Thursday, December 02, 2004

Some South Asian Poems

These are from Prof. Arun Mukherjee's Course kit from her "Post-Colonial Literature: South Asia" class (En 2372, if anyone's interested; it's a great class!) from the 2003-2004 year.

This poem is called "The Patriot" and is by Nissim Ezekiel, it is from his anthology titled: "Very Indian Poems in Indian English."
When reading this poem, read with your best Apu impersonation. The South Asians in the class might get the subtleties in this, but it's still funny by any standards!

The Patriot

I am standing for peace and non-violence.
Why world is fighting fighting
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
I am simply not understanding.
Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
I should say even 200% correct,
But modern generation is neglecting-
Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.

Other day I'm reading newspaper
(Every day I'm reading Times of India
To improve my English Language)
How one goonda fellow
Threw stone at Indirabehn.
Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
Lend me the ears.
Everything is coming -
Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
Be patiently, brothers and sisters.

You want one glass lassi?
Very good for digestion.
With little salt, lovely drink,
Better than wine;
Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
I'm the total teetotaller, completely total,
But I say
Wine is for the drunkards only.

What you think of prospects of world peace?
Pakistan behaving like this,
China behaving like that,
It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
Really, most harassing me.
All men are brothers, no?
In India also
Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
All brothers -
Though some are having funny habits.
Still, you tolerate me,
I tolerate you,
One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.

You are going?
But you will visit again
Any time, any day,
I am not believing in ceremony
Always I am enjoying your company.

This next poem is keeping in line with the doom and gloom theme of the week, but it also ties in with what Prof. Kuin's blog "Not a Digression" is talking about. The persona is struggling to find itself, it is working through its suffering. Imtiaz Dharker's "Minority."


I was born a foreigner.
I carried on from there
to become a foreigner everywhere
I went, even in the place
planted with my relatives,
six-foot tubers sprouting roots,
their fingers and faces pushing up
new shoots of maize and sugar cane.

All kinds of places and groups
of people who have an admirable
history would, almost certainly,
distance themselves from me.

I don't fit,
like a clumsily-translated poem;

like food cooked in milk of coconut
where you expected ghee or cream,
the unexpected aftertaste
of cardamom or neem.

There's always that point where
the language flips
into an unfamiliar taste;
where words tumble over
a cunning tripwire on the tongue;
where the frame slips,
the reception of an image
not quite tuned, ghost-outlined,
that signals, in their midst,
an alien.

And so I scratch, scratch
through the night, at this
growing scab on black on white.
Everyone has the right
to infiltrate a piece of paper.
A page dosen't fight back.
And, who knows, these lines
may scratch their way
into your head
through all the chatter of community,
family, clattering spoons,
children being fed
immigrate into your bed,
squat in your home,
and in a corner, eat your bread,

until, one day, you meet
the stranger sidling down your street,
realise you know the face
simplified to bone,
look into its outcast eyes
and recognise it as your own.

Wow! The first time I read that I was blown away. It's alot like Plath's "Daddy." Powerful stuff!

The last poem I will leave you with is bit a lighter: It is by reknown professor, writer and poet, Tabish Khair. It is about the Mohenjodaro civilization that inhabited the Indus valley at about 2900BCE. Archaeologists and historians don't really know what happened to them, they can't even decipher the script and language they used; they just disappeared one day!

Mohenjoddaro: Bric-a-brac

what happened
did buildings once tall now
holes in the ground bricks bracketing
your unreadable hieroglyph on the page of time
bead shard bearded terracotta man with a chipped nose
everything that says we were here before you but look look no hands
what happened
couldn't you balance
did you overlook a pebble
something careened off the well-laid roads
it is easy to see there was a master plan somewhere
did it get mislaid or was it laid so well that it stifled what was not
brick bracketing
the unruliness of life
and daily the buildings grew taller
and nightly the women and men grew smaller
until you had your backs to one another as in a failing marriage
and drank coffee and looked at the watch and walked away with a nod
what happened
when you saw the sky disappear
your buildings swell like gods and seek false believers
who came sonner or later from north and spread like roots
of the peepul tree into your creeping cracks breaking you into bits
and pieces
and shards
idol with the nose chipped off

Hard to read without any punctuation or capitals, eh?
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed a little taste of South Asian poetry, if your interested in more, just let me know (I have a full course kit of it), or google it!

Back to Doom and Gloom!

Our lecture on Doom and Gloom poems was one I enjoyed. Not that I'm the type of person that likes brooding, or likes being depressed. But there is a part of me that is fascinated by the way some people express their grief and suffering. Call me a morbid existentialist, but reading some of the poems Prof. Kuin suggested in his blog really moved me. They depict an aspect of life that we all, have gone through, are going through, or will go through at some point in our lives; many times. Loss, grief and sadness are such profound feelings, and these poets show us that in a raw and powerful way. Anyone in Prof. Kuin's tutorial knows what I'm talking about; Sylvia Plath's Daddy is one hell of a poem (probably my favourite one we've studied this year)! Quoting sections won't do it justice, I seriously recommend reading all of it, it's not that long (Norton, pg. 1732).
As I write this, I thinking of how grief, loss and suffering can be tied in with insanity. Insanity is another topic that I find interesting. I think it was Einstein who said: "The line between genius and insanity is a thin one." I bring up insanity because William Cowper's Lines Written During a Period of Insanity, is a poem that ties in with the theme of suffering. The persona in this poem is going through a tremendous period of suffering, that is, suffering of the mind (which is often worse than suffering of the body). But the suffering is of a particular kind, this person is going through a crisis of faith. I think this is probably one of the most frightening experiences a person can go through. Faith is something that we can take solace in when we feel vulnerable and scared, to have that questioned and cast into doubt must be quite disconcerting. I think a lot of us university students have questioned what we believe at least once in our life times. I know I have! Lines Written During a Period of Insanity, captures this crisis in quite a dramatic way. What with Cowper's allusions to the bible, images of hell's hungry mouth and the vindictive rod of an angry God. Very doom oriented, I would say!
But like Prof. Kuin said in lecture, writing poems like this (or writing anything for that matter), helps a person work through their suffering (be it suffering grief, or whatever else). By working through their feelings they can come to some sense of closure. It's a form of venting and the poets in the Norton do this in a very profound way.

Some food for consideration!