historical consciousness. With modernity, history becomes the site where the struggle goes on to appropriate other collocations of memory. In Kanthapura, the narrative in the beginning reflects an ahistorical consciousness. The description of the village life is as a timeless continuum in the form of Sthalapurana. Or the Harikatha wherein nationalist figures become mythical. Whereas, colonialism disrupts the narratives of the community and introduces ‘history’. In as far as the change in the narrative technique, which becomes more linear while narrating the freedom struggle in Kanthapura, history really begins with Europe inhabiting Kanthapura. This is most clearly suggested in the loss of mythicizing tendency of the narrative in the later part when the arrival of newspapers, novels and pamphlets has exposed the first person narrator to techniques of historicizing.

This whole reading of the novel harps back upon the exchange between the coloniser and the colonised. The interesting insights offered by the novel are about the immense complications and violence that attend the arrival of colonial modernity in India.

The novel highlights with no subtlety the collusion between colonialism and Brahmanism. The manner in which Moorthy becomes an outcaste in the Brahmin quarters with his campaign against untouchability indicates the tension between Brahmanism and nationalism. For Brahmanism, the colonial ruler is not the enemy but Gandhi’s anti-untouchable movement is. The collusion between Brahmanism and colonialism is suggested through the alliance between Bhatta, Bade Khan the policeman and the Sahib of the Estate. Swami, who is waging a war against ‘caste pollution due to this pariah business’, sees British rulers as protectors of the ancient ways of Dharma. Swami receives a large amount from the govt as Rajadakshina and is promised that he would receive moral and material support in his war against caste pollution.

While this reading posits nationalism in conflict with brahminism, something more interesting is available if we push our reading a little further. Moorthy’s politics in the village mobilises people of all castes for the struggle against colonisers. In so doing Moorthy radicalises his sociality by visiting the untouchable quarters, and even having milk offered by one of them. Interestingly after this he is troubled by his action and takes a bath. Though he does not change his sacred thread as then he would have to do it daily, he does take a little Ganga water and we are promised that he would do that every time he visits the pariahs. His politics aims at assimilating the lower castes into the nationalist movement. This may also operate as a move towards containment. For example, the discourse of nationalism meets the discourse of religion at different levels in the novel. While Bhatta, Swami and their followers {who have often material motives such as Venkamma) resist Gandhism in the name of religion, in Kanthapura, the nationalists increasingly employ the religious discourse and customs and symbols for nationalist purposes. Religious resources are mobilised for the politicisation of the people. But the customs, rituals and symbols that become tools of nationalist mobilisation are primarily Brahminic: arthi, puja, conches, bells, Vedanta, bhajan etc. They do not include the cultural practices of the lower castes though their participation is prominent.

The overall idea I have of the novel is that it is an immensely clever novel that very ably reflects much of the nationalistic themes including the patronising attitude towards the lower caste society. The novel, much like hegemonic Indian nationalists, deploys anti-caste postures to dissemble the projection of brahminical culture as the legitimate national culture.

Bhakti Expressions


H S Shivprakash is a brilliant poet who writes in Kannada. He has been a from: wikipremier poet and dramatist in Kannada for decades running. A poet of unique voice, he beats no trodden path, or perhaps he retraces the lost paths. Persistent in his search for alternative traditions to the hegemonic ones, Shivprakash has not hesitated to turn against the mainstream literary practices. Serving as a professor at JNU, Delhi, Shivprakash has also edited Indian Literature for some time. While he has a special liking for the vacana tradition, he has taken to explore the Sufi, bhakti, and other diverse mystic traditions in both life and letters. Shivprakash’s poems are not attempts to retrieve the bhakti form of writing poetry but that of bhakti spirit. More often Shivprakash’s poems explore the ‘narratives’ of the bhakti, sufi and other mystic personalities. Here again, he usually wanders far into the untrodden ways to steer away from the hegemonic fields. His poetry is a poetic rendering of the history of marginal forms of life.

Here is an excerpt from his article on Bhakti traditions “Transmutations of Desire and Power in Bhakti Expressions”.

One of the challenges associated with viewing India , as unified literary space is to trace continuities between creative practices in far-flung times and spaces of the many-tongued subcontinent. In this context, the study of various Bhakti movements assumes great significance for the simple reason that, as pointed out by Manager Pandey, Bhakti is the first and greatest pan-Indian literary and cultural movement across languages and regional barriers which altered cultures of people at large. The socio-historical and at times even the philosophical aspects of this pan-Indian movement have received sufficient scholarly and critical attention; at the same time, the literary and aesthetic dimensions of the movement have not yet received the attention they deserve. Because Bhakti mode of expressions dominated Indian creative psyche for well over a millennium, the study of patterns of continuities and divergences of the enormous body of literary and aesthetic practices relating to Bhakti can go a long way in helping us understand India as a common literary and cultural space.

A judicious mixture of synchronic and diachronic approaches is necessary to arrive at a comprehensive view of the achievements of Bhakti movements.  The obstacles are many, however. As Manager Pandey pointed out again we do not have in India the likes of continental critics of the west – Rene Wedlock or George Steiner, for example – whose scholarship extends over several languages, classical and modern.   This is true of literature on Bhakti, too.  For instance, even an eminent authority like V Subramaniam, who has written the most comprehensive account of Bhakti movement from a comparative perspective, can be accused of lopsidedness. For his superb analysis of Tamil Bhakti in relation to North Indian Bhakti passes silently over Karnataka, the next door neighbour of Tamil Nadu. The Karnataka experiment pioneered the subaltern forms of expressions of urban artisan Bhakti that paved the way for Nirguna Bhakti of North and of Orissa. Neither does he say anything about Sakta Bhakti whose paradigms are considerably different.

Attempts made to synthesize Bhakti in classical Bhakti texts also suffer from shortsighted view. For instance the typology of Bhakti worked out in Narada Bhakti Sutra in the form of nine types of Bhakti, though it relates Bhakti to mundane ways of relating, ignores some forms of labour-centered expressions characteristic of artisan Bhakti.

Such lopsidedness results from a) the enormous volume and bewildering variety of Bhakti expression and (b) our own limited familiarity with this vast material.

More here.



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.

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Shashi Deshpande: That Long Silence

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Girish Karnad Hayavadana

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Mahesh Dattani Final Solutions

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Jayant Mahapatra

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Nissim Ezekiel

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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.

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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.

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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’.