(An Anthology of Indian Verse in English)
(An Anthology of Indian Verse in English)
Edited with Notes and Commentary
K.R. Ramachandran Nair
Professor & Head of the Department of English
Tagore Arts College
STERLING PUBLISHERS PRIVATE LIMITED
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1991, K.R. Ramachandran Nair
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Print India, New Delhi.
In recent times most of the universities in India have introduced Indo-
Anglian literature as one of the papers at the undergraduate and post-
graduate levels in their English literature programmes. However, there
are very few student editions of anthologies that cover the whole range
of Indo-Anglian poetry. Some of the good anthologies available now
are only meant for elite reading as they do not provide any notes or
This anthology is an attempt to present a representative selection of
Indo-Anglian verse along with notes and commentary to enable the
student and the lay reader to have a proper understanding of each poem.
The notes are prepared to assist the student to absorb the spirit of each
poem and the commentary on each poet gives adequate details about
his/her life and work. All selection is perception and this is a range
rather than a total picture that I have tried to reflect in choosing the
poets and poems.
One of the problems I encountered while compiling the anthology
is the scarcity of reference material, especially on contemporary Indo-
Anglian poems. There are no full-length studies on most of the
contemporary poems included in this anthology. The interpretations of
such poems are purely subjective. In the matter of punctuation, I have
adopted the system followed in earlier standard publications of the
Several people have helped me with suggestions in the compilation
of this anthology. Foremost among them is my friend and colleague,
Mr. P. Raja, a poet in his own right who has given me several useful
hints about interpretations of some of the poems. I am thankful to him.
I gratefully acknowledge the help rendered by my wife, Seetha, in
preparing and typing the manuscript
K.R. Ramachandran Nair
The editor and the publishers gratefully acknowledge permission to use
the following poems in this anthology.
1 . Sri Aurobindo for 'The Tiger and the Deer', 'The Blue Bird' and
*A Dream of Surreal Science' from the Collected Poems of Sri
Aurobindo to Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry.
2. Shiv K. Kumar for 'Indian Women 1 and 'An Encounter With
Death' from Subterfuges to the author and the publishers, the
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, and for 'Epitaph on an
Indian Politician' to the author.
3. Nissim Ezekiel for 'Background, Casually*, and 'The Railway
Clerk* from Hymns in Darkness and 'A Morning Walk',
'Enterprise* and 'Marriage' from Latter-Day Psalms to the
author and the publishers, the Oxford University Press, New
4. Jayanta Mahapatra for 'Thought of the Future* and 'The
Mountain* from Selected Poems to the author and the publishers,
the Oxford University Press, New Delhi, and for 'The Bride* to
5. A.K. Ramanujan for The Striders*, 'Of Mothers, among Other
Things', 'Still Another for Mother* and 'Snakes' from Selected
Poems to the author and the publishers, the Oxford University
Press, New Delhi.
6. Kamala Das for 'A Hot Noon in Malabar', The Dance of the
Eunuchs', 'The Old Playhouse* and 'Death is so Mediocre* to
7. R. Parthasarathy for 'Exile - F, Trial - i & ii' and 'Home-
coming-xiii' from Rough Passage to the author and the
publishers, the Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
8. K.D. Katrak for 'Woman on the Beach* and 'Colaba Causeway'
to the author.
viii Gathered Grace
9. Keki N. Daruwalla for *Hawk* and 'Apothecary* from The
Keeper of the Dead to the author and the publishers, the Oxford
University Press, New Delhi, and for Easy and Difficult Animals
to the author.
10. Dom Moraes for * Sailing to England* and 'At Seven O'clock* to
11. Gieve Patel for 'On Killing a Tree* and 'Commerce* to the
12. Adil Jussawalla for 'The Waiters* and * Approaching Santa Cruz*
to the author.
13. Gauri Deshpande for *Lunch on the Train* and 'Migraine* to the
14. Pritish Nandy for 'Calcutta If you Must Exile Me* and *Love* to
1. Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-1831) 1
(i) The Harp of India 2
(ii) To the Pupils of the Hindu College 2
(iii) Chorus of Brahmins 2
(iv) A Walk by Moonlight 3
(v) Morning After a Storm 6
2. Kasiprasad Ghose (1809-1873) 7
(i) A Farewell Song 8
(ii) The Moon in September 8
(iii) To a Dead Crow 9
3. Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1827-1873) 11
(i) My Thoughts, My Dreams 12
(ii) Oft Like a Sad Imprisoned Bird 13
4 Toru Dutt (1856-1877) 14
(i) Lakshman 15
(ii) Sita 19
(iii) Our Casuarina Tree 20
(iv) Sonnet: The Lotus 22
(v) The Tree of Life 22
5. Manmohan Ghose (1869-1924) 24
(i) London 25
(ii) The Rider on the White Horse 25
(iii) TheDewdrop 27
6. Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) 29
(i) The Tiger and the Deer 30
(ii) The Blue Bird 30
(iii) A Dream of Surreal Science 31
: Gathered Grace
7. Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) 32
(i) Palanquin Bearers 33
(ii) Indian Dancers 33
(iii) To a Buddha Seated on a Lotus 34
(iv) June Sunset 35
(v) The Lotus 36
8. Shiv K* Kumar (b. 1921) 37
(i) Indian Women 39
(ii) An Encounter with Death 39
(iii) Epitaph on an Indian Politician 40
9. Nissim Ezekiel (b. 1924) 41
(i) Background, Casually 43
(ii) A Morning Walk 45
(iii) Enterprise 46
(iv) Marriage 47
(v) The Railway Clerk 48
10. Jayan ta Mahapatra (b. 1928) 49
(i) Thoughts of the Future ^ 50
(ii) The Bride 51
(iii) The Mountain 52
11. A.K. Ramanujan (b* 1929) 53
(i) TheStriders 55
(ii) Of Mothers, among Other Things 55
(iii) Still Another for Mother 56
(iv) Snakes 57
12. Arun Kolatkar (b. 1932) 59
(i) From Jejuri - The Bus 60
(ii) Irani Restaurant Bombay 61
13. Kamala Das (b. 1934) 62
(i) A Hot Noon in Malabar 63
(ii) The Dance of the Eunuchs 63
(iii) The Old Playhouse 64
(iv) Death is so Mediocre 65
14. R. Parthasarathy (b. 1934) 67
(i) Exile -i 69
(ii) Trial -i 70
(Hi) Trial - ii 70
(iv) Homecoming - iii 71
15. KJX Katrak (b, 1936) 72
(i) Woman on the Beach 73
(ii) Colaba Causeway 75
16. Keki N. Daruwalla (b. 19: /) 76
(i) Hawk 77
(ii) Easy and Difficult Animals 79
(iii) Apothecary 80
17. Dom Moraes (b. 1938) 83
(i) Sailing to England 85
(ii) At Seven O'clock 85
18. Gieve Patel (b. 1940) 87
(i) On Killing a Tree 89
(ii) Commerce 90
19. Adil Jussawalla (b. 1940) 91
(i) The Waiters 93
(ii) Approaching Santa Cruz 93
20. Gauri Deshpande (b. 1942) 95
(i) A Lunch on the Train 96
(ii) Migraine 97
21. Pritish Nandy (b. 1948) 99
(i) Calcutta If You Must Exile Me 101
(ii) Love 102
A Select List of Books for Further Reading 176
Index of Titles 178
Index of First Lines 1 79
HENRY LOUIS VIVIAN DEROZIO
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was born on 18th April 1809 in Calcutta,
died on 26th December 1831 and was buried in the Park Street
cemetery. His father was Portuguese and mother English. Thus he had
no Indian blood in him. But he was born and brought up in India, he
taught Indian students in an Indian college and the themes and
sentiments in his poetry were purely Indian. Above all, he loved India
and was sad about her condition. So Derozio is, undoubtedly, an Indo-
Anglian poet. During his exciting life of twenty-three years he was
clerk, teacher, poet, journalist, free thinker and social reformer. In 1828
he became an Assistant Master in Hindu College, Calcutta. However, in
183 1 he had to resign the job following accusations by the management
that his teaching and influence had corrupted young minds and that he
was a rebel and an atheist. Eight months later he died.
Derozio wrote lyrics, narrative poems, sonnets and ballads. The
Faheer ofJungheera is his most successful effort as a narrative poet His
poems reveal a talent which would have blossomed further had he lived
longer. Two important themes in his poetry are love and death. Besides
the poems included in this anthology, some of his other well-known
poems are The Bridal, The Golden Vase, Song of the Hindustanee
Minstrel, Night, The Tomb, The Poet's Habitation and Poetic Haunts.
The Harp of India
Why hang'st thou lonely on yon withered bough?
Unstrung for ever, must thou there remain;
Thy music once was sweet who hears it now?
Why doth the breeze sigh over thee in vain?
Silence hath bound thee with her fatal chain; 5
Neglected, mute and desolate art thou,
Like ruined monument on desert plain:
O! many a hand more worthy far than mine
Once thy harmonious chords to sweetness gave,
And many a wreath for them did Fame entwine 10
Of flowers still blooming on the imnstreFs grave:
Those hands are cold but if thy notes divine
May be by mortal wakened once again,
Harp of my country, let me strike the strain!
To the Pupils of the Hindu College
Expanding like the petals of young flowers
I watch the gentle opening of your minds,
And the sweet loosening of the spell that binds
Your intellectual energies and powers,
That stretch (like young birds in soft summer hours) 5
Their wings, to try their strength. O, how the winds
Of circumstances, and freshening April showers
Of early knowledge, and unnumbered kinds
Of new perceptions shed their influence;
And how you worship truth's omnipotence. 10
What joyance rains upon me, when I see
Fame in the mirror of futurity,
Weaving the chaplets you have yet to gain,
Ah, then I feel I have not lived in vain.
Chorus of Brahmins
Scatter, scatter flowerets round,
Let the tinkling cymbal sound;
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio 3
Strew the scented orient spice,
Prelude to the sacrifice;
Bring the balm, and bring the myrrh, 5
Sweet as is the breath of her
Who upon the funeral pyre
Shall, ere Surya sets, expire*
Let pure incense to the skies
Like the heart's warm wishes rise, 10
Till, unto the lotus throne
Of the great Eternal One
High ascending, it may please
Him who guides our destinies.
Bring the pearl of purest white, 15
Bring the diamond flashing light;
Bring your gifts of choicest things,
Fans of peacocks' starry wings,
Gold refined, and ivory,
Branches of the sandal tree, 20
Which their fragrance still impart
Like the good man's injured heart,
This its triumph, this its boast,
Sweetest 'tis when wounded most!
Ere he sets, the golden sun 25
Must with richest gifts be won
Ere his glorious brow he lave
In yon sacred yellow wave,
Rising through the realms of air
He must hear the widow's prayer. 30
Haste ye, haste, the day declines
Onward, onward while he shines,
Let us press, and all shall see
Glory of our Deity.
A Walk by Moonlight
Last night it was a lovely night,
And I was very blest
Shall it not be for Memory
A happy spot to rest? 4
4 Gathered Grace
Yes; there are in the backward past
Soft hours to which we turn
Hours which, at distance, mildly shine,
Shine on, but never burn. 8
And some of these but yesternight
Across my path were thrown,
Which made my heart so very light,
I think it could have flown. 12
I had been out to see a friend
With whom I others saw:
Like minds to like minds ever tend
An universal law, 16
And when we were returning home,
"Come who will walk with me,
A little way**, I said, and lo!
I straight was joined by three: 20
Three whom I loved two had high thoughts
And were, in age, my peers;
And one was young, but oh! endeared
As much as youth endears. 24
The moon stood silent in the sky,
And looked upon our earth:
The clouds divided, passing by,
In homage to her worth. 28
There was a dance among the leaves
Rejoicing at her power,
Who robes for them of silver weaves
Within one mystic hour. 32
There was a song among the winds,
Hymning her influence
That low-breathed minstrelsy which binds
The soul to thought intense. 36
And there was something in the night
That with its magic wound us;
For we oh! we not only saw,
But felt the moonlight around us. 40
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio 5
How vague are all the mysteries
Which bind us to our earth;
How far they send into the heart
Their tones of holy mirth; 44
How lovely are the phantoms dim
Which bless that better sight,
That man enjoys when proud he stands
In his own spirit's light; 48
When, like a thing that is not ours.
This earthliness goes by.
And we behold the spiritualness
Of all that cannot die. 52
*Tis then we understand the voice
Which in the night- wind sings,
And feel the mystic melody
Played on the forest's strings. 56
The silken language of the stars
Becomes the tongue we speak,
And then we read the sympathy
That pales the young moon's cheek. 60
The inward eye is open then
To glories, which in dreams
Visit the sleeper's couch, in robes
Woven of the rainbow's beams. 64
I bless my nature that I am
Allied to all the bliss,
Which other worlds we're told afford,
But which I find in this. 68
My heart is bettered when I feel
That even this human heart
To all around is gently bound,
And forms of all a part; 72
That, cold and lifeless as they seem,
The flowers, the stars, the sky
Have more than common minds may deem
To stir our sympathy. 76
Oh! in such moments can I crush
The grass beneath my feet?
Ah no; the grass has then a voice,
Its heart - I hear it beat 80
Morning After a Storm
The elements were all at peace, when I
Wandered abroad at morning's earliest hour,
Not to inhale the fragrance of a flower,
Or gaze upon a sun-illumined sky:
To mark the havoc that the storm had made 5
I wandered forth, and saw great Nature's power.
The hamlet was in desolation laid
By the strong spirits of the storm; there lay
Around me many a branch of giant trees,
Scattered as leaves are by the southern breeze 10
Upon a brook, on an autumnal day;
Cloud piled on cloud was there, and they did seem
Like the fantastic figures of a dream,
Till morning brighter grew, and then they rolled away.
Oh! Nature, how I love thy face! and now
That there was freshness on thy placid brow,
While I looked on thee with extreme delight,
How leapt my young heart at the lovely sight!
Heaven breathed upon me sweetly, and its breath 5
Was like the fragrance of a rosy wreath.
The river was wreck-strewn; its gentle breast
Was like the heart of innocence, at rest;
I stood upon its grass-grown bank, and smiled,
Cleaving the wave with pebbles like a child, 10
And marking, as they rose those circles fair
Which grew, and grew, then vanished: but oh! there
I learned a moral lesson, which I'll store
Within my bosom's deepest, inmost core!
Kasiprasad Ghose was born in 1809 and was educated at Hindu College,
Calcutta. After leaving the college, he edited an English weekly, The
Hindu Intelligence. It was the publication of The Shair and Other
Poems (1830) that brought him recognition as a poet He was one of the
earliest Indians to publish a regular volume of English verse and in his
own day some of his poems were included in The Bengal Annual, an
anthology brought out by CapL D JL. Richardson.
In spite of occasional bright flashes, Kasiprasad Ghose's poetry is
generally imitative and full of conventional descriptions and
moralisings. He had a predilection for unhappy and unfortunate themes.
He was one of the pioneers of Indo- Anglian poetry.
8 Gathered Grace
The Farewell Song
Farewell my lovely native land!
Where roses bloom in many a vale;
Where green-clad hills majestic stand,
Where flowerets woo the scented gale;
Where Surya from his throne above 5
With brightest colours paints the day;
Where ripplets rise to clasp their love,
Th* eluding beams that o'er them play;
Where when the queen of silent night
Graces the star illumined hall, 10
How on the heart her dewy light
In streams o'erpowering still doth fall;
Where mighty Ganga's billows flow
And wander many a country by;
Where ocean smiles serene below, 15
Beneath thy blue and sunny sky*
Where many sacred rivers lave
Full many a wood or mountain green,
Where pines and citrons towering wave
In rural grandeur stately scene! 20
Land of the Gods and lofty name;
Land of the fair and beauty's spell;
Land of the bards of mighty fame;
My native land! fore'er farewell!
The Moon in September
How like the breath of love the rustling breeze
Is breathing through the fragrant sandal trees!
How sad but sweet the Bulbul sings above
The rose plucked off its stalk his withering love!
Like liquid silver yon soft-gliding stream 5
Wanders and glistens in the lunar beam,
Which like a modest maid, in love and fear
Shrinks, half reluctant, from the clasp so dear
Kasiprasad Ghose 9
Of frequent heaving waves. But see! a cloud
Hath wrapt the Moon like Beauty in a shroud. 10
But now, she issuing shines with brightest sheen,
And tips with silver all the woodlands green.
Region of bliss! Irradiate gem of night!
Soother of sorrows! Orb of gentle light!
Full right the bards of ancient days suppose 15
Thou wert the region where the deities chose
To hide their nectar from the demons fell,
Destroyed or headlong hurled to deepest hell.
For still, resplendent Moon! whene'er we see
Thy placid face, and fondly gaze on thee, 20
Its gentleness upon the wounded soul
Exerts a healing power and calm control.
To a Dead Crow
Gay minstrel of the Indian clime!
How oft at morning* s rosy prime
When thou didst sing in caw, caw numbers,
Vexed Fve awoke from my sweet slumbers,
And to avoid that hateful sound,
That plagues a head howe'er profound,
Have walked out in my garden, where
Beside the tank, in many a square,
Sweet lilies, jasmines, roses bloom,
Far from those trees within whose gloom 10
Of foliage thick, thou hadst thy nest
From daily toil at night to rest
Now lifeless on the earth, cold, bare,
Devoid alike of joy and care,
The offals of my meal no more 15
Attract thee as they did before
There's rubbish scattered round thee, but
Thy heart is still, thine eyes are shut
No more that blunt yet useful beak
From carcasses thy food can seek, 20
10 Gathered Grace
Or catch the young unheeding mouse,
Which from the flooring of my house
Urged by its helpless luck, would stray
And bask beneath the solar ray.
Gay minstrel! ne'er had Death before 25
Its dart destructive, sharpened more
To pierce a gayer, mortal heart
Than thine, which ah! hath felt the smart!
Though life no more is warm in thee,
Yet thou dost look as though *t may be 30
That life in thee is full and warm;
Not cruel death could mar thy form:
Thy features, one and all, possess
Still, still, their former ugliness
They are in truth the very same 35
The Indian crow hath, known to fame.
Oh! may when death hath closed these eyes,
And freed from earthly bondage, flies
The spirit of eternity,
Stretched at full length I lie like thee, 40
On mother earth's cold lap so ne*er
To spin such verses out I'll dare,
And please the public ear again
With such discordant, silly strain,
As though didst once delight to pour 45
At morn or noon, or evening hour.
In sooth I promise this shall be
My last line in addressing thee.
MICHAEL MADHUSUDAN DUTT
Michael Madhusudan Dutt was a Bengali by birth. In 1843 he
converted to Christianity. He married a European and went to England
where he qualified for the bar. After his return to India he moved to
Madras where he edited an English newspaper. His most well-known
work is The Captive Ladie (1849), a metrical romance centred round
the legends about the Rajput king Prithviraj Chauhan and his captive
princess Sanyogita. Another blank verse work is Visions of the Past.
His Bengali epic Meghnad-Badha narrating the adventures of Indrajit,
son of Ravana, secured him an immortal place among Bengali poets.
Madhusudan Dutt's English poems show the influence of the
English romantics, especially that of Byron. Most of his poems deal
with episodes and incidents from Indian history and legends.
12 Gathered Grace
My Thoughts, My Dreams
My thoughts, my dreams, are all of thee,
Though absent still thou seemest near;
Thine image everywhere I see
Thy voice in every gale I hear. 4
When softly o'er the evening sky,
The stars seem twinkling one by one,
The star of eve arrests my eye,
As if it hit the sky alone 8
So like its tranquil lustre seems
The light of that soft eye of thine
The star of hope, whose cheering beams
Upon my heart so sweetly shine. 12
The lake, whose placid waters lie
Calm and unruffled by the wind
Gives a fair image to mine eye
Of thy serenely pensive mind. 16
The streams, that wander glad and free
And make sweet music as they flow
Remind me of thine hours of glee
Thy playful arts to banish woe. 20
Thy soul is imaged by the hills
That unshaken by the blast:
And hence the hope my bosom fills,
Thou wilt be constant to the last 24
Michael Madhusudan Dull 1 3
Whatever in this fair earth I see
'Mong Nature's form that's pure and bright
Reminds me ever, love, of thee
And brings thine image to my sight 28
Oft Like a Sad Imprisoned Bird
Oft like a sad imprisoned bird I sigh
To leave this land, though mine own land it be;
Its green robed meads, gay flowers and cloudless sky
Though passing fair, have but few charms for me.
For I have dreamed of climes more bright and free 5
Where virtue dwells and heaven-born liberty
Makes even the lowest happy; where the eye
Doth sicken not to see man bend the knee
To sordid interest: climes where science thrives.
And genius doth receive her guerdon meet; 10
Where man in all his truest glory lives,
And nature's face is exquisitely sweet:
For those fair climes I heave the impatient sigh,
There let me live and there let me die.
Tom Dutt, one of the earliest of Indo- Anglian poets, led a life of tragedy
and beauty. She died young leaving behind a modest corpus of poetry of
which the poems included in Ancient Ballads and Legends a/Hindustan
(1882) are the most enduring. The Ancient Ballads consists of nine
legends, most of them chosen from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana
and the Vishnu Purana. They are Savitri, Lakshman, Jogadhya Uma,
The Royal Ascetic and the Hind, Dhruva, Buttoo, Sindhu, Prahlad and
Tom Dutt's fame rests mainly on these ballads and a few other
poems of which Our Casuarina Tree is the most well known. Most of
her poems are narrative and her poetry as a whole exhibits a
sophisticated poetic mind saturated with Hindu ethos and tempered by
European cultural influences.
Toru was the first Indo- Anglian poet to interpret the spirit of India
to the West. She was the first woman writer in Indo- Anglian literature.
She left behind such a glory and legacy that even today we think of her
as the marvellous young girl who died before her prime after blazing an
immortal trail in Indo- Anglian poetry.
"Hark! Lakshman! Hark, again that cry!
It is, it is my husband's voice!
Oh hasten, to his succour fly,
No more hast thou, dear friend, a choice.
He calls on thee, perhaps his foes
Environ him on all sides round,
That wail, it means death's final throes!
Why standest thou, as magic-bound? 8
"Is this a time for thought, oh gird
Thy bright sword on, and take thy bow!
He heeds not, hears not any word,
Evil hangs over us, I know!
Swift in decision, prompt in deed,
Brave unto rashness, can this be,
The man to whom all looked at need?
Is it my brother that I see! 16
"Oh no, and I must run alone,
For further here I cannot stay;
Art thou transformed to blind dumb stone!
Wherefore this impious, strange delay!
That cry, - that cry, it seems to ring
Still in my ears, I cannot bear
Suspense; if help we fail to bring
His death at least we both can share** 24
"Oh calm thyself, Videhan Queen,
No cause is there for any fear,
Hast thou his prowess never seen?
Wipe off for shame that dastard tear!
What being of demonian birth
Could ever brave his mighty arm?
Is there a creature on earth
That dares to work our hero harm? 32
"The lion and the grisly bear
Cower when they see his royal look,
16 Gathered Grace
Sun-staring eagles of the air
His glance of anger cannot brook,
Pythons and cobras at his tread
To their most secret coverts glide,
Bowed to the dust each serpent head
Erect before in hooded pride. 40
"Rakshasas, Danavs, demons, ghosts,
Acknowledge in their hearts his might,
And slink to their remotest coasts*
In terror at his very sight.
Evil to him! Oh fear it not,
Whatever foes against him rise!
Banish for aye the foolish thought,
And be thyself, bold, great, and wise. 48
"He call for help! Canst thou believe
He like a child would shriek for aid
Or pray for respite or reprieve
Not of such metal is he made!
Delusive was that piercing cry,
Some trick of magic by the foe;
He has a work, he cannot die,
Beseech me not from hence to go. 56
For here beside thee, as a guard
'Twas he commanded me to stay,
And dangers with my life to ward
If they should come across thy way.
Send me not hence, for in this wood
Bands scattered of the giants lurk,
Who on their wrongs and vengeance brood,
And wait the hour their will to work**. 64
"Oh shame! and canst thou make my weal
A plea for lingering! Now I know
What thou art, Lakshman! And I feel
Far better were an open foe.
Art thou a coward? I have seen
Thy bearing in the battle-fray
Where flew the death-fraught arrows keen,
Else had I judged thee so today. 72
"But then thy leader stood beside!
Dazzles the cloud when shines the sun,
Reft of his radiance, see it glide
A shapeless mass of vapours dun;
So of thy courage, or if not,
The matter is far darker dyed,
What makes thee loth to leave this spot?
Is there a motive thou wouldst hide? 80
"He perishes well, let him die!
His wife henceforth shall be mine own!
Can that thought deep imbedded lie
Within thy heart* s most secret zone!
Search well and see! one brother takes
His kingdom, one would take his wife!
A fair partition! But it makes
Me shudder, and abhor my life. 88
"Art thou in secret league with those
Who from his hope the kingdom rent?
A spy from his ignoble foes
To track him in his banishment?
And wouldst thou at his death rejoice?
I know thou wouldst, or sure ere now
When first thou heardst that well known voice
Thou shouldst have run to aid, I trow. 96
"Learn this, whatever comes may come,
But I shall not survive my Love,
Of all my thoughts here is the sum!
Witness it gods in heaven above.
If fire can burn, or water drown,
I follow him: choose what thou wilt,
Truth with its everlasting crown,
Or falsehood, treachery, and guilt 104
"Remain here with a vain pretence
Of shielding me from wrong and shame,
Or go and die in his defence
And leave behind a noble name*
Choose what thou wilt, I urge no more,
My pathway lies before me clear,
18 Gathered Grace
I did not know thy mind before,
I know thee now, and have no fear/* 112
She said and proudly from him turned,
Was this the gentle Sita? No.
Flames from her eyes shot forth and burned,
The tears therein had ceased to flow.
"Hear me, O Queen, ere I depart,
No longer can I bear thy words,
They lacerate my inmost heart
And torture me, like poisoned swords. 120
"Have I deserved this at thine hand?
Of lifelong loyalty and truth
Is this the meed? I understand
Thy feelings, Sita, and in sooth
I blame thee not, but thou mightst be
Less rash in judgement, Look! I go,
Little I care what comes to me
Wert thou but safe, God keep thee so! 128
"In going hence I disregard
The plainest orders of my chief,
A deed for me, a soldier, hard
And deeply painful, but thy grief
And language, wild and wrong, allow
No other course. Mine be the crime,
And mine alone. but oh, do thou
Think better of me from this time. 136
"Here with an arrow, lo, I trace
A magic circle ere I leave,
No evil thing within this space
May come to harm thee or to grieve.
Step not, for aught, across the line,
Whatever thou mayst see or hear,
So shalt thou balk the bad design
Of every enemy I fear. 144
"And now farewell! What thou hast said,
Though it has broken quite my heart,
So that I wish I were dead
I would before, O Queen, we part,
Freely forgive, for well I know
That grief and fear have made thee wild,
We part as friends, is it not so?"
And speaking thus he sadly smiled, 152
"And oh ye sylvan gods that dwell
Among these dim and sombre shades,
Whose voices in the breezes swell
And blend with noises of cascades,
Watch over Sita, whom alone
I leave, and keep her safe from harm,
Till we return unto our own,
I and my brother, arm in arm. 160
"For though ill omens round us rise
And frighten her dear heart, I feel
That he is safe. Beneath the skies
His equal is not, and his heel
Shall tread all adversaries down,
Whoever they may chance to be.
Farewell, O Sita! Blessings crown
And peace for ever rest with thee!" 168
He said, and straight his weapons took
His bow and arrows pointed keen,
Kind, nay, indulgent, was his look,
No trace of anger there was seen,
Only a sorrow dark, that seemed
To deepen his resolve to dare
All dangers. Hoarse the vulture screamed,
As out he strode with dauntless air. 176
Three happy children in a darkened room!
What do they gaze on with wide-open eyes?
A dense,.dense forest, where no sunbeam pries,
And in its centre a cleared spot. There bloom
20 Gathered Grace
Gigantic flowers on creepers that embrace 5
Tall trees; there in a quiet lucid lake
The white swans glide; there, * 4 whirring from the brake,"
The peacock springs; there, herds -of wild deer race;
There, patches gleam with yellow waving grain;
There, blue smoke from strange altars rises light, 10
There dwells in peace the poet anchorite.
But who is this fair lady? Not in vain
She weeps, for lo! at every tear she sheds
Tears from three pairs of young eyes fall amain,
And bowed in sorrow are the three young heads. 15
It is an old, old story, and the lay
Which has evoked sad Sita from the past
Is by a mother sung .... *Tis hushed at last
And melts the picture from their sight away,
Yet shall they dream of it until the day! 20
When shall those children by their mother's side
Gather, ah me! as erst at eventide?
Our Casuarina Tree
Like a huge Python, winding round and round
The rugged trunk, indented deep with scars
Up to its very summit near the stars,
A creeper climbs, in whose embraces bound
No other tree could live. But gallantly 5
The giant wears the scarf, and flowers are hung
In crimson clusters all the boughs among,
Whereon all day are gathered bird and bee;
And oft at nights the garden overflows
With one sweet song that seems to have no close, 10
Sung darkling from our tree, while men repose.
When first my casement is wide open thrown
At dawn, my eyes delighted on it rest;
Sometimes, and most in winter, on its crest
A gray baboon sits statue-like alone 15
Watching the sunrise; while on lower boughs
His puny offspring leap about and play;
And far and near kokilas hail the day;
And to their pastures wend our sleepy cows;
And in the shadow, on the broad tank cast 20
By that hoar tree, so beautiful and vast,
The water-lilies spring, like snow enmassed.
But not because of its magnificence
Dear is the Casuarina to my soul:
Beneath it we have played; though years may roll, 25
sweet companions, loved with love intense,
For your sakes shall the tree be ever dear!
Blent with your images, it shall arise
In memory, till the hot tears blind mine eyes!
What is that dirge-like murmur that I hear 30
Like the sea breaking on a shingle-beach?
It is the tree's lament, an eerie speech,
That haply to the unknown land may reach.
Unknown, yet well-known to the eye of faith!
Ah, I have heard that wail far, far away 35
In distant lands, by many a sheltered bay,
When slumbered in his cave the water-wraith
And the waves gently kissed the classic shore
Of France or Italy, beneath the moon,
When earth lay tranced in a dreamless swoon: 40
And every time the music rose, before
Mine inner vision rose a form sublime,
Thy form, O Tree, as in my happy prime
1 saw thee, in my own loved native clime.
Therefore I fain would consecrate a lay 45
Unto thy honour, Tree, beloved of those
Who now in blessed sleep for aye repose,
Dearer than life to me, alas! were they!
Mayst thou be numbered when my days are done
With deathless trees like those in Borrowdale, 50
Under whose awful branches lingered pale
"Fear, trembling Hope, and Death, the skeleton,
And Time the shadow* *, and though weak the verse
That would thy beauty fain, oh fain rehearse,
May Love defend thee from Oblivion's curse. 55
22 Gathered Grace
Sonnet: The Lotus
Love came to Flora asking for a flower
That would of flowers be undisputed queen,
The lily and the rose, long, long had been
Rivals for that high honour. Bards of power
Had sung their claims. "The rose can never tower 5
Like the pale lily with her Juno mien"
"But is the lily lovelier?" Thus between
Flower-factions rang the strife in Psyche*s bower.
"Give me a flower delicious as the rose
And stately as the lily in her pride** 10
"But of what colour?" "Rose-red", "Love first chose,
Then prayed, "No, lily-white or, both provide,"
And Flora gave the lotus, "rose-red" dyed,
And "lily-white", queenliest flower that blows.
The Tree of Life
Broad daylight, with a sense of weariness!
Mine eyes were closed, but I was not asleep,
My hand was in my father* s, and I felt
His presence near me. Thus we often past
In silence, hour by hour. What was the need 5
Of interchanging words when every thought
That in our hearts arose, was known to each,
And every pulse kept time? Suddenly there shone
A strange light, and the scene as sudden changed.
I was awake: It was an open plain 10
Illimitable, stretching, stretching oh, so far!
And o'er it that strange light, a glorious light
Like that the stars shed over fields of snow
In a clear, cloudless, frosty winter night,
Only intenser in its brilliance calm 15
And in the midst of that vast plain, I saw,
For I was wide awake, it was no dream,
A tree with spreading branches and with leaves
Of diverse kinds, dead silver and live gold,
Shimmering in radiance that no words may tell! 20
Beside the tree an angel stood; he plucked
A few small sprays, and bound them round my head.
Oh, the delicious touch of those strange leaves!
No longer throbbed my brows, no more I felt
The fever in my limbs "And oh" I cried, 25
"Bind too my father's forehead with these leaves".
One leaf the angel took and therewith touched
His forehead, and then gently whispered "Nay"
Never, oh never had I seen a face
More beautiful than that Angel's, or more full 30
Of holy pity and of love divine.
Wondering I looked awhile, then, all at once
Opened my tear-dimmed eyes When lo! the light
Was gone the light as of the stars when snow
Lies deep upon the ground. No more, no more, 35
Was seen the Angel's face. I only found
My father watching patient by my bed,
And holding in his own, close-prest, my hand.
M ANMOHAN GHOSE
Manmohan Ghose, the elder brother of Sri Aurobindo, was born in
1869, Educated at Manchester, London, and Oxford he stayed for
eighteen years in England before returning to India in 1898 to become a
Professor of English in the Presidency College, Calcutta*
Manmohan" s first known verse were those included in Primavera, a
volume of poems published in England in 1890. His other publications
are Love Songs and Elegies (1898) and Songs of Love and Death (1926)
besides a poetic play Nallo and Damayanti, a lyrical epic Adam
Alarmed in Paradise and two poetic sequences entitled Immortal Eve
and Orphic Mysteries.
Manmohan Ghose was a quiet man and a disciplined poet Though
his life was darkened by the prolonged illness of his wife, Manmohan
did not neglect either his duties as a teacher or his commitment to
poetry. His wife died in 1918. In 1921 he underwent an unsuccessful
operation for cataract in the eyes which left him almost completely
blind for the rest of his life.
Manmohan 9 s poems deal with love, nature, fate and man's destiny
in the ever-changing universe. Throughout his life Manmohan suffered
from an unmitigated hankering for England. In fact, one of the ruling
passions in his life and poetry is the conflict between a nostalgic longing
for England and the compulsions of staying in India.
Manmohan Chose 25
Farewell, sweetest country; out of my heart, you roses,
Wayside roses, nodding, the slow traveller to keep.
Too long have I drowsed alone in the meadows deep,
Too long alone endured the silence Nature espouses.
Oh, the rush, the rapture of life! throngs, lights, houses,
This is London. I wake as a sentinel from sleep. 6
Stunned with the fresh thunder, the harsh delightful noises,
I move entranced on the thronging pavement How sweet,
To eyes sated with green, the dusky brick- walled street!
And the lone spirit, of self so weary, how it rejoices
To be lost in others, bathed in the tones of human voices,
And feel hurried along the happy tread of feet 12
And a sense of vast sympathy my heart almost crazes,
The warmth of kindred hearts in thousands beating with mine.
Each fresh face, each figure, my spirit drinks like wine,
Thousands endlessly passing. Violets, daisies,
What is your charm to the passionate charm of faces,
This ravishing reality, this earthliness divine? 18
murmur of men more sweet than all the wood's caresses,
How sweet only to be an unknown leaf that sings
In the forest of life! Cease, Nature, thy whisperings.
Can I talk with leaves, or fall in love with breezes?
Beautiful boughs, your shade not a human pang appeases.
This is London. I lie, and twine in the roots of things. 24
The Rider on the White Horse
How did I lose you, sweet?
I hardly know
Roughly the storm did beat,
Wild winds did blow.
1 with my loving arm 5
Folded you safe from harm,
26 Gathered Grace
Cloaked from the weather.
How could your dear foot drag?
Or did my courage sag?
Heavy our way did lag, 10
I |6oked in your eyes afraid,
Pale, pale, my dear!
The stones hurt you, I said,
To hide my fear. 15
You smiled up in my face,
You smothered every trace
Of pain and langour.
Fondly my hand you took,
But all your frail form shook; 20
And the wild storm it struck
At us in anger.
The wild beast woke anew;
Closely you clung to me.
Whiter and whiter grew 25
Your cheek and hung to me.
Drooping and faint you laid
Upon my breast your head,
Footsore and laggard.
Look up, dear love, I cried: 30
But my heart almost died,
As you looked up and sighed,
Dead* weary, staggered.
There came a rider by;
Gentle his look. 35
I shuddered, for his eye
I could not brook.
Muffled and cloaked he rode,
And a white horse bestrode
With noiseless gallop. 40
His hat was mystery,
His cloak was history;
Or Charon's shallop.
Manmohan Ghose 27
Could not the dusky hue 45
Of his robe match,
His face was hard to view,
His tone to catch.
"She is sick, tired. Your load,
A few miles of the road, 50
Give me to weather**
He took as 'twere a corse
Her fainting form perforce.
In the rain rider, horse,
Vanished together. 55
Come back, dear love, come back!
Hoarsely I cry;
After that rider black
I peer and sigh:
After that phantom steed 60
I strain with anxious heed,
Heartsick and lonely.
Into the storm I peer
Through wet woods moaning drear.
Only the wind I hear, 65
The rain see only.
In the bliss, they say, of the love that laves the skies and ocean and earth,
All things hasten to lose, they say, the grieving ripple of birth.
Why, then, ah! do I tremble and pale at the thought of thee, O Death,
And shivering, stand to take my plunge in that infinite sea of breath?
There are the lost joys of my life, far sunk beyond rave and fret; 5
There are the souls of dreams unflowered, and the roses of regret
There is the sunken dreadful gold of the once that might have been,
Shipwrecked memory anchors there, and my dead leaves there are
Why in the merge of all with all by a plunge recoverable,
Desperate diver shudder I from all pearls in one shell; 10
For there more precious than all things lost is the one that I let fall,
28 Gathered Grace
One heart brimful of love for me, her love that encasketed all.
Dear, like a trembling drop of dew I held thee in my hand;
How of a sudden could I so spill as to lose it in infinite sand,
Fresh on the rose-petal of life, with its fragrance through and
Drenching my heart? I held thee long, thou trembling drop of dew.
As I stood sadly secure of thee, as happy I looked my fill,
Thou from that rose petal didst glide and vanish in salt sea rill.
Now by the infinite shore I roam, the bliss that all things laves;
Down-bent, weeping, I seek for thee by a mournful music of
Deaf to the grandeur and the roar that hath washed thee away from me;
In the streaming sands and my own salt tears I wildly look to thee.
Thou with the freshness and the foam art glorying borne away;
I mid wreck and driftwood grope and daily with all dismay.
"Come back, tremulous heart," I sob, "heart's bliss, corne back",
I cry. 25
Only the solemn ecstasy of waters makes reply.
Sri Aurobindo (Aurobindo Ghose) was born in 1872 in Calcutta. He was
educated in England along with his poet brother Manmohan Ghose. He
mastered English and the classical languages and began writing poetry
very early. On his return from England in 1893, he was appointed in the
service of the Maharaja of Baroda. In 1906 Bipin Chandra Pal invited
him to become the editor of Bande Mataram, a journal devoted to the
cause of India* s freedom. Thus was Sri Aurobindo involved in India's
struggle for freedom and was branded as a terrorist by the British. In
1910 Sri Aurobindo left for Pondicherry where he founded his now
world famous ashram. He passed the rest of his life in Pondicherry and
achieved fame not only as a poet but also as a philosopher who attracted
disciples and admirers from all parts of the world.
Sri Aurobindo was a voracious reader and prolific writer. He wrote
poems, plays, criticism and philosophical essays. The Life Divine is his
most philosophical work in prose. His poetry is, by and large, spiritual,
mystic, symbolic and philosophical. Sri Aurobindo* s other important
works are Savitri, Perseus the Deliverer, The Future Poetry, The
Foundations of Indian Culture and The Human Cycle. In addition, he
made several translations from Bengali and Sanskrit classics into
English. Sri Aurobindo shows great metrical skill and thematic
diversity in his poetry.
Professor K.R. Srinivasa lyengar considers him as *the one
uncontestably outstanding figure in Indo- Anglian literature*, a writer
who *was not merely a writer who happened to write in English but
really an English writer'.
30 Gathered Grace
The Tiger and the Deer
Brilliant, crouching, slouching, what crept through the green heart of
Gleaming eyes and mighty chest and soft soundless paws of grandeur
The wind slipped through the leaves as if afraid lest its voice and the
noise of its steps perturb the pitiless Splendour,
Hardly daring to breathe. But the great beast crouched and crept, and
crept and crouched a last time, noiseless, fatal,
Till suddenly death leaped on the beautiful wild deer as it drank 5
Unsuspecting from the great pool in the forest's coolness and shadow,
And it fell and, torn, died remembering its mate left sole in the deep
Destroyed, the mild harmless beauty by the strong cruel beauty in
But a day may yet come when the tiger crouches and leaps no more in
the dangerous heart of the forest,
As the mammoth shakes no more the plains of Asia; 10
Still then shall the beautiful wild deer drink from the coolness of great
pools in the leaves* shadow.
The mighty perish in their might;
The slain survive the slayer.
The Blue Bird
I am the bird of God in His blue;
Divinely high and clear
I sing the notes of the sweet and the true
For the god's and the seraph's ear. 4
I rise like a fire from the mortal's earth
Into a griefless sky
And drop in the suffering soil of his birth
Fire-seeds of ecstasy. 8
My pinions soar beyond Time and Space
Into unfading Light;
Sri Awrobindo 3 1
I bring the bliss of the Eternal's face
And the boon of the Spirit's sight. 12
I measure the worlds with my ruby eyes;
I have perched on Wisdom's tree
Thronged with the blossoms of Paradise
By the streams of Eternity. 16
Nothing is hid from my burning heart;
My mind is shoreless and still;
My song is rapture's mystic art,
My flight immortal will. 20
A Dream of Surreal Science
One dreamed and saw a gland write Hamlet, drink
At the Mermaid, capture immortality;
A committee of hormones on the Aegean's brink
Composed the Iliad and the Odyssey. 4
A thyroid, meditating almost nude
Under the Bo-tree, saw the eternal Light
And, rising from its might solitude,
Spoke of the Wheel and eightfold Path all right 8
A brain by a disordered stomach driven
Thundered through Europe, conquered, ruled and fell,
From St Helena went, perhaps, to Heaven.
Thus wagged on the surreal world, until 12
A scientist played with atoms and blew out
The universe before God had time to shout 14
Sarojini Naidu, the Nightingale of India, was born in 1879 in a middle
class Bengali family settled in Hyderabad. At the age of twelve, she
stood first among the candidates who appeared at the Matriculation
Examination from the erstwhile Madras Presidency. She went to
England and studied in London and Cambridge, She began writing
poetry while she was in England. The exotic lyric quality of her early
poems attracted the attention of two English critics, Edmund Gosse and
Arthur Symons. They encouraged the young girl to write more but
advised her to confine herself to Indian themes instead of trying to be
After her return to India, Sarojini plunged herself into poetic
activity and the next twenty years of her life saw publication of three
volumes of poetry, The Golden Threshold (1905), The Bird of Time
(1912) and The Broken Wing (1917). Another volume entitled The
Feather of Dawn was posthumously published in 1961.
Sarojini was not only a poet but also a fiery patriot who took an
active part in the country's struggle for freedom. She did not write any
substantial poetry during the last 32 years of her life; the poet in her
gave place to the patriot Sarojini entered the vortex of the freedom
struggle along with Gandhiji and Nehru and rose to become the
President of the Indian National Congress in 1925. After Independence
she became the Governor of Uttar Pradesh.
Sarojini*s poetry presents a kaleidoscope of Indian scenes, sights,
sounds and experiences transmuted into a fantastic and sensitive vision
of colour and rhythm. She is a poet of volatile imagination and lyrical
tenderness endowed with an enormous sensitivity to sound, colour,
rhythm and rhyme. A few of her poems border on the mysterious.
Sarojini Naidu 33
Lightly, O lightly, we bear her along,
She sways like a flower in the wind of our song;
She skims like a bird on the foam of a stream,
She floats like a laugh from the lips of a dream.
Gaily, O gaily we glide and we sing,
We bear her along like a pearl on a string. 6
Softly, O softly we bear her along,
She hangs like a star in the dew of our song;
She springs like a beam on the brow of the tide,
She falls like a tear from the eyes of a bride.
Lightly, O lightly we glide and we sing,
We bear her along like a pearl on a string. 12
Eyes ravished with rapture, celestially panting, what passionate bosoms
aflaming with fire
Drink deep of the hush of the hyacinth heavens that glimmer around
them in fountains of light;
O wild and entrancing the strain of keen music that cleaveth the stars
like a wail of desire,
And beautiful dancers with houri-like faces bewitch the 4
voluptuous watches of night
The scents of red roses and sandalwood flutter and die in the maze of
their gem-tangled hair,
And smiles are entwining like magical serpents the poppies of lips that
Their glittering garments of purple are burning like tremulous dawns in
the quivering air,
And exquisite, subtle and slow are the tinkle and tread of
their rhythmical, slumber-soft feet 8
Now silent, now singing and swaying and swinging like blossoms that
bend to the breezes or showers,
34 Gathered Grace
Now wantonly winding, they flash, now they falter, and, lingering,
languish in radiant choir
Their jewel-girt arms and warm, wavering lily-long fingers enchant
through melodious hours,
Eyes ravished with rapture, celestially panting, what passionate bosoms
aflaming with fire! 12
To a Buddha Seated on a Lotus
Lord Buddha, on thy Lotus-throne,
With praying eyes and hands elate,
What mystic rapture dost thou own,
Immutable and ultimate?
What peace, unravished of our ken,
Annihilate from the world of men? 6
The wind of change for ever blows
Across the tumult of our way,
Tomorrow's unborn griefs depose
The sorrows of our yesterday.
Dream yields to dream, strife follows strife,
And Death unweaves the webs of Life. 12
For us the travail and the heat,
The broken secrets of our pride,
The strenuous lessons of defeat,
The flower deferred, the fruit denied;
But not the peace, supremely won,
Lord Buddha, of thy Lotus-throne, 18
With futile hands we seek to gain
Our inaccessible desire,
Diviner summits to attain,
With faith that sinks and feet that tire;
But nought shall conquer or control
The heavenward hunger of our soul. 24
The end, elusive and afar,
Still lures us with its beckoning flight,
And all our mortal moments are
Sarojini Naidu 35
A session of the Infinite*
How shall we reach the great, unknown
Nirvana of thy Lotus-throne?
Here shall my heart find its haven of calm,
By rush-fringed rivers and rain-fed streams
That glimmer thro* meadows of lily and palm*
Here shall my soul find its true repose
Under a sunset sky of dreams 5
Diaphanous, amber and rose.
The air is aglow with the glint and whirl
Of swift wild wings in their homeward flight,
Sapphire, emerald, topaz, and pearl,
Afloat in the evening light 10
A brown quail cries from the tamarisk bushes,
A bulbul calls from the cassia-plume,
And thro* the wet earth the gentian pushes
Her spikes of silvery bloom.
Where*er the foot of the bright shower passes 1 5
Fragrant and fresh delights unfold;
The wild fawns feed on the scented grasses,
Wild bees on the cactus-gold.
An ox-cart stumbles upon the rocks,
And a wistful music pursues the breeze 20
From a shepherd's pipe as he gathers his flocks
And a young Banjara driving her cattle
Lifts up her voice as she glitters by
In an ancient ballad of love and battle 25
Set to the beat of a mystic tune,
And the faint stars gleam in the eastern sky
To herald a rising moon.
36 Gathered Grace
(To M.K. Gandhi)
O mystic lotus, sacred and sublime,
In myriad-petalled grace inviolate,
Supreme o'er transient storms of tragic Fate,
Deep-rooted in the waters of all Time,
What legions loosed from many a far-off clime 5
Of wild-bee hordes with lips insatiate,
And hungry winds with wings of hope or hate,
Have thronged and pressed round thy miraculous prime
To devastate thy loveliness, to drain
The midmost rapture of thy glorious heart... 10
But who could win thy secret, who attain
Thine ageless beauty born of Brahma's breath,
Or pluck thine immortality, who art
Coeval with the Lords of Life and Death.
SHIV K. KUMAR
Shiv K. Kumar was born in Lahore in 1921 and was educated at the
local Foreman Christian College and later at Fitzwilliam College,
Cambridge, from where he received his doctorate. He has travelled
extensively and was a British Council Visitor at Cambridge (1961), a
Research Fellow at Yale (1962), Visiting Professor at Marshall (1968)
and Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Northern
Iowa (1969), For a few years he was Professor and Chairman of the
Department of English at the University of Hyderabad. Kumar's poems
have appeared in several Indian and foreign journals like Quest, Ariel
(Leeds) and Meanjin Quarterly (Melbourne). His first collection of
poems Articulate Silences was published in 1970. Since then he has
published several volumes of poetry such as Cobwebs in the Sun (1974),
Subterfuges (1975), Woodpeckers (1979), Broken Columns (1984) and
Trap/alls in the Sky (1987). He was awarded the Central Sahitya
Academy Prize for the best writing in English in 1987. His critical
writings include Bergson and the Stream of Consciousness Novel,
British Romantic Poets: Recent Revaluations and British Victorian
Literature: Recent Revaluations.
The major themes in Kumar's poetry are love, sex and
companionship, birth and death and the sense of boredom and horror
arising out of the anguish of urban life experiences. He adopts the ironic
mode of a confessional poet especially in poems in which he explores
the self through interaction with others. Like Robert Frost, he often
selects a simple and unpretentious fact or incident and develops it into a
meditative experience. Indian Women, A Mango Vendor and Rickshaw-
Wallah illustrate this aspect of Kumar* s poetry. Yet another trait in his
poetry is the harmonious mingling of wit, humour and irony. With a rare
insight into the ridiculous aspect of a situation, experience or fact
Kumar digs at follies and pretensions as seen in poems like Poet
Laureate and Epitaph on an Indian Politician.
3 8 Gathered Grace
Kumar is a scholarly poet with the entire range of English literature
at his command. The dichotomy between the East and the West is
another major theme in his poetry. Autobiographical elements overflow
in poems such as Broken Columns. Kumar writes, "In view of my
extensive travelling in the West, I seem to be constantly returning to the
theme of cultural interaction. I feel, unconsciously, I guess, that with me
contrast is almost a mode of perception. It is this awareness that
compels me to recapture my days in New York as a kind of life-in-
SMv K. Kumar 39
In this triple-baked continent
women don't etch angry eyebrows
on mud walls.
Patiently they sit
like empty pitchers 5
on the mouth of the village well
pleating hope in each braid
of their mississippi-long hair
looking deep into the water's mirror
for the moisture in their eyes. 10
With zodiac doodlings on the sands
they guard their tattooed thighs
waiting for their men's return
till even the shadows
roll up their contours 15
and are gone
beyond the hills.
An Encounter with Death
The blue-bells clanged like
muffled cymbals, beating
the retreat in a weird, funeral sound.
Zeus, my white Alsatian, resting
on his massive haunches, suddenly 5
struck up a plaintive whine.
But that gusty afternoon
I sensed not these forebodings,
still joking with my mother who reclined
against the Mugal pillows on the divan, 10
like an empress, four score and three.
She laughed boisterously at something I said
or unsaid. And then a pause, and then as though
the door-handle shook, but it was her throat
40 Gathered Grace
caught in the noose of convulsive gasps, rattling 15
like tiny pebbles in an earthen pitcher
The dog's whine broke into three yelps
my mother's hand was on her heart
I was undone.
In my flush I heard the snapping of some 20
For thirteen days, say the Hindus, the departed
soul hovers round its earthly habitat,
and so for thirteen days I have communed with the spirit
Whenever a door rattles, a nipping 25
wind howls, a dog whines or
blue-bells clang, I feel her
presence within me.
Epitaph on an Indian Politician
Vasectomised of all genital urges
for love and beauty,
he often crossed floors
as his wife leaped across beds.
In his kitchen garden he grew 5
only tongues and lungs
to blow into fragile mikes
half conceived in haste.
All his life he shambled around 10
in homespun yarn,
socialising his soul,
while his sons flourished
in the private sectors of big business.
Here he lies, silenced by tongue 15
cancer, during the stormy budget session,
in the Lord's year of grace 1969
My his soul rest in peace!
Nissim Ezekiel is one of the leading Indo-Anglian poets today. He was
bom in Bombay of Bene-Israel parents. He took his Master's degree in
English literature in 1947, went to England in 1948 and studied
philosophy at Birbeck College under C JE.M Joad.
Ezekiel had been a professor of English in one of the Bombay
colleges* Later he lectured on American literature at the University of
Bombay, He retired from his position as Reader in English in 1985 and
now lives at his family home *The Retreat' in Bombay. He was a
Visiting Professor at the University of Leeds in 1964. He recited his
poems in a number of American colleges during a tour in 1967* Besides
teaching and writing, Ezekiel has tried his hand at various occupations.
He started as a copywriter in a Bombay agency of which he became the
manager later. He also worked as a manager of 'ChemoukT, a frame
manufacturing company, where he wrote poetry during his spare time.
For some time during the sixties he edited the elite journal Quest. He
was the poetry editor of The Illustrated Weetiy of India and the editor of
Imprint. Besides contributing to several periodicals both at home and
abroad, Ezekiel has authored seven volumes of poetry since 1952. In
1983 he was selected for the Central Sahitya Akademi Award for the
best writing in English,
Ezekiel*$ important works are A Time to Change (1952), Sixty
Poems (1953), The Third (1959), The Unfinished Man (1960), The
Exact Name (1965), Hymns in Darkness (1976) and Latter Day Psalms
(1982). In addition to these he has published Three Plays (1970) and
edited a few books including An Emerson Reader (1965),
Ezekiel is a poet of sophisticated manner and tone. His best poems
show an introspective and meditative finesse. His conversational style
and unpretentious mode reveal a highly disciplined craftsman who has
perfect control over his medium. He is essentially an urban poet arid
42 Gathered Grace
there are several excellent poems on the city of Bombay revealing the
poet's insight into the life of that 'barbarous city*.
Broadly speaking, there are three main themes in Ezekiel's
poetry the sensation of oppression in a crowded civilization
represented by his native city, Bombay; the sensual woman we often
encounter lingering on the borders of our respectable society, and the
moral self of the poet expressed through his devastating irony.
Nissim Ezekiel 43
A poet-rascal-clown was born,
The frightened child who would not eat
Or sleep, a boy of meagre bone.
He never learnt to fly a kite,
His borrowed top refused to spin. 5
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. 10
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. 15
At home on Friday nights the prayers
Were said. My morals had declined,
I heard of Yoga and of Zen.
Could I, perhaps, be rabbi-saint?
The more I searched, the less I found 20
Twenty-two: time to go abroad.
First, the decision, then a friend
To pay the fare. Philosophy,
Poverty and Poetry, three
Companions shared my basement room. 25
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 30
44 Gathered Grace
In everything, a bitter thought.
So, in an English cargo-ship
Taking French guns and mortar shells
To Indo-China, scrubbed the decks,
And learned to laugh again at home. 35
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, 40
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. 45
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) 50
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. 55
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 thai again. 60
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. 65
Nissim Ezekiel 45
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. 70
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. 75
A Morning Walk
Driven from his bed by troubled sleep
In which he dreamt of being lost
Upon a hill too high for him
(A modest hill whose sides grew steep),
He stood where several highways crossed 5
And saw the city, cold and dim,
Where only human hands sell cheap.
It was an old, recurring dream,
That made him pause upon a height
Alone, he waited for the sun, 10
And felt h ; s blood a sluggish stream.
Why had u given him no light,
His native place he could not shun,
The marsh where things are what they seem?
Barbaric city sick with slums 15
Deprived of seasons, blessed with rains,
Its hawkers, beggars, iron-lunged,
Processions led by frantic drums,
A million purgatorial lanes,
And child-like masses, many-tongued, 20
Whose wages are in words and crumbs.
He turned away. The morning breeze
Released no secrets to his ears.
46 Gathered Grace
The more he stared the less he saw
Among the individual trees. 25
The middle of his journey nears.
Is he among the men of straw
Who think they go which way they please?
Returning to his dream, he knew
That everything would be the same. 30
Constricting as his formal dress.
The pain of his fragmented view
Too late and small his insights came,
And now his memories oppress,
His will is like the morning dew. 35
The garden on the hill is cool,
Its hedges cut to look like birds
Or mythic beasts are still asleep.
His past is like a muddy pool
From which he cannot hope for words. 40
The city wakes, where fame is cheap,
And he belongs, an active fool.
It started as a pilgrimage,
Exalting minds and making all
The burdens light. The second stage
Explored but did not test the call.
The sun beat down to match our rage. 5
We stood it very well, I thought,
Observed and put down copious notes
On things the peasants sold and bought
The way of serpents and of goats.
Three cities where a sage had taught 10
But when the differences arose
On how to cross a desert patch,
We lost a friend whose stylish prose
Was quite the best of all our batch.
A shadow falls on us and grows. 15
Nissim Ezekiel 47
Another phase was reached when we
Were twice attacked, and lost our way.
A section claimed its liberty
To leave the group. I tried to pray.
Our leader said he smelt the sea 20
We noticed nothing as we went,
A straggling crowd of little hope,
Ignoring what the thunder meant,
Deprived of common needs like soap.
Some were broken, some merely bent. 25
When, finally, we reached the place,
We hardly knew why we were there.
The trip had darkened every face,
Our deeds were neither great nor rare.
Home is where we have to gather grace. 30
Lovers, when they marry, face
Eternity with touching grace.
Complacent at being fated
Never to be separated. 4
The bride is always pretty, the groom
A lucky man. The darkened room
Roars out the joy of flesh and blood.
The use of nakedness is good. 8
I went through this, believing all,
Our love denied ihe Primal Fall.
Wordless, we walked among the trees,
And felt immortal as the breeze. 12
However many times we came
Apart, we came together. The same
Thing over and over again.
Then suddenly the mark of Cain 16
Began to show on her and me.
Why should I rain the mystery
By harping on the suffering rest,
Myself a frequent wedding guest? 20
48 Gathered Grace
The Railway Clerk
It isn't my fault
I do what I'm told
but still I am blamed.
This year, my leave application
was twice refused. 5
Every day there is so much work
and I don't get overtime.
My wife is always asking for more money.
Money, money, where to get money?
My job is such, no one is giving bribe, 10
While other clerks are in fortunate position,
and no promotion even because I am not graduate.
I wish I was bird.
I am never neglecting my responsibility,
I am discharging it properly, 15
I am doing my duty,
but who is appreciating?
Nobody, I am telling you.
My desk is too small,
the fan is not repaired for two months, 20
I am living far off in Borivli
my children are neglecting studies,
how long this can go on?
Once a week, I see a film 25
and then I am happy, but not otherwise.
Also, I have good friends,
that is only consolation.
Sometimes we are meeting here or there
and having long chat 30
We are discussing country's problems.
Some are thinking of foreign
but due to circumstances, I cannot think,
My wife's mother is confined to bed
and I am only support 35
JAYANTA MAHAPATR A
Jayanta Mahapatra was born in 1928 in Cuttack. He teaches Physics at
Ravenshaw College. His poems have appeared in several Indian and
foreign journals. Svayamvara and Other Poems appeared in 1971. His
other earlier publications were Close the Sky (1971) and
Countermeasures (1973). In 1975 Mahapatra was awarded the Jacob
Glatstein Memorial Prize instituted by the Modern Poetry Association,
Chicago. In 1976 he toured the USA as a visiting writer. Since 1976
Mahapatra has brought out five collections of poems A Rain of
Nights (1976), Waiting (1979), The False Start (1980), Relationship
(1980) and Life Signs (1983). He won the Sahitya Akademi Award in
Mahapatra is deeply steeped in Indian tradition. He is a poet with
great fidelity to his native environment and region. His poems reveal a
mythic consciousness of the Orissa landscape and the ancient culture of
that region combined with a deeply reflective vision of life. There is an
abundance of local details in his poetry. He is a significant 'private lyric
voice* meditating over the way of life and experiences of a region, yet
reflecting the ramifications of the national culture. Mahapatra's
sensibility seeks out images from the world of decay and pain and subtle
ironies impart a certain permanence to his vision. His experiments in
Indian English poetry have helped evolve a language eminently
evocative and truly adapted to the Indian ethos.
Mahapatra says that his attempt has been to * return to my roots so
that they reveal who I am*.
50 Gathered Grace
Thoughts of the Future
Cross-legged, sunk in a rope-cot throughout the day,
he pores devoutly over papers, across wriggly letters
that wear the fates of planets, stars. Nothing
profanes him. Faith eases the ran of his household history:
the cool beliefs of sandal wood's salve on his brow, 5
a sacred thread the colour of his hidden bone,
the tangle of hard births in the unshaven lock
of holy hair behind the head.
Fair, haughty Jagannath Mishra,
his loose belly-flesh quivers as he voices a question: 10
an illness in my past somewhere?
My father's answer ends up my thirteen years.
The man looks like a monsoon-month toad.
His cold Hindu eye will not discard anything.
Mute, I fidget seated on a low stool beside his bed. 15
Father glances sharply at me: perhaps the fee
he has to pay burns the skin along his spine.
The world's the same.
It's the future's face he would not offend.
A woman of the house peeks through 20
the discoloured curtain in the door. Her pumkin-face
wearily backs in again, past the gaze of stone.
The pundit leans forward to us,
his eye conspiratorial, every act a ritual.
Their meanings prostrate on the green field of time. 25
The fragments he makes of time freeze my father;
between the right moments and the inauspicious
my thirteenth year stands as a dead wall.
May be funeral pyres shine through Father's eyes.
On my future the pundit nods. The world changes. 30
Eyes of an alien British school teacher
decorate my brick wall like festive wick-lamps in the dark.
I escape the winds of other sons blowing down the veins.
(I studied in the Stewart European, with the ecclesiastics.)
At last the session over, the fee is paid. 35
Jay ant a Mahapatra 5 1
We tiptoe back slowly into the street,
the future of my body dividing us, across the present
The walk of wooden clogs creeps through our fears.
I look up at a father 's face: its simple sky
twisting with the stain of inheritance, 40
the dilemma of worlds peddled between those two,
making real the circle which karma leaves behind
like a halo left behind by the rain
his eyes dry and stiffened as the toes of a toad.
She who fought her fevered farewell all night
and cried child's tears upon the rock-faced
silence of a father's days, awaits the summit
of her hopes that revolved
around many a virgin night, 5
a midnight vigil fashioned for her
to carve an artificial dell of joy
from a stranger's anonymous care.
Where the starlight at the window stares
at the perfumed innocence of her painted hands 10
and spills the lyric hush of love in the air,
she remembers the taste-of-sin smiles
on her sisters* faces to feel the secret flutter
of exiled body, the pressure of sunripe breast;
yet shall this end 15
in the fabled pride of a dying sunset?
And, she herself, so mad and drunk
of her lone vigil, is tuned to the stealthy
opening of the door, a mammoth's footfalls
upon the floor that envelop her bones 20
in a common harlot's fare,
for this moment when the bedecked bride,
as stone at touch and belled,
dreads the thunder and lets
the fierce lightning race 25
wave after wave through her
52 Gathered Grace
Shackled to the earth it stands, all its dead weight
In the darkness of evening
silence and pressure only,
multiplying, adding, subtracting,
In the abyssal heart. 5
falling to pieces under the straddling sunlight,
it gives clear proof that one
might still reconstruct one's life. Rigid,
yet strangely impotent, 10
perhaps it eagerly waits for the world to speak,
for the mute clock to strike again,
for a new kind of society to form from the ruins of hate.
And all day
we climb those slopes which do not ease at all, 15
where unfinished time blots out the differences
among us, as it sets itself irremediably on the peak.
Late in the evening of life
an embarrassment prevents the world from speaking.
Can the wide valley here down below 20
lessen the mountain's weight? Here,
where we are afraid within ourselves,
and the earth is thin and sad with insufficiency;
the wind razes the fields of our rights
and the great bulk of conscience stirs, 25
moving in its process of exorcism.
A.K. Ramanujan was born in Mysore and educated at the local
Maharaja's College. He began his career as a lecturer in English in
Quilon and later worked in Belgaum and Baroda before migrating to
Chicago in 1962. He was a Fulbright scholar at Indiana University and
later moved on to Chicago University where he is now Professor of
Dravidian Studies in the Department of South Asian Languages and
Ramanujan's first collection of poems The Striders appeared in
1966. In 1969 he won the gold medal of the Tamil Writers* Association
for his translation of the classical Tamil anthology Kurunihohai into
English under the title The Interior Landscape. Relations appeared in
1971. His next book, Speaking of Siva* translations from medieval
Kannada literature* was given the National Book Award in 1974.
Ramanujan's other important publications are The Literature of India;
An Introduction (1975) and Selected Poems (1976).
Ramanujan's poetry is an amalgam of Indian and American
experiences. Its origin is *recollected personal emotion*. He draws upon
our cultural traditions and the ethos of the orthodox Hindu family life.
The major theme in his poetry is a pensive obsession with the familial
and racial reminiscences. Even ordinary incidents and experiences
seem to provide him with new insights enabling his memory to travel
back nostalgically into the happenings of two or three generations.
His favourite disciplines linguistics and anthropology gave
him the 'outer forms linguistic, metrical, logical and other such ways
of shaping experience*. Ramanujan has drawn effectively on the
folklore tradition and each poem presents a kaleidoscopic view of the
colour patterns of existence. Passion and reason characterise his poetry
suggesting a desperate need for evolving an integrated personality in a
chaotic world-of several alienations.
54 Gathered Grace
Rarnanujan is an exile reluctant to sever his links with the springs of
his cultural traditions. The problems of life and poetry are basically the
same for him. His chief concern has been to reconcile the recollected
emotions with the vulnerability of the present and the future. "It is not
an emotion recollected in tranquillity but recollection emotionalised in
tranquil moments that appears to be the driving force behind much of
A.K. Ramanujan 55
for certain thin-
stemmed, bubble-eyed water bugs.
See them perch
on dry capillary legs 5
on the ripple skin
of a stream.
No, not only prophets
walk on water. This bug sits 10
on a landslide of lights
and drowns eye-
into its tiny strip
of sky. 15
Of Mothers, among Other Things
I smell upon this twisted
blackbone tree the silk and white
petal of my mothers youth.
From her ear-rings three diamonds
splash a handful of needles, 5
and I see my mother ran back
from rain to the crying cradles.
The rains tack and sew
with broken thread the rags
of the tree-tasselled light 10
But her hands are a wet eagle's
two black pink-crinkled feet,
one talon crippled in a garden-
trap set for a mouse. Her sarees
do not cling: they hang, loose 15
feather of a onetime wing.
56 Gathered Grace
My cold parchment tongue licks bark
in the mouth when I see her four
still sensible fingers slowly flex
to pick a grain of rice from the kitchen floor. 20
Still Another for Mother
And that woman
beside the wreckage van
on Hyde Park street: she will not let me rest
as I slowly cease to be the town's brown stranger and guest
She had thick glasses on. Was large, buxom, 5
like some friend's mother. Wearing chintz
like all of them who live there, eating mints
on the day's verandahs.
And the handsome
short-limbed man with a five-finger patch of gray 10
laid on his widows' peak, turned and left her
as I walked at them out of the after-
glow of a whisky sour. She stood there
as if nothing had happened yet (perhaps nothing did)
flickered at by the neons on the door, 15
the edges of her dress a fuzz, lit red.
Fumbled at keys, wishbone shadows on the catwalk,
as though they were not keys, but words after talk,
or even beads.
He walked straight on, towards me,
beyond me, didn't stop at the clicks of red 20
on the signals.
And she just stood
there, looking at his walking on, me
looking at her looking on. She wanted then
not to be absent perhaps on the scene 25
if he once so much as even thought
of looking back.
Perhaps they had fought.
Worse still, perhaps they had not fought
A.K* Ramanujan 57
I discovered that mere walking was polite 30
and walked on, as if nothing had happened
to her, or to me:
in the past and I heard something shut
in the future, quietly, 35
like the heavy door
of my mother's black-pillared, nineteenth-century
silent house, given on her marriage day
to my father, for a dowry.
No, it does not happen
when I walk through the woods.
But, walking in museums of quartz
or the aisles of bookstacks,
looking at their geometry
and the layers of transparency
that make them opaque,
dwelling on the yellower vein
in the yellow amber 10
or touching a book that has gold
on its spine,
I think of snakes*
The twirls of their hisses
rise like the tiny dust-cones on slow-noon roads 15
winding through the farmers* feet.
Black lorgnettes are etched on their hoods,
ridiculous, alien, like some terrible aunt,
a crest among tiles and scales
that moult with the darkening half 20
of every moon.
A basketful of ritual cobras
comes into the tame little house,
their brown- wheat glisten ringed with ripples
58 Gathered Grace
They lick the room with their bodies, curves 25
uncurling, writing a sibilant alphabet of panic
on my floor. Mother gives them milk
in saucers. She watches them suck
and bare the black-line design
etched on the brass of the saucer. 30
The snakeman wreathes their writhing
round his neck
for father's smiling
money. But I scream.
Sister ties her braids 35
with a knot of tassel
But the weave of her knee-long braid has scales,
their gleaming held by a score of clean new pins.
I look till I see her hair again.
My night full of ghosts from a sadness 40
in a play, my left foot listens to my right footfall,
a clockwork clicking in the silence
within my walking.
The clickshod heel suddenly strikes
and slushes on a snake: I see him turn, 45
the green white of his belly
measured by bluish nodes, a water-bleached lotus stalk
plucked by a landsman hand. Yet panic rushes
my body to my feet, my spasms wring
and drain his fear and mine. I leave him sealed, 50
a flat-head whiteness on a stain.
frogs can hop upon this sausage rope,
flies in the sun will mob the look in his eyes,
and I can walk through the woods. 55
Arun Kolatkar was bom in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, in 1932 and lives in
Bombay where he is employed as a graphic artist in an advertising
agency. He is a bilingual poet writing in both English and Marathi. His
first book of poems Jejuri appeared in 1976 and was awarded the
Commonwealth poetry prize for the best first book of poetry in English.
Jejuri is a long poem in thirty-one sections concerned with a visit to
Jejuri, a place in western Maharashtra sanctified by the Khandoba
temple. The poem combines the irreverent urbanite attitude of the
pilgrim Manohar with a colloquial speech rhythm and irony to produce
an impact of beauty and power.
Kolatkar* s long poem The Boatride is a series of surreal
perceptions characterised by contemplativeness. His poetry has an
incantatory quality which must be the result of his familiarity with
classical Indian narrative verse. A peculiar kind of stillness haunts The
Boatride which has borrowed its rhythm from the surge of the sea.
Kolatkar* s poems are marked by his inquisitive eye for detail.
Some of his shorter poems are attempts to establish correspondence
with reality through the employment of humour and irony. Poems like
YeskwantRao and The Station Master come under this category.
60 Gathered Grace
The tarpaulin flaps are buttoned down
on the windows of the state transport bus
all the way up to Jejuri 3
A cold wind keeps whipping
and slapping a corner of the tarpaulin
at your elbow. 6
You look down the roaring road.
You search for signs of daybreak in
what little light spills out of the bus 9
Your own divided face in a pair of glasses
on an old man's nose
is all the countryside you get to see. 12
You seem to move continually forward
towards a destination
just beyond the caste-mark between his eyebrows. 15
Outside, the sun has risen quietly.
It aims through an eyelet in the tarpaulin
and shoots at the old man's glasses. 18
A sawed-off sunbeam comes to a rest
gently against the driver* s right temple.
The bus seems to change direction. 21
At the end of the bumpy ride
with your own face on either side
when you get off the bus 24
you don't step inside the old man's head.
Arun Kolatkar 61
Irani Restaurant Bombay
the cockeyed shah of iran watches the cake
decompose carefully in the cracked showcase;
distracted only by a fly on the make
as it finds in a loafer' s wrist an operational base. 4
dogmatically green and elaborate trees defeat
breeze, the crooked swan begs pardon
if it distuib the pond; the road neat
as a needle points at a lovely cottage with a garden. 8
the thirsty loafer sees the stylised perfection
of such a landscape in a glass of water wobble
a sticky tea print for his scholarly attention
singles out a verse from the blank testament of the table 12
an instant of mirrors turns the tables on space.
while promoting darkness under the chair, the cat
in its two timing sleep dreams evenly and knows
dreaming as an administrative problem, his cigarette 16
lit, the loafer, affecting the exactitude of a pedagogue
places the match in the tea circle and sees it rise:
as when to identify a corpse one visits a morgue
and politely the corpse rises from a block of ice 20
the burnt match with the tea circle makes a rude
compass, the heretic needle jabs a black star.
tables, chairs, mirrors are night that needs to be sewed
and cashier is where at seams it comes apart. 24
Kamala Das was born in 1934 at Punnayurkulam in Kerala. She belongs
to a family of poets and writers, her mother Balamoni Amma herself
being a renowned Malayalam poet. Kamala Das had very little formal
education. At the age of fifteen she was married and she spent most of
her life in Calcutta. Now she lives in Trivandruin.
Kamala Das's first book of poems Summer in Calcutta was
published in 1965. Her other important verse collections are The
Descendants (1968) and The Old Playhouse and Other Poems (1971).
She published her Collected Poems in 1984 and for this she was
awarded the Central Sahitya Akademi Prize in 1985. Her explosive
autobiography My Story was translated into fourteen languages. Besides
these, she has published a novel Alphabet of Lust and a number of
stories for children.
Kamala Das is a bilingual writer. She writes short stories in
Malayalam under the pseudonym Madhavikutty. She was given the
Kerala Sahilya Akademi Award in 1969 for Thanuppu (Cold), a
collection of short stories in Malayalam. Earlier in 1963 she had been
given the Asian Poetry Award sponsored by the Manila Centre of the
PEN. For some time she was the poetry editor of The Illustrated Weekly
of India and of Youth Times, Delhi.
Kamala Das is predominantly a poet of love and pain. She hardly
ventures outside her personal world and there is a remarkably felt
confessional strain in her poetry. Her main themes are love, sexuality,
sickness, mortality, loneliness and despair. She expresses her need for
love and affection with a sense of urgency. In some of her poems there
is a touch of pathos born of nostalgia for home and childhood.
Kamala Das's poems reveal her sensitivity as a woman who seems
to struggle for a few moments of happiness and tranquillity in a world of
despair and sterility. She is often compared with Sylvia Plath in her
quest for identity through self-revelation.
Kamala Das 63
A Hot Noon in Malabar
This is a noon for beggars with whining
Voices, a noon for men who come from hills
With parrots in a cage and fortune cards
All stained with time, for brown kurava girls
With old eyes, who read palms in light singsong 5
Voices, for bangle-sellers who spread
On the cool black floor those red and green and blue
Bangles, all covered with the dust of roads,
For all of them, whose feet, devouring rough
Miles, grow cracks on the heels, so that when they 10
Clambered up our porch, the noise was grating,
Strange .... This is a noon for strangers who part
The window-drapes and peer in, their hot eyes
Brimming with the sun, not seing a thing in
Shadowy rooms and turn away and look 15
So yearningly at the brick-ledged well* This
Is a noon for strangers with mistrust in
Their eyes, dark, silent ones who rarely speak
At all, so that when they speak, their voices
Run wild, like jungle- voices* Yes, this is 20
A noon for wild men, wild thoughts, wild love. To
Be here, far away, is torture. Wild feet
Stirring up the dust, this hot noon, at my
Home in Malabar, and I so far away
The Dance of the Eunuchs
It was hot, so hot, before the eunuchs came
To dance, wide skirts going round and round, cymbals
Richly clashing, and anklets jingling, jingling,
Jingling. Beneath the fiery gulmohur, with
Long braids flying, dark eyes flashing they danced and 5
They danced, oh, they danced till they bled ... There
64 Gathered Grace
Tattoos on their cheeks, jasmines in their hair, some
Were dark, and some were almost fair. Their voices
Were harsh, their songs melancholy; they sang of
Lovers dying and of children left unborn .... 10
Some beat their drums; others beat their sorry breasts
And wailed, and writhed in vacant ecstasy. They
Were thin in limbs and dry; like half-burnt logs from
Funeral pyres, a drought and a rottenness
Were in each of them. Even the crows were so 15
Silent on trees, and the children, wide-eyed, still;
All were watching these poor creatures* convulsions
The sky crackled then, thunder came, and lightning
And rain, a meagre rain that smelt of dust in
Attics and the urine of lizards and mice.... 20
The Old Playhouse
You planned to tame a swallow, to hold her
In the long summer of your love so that she would forget
Not the raw seasons alone* and the homes left behind, but
Also her nature, the urge to fly, and the endless
Pathways of the sky. It was not to gather knowledge 5
Of yet another man that I came to you but to learn
What I was, and by learning, to learn to grow, but every
Lesson you gave was about yourself. You were pleased
With my body's response, its weather, its usual shallow
Convulsions. You dribbled spittle into my mouth, you poured 10
Yourself into every nook and cranny, you embalmed
My poor lust with your bitter-sweet juices. You called me wife,
I was taught to break saccharine into your tea and
To offer at the right moment the vitamins. Cowering
Beneath your monstrous ego I ate the magic loaf and 15
Became a dwarf. I lost my will and reason, to all your
Questions I mumbled incoherent replies. The summer
Begins to pall. I remember the ruder breezes
Of the fall and the smoke from burning leaves. Your room is
Always lit by artificial lights, your windows always 20
Shut. Even the air-conditioner helps so little,
Kamala Das 65
All pervasive is the male scent of your breath. The cut flowers
In the vases have begun to smell of human sweat. There is
No more singing, no more dance, my mind is an old
Playhouse with all its lights put out The strong man's
technique is 25
Always the same, he serves his love in lethal doses,
For, love is Narcissus at the water's edge, haunted
By its own lonely face, and yet it must seek at last
An end, a pure, total freedom, it must will the mirrors
To shatter and the kind night to erase the water. 30
Death is so Mediocre
Life has lost its clear outlines. Or else, I may
Have gone half blind, its ritzy splendours stealing
The light from my eye. The night, forever
A garbage collector, tearing grubbily
The wrappers off many a guilt remains 5
A dubious ally. All the rest are lying morgued
With that hazy past. And, yet invitations
Come from strangers who proudly string me between
Starched serviette blooms at their tables. And, after
The drinks are drunk and the food eaten, when asked 10
To speak I find my poor mouth turn into an
Open cavern, ransacked bare, by burglars
Of thoughts and suddenly wealth and lust seem like
Languages once learnt but now forgotten. Death is
So mediocre, any fool can achieve 15
It effortlessly. For those such as me the awful
Vulgarities of the final rites are not
Quite right, the slow unwrapping of the carcass,
The many paltry, human details that must disgust
The esthete, the flabby thigh, the breasts that sag, 20
The surgery scar, yes, it would indeed be
Of no bloody use believing in my soul's
Poise when the paid marauders strip me of that
Last unbleached shroud and ready me for the fire.
Like an elephant not bidding goodbye while 25
66 Gathered Grace
Taking off for that secret edge of forests
Where they slope into a sure but invisible
Sea, I shall go too in silence leaving not
Even a finger print on this crowded earth,
Carrying away my bird-in-flight voice and 30
The hundred misunderstandings that destroyed
My alliances with you and you and you ....
R. Parthasarathy was born at Tirupparaiturai near Tiruchirapalli in
Tamil Nadu in 1934. He had his university education in Bombay and
spent a year (1963-64) as a British Council scholar at the University of
Leeds. He began his career as a lecturer in English in Bombay. In 1971
he joined the Oxford University Press as an editor.
Parthasarathy's poems have appeared in several Indian and foreign
journals and anthologies. In 1966 he was awarded the Ulka Poetry Prize
instituted by Poetry India. In 1968, along with J J. Healy, he edited
Poetry from Leeds.
Parthasarathy's only collection of poems Rough Passage was
published in 1976. Though it consists of several poems written through
a period of twenty years, Rough Passage is treated as a single poem. "It
should be considered and read as one poem. In it twenty years* writing
has finally settled,** says Parthasarathy. The three sections in Rough
Passage are 'Exile*, Trial* and 'Homecoming*. This framework has
helped the poet to express the three stages of his intellectual and
emotional development, 'Exile* places the culture of Europe against
that of India and points to the poet's loss of identity with his own
culture. It begins with a search for roots. Trial* celebrates love that
passes through turmoils but nevertheless gives the poet a sense of
belonging. The third part 'Homecoming* is an attempt to reconcile his
urban self with his Tamil roots.
Parthasarathy began with an infatuation for English and England.
However, after his visit to England he was disenchanted. The essential
tension in his poetry lies in the dilemma caused by this disenchantment
and his late awareness of a loss of identity with his own culture. His
most striking poem Under Another Sky explores the problem of whether
one becomes an exile in one's own country by speaking and writing an
68 Gathered Grace
Parthasarathy's poetry exhibits a sense of nostalgia; his comments
on his country are half-ironic and often he indulges in self -satire. There
is a sadness combined with contemplativeness visible in most of his
poems. Parthasarathy is a consummate craftsman who possesses a
highly sensitive and competent sense of language. He introduces
surprising images and metaphors and his imagination endows them with
symbolic and universal significance.
The poems included in this anthology represent the three parts in
R. Parthasarathy 69
As a man approaches thirty he may
take stock of himself.
Not that anything important happens. 3
At thirty the mud will have settled:
you see yourself in a mirror.
Perhaps, refuse the image as yours. 6
Makes no difference, unless
You overtake yourself. Pause for breath.
Time gave you distance: you see little else, 9
You stir, and the mirror dissolves.
Experience doesn't always make for knowledge:
you make the same mistakes. 12
Do the same things over again.
The woman you may have loved
you never married. These many years 15
you warmed yourself at her hands.
The luminous pebbles of her body
stayed your feet, else you had overflowed 18
the banks, never reached shore.
The sides of the river swell
with the least pressure of her toes. 21
All night your hand has rested
on her left breast.
In the morning when she is gone 24
you will be alone like the stone benches
in the park, and would have forgotten
her whispers in the noises of the city. 27
70 Gathered Grace
Mortal as I am, I face the end
with unspeakable relief,
knowing how I should feel 3
if I were stopped and cut of f ,
Were I to clutch at the air,
straw in my extremity, 6
how should I not scream,
*I haven't finished?
Yet that too would pass unheeded. 9
Love, I haven't the key
to unlock His gates.
Night curves. 12
I grasp your hand
in a rainbow of touch. Of the dead
I speak nothing but good. 15
Over the family album, the other night,
I shared your childhood:
the unruly hair silenced by bobpins 3
and ribbons, eyes half-shut
before the fierce glass,
a ripple of arms round SuneetTs neck, 6
and in the distance, squatting
on fabulous haunches,
of all things, the Taj. 9
School was a pretty kettle of fish:
the spoonfuls of English
brew never quite slaked your thirst 12
Hand on chin, you grew up,
all agog, on the cook's succulent
folklore. You rolled yourself 15
R. Parthasarathy 71
into a ball the afternoon Father died,
till time unfurled you
like a peal of bells. How your face 18
bronzed, as flesh and bone struck
a touchwood day. Purged,
you turned the coiner in a child's steps. 21
This afternoon I dusted my table.
Arranged everything in order
in a desperate attempt to get hold of myself 3
Later, I watched my forty years
swim effortlessly ashore in a glass of beer.
However, there is no end 6
to the deceptions I practise on myself:
I have, for instance, lived off friends.
Told the usual lies 9
and not batted an eyelid.
I have burned my files for fear
they'd close in on me. 12
I have even kept letters unopened for days.
I don't have to complete anything.
Now I spend most of the day 15
plucking grey hair from my forehead.
Once in a way I light a cigarette. Follow
the smoke as though it were a private tour. 18
Kersy D. Katrak was born in 1936 and now lives in Bombay. He is the
Managing Director of an advertising agency. He has contributed poems
to several journals like Quest and The Illustrated Weekly of India. His
poems have also appeared in several anthologies of Indo-Anglian
poetry. His two collections of verses, A Journal of the Way and
Diversions by the Wayside, came out in 1969.
Katrak* s poetry is characterised by a reflective strain born of
personal experience. He moulds his poems through several minor
details to reach a sudden focus of revelation, exaltation or terror. Katrak
exhibits a vein of the occult in some of his poems. One of his recurring
major themes is man's struggle through a hostile and magical world.
However, Katrak recoils from the unpalatable encounters with this
outer world and tries to take refuge in domestic love and the comforts of
Katrak 9 s terse lines are marked by a colloquial vigour and his
images and metaphors sharply outline the sentiments expressed.
KD. Katrak 73
Woman on the Beach
Coming around the bend we felt the head
Of subtly turning air, the changing sound
Of larger tides beating against the land.
Living beside the sea we sense them first:
The first small signs of cold that apprehend 5
Our short and sudden winter. As we came round
The last flat bend, my wife smiled gently. Brandy, I said:
Courvoiseur Brandy. Winter became a thirst;
A singing in the ears, the senses sharp and free.
I whistled and changed gears as we went forth 10
To take the last steep drop that meets the sea:
Turning towards the house I felt the wind
Pointing its finger North.
Details sometimes intrude upon our lives and point
Towards the centre. This woman was a detail 15
I saw her first
From out the corner of my eye
Behind the car, I braked and swerved
My wife clucking annoyance, and parked elsewhere.
There she lay 20
Flat on her back, her elbows propped her up:
Dressed shabbily but not a beggar.
From time to time she moved and scraped
A little backwards: dressed shabbily
But not a beggar. .. 25
Three hours later between the trifle
And brandy, I found the hard
Centre of my vague unease.
I had seen such movements before
In puppies whipped to death, in mangled cats, 30
Men hit by trucks and crawling blind
Across the road to some imagined shelter:
I had seen those slow
Witless movements before: her back was broken.
74 Gathered Grace
Obeying as we always do
Some law of more than necessary love
Always too late.
When I reached the front gate she was gone.
Taken away, I thought, strangers have helped 40
She could not have moved far unhelped...
Facing the winter stars
Suddenly apprehensive for my wife alone
And sleeping, I turned upstairs and ran. 45
Counted my possessions and was relieved
To find them there. Counted my life
And found it limited but good.
Turning the sheets I slipped beside my wife,
Half asleep she understood 50
My need for reassurance and comforted my pride.
Before I slept I said a prayer for my wife
Having accounted all, but not accounted God
Who pauses to disrupt
With something much like love, the smallest life. 55
Next morning was the first cold day with hot
Winter breakfast on the plate.
I wore my three-piece suit, we talked and ate
Relieved at having found the usual things to say.
Turning towards the car I saw the crowd 60
Two hundred yards behind and walked that way
Knowing what I would find.
She lay there as I looked and mind
Outstripped its midweek calm:
This was Thursday. And that red horror there, 65
The back indeed was broken but there was more:
The flesh had torn, smashed, pulped, retreated, to expose
The hidden and interior bone.
That calm unnerving whiteness was untouched whilst in the red
Hies moved in sw&rms. 70
Demon husband, raging lover, or what claws
KJ). Katrak 75
Of hell or powers of love had done this;
From what great heights dropped her
And left her at my doorstep to be found 75
By me, neglected, and from there to crawl
Blindly towards the mothering sea before she died:
I would not know.
But my reflex was instant:
Doors shut in my mind. 80
Wipe the mouth, adjust the tie:
Call the police I said
Fighting panic at my own
Disproportionate sense of loss:
Fighting to keep together 85
All that I knew: the house, the small
Patrimony of land, the lawn where winter flowers had grown.
But knew this once for all: the only flesh
With which one may identify 90
Death, is one's own
Here at the Southern limit of the city,
The poor, the beaten and the meek:
Involuntary images of pity:
Fill my eyes and will not let me weep
Beggar and peddlar, and old jew, 5
Turn the heart to whining again:
Encountered in the familiar view.
But I have grown remote from pain
Walking the street with casual eyes,
And I have grown remote from love; 10
White skirted girls bring no surprise,
Walking this street, I only move
Till from across the road a running urchin
Shouting and full with his nine years age
Skittles a stone that strikes me on the shin 15
And all my poise 'behnchod' dissolves in rage.
KEKI N. DARUWALL A
Keki N. Dantwalla was born in Lahore in 1937. He had his early
education in Ludhiana. Later he took a post-graduate degree in English
literature from the Panjab University. He joined the Indian Police
Service in 1958 and now lives in Delhi. His first collection of poems
Under Orion appeared in 1970. Apparitions in April published in 1971
received the Uttar Pradesh State Award. Crossing of Rivers appeared in
1976. The latest collection of his poems is The Keeper of the Dead
(1982). Daruwalla was selected for the Central Sahitya Akademi Award
for the best writing in English in 1984.
Daruwalla has been a regular contributor to several journals, both
Indian and foreign. His poems have appeared in Antioch Review (Ohio),
Trace (California), Poet Lore (Boston), Trans-Atlantic Review
(London) and Opinion (Bombay). His poems have also appeared in
several anthologies of Indo- Anglian poetry and are always favourably
In addition to poems, Daruwalla has also published a collection of
short stories entitled Sword and Abyss (1979),
Daruwalla claims that his poetry is rooted in the rural landscape of
India. In spite of its bitter satiric tone, Daruwalla's poetry evokes a
sympathetic response in the Indian reader because of its intensely
Indian quality. It is in the background of this all-inclusive Indian ethos
that Daruwalla delineates the agonised psyche of the Indian intellectual.
The tension in Daruwalla's poetry arises from its measured progress
from earthy sentiments to sophisticated urban expression. He believes
that content is more important in poetry than form, that poetry is
exploratory and an 'aid to come to terms with one's own interior world*.
Daruwalla says, "Writing a poem is like a clot going out of the blood/*
In short, according to him, poetry is *therapeutic*
Though man's existential pain is the major theme in most of his
poems, Daruwalla is capable of both pathos and stern humour as seen in
Apothecary and On the Contrariness of Dreams.
I saw the wild hawk-king this morning
riding an ascending wind
as he drilled sky.
The land beneath him was filmed with salt:
grass-seed, insect, bird 5
nothing could thrive here. But he was lost
in the momentum of his own gyre,
a frustrated parricide on the kill.
The fuse of his hate was burning still.
But in the evening he hovered above 10
the groves, a speck of barbed passion.
Crow, mynah and pigeon roosted here
while parakeets flew raucously by.
And then he ran amuck,
a rapist in the harem of the sky. 15
As he went up with a pigeon
skewered to his heel-talon
he scanned the other birds, marking out their fate,
the ones he would scoop up next,
those black dregs in the cup of his hate! 20
The tamed one is worse, for he is touched by man.
When snared in the woods
his eyelids are sewn with silk
as he is broken to the hood.
He is momentarily blinded, starved. 25
Then the scar over his vision is perforated.
Morsels of vision are fed to his eyes
as he is unblinded stitch by relenting stitch.
Slowly the world re-forms:
mud walls, trees burgeon. 30
His eye travels like the eye of the storm.
78 Gathered Grace
Discovering his eye
and the earth and sky
with it, he leaps from earth to ether.
Now the sky is his eyrie. 35
He ferocious floats on splayed wings;
then plummets like a flare,
smoking, and a gust of feathers
proclaims that he has struck.
The tamed one is worse, for he is touched by man 40
Hawking is turned to a ritual, the predator's
passion honed to an art;
as they feed the hawk by carving the breast
Of the quarry bird and gouging out his heart
They have flushed him out of the tall grasses, 45
the hare, hunted now
in pairs by mother hawk and son.
They can't kill him in one fell swoop.
But each time the talons cart away
a patch of ripped fur. 50
He diminishes, one talon-morsel at a time.
He is stunned by the squall of wings above.
His heart is a burning stable
packed with whinnying horses.
His blood writes stories on the scuffed grass! 55
His movements are a scribble on the page of death.
I wouldn't know when I was stolen from the eyrie
I can't remember when I was ensnared.
I only know the leather disc
which blots out the world 60
and the eyelids which burn with thwarted vision
Then the perforations, and yet
the blue iris of heaven does not come through.
I can think of a patch of blue sky
when shown a blue slide. 65
But I am learning how to spot the ones
Keki N. Daruwalla 79
crying for the right to dream, the right to flesh,
the right to sleep with their own wives
I have placed them. I am sniffing
the air currents, deciding when to pounce. 70
I will hover like a black prophesy
weaving its moth-soft cocoon of death.
I shall drive down
with the compulsive thrust of gravity,
trained for havoc,
my eyes focused on them 75
like the sights of a gun.
During the big drought which is surely going to come
the doves will look up for clouds, and it will rain hawks.
Easy and Difficult Animals
You have no problems such as mine
you do not cower
from your own thoughts
it doesn't frighten you
the iron edge awaking from its rust
the crawl of oxidised dreams
in lonely hours. 5
Where do you get your insights from
and your simple words?
teaching our daughter that day you said
some dreams are animals
some dreams are birds
The moonface was either
turned towards light
or away from it
dark fruit/incandescent fruit 10
Your distinctions were a knife
that went cutting to the root
You divided in two
this animal delirium that we call 'life*
into *easy animalsY*difficult animals 9 15
80 Gathered Grace
All that moved on legs
flew on wings
crawled on the belly
inhaled through fins
hedgehog and weasel and polecat
all that went to the taxidermist
gizzard and buzzard and bat
you lumped together as 'easy animals* 20
and pitched against this menagerie
one solitary cry
that one * difficult animal'
that was I
A solemn mask on a liquored-up face
looks incongruous. Why not rip it off?
That's better! Sit down, man! Smile once again!
You don't have to stand there
and cough discreetly and shuffle about 5
You haven't come here to condole! All is well
in my house thank Allah for it who keeps
the obituary-scribe from the door.
Yes, yes, I understand, the death of a patient
is also a death in our family 10
a part of me dies with him.
But this boy from Sarai Khwaja complained
of an ear-ache. Fd not seen him before.
Some ear-drops I gave him and forgot about it
till that ekka stood at my door in the evening. 15
*He*s thrashing around like fish ... a stomache-ache..
he just can't hear it,-.'
* An intestinal knot may be/ I said, and when
I reached the village he was already dead,
his mother looking at me as if I had knifed him.
For this week past I face an empty room, swatting flies. 20
All my patients come from Sarai Khwaja,
Keki N. Darvwalla 8 1
Sarai Mir, Allhadadpur, Kusum Khore.
Five miles on ox-cart and mule-back they came
but now they shun me as if instead
of powders I dole out cholera and pox! 25
If a man comes to his lawyer for advice
and is murdered on his way back
will his clients abandon him? Never!
But a Hakim turns leper! They won't even read
thvfatiha on my grave! 30
There is no logic to it, it's just there.
As there is no logic to a child
with an ear-ache in the morning
dying by evening of a stomach ailment.
Faith is all very fine. It is one thing to say, 'All this
is the acquiescence of clay to the will of the Lord*,
and drain your philosophy with a nightcap,
and quite another to face a hangover and
an empty clinic in the morning.
My uncle is paralysed Allah is merciful 40
or what would he have said to this
my only patient in fifteen days dead!
What does the pedestrian think of it,
son of Irfan-ul-Haq 45
Hakim-ul-Mulk, Physician Royal to the
Nizam of Hyderabad reduced to this?
I know what you are thinking of:
the cars lined on the kerb outside
patients spilling out into the streets 50
from that homeo clinic across.
He is a widower and keeps
two good-looking compounders.
He tackles a serious case by ramming home
penicillin in the thigh 55
and a suppository in the rear*
Homeo clinic you call it!
You said something, did you,
82 Gathered Grace
Brother-healer did you say? Hippocrates?
A homeopath keeps two handsome 60
adolescents as his compounders.
Now where does Hippocrates get into the act?
He promises his clientele prophylactic doses
against typhus, measles, chicken pox f flu.
There isn't a plague in the slimy bogs of hell 65
which Doctor Chandiram, gold-medallist, can't stave off
with one of those powders of his!
Pardon me, for I got carried away.
We all pad the hook with the bait, Allah downwards.
What is paradise, but a promissory note 70
found in the holy book itself? And if you probe
under the skin what does it promise us
for being humble and truthful, and turning
towards Kaaba five times a day,
weeping in Moharram and fasting in Ramadan? 75
What does it promise us except
that flea-ridden bags that we are
we will end up as splendid corpses?
Dom Moraes was born in 1938 in Bombay. He belonged to a Roman
Catholic family which came from Goa. His father was the famous
journalist and author Frank Moraes. Dom stayed in India till he was
sixteen and then went to Oxford (1955). Before he left for England he
had inspiring contacts with several Indian writers and artists like Nissim
Ezekiel and Mulk Raj Anand. In England he met Stephen Spender,
Auden and EJM Forster. Moraes's genius as a poet developed under
Dom Moraes's first book of poems A Beginning was published in
England in 1957. The book drew significant praise from English critics
and Moraes was awarded the Hawthornden Prize at the age of eighteen.
His second book of verse Poems came out in 1960. Another collection
of poems John Nobody was published in 1965. During the period from
1959 to 1965 he apparently suffered a decline in poetic power and so, on
the advice of Auden, engaged himself in translation work and produced
The Brass Serpent, a translation of the Hebrew poet T. CarmL Moraes's
collected poems under the title Poems 1955-1965 was published in
America in 1966.
Dom Moraes has also written several prose works like From East to
West (1971), A Matter of People (1974), Voices for Life (1975), The
Open Eyes (1976) and Mrs, Gandhi (1980). In 1960 he published a
travel book Gone Away and in 1968 his autobiography My Son's Father
Though Moraes was bora a Roman Catholic, very early in life he
turned away from religion. Like other Indo-Anglian poets, he went
through the emotional strain of being caught between his Indian birth
and an intellectual sympathy with English language and culture. He
draws on his Indian and English experiences and his mind seems to be
haunted by contrasting visions of love and death, religion and violence,
84 Gathered Grace
life and destruction. Apart from his poetic technique and verbal skill,
his poetry is characterised mainly by two elements dream and
reality and often his poetry is stained by a note of despak and
Moraes draws upon local legends and myths and employs macabre
symbols and metaphors. He was struck by the contrast between disorder
and chaos in human existence and the order and interdependence in the
non-human world. His poetry expresses this acutely agonised sense of
contrast through its ordered pattern of symbols and metaphors. The
sophisticated awareness that makes Moraes say * We suffer and are not?
made beautiful* is the source of his poetry.
Dom Moraes 85
Sailing to England
Fallen into a dream, I could not rise,
I am in love, and long to be unhappy.
Something within me raised her from the sea:
A delicate sad face, and stones for eyes. 4
Something within me mumbles words and grieves
For three swept out, while inland watchers groaned,
Humped, elbows jerking in a skein of waves
Like giant women knitting. One was drowned. 8
He could not swim and so he had to sink
And only floated after having died,
Clutching some weeds, and tolerant of the tide:
A happy traveller on a sea of ink. 12
I blot his eyes: waves rustle in the breeze.
Perhaps he's thinking. The moon will rise in blood
Trawling her whisper across the;sprawling seas
To rouse him, if he thinks. But if he's dead? 16
He must forget his death, I'll tell him so:
'It's nearly time for lunch', I'll tell him, 'change:
*Be careful: grin a bit: avoid her eyes:
'Later go settle in the upstairs lounge 20
* And laugh as if you ground stones in your teeth,
'Watching the sea: or simply sit alone:
'Or choose the wise alternative to death:
*A nap to while away the afternoon'. 24
At Seven O'Clock
The masseur from Ceylon, whose balding head
Gives him a curious look of tenderness,
Uncurls his long crushed hands above my bed
As though he were about to preach or bless. 4
86 Gathered Grace
His poulterer's fingers pluck my queasy skin,
Shuffle along my side, and reach the thigh,
I note however that he keeps his thin
Fastidious nostrils safely turned away. 8
But sometimes the antarctic eyes glance down,
And the lids drop to hood a scornful flash:
A deep ironic knowledge of the thin
Or gross (but always ugly) human flesh. 12
Hernia, goitre and the flowering boil
Lie bare beneath his hands, for ever bare.
His fingers touch the skin: they reach the soul.
I know him in the morning for a seer. 16
Within my mind he is reborn as Christ:
For each blind dawn he kneads my prostrate thighs,
Thumps on my buttocks with his fist
And breathes, Arise. 20
GIE VE PATEL
Gieve Patel was born in Bombay in 1940. A medical practitioner by
profession he is also a poet and painter. He was educated at St. Xavier's
school and Grant Medical College. He is a frequent contributor to
journals like The Illustrated Weekly of India. His poems have been
included in New Poetry in India (1974) and Young Commonwealth
Poets '65. His first collection of poems was published in 1966 under the
title Poems. In 1977 he published a second volume of poems, Do You
Patel's output as a poet is very small, but his voice is original and
compelling. The themes in his poetry are mainly related to the
agonising experience of becoming and being a man in a distracted
society. Thus his poems are meditative comments on the Indian scene
and experiences. Several of his poems are angry reactions to human
neglect and suffering he encounters in his immediate environment He
analyses every phenomenon with clinical fastidiousness and aloofness,
with a touch of irony. This is seen in Post-Mortem, a poem that sums up
with rare sensitivity the whole process of post-mortem ironically
leaving out the cause of death alone. Thus every probe he makes
clarifies the mystery of our existence.
Patel believes that a clear, logical and true poem changes
something including the poet himself. The justification for a poem is the
change that it brings about in the reader as well as in the poet In his
mature poetry Patel is concerned with the human situation of violence
and suffering. His sympathies are with the oppressed, with anyone who
is denied the right to live. The repressed wrath against the human
condition finds an outlet in his poetry in the form of indulgence in
images of violence against the human body. Poems like Post-Mortem,
How do you Withstand, Body and 0, My very Own Cadaver are
examples of this preoccupation with the trails of violence. Patel reacts
88 Gathered Grace
cautiously to the Hindu ethos that surrounds him as in Naryal Purnima.
A note of irony and understatement pervades this poem and the cultural
inanity of the Hindu households is brought out through a searching
probe into human attitudes that control their rituals.
Patel's poems are couched in matter-of-fact language and he avoids
complicated imagery and symbols.
Gieve Patel 89
On Killing a Tree
It takes much time to kill a tree,
Not a simple jab of the knife
Will do it. It has grown
Slowly consuming the earth,
Rising out of it, feeding 5
Upon its crust, absorbing
Years of sunlight, air, water,
And out of its leprous hide
So hack and chop 10
But this alone won't do it
Not so much pain will do it
The bleeding bark will heal
And from close to the ground
Will rise curled green twigs, 1 5
Which if unchecked will expand again
To former size
The root is to be pulled out 20
Out of the anchoring earth;
It is to be roped, tied,
And pulled out snapped out
Or pulled out entirely,
Out from the earth-cave, 25
And the strength of the tree exposed,
The source, white and wet,
The most sensitive, hidden
For years inside the earth.
Then the matter 30
Of scorching and choking
In sun and air,
And then it is done 35
90 Gathered Grace
I force initially simplicity of commerce,
A rupee note changes hands.
His tongue is loosened, and squatting by me,
Straightening the groundspread, his
Offered hospitality, he talks. 5
I anticipate defeat, feel cheated from the start
These, as usual, will be external gestures.
As always, what is unexpressed will roll
Darkly behind his eyes and click shut.
Yet I listen again. 10
Unmistakable the difference.
It is he searching me out.
Enquiries after my job or family
Not a screen this time for the quietly guarded.
I would seek to escape the challenge he poses. 15
Simple enough his look. Wife and child
At the rear of the hut penetrate
The darkness cocoon, endorse
The man's enquiries. This
May well happen again, I tell myself. 20
Permitting my mouth I might spark into speech.
What then, Sir Poet, of political choices?
Adil Jussawalla was born in 1940, He was educated at Oxford, Between
1965 and 1970 he taught at a language school in London* He has
travelled widely in England and other European countries and published
poems both in India and abroad His first collection of poems. Land's
End was published in 1962 and the second collection Missing Person in
1975. He edited an anthology New Writing in India in the Penguin series
in 1974. Now he lives in India
Like Nissim Ezekiel, Jussawalla claims that he began writing in
English because he did not have mastery in any other language. He
belongs to the Parsi community (a Refugee community' as he calls it)
which had given up Persian without adopting another language as its
own. So as a Parsi, Jussawalla had to use a language that is not his own.
Justifying the use of English Jussawalla writes, "A poet must know what
he's about and what his medium's about If he knows these two things
well enough he can do what he likes with language even turn it right
round and stand it on its head and get away with it"
Though Jussawalla has no sentimental concern for things Indian,
his poetry exhibits a definite Indian awareness. He uses powerful
imagery to evoke a mood or emotion. His poems, generally, have a taut
structure of word and association and he exhibits a disciplined
fastidiousness in balancing images and experiences. His poems in
Land's End cover a large area of experiences like nature, time, man-
woman relationship and the poet's social concerns. Jussawalla is
particularly good in his short lyrics. In Missing Person the predominant
theme is that of alienation. Through the central metaphor of the missing
person, Jussawalla explores self and society.
In New Writing in India Jussawalla characterised Indian writing as
a reflection of the inability of the Indian bourgeoisie to find a dynamic
role for itself in a changing society. Jussawalla himself represents this
92 Gathered Grace
predicament as pointed out by a critic "Jussalwalla is one of the few
Indian writers in English who have sought to give full expression to the
predicament and failure of the middle class intellectual who is aware of
the burden of the past but wants to play some role in changing the course
of history in his own immediate political and social context. His poetry
is inevitably the poetry of alienation.**
Adil Jussawalla 93
Blacker than wine from the loaded grapes of France,
Blacker than mud their Tamil minds recall,
Dark skins serving dishes to the sallow
Sweat more night than grapesblood has; all
The long summers that abjured, for chance 5
Of better prospects, change, a sun of contrast,
Stick in a language their clients won't allow.
Must button up their manners with the past
Grow expert on the epicure's stuffed heart;
Polite of speech, punctilious, guarded, kind. 10
As guardians of good taste, the waiters know
The soiled and cluttered kitchens of the mind;
The rancid oils where sweeter dishes start,
Cooked, like a pick-up's words, the soot-black roof
Behind our pasted smiles; their darkness grew 15
To insight in their day; they stand aloof.
But slacken in their Service after eleven.
Guarding the days unending appetites,
Grow shifty-eyed, avoid our munching faces;
The spit and polish of our eating rites. 20
Then closing time; they dream of a foodless heaven,
Shrug off their coats like priestly cloaks of pity,
Day's ministry complete; slip to their sleeping places
In the throat of the feasted, pink-faced city.
Approaching Santa Cruz
Loud benedictions of the silver popes,
A cross to themselves, above
A union of homes as live as a disease.
Still, though the earth be stunk and populous,
We're told it f s not: our Papa's put his nose 5
Down on cleaner ground. Scon to receive
Its due, the circling heart, encircled, sees
94 Gathered Grace
The various ways of dying that are home.
'Dying is all the country's living for',
A doctor says. 'We've lost all hope, all pride'. 10
I peer below. The poor, invisible,
Show me my place; that, in the air,
With the scavenger birds, I ride.
Economists enclosed in History's
Chinese boxes, citing Chairman Mao, 15
Know how a people nourished on decay
Disintegrate or crash in civil war.
Contrarily, the Indian diplomat,
Flying with me, is confident the poor
Will stay just as they are. 20
Pyramids the future with more birth.
Our only desert, space; to leave the green
Burgeoning to black, the human pall,
The free 25
Couples in their chains around the earth.
I take a second look. We turn,
Grazing the hills and catch a glimpse of sea.
We are now approaching Santa Cruz: all
Arguments are endless now and I 30
Feel the guts tighten and all my senses shake.
The heart, stirring to trouble in its clenched
Claw, shrivelled inside the casing of a cage
Forever steel and foreign, swoops to take
Freedom for what it is. The slums sweep 35
Up to our wheels and wings and nothing's free
But singing while the benedictions pour
Out of a closing sky. And this is home,
Watched by a boy as still as a shut door,
Holding a mass of breadcrumbs like a stone. 40
Gauri Deshpande was born in 1942 and was educated in Pune. After
obtaining her Ph.D. in English, she taught for some time in Fergusson
College and in the University of Pune. Now she lives in Bombay. She
writes novels and short stories in Marathi and poetry in English. She
worked for some time as a sub-editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India
and later as an assistant to the editor of Opinion. Apart from publishing
three collections of poems, she has written a political biography of
Gokhale, Her poetry collections are Between Births (1968), Lost Love
(1970) and Beyond the Slaughterhouse (1972). She has also edited An
Anthology oflndo-English Poetry.
The two important themes in Gauri Deshpande's poetry are love
and death. Her expression is simple and direct and she avoids
complicated imagery. Shejloes not make use of myths and traditional
symbols as several other Indo- Anglian poets do and never sticks to the
traditional stanza pattern or rhyme scheme. Her positive strength as a
poet is her powerful emotion and sincerity of expression. Even simple
daily occurrences and experiences evoke highly emotional responses in
her and her poems are personalised expressions of these simple and
powerful emotions. The simplicity and limited range of her themes, the
directness of expression and the sense of humanity and sympathy that
pervades her outlook enable the reader to experience a rapport with her.
96 Gathered Grace
A Lunch on the Train
Since I cannot bring myself to hand over
All that money for a first-class fare
Must resign myself to bear
Witness to my fellow-travellers* 5
Next to me a group of three
Whose intricate relations to each other
I puzzle over, deciding finally upon
The strange solution of a husband
And two wives. 10
The woman in front of me, a mere girl f
Too young to have been a mother of three
Is struggling vainly to feed one, control
The other, and the third is abandoned
From the weary care. 15
Near the window, a seat I covet,
A man long of nose and abstracted gaze
A tiered tiffin-box on his knee
Is waiting with patience, apparently
Just for lunch. 20
Catty-corner from him a youth
Trying disdainfully to read a book
And protect his carefully shined boots
From the various expectorations
Of his small neighbours. 25
Half way through the journey it's lunch time.
On cue the tiffin on the right is opened
And eaten, shielded fastidiously from
Hungry eyes in the front; in no time
Re-closed, in repose. 30
The two wives then opening many boxes
Bring out feasts of sweets and fruits:
It's a long process feeding his large appetite
And their own tiny birdlike.
They accomplish it, self-congratulate 35
When from one a paan is accepted
Gauri Deshpande 97
From the other a clove; then they watch
Him lean back and sleep.
The hungry mouths have watched him too,
Whose mother had not enough thought 40
Or money, to provide their lunch on the train.
The youth is on a diet of mere knowledge
And it's my turn
The sandwiches wax-papered in my bag
Throb and grow enormous like a crime, 45
Finally desperate, I compromise,
Buy bananas in a bunch,
And distributing them to the foodless four
Force myself to eat the remaining one;
It shouldn't look too like charity, 50
Salve conscience, if not hunger.
At first you say, if I lie here, eyes
closed, not moving at all,
it will go away. Surely I can beat it.
It's only a twinge headache.
It laughs* Showing just a tawny tail 5
the beast awaits, making you think, hopeful,
of aspros, codeins and cool drinks.
Then smiling slowly it shows itself.
Placing its paws carefully about your temple,
begins to press. You rage and pretend you're dead. 10
But it's clever, goes on until, tears streaming
from pain-destroyed face, mouthing
long, inarticulate screams your body
heaves up its very guts and you lie
reduced to a sweat-drenched, shivering, 15
whimpering lump of agony, smelling of sickness
and vomit, humiliation.
Dizzily dragging yourself on pulpy haunches
you collapse on the white tiles below
the basin, half-blind with pain it is the only 20
98 Gathered Grace
reality. What help now? Not love,
not medicine, not gods and ancestors. None.
Only your total humility and surrender
to this fact of pain.
It will retreat in the night for a month or two, 25
You can resume human disguise till its next advent
and masquerade as a person, sane, intelligent,
loved and desirable.
Till the next time then.
Born in 1948, Pritish Nandy is today one of the youngest and most
prolific Indian poets writing in English. He is a precocious poet and has
received several awards including the Padma Shri. He had lived in
Calcutta for many years working in an advertising firm until he moved
to Bombay a few years ago as the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of
Nandy has nine books of translations to his credit He has also
edited several anthologies. Among his original works the most
important ones are Of Gods and Olives (1967), On Either Side of
Arrogance (1968), Masks to be Interpreted in terms of Messages (1970),
Madness is the Second Stroke (1971), Riding the Midnight River (1975),
A Stranger Called I (1976), The Nowhere Man (1977) and Pritish
Nandy, 30 (1978). His Collected Poems was published in 1973.
Nandy is a controversial poet both in the choice of themes and in
their treatment. He is a daring and ambitious experimenter who
exercises disconcerting images and intriguing metaphors. That is why
Mulk Raj Anand calls him 'the harbinger of the new Indian
consciousness in his honesty of expression and compelling originality
of language* . He handles the English language with great sensitivity and
naturalness. Nandy is a poet of love and contemporary social ethos. He
believes that, in spite of using English as the medium, Indo Anglian
poets should seek their roots in Indian culture and tradition.
Nandy *s love poetry encompasses past, present and future and has a
sense of urgency and infinite passion. Like Whitman, the poet extols the
soul as well as the body. Nandy has assimilated the rich tradition of love
poetry from Jayadeva to Tagore and is influenced by the songs of
Mirabai which he has translated.
The other major theme in Nandy's poetry is his experience of
100 Gathered Grace
anguish and loneliness in the context of modern living. The political
turmoil, violence, deprivation and social unrest find utterance in his
poetry through powerf ul images and metaphors. To him politics is an
integral part of human existence and is inextricably wedded to personal
aspirations of love, liberty and peace. So in his political poems like
those on Calcutta, there is violent tension due to the juxtaposition of
terror, cruelty and death on the one hand and the urge to counter these
negatives through the exploration of love on the other.
Though Nandy writes in free verse, most of his love poems are
prose-poems. His language and vocabulary have attained an exotic
grandeur that expresses the tensions and anxieties we live with i&day.
Nandy has achieved in his poetry a 'breakthrough of the new
Pritish Nandy 101
Calcutta If You Must Exile Me
Calcutta if you must exile me wound my lips before I go
only words remain and the gentle touch of your finger on my
lips Calcutta burn my eyes before I go into the night
the headless corpse in a Dhakuria bylane the battered youth his brains
blown out and the silent vigil that takes you to Pataldanga Lane
where they will gun you down without vengeance or hate
Calcutta if you must exile me burn my eyes before I go
they will pull you down from the Ochterlony Monument and torture
broken rib beneath your upthrust breasts they will tear the anguish
from your sullen eyes and thrust the bayonet between your thighs
Calcutta they will tear you apart Jarasandha-like
they will tie your hands on either side and hang you from a worldless
cross and when your silence protests they will execute all the words
that you met and synchronised Calcutta they will burn you at the stake
Calcutta flex the vengeance in your thighs and burn silently in the
despair of flesh
if you feel like suicide take a rickshaw to Sonagachhi and share the
sullen pride in the eyes of women who have wilfully died
wait for me outside the Ujjala theatre and I will bring you the blood
of that armless leper who went mad before hunger and death met in
I will show you the fatigue of that woman who died near Chitpur out
of sheer boredom and the cages of Burrabazar where passion hides
in the wrinkles of virgins who have aged waiting for a sexless
war that never came
only obscene lust remains in their eyes after time has wintered
their exacting thighs
and I will show you the hawker who died with Calcutta in his eyes
Calcutta if you must exile me destroy my sanity before I go
102 Gathered Grace
The third time is always the most difficult Or so I have been told.
The first time you do not know. Your innocence is your strength. The
second time you are hurt and thus prepared. But the third time, my
friend, is when you are quite totally unaware. And, therefore, so
And it was on the third time that she entered my poetry.
But words cannot live your life for you. A fact we all come to realise,
sooner or later. But because I am a poet it took me a little longer to come
to terms with this truth.
So, when life took over, one dusklit autumn night, I caught her by her
hair and dragged her to the edge of the forest, where I left her to the
mercy of the rain, the silence and endless memories.
For it was friday, when words catch up with their masters.
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio
The Harp of India
This is a patriotic sonnet The poet bemoans the fall of India from the
high pedestal of fame and glory to her present condition of shame and
The metaphor of the harp is maintained effectively throughout the
Harp is a musical instrument having several strings of graded
length to be played by plucking on them.
1. withered bough :
3. Thy music once was sweet
6-7. Neglected... desert plain :
12-14. but if... strain
symbolically suggests the
bough of history
You had a glorious history or
The lines suggest the desolate
condition of India deprived of
her past glory and greatness.
The 7th line echoes Shelley's
The several poets and artists of
the poet's readiness to sing in
praise of India or to serve her
cause is revealed here.
To the Pupils of the Hindu College
Derozio worked as an Assistant Master in Hindu College, Calcutta,
from 1 828 to 183 1 . He was a most popular teacher loved and respected
by his students. In turn he also had great affection and love for them.
104 Gathered Grace
Outside the college, several students attended his Academic
Association and were impressed by the young master's scholarship and
progressive views. The sonnet is a tribute to his students and reveals
Derozio's deep concern for their welfare. Incidentally, it is also a
confession of what Derozio thought as the duty of a teacher.
1. Expanding... flowers : The imagery of the blossoming
flowers suggests the expansion
of the pupils* minds under the
impact of learning.
5. like the... hours : The development of the young
minds is compared to the
flexing of the wings by the
birds in summer mornings
9. new perceptions : The new learning and the new
outlook the pupils received
13. chaplets : wreaths
Chorus of Brahmins
Chorus of Brahmins forms the 8th section of the first Canto of The
Fakeer ofJungheera* the longest narrative poem of Derozio. The poem
describes the strange vicissitudes in the life of an unlucky brahmin
widow, Nuleeni. She is about to commit suttee on the funeral pyre of her
husband. At that moment, her former Muslim lover and at present the
leader of a gang of outlaws, appears on the scene, rescues her and takes
her away to the rock of Jungheera in the river. In the ensuing battle the
Fakeer is killed. Nuleeni rashes to the battlefield on the river bank and
clasping the body of the dead lover, dies.
Chorus of Brahmins describes the bustling activity just before the
suttee. The religious rituals preceding suttee are mentioned. The chorus
assumes the form of a hymn with its musical tone, flowery and colourful
imagery and psychotic flashes.
1. flowerets : small flowers or petals
2. cymbal : a hollow plate-like musical
instrument of brass, beaten
together in pairs. Often used in
Hindu religious rituals.
5. balm, myrrh : perfumes
27. lave : bathe, wash
A Walk by Moonlight
The poem was written a year before Derozio's death. It shows a greater
maturity of thought and sensitivity to Nature's mysteries. It expresses
an overwhelming spiritual experience the poet had once while walking
in a moonlit night A mysterious sense palpable only to the inner self
disturbs the poet and he suddenly realises the mystic unity that exists in
the diversity of the universe. Like Wordsworth, he feels a sense of
kinship with other creatures of nature.
15. tend : attract
22. peers : equals
3 1 Who robes for them of : Who (the moon) weaves for
silver weaves them robes of silver
34. hymning : singing in praise
35. minstrelsy : art of a minstrel, i.e., music or
Morning After a Storm
The poem consists of two sonnets describing the placid beauty of Nature
after the ravages of a storm in the night. The sonnets present a contrast
between the stormy night and the calm morning. There is an awareness
on the part of the poet of the twin aspects of Nature her all-consuming
power of destruction and her sustaining power of beauty. The travails of
the human spirit in a world of sin and suffering until it achieves eternal
peace in the sunlight of God's grace is the hidden theme of the poem.
1. elements : forces of nature
7. hamlet : village
106 Gathered Grace
12-13, Cloud.., dream : These lines impart a sinister
meaning to the havoc caused
by the storm
13. the fantastic figures : the frightening shapes clouds
assume during a violent storm
are referred to as fantastic
ghostly figures let loose by the
power of Nature
4. How leapt., sight : The line echoes Wordsworth's
famous lines, *My heart leaps
up, when I behold A rainbow in
6. rosy wreath : wreath made of roses
7. wreck-strewn : strewn with the wreck of last
The Farewell Song
The poem is a rich tribute to the motherland, India. The beauty and
sublimity of India is eulogised. The majestic scenic beauty of the land is
described in romantic terms; religious and mythical associations are
invoked and a general sense of admiration for the motherland is
revealed. The poem was written probably on the eve of the poet's
departure for England.
9, the queen of silent night
23 . bards of mighty fame
famous poets of ancient India
The Moon in September
The poet is enthralled by the moonlit splendour of a September night
The enchantment created by the lunar beams is described in sensuous
terms. Romantic and mythical associations are infused into the
description so as to give a pleasingly weird impression of the magical
1. rustling breeze
The rose... its stalk
Full right... demons fell
breeze that passes through the
trees making a rustling noise
symbolises withering love
The poet alludes to the Hindu
myth which says that the devas
(gods), after obtaining the pot
of nectar by stirring the ocean
of milk, hid it on the moon
fearing that the asuras
(demons) might, otherwise,
The impact of the moon's
beauty on the human soul is
purifying. Of Wordsworth's
faith in the healing power of
To a Dead Crow
The poem is apparently a lament over the death of a crow. However, it
has a more profound theme death. Musing over the death of the crow,
the poet gradually passes on to a consciousness of his own death. The
crow which disturbs our sweet slumber in early mornings with its
discordant notes is often considered a nuisance. However, here it is
presented with the halo of sympathy and beauty.
Its gentleness... calm
108 Gathered Grace
1. minstrel : singer
10. gloom : darkness
15. offals of my meal : the leftover of my meal
26. dart : arrow
38. earthly bondage : earthly life which is considered
Michael Madhusudan Dutt
My Thoughts, My Dreams
This is an excellent love lyric. Every aspect of Nature's beauty reminds
the poet of his beloved who is now separated from him. A tone of
pensiveness permeates the poem. However, the constancy of love is
reiterated through several images and concepts.
2, Though absent... near : suggests that the poet is now
separated from his beloved.
7. The star of eve : The evening star, Venus
13. placid : still, calm
19. hours of glee : hours of joy
21 . Thy soul... hills : constancy of love is suggested.
Oft Like a Sad Imprisoned Bird
The sonnet expresses the poet's intense fascination for the West India,
in spite of her natural charms and dear associations, does not give him
satisfaction. He feels like a sad imprisoned bird and longs for liberty.
Western civilization with its love of liberty, love of virtue and passion
for science fascinates the poet He seems to be aware of the humiliating
condition of his own country under foreign rule.
3. green robed meads
10. guerdon meet
meadows of green colour
climates, refers to other lands
This is one of the poems from Ancient Ballads and Legends of
Hindustan. It is not properly a ballad but a dramatic dialogue or
colloquy. The theme is derived from thvRamayana. Sita, deeply moved
by the beauty of a golden deer roaming about the hermitage, pleads with
her husband to get it for her. Rama goes in pursuit of the deer in spite of
the forebodings expressed by Lakshman who guesses that the golden
deer is Maricha in disguise sent by Ravana. After a long pursuit of the
deer Rama sends an arrow which fells Maricha. While dying he cries
out in Rama's voice for help. Hearing the agonised cry, Sita mistakes it
for Rama's voice. Tom Dutt's poem begins at this point. Sita urges
Lakshman to rash to help Rama. However, Lakshman is unmoved as he
has been instructed by Rama not to leave the hermitage and to give
protection to Sita. Moreover, Lakshman knows that Rama is fortified
against death and is invincible.
Toru Dutt has chosen a critical moment from the Ramayana story
and then developed it into a poetic dialogue between Sita and Lakshman
revealing the complex character of Sita and the steadfastness of
Lakshman. Toru shows great psychological insight, imagination and
restraint in narrating the incident
1. Hark : listen
3. succour : help
6, Environ him : surround him
8. magic bound : as if under the influence of
some magic or spell
12. Evil hangs over us : An ironic statement. Sita seems
to have some forebodings
about the events to come.
25. Videhan Queen : Sita, daughter of the king of
28. dastard tear : tear caused by base fear
29. demonian birth
35. Sun-staring eagles
40. in hooded pride
52. Not of such metal is he
55. He has a work, he can-
74. Dazzles... the sun
80. Is there.,, hide?
87. A fair partition!
1 19. lacerate
153. sylvan gods
1 75 . Hoarsfe the vulture
being born as a demon or
eagles that fly so high that they
appear to be looking at the sun
from close quarters.
showing the outspread hood in
Lakshman suggests the divine
origin of Rama and assures Sita
that there is nothing to fear.
Lakshman hints at the divine
purpose of Rama's birth the
destruction of Ravana and
Sita sarcastically suggests that
Lakshman has only reflected
glory and greatness of Rama
dull, grey-brown colour
Sita attributes evil motive to
A fair division! A sarcastic and
cause pain and sorrow
gods of the forest
The vulture cries out loudly
when Lakshman departs for the
woods in search of Rama. The
vulture* s cry is an ill omen.
Sita is the shortest ballad written by Torn Dutt. It presents Sita in the
hermitage of Valmiki after she was rejected by Rama. Toru recollects
Notes 1 1 1
the scene of Sita's life of suffering from her memories of the stories told
by her mother. Thus there is a delicate autobiographical strain in the
poem which makes it very personal and enhances the ingrained pathos
of the scene described.
3. pries : enters
11. the poet-anchorite : the poet saint Valmiki who
composed the Ramayana. Sita
lived with her children in
Valmiki 's hermitage.
with full speed
Our Casuarina Tree
Our Casuarina Tree is described as *the most remarkable poem ever
written in English by a foreigner' (EJ. Thompson).
The poem may be seen as a poetic invocation of a casuarina tree in
the garden of the poet. The tree is described in detail and it soon
develops into a beautiful symbol linking the poet's pensive youth and
joyous childhood. Toru invests the tree with symbolic and weird
qualities. It is a vision encompassing the poet's past and present and
even reminding her of her motherland whenever she is in foreign
*The first stanza is an objective description of the tree; the second
relates the tree to Tom's own impressions of it at different times; the
third links up the tree with Toru's memories of her lost brother and
sister; the fourth humanises the tree, for its lament is a human
recordation of pain and regret; and the last stanza wills as it were the
immortality of the tree** (K.R. Srinivasa lyengar)*
Our Casuarina Tree has a few similarities with Wordsworth's
poem Yew Trees. It might be that Wordsworth's poem had an impact on
Toru's mind and was fresh in her memory when she composed Our
The poem is written in eleven-line stanzas with the rhyme scheme
abba f cddc, eee, probably an adaptation of the ten-line stanzas of
Like a huge python.
...the rugged trunk
The rugged trunk
The giant wears the scarf
Therefore... unto thy
like those in Borrowdale
The imagery is probably
suggested by Wordsworth's
lines in Yew Trees,
"Huge trunks! and each
particular trunk a growth
Of intertwisted fibres
Up-coiling, and inveterately
(Yew Trees- 11.16-18)
The rough main stem of the
The giant tree wears the
creeper like a scarf around it
in the dark
a murmur that resembles a
beach covered with pebbles
the spectre of the sea
Therefore, I would gladly
dedicate a song in your honour.
the reference is to the poet's
sister Aru and brother Abju
The reference is to the trees in
Borrowdale about which
Wordsworth Speaks in his
poem Yew Trees. Borrowdale
is a beautiful valley in the Lake
District where Wordsworth
saw four trees of 'huge trunks*.
52-53. Fear, Trembling Hope...
...Time, the Shadow;
55. May Love*.. Oblivion's
"...those fraternal four of
Joined in one solemn and
(Yew Trees -1 1.1446)
This is a partial quotation from
Wordsworth *s Kew Trees.
"...Fear and trembling Hope,
Silence and Foresight; Death
And Time the Shadow;...**
(Few Trees -11, 26-28)
It is the hope of the poet that
love would make the tree
immortal and save it from the
curse of oblivion.
Sonnet: The Lotus
The sonnet is a lyric version of a legend about the birth of lotus. The
legend says that Flora, the goddess of flowers and plants, created the
lotus combining the beauty of the rase and the lily in order to end the
dispute between them for supremacy.
Bards of power
her Juno mien
goddess of flowers and plants
Juno was the wife of Jupiter,
the supreme god. Lily flower
and the beautiful appearance of
The Tree of Life
This is believed to be the last poem of Toru Dutt written probably from
her death-bed. The poem records a rare mystic experience she had while
she lay attended by her father. The vision of the tree of life with silver
and golden leaves beside which there stood an angel is effectively
The poem suggests Toru's forebodings about her death and
yearning for immortality.
8. And every pulse
20. Shimmering in radiance
37. watching patient
every pulse was rhythmical in
tune with the passing of time.
boundless and infinite
shining in all brilliance
The poem expresses a passion for London where the poet spent a few
years of his life. It is a rarefied emotional reaction to the charms of the
great city rather than a description of its tumultuous life. London is a
good example of the poet's ability to emotionalise concrete
1 . sweetest country
5-6. Oh, the rush... London
13-14. And a sense...
The poet's intense involvement
in London life is suggested
as if under some spell
satiated, fully satisfied
a sense of mystic relationship
with humanity is suggested
20-21. How sweet.,
forest of life!
23 . Beautiful boughs
humility and self-effacement
of the poet are expressed here,
beautiful branches; however,
here it means beautiful trees.
The Rider on the White Horse
It is a poem of love and death and the central strain is an awareness of
anguish. It was written after the untimely death of the poet's wife. The
poet visualises the arrival of Death, the rider on the white horse, along
the path of his life's journey to take her away from him. The first three
stanzas are an extremely delicate and touching expression of the poet's
love and solicitude for his wife and the last four bring out the anguish
caused by her death. The crisp, irregular lines indicate the gnawing
anguish of the poet
3* Roughly the storm
1 0. Heavy our way did lag
39. a white horse bestrode
43. Pluto's consistory
44. Charon's shallop
5 1 . Give me to weather
the storm of life is suggested
we lagged behind
sat riding on a white horse
Pluto is the god of the
underworld Consistory is a
place of assembly. The line
suggests the underworld
dominated by the powers of
the boat of Charon
Charon is the boatman who
takes the souls across the river
styx to the underworld.
Give me so that I may protect
her, give shelter to her.
1 16 Gathered Grace
This is one of the poems written in commemoration of the poet's wife.
Her untimely death in 1918 left the poet thoroughly shattered and he
never recovered from the wound and emptiness caused by this tragedy.
The Dewdrop was written about a fortnight after this tragedy. The poet's
daughter Lotika Ghose recollects the circumstances: "For about a
fortnight he remained stunned and apathetic to all that happened around
him. Then one evening as his daughters were sitting disconsolate and
silent on the steps of the house and twilight deepened around them, their
father came out and joined them. The apathy was broken and his voice
sounded happy as he told them he had written a poem on their mother.
Eagerly they turned to him, for they knew that in the wrecked state of
his health two slender threads had bound their father to life, their mother
and the need to care for her and his poetry. One had been snapped and if
the other weakened what hope was there? Soon they heard their father's
melodious voice reciting the lines of the now well known poem, The
1. laves : bathes, washes
6. souk of dreams : unfulfilled dreams
12. her love that encasketed : her love that contained all as a
all casket holds precious jewellery
18, rill : a small brook.
The Tiger and the Deer
This is a metaphysical lyric in which the reader may discover more than
one level of meaning. Written in free quantitative verse, the poem is
suffused with philosophical and symbolic undertones. It presents in
strikingly realistic terms the tiger, the burning terror of the forest. It tells
us how an unsuspecting deer is suddenly mauled to death by the tiger,
'the pitiless splendour* of the forest. The contrast is between the 'mild
harmless beauty* (the deer) and the 'strong cruel beauty' (the tiger).
However, the contrast also brings to light the possibility of the
extinction of the tiger and the survival of the deer in a future age. The
tiger symbolises Death or Destruction whereas the deer symbolises the
Principle of Life and Beauty. The poet hints at the possibility of Peace
and Harmony surviving Terror and Death.
Sri Aurobindo seems to suggest that might is self-destructive and
the 'slain survives the slayer*. He upholds the principle that even the
mightiest force on earth cannot annihilate the good and the noble and
the beautiful for ever. Here lies another symbolic extension of the
meaning of the poem giving it a patriotic and nationalistic colour. The
tiger might as well symbolise the British with all their weapons of
oppression and the deer might symbolise India with her heritage of
culture and human values.
But the great., crouched
And it fell,, woodland
the mild harmless beauty
the strong cruel beauty
The tiger is brilliant because of
its striped colours
lying close to the ground ready
to jump on the prey
drooping or bending very low
The lines give a realistic and
terrible picture of the tiger
which combines beauty and
death in it
The repetition of the words
suggests the cautious but cruel
manner the tiger waits for its
death in the form of the tiger
A sentimental note is
introduced by referring to the
mate of the deer
a species of elephant now
extinct, believed to have
existed in the central Asian
plains millions of years ago. A
symbol of strength and terror,
12-13. The mighty... slayer : These clinching lines express
the poet's faith in the
resurgence of Peace and
Harmony in spite of the
presence of Terror and Death
in the world. Misdirected
Might is self-destructive. The
killed survive the killer. The
poet suggests the capacity of
the Spirit; evil destroys itself
and the good triumphs.
The Blue Bird
T in the poem is identified as Soul which is a part of the Divine. Blue is
the colour associated with the Divine. The poet conceives the soul as a
blue bird. The poem tries to summarise the celestial attributes of the
Soul, its divine splendour and glory. The poem is an attempt to express
the intangible splendour of the Soul in terms of the tangible sense of
1. in his blue : in His (God's) celestial abode,
Heaven which is supposed to
4. seraph : angel
5-8. I rise... ecstasy : The soul's divine role as a link
between heaven and earth is
suggested. Even the possibility
of rebirth of the soul is implied.
6. griefless sky
8. Fire-seeds of ecstasy
13. ruby eyes
18. My mind... still
Soul is the source of all human
ruby-like eyes or red eyes
Suggests the immensity of the
Notes 1 19
Soul, its perfection and
19. My song... ait My song is the artistic
expression of the mystic joy.
A Dream of Surreal Science
The poem is an intelligent satire on the claim of modern science that it
can explain everything, even the mystery of genius. The poet suggests
that any attempt to explain genius in biological terms (glands,
hormones, thyroid) is stupid. Genius stands beyond logical explanations
and one has to resist the temptation to resort to intellectual and scientific
analysis. The poet seems to say that genius is the manifestation of the
Divine. Science with its limited insight would one day lead the world to
The poem was written in 1939, six years before an atom bomb was
dropped on Hiroshima. Since 1945 the world has been in the shadow of
a nuclear war and today there is a great awareness about the danger of
total destruction lurking behind nuclear preparations by world powers.
But Sri Aurobindo foresaw this danger even before the first atomic
holocaust and expressed his anxiety in a telling manner in the last two
lines of the poem.
The poet visualises a kind of 'surreal dream* in which several
unusual scenes appear. The sting of the satire is in the assumption that
genius is merely a manipulation of the biological traits in man.
1-2. One dreamed... : The first dream is that of a
immortality gland writing Shakespeare's
Hamlet and achieving
2. Mermaid : Mermaid tavern frequented by
Shakespeare where he used to
meet and argue with
3-4. A committee... Odyssey : The second dream is that of
* hormones* composing
Homer's Iliad and Odyssey
3 . A committee of hormones :
5-8. A thyroid... right
meditating almost nude
8. the Wheel
9-12. A brain... until
9. by a disordered
1L St Helena
12. wagged on
13-14. A scientist... shout
note the bitter sarcasm.
Hormones are an internal
secretion in the body
The third dream is that of the
Buddha meditating under the
Bo-tree and later enlightening
the world with his teaching of
the Eightfold Path
a ductless gland in the neck
a satiric reference to the habit
of so-called yogis
Bodhi tree, the tree under
which the Buddha meditated
and gained Enlightenment
the symbol of the Buddhist
The eight teachings of the
Buddha directed towards the
annihilation of * Desire* leading
The fourth dream is about
Napoleon who ravaged Europe
causing untold misery
the pathological condition of
the dictator is referred to
The island where Napoleon
was imprisoned by the British
and where he died
This is a futuristic dream or
vision in which the scientist
plays with atoms and destroys
the whole world. The all-
powerful scientist would one
day destroy the world even
before God gets time to halt the
process of destruction. The
poem ends with the
nightmarish vision of the world
being destroyed by an
accidental nuclear explosion.
In the 19th century and even during the early part of the 20th century it
was common for noble ladies to travel in palanquins* Two or four men
would cany the veiled palanquin. In Sarojini Naidu's poem a noble
lady, probably newly wed, is being borne to her husband's house in a
palanquin. The song sung by the palanquin-bearers is not about them
but is a delicate paeon to the beauty of the bride.
This is one of the most musical and charming lyrics of Sarojini
Naidu. In this poem of twelve lines seven similes are used to suggest the
beauty of the bride. The palanquin-bearers carry the bride like a pearl on
a string. The bride is filled with the hope of happiness and the
palanquin-bearers themselves are affected by the sweetness of that
hope* The poem is a spontaneous expression of emotion mingled with
music, sound and colour. A proper reading of the poem reveals its
The seven similes are found in lines 2, 3, 4 f 6, 8, 9 and 10.
2. sways : the rise and fall of the
movement of the palanquin-
bearers is suggested.
3. skims : floats silently
5. gaily : both the bride and the
palanquin-bearers are richly
9. springs : shines
a beam on the brow of : the crest of a wave that reflects
the tide the sunlight
The poem is a musical rendering of the supreme joy of a dance
experience. The rapture and voluptuousness of the beautiful dancers are
suggested through the slow-moving rhythm of the lines. Their scent,
smile, the rhythmical tread of their feet, their * singing and swaying and
swinging' to the tune of keen music are brought to life through the
slowly-winding movement of the verse. Note how the carefully chosen
words recapture the liveliness, ecstasy and image of the dance-rhythm
just as a sculptor would do it in stone.
Each line contains eight feet and each foot is an anapaest Each
quatrain has alternate rhyme.
2. hyacinth heavens
watches of night
6. poppies of lips
11. jewel-girt arms
filled with delight
in a divine manner
blue or purple coloured sky
like a houri. Houri is a nymph
of the Mohamedan paradise.
lips red like poppies
longing for love and sympathy
group of dancers wearing
arms with bands decorated
To a Buddha Seated on a Lotus
The mystic face of the Buddha with its divine quiet and rapture has
always been an elusive experience for poets and artists* Sarojini's poem
is an attempt to realise the.clivine beauty of the Master seated on a lotus.
The Buddha seated on the * lotus throne* radiating that mystic rapture
around is the ultimate symbol of spiritual perfection and joy in a
troubled world. While we are destined to go through *the travail and the
heat* of unfulfilled desires, the supreme peace on the face of the Buddha
remains a mystery to us. It eludes our understanding though captivates
our attention. We are left with the burden of the mystery that inspires a
'heavenward hunger* in our soul.
The first stanza of the poem describes the Buddha in meditation,
seated on his lotus throne. The second stanza presents a contrast
between the noisy, unquiet and transitory human life subjected to Death
and suffering and the peace and serenity of the Buddha. The third stanza
describes the struggle and toil of man while the Buddha enjoys perfect
peace and serenity. The fourth stanza says about man's perennial search
for spiritual realisation which is never fully achieved, though the divine
spirit is never crushed. The fifth stanza says how the soul of man is lured
by the divine mystery, the far-off vision which beckons the soul of man.
1. Lotus-throne : The meditating Buddha is
always seated on a lotus.
2. elate : raised
3 . mystic rapture : divine joy and quiet on the face
of the Buddha.
5. What peace... ken : peace which cannot be
comprehended by man, which
is beyond his ken (sight)
8. the tumult of our way : our troubled life
12. Death... Life : Death-Life paradox is
suggested. The fabric of Life is
continuously being unwoven
by the invisible hands of Death.
20. inaccessible desire : unfulfilled desires that cause
suffering. The Buddha taught
that the prime cause of
suffering and sorrow is desire
24. heavenward hunger : the longing of the soul to merge
with the Divine.
27. mortal moments : moments of life on earth
124 Gathered Grace
28. Infinite : Eternity
30. Nirvana : The ultimate stage of spiritual
bliss where man is totally free
from all desires, often wrongly
equated with the Hindu
concept of *moksha* or
This is one of Sarojini's finest nature lyrics. Though primarily a poet of
the outward beauty of nature, Sarojini sometimes retires into the
quietness and solace of nature. When she is weighed down with worldly
care or emotional stress, she takes refuge in nature. In June Sunset the
poet makes an attempt to discover 'true repose' and tranquillity under
the charm of a sunset sky.
The three stanzas of the poem reveal the three succeeding stages in
the emotional response of the poet to the unfolding delights of a June
sunset The poet derives great consolation from the mystic charm of the
sunset. In the first stanza there is a desire for repose under the sunset
sky, in the second there is an awareness of the resurgence of life around
and in the third there is a nostalgic flashback into the bygone days of
A sentiment of spiritual joy runs through the poem. There is a feast
of rich colours and the spring is described with all its sensuousness
reminding us of Keats and Tennyson.
4* true repose
7, glint and whirl
bordered with rushes or reeds
true peace of mind and joy
faint light that appears in a
a small bird* Its cry is clear like
a kind of shrub (not tamarind)
13. gentian : a plant of the genus Gentiana
18. cactus-gold : cactus flowers of golden colour
23. Banjara : a girl belonging to the Banjara
25. an ancient battle of
love and battle : The Banjara girl sings a song
the theme of which is some
ancient battle or love affair, cf
Wordsworth's solitary reaper
singing about 'old unhappy far-
off things and battles long ago*.
(To M.K. Gandhi)
The sonnet is addressed to M.K. Gandhi who was the poet's political
mentor* The essential inspiration of the poem is patriotism because the
subject of the poem, Gandhiji, was slowly emerging as a symbol of
Indian patriotism at that time. The poet has achieved a symbolic
identification of Gandhiji with the lotus, the flower that represents
India's spirit of sanctity and nobility. The lotus is believed to have a
divine origin. Gandhiji also represented the divine ethos of the nation.
The poem invokes the ageless beauty of the lotus. The celestial
attributes of the flower are transferred imaginatively into the spiritual
personality of Gandhiji to make him a * mystic lotus*.
1. Mystic Lotus : The lotus flower is believed to
have a divine origin and mystic
powers. Gandhiji is addressed
as a mystic lotus.
2. myriad-petalled : With several petals suggesting
Gandhiji *s several spiritual
3. transient : weak and short-lived
5-9. What legions... : These lines suggest the evil
...loveliness forces of the world that try to
destroy the divine loveliness of
5. far-off clime
1 0. midmost rapture
12. Brahma's breath
14, Coeval... Death
the flower. The * wild-bee
hordes with lips insatiate* may
symbolically suggest the
British against whom Gandhiji
started a non-violent struggle.
deep joy as when one is in a
midstream where the waters
The lotus is Brahma's seat and
so is divine. It is Brahma's
Brahma is one of the Hindu
Trinity, the other two being
Vishnu and Siva representing
Life and Death. Brahma
represents Creation. The
equality Brahma enjoys with
the other two is shared by the
lotus because it is the seat of
the Brahma. Thus the lotus is
coeval with the Lords of Life
and Death. Symbolically,
Gandhiji is presented as the
divine Creator of a new world.
Shiv K, Kumar
A familiar Indian scene is evoked in the poem. Women waiting with
empty pitchers at the village well is a common sight in India. This
familiar situation is turned into an occasion to suggest the spiritual
impoverishment of the women. The barrenness of the triple-baked
continent* the hollowness of the pitchers and the strangeness of the
zodiac doodlings on the sands are suggestive of the spiritual
impoverishment, anxiety and hopelessness of the women. They wait for
the return of their men as they wait for the filling up of their pitchers.
The women's sexual longings and disillusionment are also suggested in
the concluding lines.
1 . triple-baked continent
5. empty pitchers
7. pleating hope in each
8. mississippi-long hair *
9. looking deep into the
1 1 . zodiac doodlings on the
14-17. even the shadows...
the dryness and barrenness of
the Indian landscape are
symbolic of the emptiness of
the women's lives
pleating the hair is a diversion
for the women.
hair long and winding like the
water level in the well seems to
doodlings or scribblings on the
sands as if drawing a zodiac
There is no indication when the
men would return. There is a
note of despair and pain in the
An Encounter with Death
The theme of the poem is the poet's experience of the death of his
mother, an old lady of eighty-three. She dies of a heart failure even as
she is joking with him reclining against the Mughal pillows of the divan.
Death comes so suddenly and unexpectedly that the poet feels he is
undone. Death snaps the mysterious bonds that have existed between
the son and the mother.
The poet creates a weird atmosphere by referring to the several
mysterious forebodings before and after the death. The myth about the
departed soul hovering round its earthly habitat for a few days more
after its departure from the body is explored. Several weird sounds are
mentioned imparting a sense of other-worldliness to the atmosphere.
The poet has relied on the reader's mythical consciousness and human
sympathies to make the encounter with death an experience that
surprises and subdues him.
There are five short sections in the poem. The first section refers to
the mysterious sounds indicating the presence of death the clang of
bluebells and the plaintive whine of the Alsatian. The second section
shows the Mother reclining against the Mughal pillows on the divan like
an empress. The third section presents the laughing Mother suddenly
caught in the noose of convulsive gasps. The fourth mentions her death
preceded by three violent yelpings of the dog. The last section is an
attempt to feel the presence of the Mother's soul even after death. The
weirdness of this attempt is suggested by referring to the rattling of the
door, howling of the wind, whine of the dog and clang of the bluebells.
The poem is an excellent exposition of the impact of a mother's
death on the consciousness of a sensitive son whose responses are
conditioned by age-old traditions and myths about death.
1-6. The blue-bells.*, plain-
9-1 1. my mother... an empress
15-16. rattling like... pitcher
19, I was undone
22-23. For thirteen days.,
The mysterious sounds suggest
the presence of death. It is a
popular belief that dogs moan
just before a death in the
The mother is a most dignified
old lady, almost like an
Even she is not spared by
a picturesque description of the
weird noises produced by the
mother in the grip of sudden
An effective and dramatic way
of mentioning the death jbf the
The Hindus believe that the
soul of the departed person
hovers round its earthly abode
for a few days more enabling
the living to communicate with
it. The several rituals following
death attain significance
because of this belief.
However, there is no unanimity
about the number of days the
soul is supposed to be
around it may range between
9 and 16 though here it is
mentioned as 13.
Epitaph on an Indian Politician
The poem is a daring portrayal of the Indian politician of today. With
mordant humour and biting irony the poet presents the Indian politician
as an opportunist in action and a hypocrite in ideas. He makes wasteful
public speeches, wears khadar, talks socialism while encouraging his
sons to make money in big business. The man who has been using his
lungs and tongue for powerful harangues, ironically, dies of tongue
cancer, that too, during the budget season when he would have had
several opportunities to use his tongue.
1 -2. Vasectomised... : Incapable of any fine emotions-
beauty The Indian politician has
become insensitive to human
3. crossed floors : changed party loyalty or even
group loyalty within a party
8-9. powerful harangues... : suggests the sterility of all
in haste political speeches
11. homespun yarn : khadar
12. socialising his soul : note the bitter irony
13-14. while his sons... big : The hypocrisy of the Indian
business politician is clearly brought
15-16. silenced by tongue cancer : died of cancer of the tongue.
The politician contracts tongue
cancer, probably, by the
overuse or misuse of his
130 Gathered Grace
17. in the Lord's year of grace: An ironic reference to the year
1969 1969 when the Indian National
The poem is autobiographical. It gives casually the background of the
poet who was born and brought up in Bombay. The poem expresses the
travails of an intelligent Jew boy of * meagre bone' living and growing
up in a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual urban society. It
gives several details of the poet's school life; the sense of alienation he
developed; his departure for England; return to his native city;
marriage; jobs and the utter disgust he has developed for his own
environment. However, the poet has no intention to quit -flie city or to
run away from its challenges. In fact, he had made a commitment long
ago to stay where he is. Irony and alienation combine to produce an
inerasable impact on the reader's mind.
1. A poet-rascal-clown : The poet makes an ironic and
condemnatory reference to
3. a boy of meagre bone : suggests the delicate health of
4-5. He never... spin : The sense of alienation begins
so early. He is not a part of the
mainstream of social life
7. A mugging Jew among : Refers to the poet's racial
the wolves origin; he is a Bene-Israel Jew.
A 'mug* means a simpleton. It
also means a 'sheep'. The
second meaning is more
appropriate here because of the
subsequent reference to 'the
8-9. They told,., prize
1 3 . Their prepositions
16-17. At home... declined
25 . basement room
28-30. And then... had failed
34. scrubbed the decks
36. How to feel it home, was
44. I prepared for the worst.
48-50. My ancestors... his
56. The later dreams were all :
66. The Indian landscape :
sears my eyes
67* I have become a part of it :
71.75. I have... I am.
Note the irony
knowledge of English
Note the irony
a dingy room at the basement
of a building
These lines refer to the poet's
first sex experience.
he engaged himself on a ship as
a menial servant to pay for the
The sense of alienation has
already become strong
Note the irony
These lines refer to thepoet*s
Jewish ancestor/ which is one
of the causes of the sense of
alienation. Bene-Israel settlers
took to oil pressing soon after
their arrival in India.
The urge to write poetry began
The sense of alienation and
disgust is complete
However, the poet is aware that
he has no escape because he is
a part of the environment he
This is the final choice of the
poet to stay where he is. This is
a sort of intellectual
preparedness to accept the
reality without surrendering to
it. He continues to condemn
the ethos of the bitter native
city of his, but continues to live
there as a part of it
A Morning Walk
The poem is about the city, Bombay. It expresses the disgust and
revulsion of the poet at the inhuman ways of the city where even a
pleasant morning walk is impossible. The crisscrossing highways, the
slums, the hurrying crowds, the rain, the stink and the inhumanity of the
city compel him to look for an alternative, at least temporary, on the
distant hill garden. The poem translates the bustle of the barbaric city
into a gnawing pain that oppresses the poet's memory. The paralysis of
the will and the finer emotions the Bombay man suffers from is
succinctly suggested by a chain of metaphors. The cold and dim city is
his purgatory. The morning walk is a walk intended to be out of the
city's fatal grip but it ends up once again as a walk towards the city's
The poem is reminiscent of certain passages in T.S. Eliot's The
Waste Land. (See the protagonist's journey to the Chapel Perilous in
section V of The Waste Land.)
Hill too high for him
6. cold and dim
7. Where only human hands
10. Alone, he waited for the
14, The marsh where things
are what they seem?
15-21. Barbaric city... crumbs
19. purgatorial lanes
the hill looms large as a symbol
of disenchantment with the city
coldness and dimness suggest
the inhuman characteristics of
The emphasis is on *only*. The
inhumanity that grips the city is
probably because the skyscra-
pers of the city block the rays
of the rising sun.
The decay and degeneration of
life in the city is suggested by
the word 'marsh*.
A very suggestive description
of the crowded city,
lanes that are teeming with
suffering lives. According to
27. men of straw
30, That everything would be
36. The garden on the hill is
42. And he belongs
Roman Catholic belief
purgatory is a place in which
souls are purified of sins
men who have lost all human
values and feelings, cf. T.S,
Eliot's The Hollowmen
The utter monotony and
routineness of city life is
The garden is the symbol of
hope but still unrealised
He belongs to the city. So he
cannot escape from its grip.
The poet's love-hate
relationship with the city is
Enterprise is moulded out of the frustrations in a barbaric city. It is an
allegory of the pilgrimage theme with the suggestion of futility. The
poem speaks about a journey from the city to the hinterland by a group
of 'exalting minds*. The journey is undertaken with the purpose of
escaping from the monotony of the inhuman city and to gather
experience of grace and innocence from the traditionally quiet and pure
rural environment The group encounters several impediments on the
way. Its initial enthusiasm soon vanishes. At the end of the journey there
is complete disillusionment The final line 'Home is where we have to
gather grace* stands out as the homiletic conclusion of a misdirected
There are six stanzas each of five lines with alternate rhyme
scheme. The thematic progress in the stanzas corresponds to the
progress of the pilgrimage from morning to evening. The first
suggestion of serious discord comes exactly at the middle of the poem,
the 15th line *A shadow falls on us and grows*.
Journey or pilgrimage is a metaphor for life throughout the poem.
2. exalting minds
5. The sun beat down to
match our rage
7. copious notes
9. The way of serpents and
10. Three cities where a sage
12. desert patch
1 3 * we lost a friend
15. A shadow falls
19* I tried to pray
noble and cultured minds. The
group consists of city
The heat matched the enthu-
siasm of the group
plenty of notes. Obviously the
pilgrims maintain a diary as is
the fashion with intellectuals.
An ironic reference to the
city-dwellers* notion that the
villages are full of serpents and
A reference to the village
'godman* who claims that he
has taught in several cities
before he took up abode in the
village for the spiritual benefit
of the rural poor!
It is the 'area of special
difficulties* symbolic of the
first occasion when a
difference of opinion arises
among the pilgrims.
"He may have died in the
ordeal of crossing the desert
patch; or he may have deserted
the group, abandoned the
enterprise** (Nissim Ezekiel)
It is the shadow of defeat This
is the beginning of several
obstacles the group has to
encounter on the way.
As one of the participants, the
poet, at this stage, becomes
totally disillusioned. So he tries
A straggling crowd of
Deprived of common
needs like soap
The trip had darkened
Home is where we have
to gather grace.
The group is already demora-
lised by the experiences it has
It is the voice of illumination
that should have guided the
group in its arduous journey.
Ignoring it has led the group to
troubles. The thunder suggests
"that which is momentous,
spiritually important in
comparison to the daily trivia
cf T.S. Eliot's use of 'thunder'
in The Waste Land V.
Ezekiel uses it in its first
meaning Da, Damyata
which means 'subdue
yourself. It is the failure on the
part of the group to understand
the message of the 'thunder*
that finally leads to
The group is deprived of even
essential material comforts.
The trip had caused only des-
pair in every participant. A
sense of futility comes to the
This is the clinching line that
sums up the futility of the
whole enterprise. The ultimate
irony lies in the knowledge that
home is the place of affection
and love. The pilgrims had not
explored 'home* for their
emotional needs. Instead, they
set out in search of "grace*
elsewhere. Hence the
1 36 Gathered Grace
The theme of the poem develops through six stages love, marriage,
joys of married life, strains in marital relationship, antagonism and
separation and the refusal of the poetjp dwell upon the topic further. It
is one of the ironies of life that marriage which unites the lovers
ultimately leads to their separation. The bliss that begins with a
touching grace of eternity gradually disappears; strains develop and
many a time the lovers settle down to a nagging existence. The
unresolved marital strains not only destroy the dream but also result in
the disintegration of emotions and intellect. Through an effectively
contrasting concept the poet suggests that the whole process which
begins with the denial of sin (innocence) ends in the thought of murder
(sin). However, the mystery of marriage continues to haunt and the poet
himself is a frequent wedding guest silently and sadly witnessing
marriages which are destined to disintegrate in due course. The
enchantment makes victims of us all.
2. Eternity with touching : The blissful experience of
grace getting married. * Grace'
suggests the spiritual
significance of marriage
4-5. The bride... lucky man : A mildly ironic statement
10. Primal Fall : The original sin and fall of
man. The sin committed by
Adam and Eve led to their fall
from grace. The original sin is
the cause of man's sorrows.
16. the mark of Cain : thought of murder. Cain was
the first murderer. Cain, the
son of Adam and Eve,
murdered his brother Abel out
of jealousy, (ref. Genesis,
18-20. Why should I... : The poem ends in irony
20. wedding guest : ref. Coleridge's (Rime of the
Ancient Mariner 9 Part I, Stanza
The Railway Clerk
This is one of the poems written in Indian English. Ezekiel has satirised
the Indian way of speaking English in a series of poems entitled Very
Indian Poems in Indian English. The Railway Clerk imitates the English
speech style of an average Indian clerk, semi-educated and perpetually
harassed. The poem is a funny but pathetic soliloquy of a miserable
Indian railway clerk, probably working in one of those crowded offices
in Bombay's Victoria Terminus. He is a miserable man not because he
speaks his own brand of English but because he is weighed down with
worries of all sorts. He is constantly pestered by his wife for more
money; his boss harasses him by refusing leave; he does not get either
overtime or bribe and worse still, he has to support his mother-in-law,
In 35 lines Ezekiel has drawn the pathetic picture of a Bombay
railway clerk in pure Indian English. The derisive laughter provoked by
the clerk's Indian English soon subsides when we become aware of his
4-5. This year.., twice
8. My wife is always asking
for more money
14-18. I am never... telling you
32. thinking of foreign
suggests the harassment caused
by the boss
payment for overtime work
Typical Indian English usage
Each line contains an Indian
English usage use of present
continuous for simple present,
very common with Indian
speakers of English.
a suburb of Bombay
thinking of going to foriegn
138 Gathered Grace
Thought of the Future
The poem narrates a boyhood experience of the poet. When he was
thirteen years old, his father took him to a pundit (astrologer) to know
about his future. The pundit is an inseparable part of the Indian way of
life. Jagannath Mishra, the pundit in this poem, is a typical
representative of the greedy, uncouth, tradition-bound, cunning pundit
race of India. The father, who seems to have implicit faith in the pundit,
represents the native Hindu innocence. The boy, who is destined to
learn under a British school teacher, is caught between these two
conflicting ethos. His thirteen years make a dividing line between past
and future, between the murky past dominated by the pundit and the
festive future dominated by the British school teacher.
2. wriggly letters : twisted letters refers to the
writing in the astrological
5. sandalwood's salve : sandalwood paste or ointment
14. monsoon-month toad : the toad imagery underlines the
character of the pundit
30, The world changes : cf. 1.18 For the pundit the
world does not change;
everything is set down in his
astrology. But for the boy it
34. Stewart European with : The school where the boy
the ecclesiastics learns under European masters
38. wooden clogs - shoes with wooden soles
41. peddled - sold
The poem expresses the emotional convulsions of a bride just after her
marriage, waiting anxiously in the bridal chamber for the arrival of the
bridegroom. Tonight is the summit of her hopes, yet a gnawing anxiety
corrodes her expectations. She maintains the lone vigil, attentive to the
footfalls at the door. She is full of forebodings about the new role she
has to play as a 'bedecked bride*. She is like a stone at touch, belled and
is sensitive even to the feeblest of apprehensions.
1 . fevered farewell
8 . a stranger" s anonymous
12-13. the taste-of~sin smiles
on her sisters* faces
1 6. the fabled pride of a
19. a mammoth's footfalls
21 . common harlot's fare
22. bedecked bride
grave and unemotional
The care provided by an
unknown person. This refers to
the bridegroom who is a total
stranger to the bride till the
time of marraige.
The smile on the faces of the
sisters who are, probably,
already married. They seem to
say *we have tasted it all\
Some unknown fear begins to
gnaw her mind, 'Dying sunset*
is a metaphor for unfulfilled
the sound of footfalls that
appear like those of a
mammoth, a prehistoric animal
known for its huge size and
wild nature. 'Mammoth*
signifies the shape of wild
apprehensions and anxiety of
Lack of delicacy on the part of
the bridegroom is suggested
bride in her ceremonial dress.
The mountain stands firmly fixed to the earth. The ever-present process
of growth and decay does not affect it It is a symbol of eternity. Its
message is that life can be still reconstructed and a new society created
out of the ruins of the old. There is disillusionment in us. But the
conscience of mankind has begun stirring and the evils of the world
would be exorcised. The poem is a pointer to human failure and an
exhortation for change.
silence and pressure
12. mute clock
15. slopes which do not
ease at all
16-17. where unfinished.., on
21-22. Here,... ourselves
25 . bulk of conscience
two balancing powers that
work on the mountain
the process of growth and
sunlight that spreads across the
slopes which are difficult to
Though Time destroys all
differences among us, it
occupies a place (peak) above
indication of disillusionment
an example of transference.
The bulk of the mountain is
transferred to 'conscience*.
the ritual of expelling evil
spritis here, reformation of
'Strider* is the New England name for a water insect
The main structural element in the poem is the poet's memory
going back into his cultural moorings in India, the land of the yogis. The
central metaphor, the strider, stands for the yogi who bears several
unexpected similarities with the insect. Ramanujan's symbolic
exploration into these similarities opens up new insights in the reader
and he is persuaded to accept the ingenious identification of the two
apparently dissimilar concepts.
There is close resemblance between the strider and the yogi in
several respects. Like the yogi, the strider also walks on water. Both
have bright eyes. The yogi pays no attention to food and comfort and so
his legs are thin; the strider also has Capillary legs*. Both the yogi and
the strider levitate and meditate. The yogi attains the light of spiritual
perfection and the strider sits on a 'landslide of lights*.
The strider is presented as a mystic symbol for the yogi who has
attained detachment from this world and is on his way along the
illumined path (tiny strip of sky) leading to the Supreme.
5. capillary legs
7. ripple skin
9-10. not only prophets walk
12-15. drowns eye-deep. .. of sky
with eyes like bubbles; bright,
very thin long legs which look
like capillary tubes
In the case of the yogi it
amounts to levitation, the art of
floating in the air with the help
of spiritual powers,
surface of the stream having
walking on water is supposed
to be one of the mystical
powers of a yogi. Striders also
suggests the meditative mood.
The strider sits concentrating
on the 'tiny strip of sky f . In the
case of the yogi, the *tiny strip
of sky* is the spiritual path of
detachment leading to
Of Mothers, among Other Things
The source of the poem is familial memory, memory about the mother.
The imagery in the first two lines suggests the futility of the poetic
language in expressing the bitter memory. The poet nostalgically recalls
through several tough and rough images the loving care of a mother.
The mother's figure emerges mingled with the pathos of the poet's
childhood, memory serving as a catalyst Consciousness goes back to
resurrect a memory symbol. It is the Mother in white silk wearing
diamond earrings, thin in appearance and with a crippled palm. The
imagery in the last two lines serves as an objective correlative and
makes others almost ineffective.
The figure of the mother flexing her fingers to pick a grain of rice
from the kitchen floor is one of the most touching homely imageries in
all Ramanujan's poetry.
1-3. I smell... youth
5 . a handful of needless
8. tack and sew
10. tree-tasselled light
12. pink-crinkled feet
13-14. one talon... mouse
The blackbone tree reminds the
poet of his young mother
wearing a white silk saree. The
saree is wound on her giving a
*twisted* appearance especi-
ally because she is thin,
piercing rays of reflected light
that appears like needles
fasten and stitch
light that passes through the
tree-leaves and branches
giving them an appearance of a
cluster of shining tassels,
pink coloured, cramp and
wrinkled feet Exposure to rain
made the feet so.
The crippled palm of the
mother. The palm was crippled
in a minor accident with a
14-16. Her sarees... one time : the looseness of the sarees
win S suggests the thin, emaciated
figure of the mother
18-20. When I see... kitchen : A touching picture of the
floor mother trying to pick a grain of
rice from the kitchen floor,
probably a crumb left behind
by the son after his rice-meal.
Still Another for Mother
The poem is based on an incident involving a woman and her husband
on Hyde Park Street. This chance experience releases a flood of
memory. The woman and her husband appear to have been there only to
separate. The woman is large and buxom, the man is handsome and
short-limbed. He left her at the doorsteps fumbling for the keys and
walked on straight nonchalantly. The woman looks on at her husband's
walking and the poet looks at her looking on.
However, this experience disturbs the poet's rest, Something
opened in the past* with repercussions on the future. Essentially, the
poem is an attempt to retreat into the past to discover a sense of well-
being in the image of the mother. The woman on Hyde Park Street
opens the door of the poet's consciousness to reveal his mother's
nineteenth century house given to his father as dowry. The house
sanctified the marriage and later the very birth of the poet
3. Hyde Park Street : a street in London
she will not let me rest : The woman has kindled the
poet's familial memories and
caused disturbance in his mind.
6. chintz : printed cotton
7. eating mints *; eating chopped spearmint
mixed with sugar or vinegar.
: *mint* is a plant the leaves of
which are used for eating
11. widows' peak : the point of hair over the
144 Gathered Grace
13. whisky sour : hangover of a whisky session
16. fuzz : fine fibres
17. wishbone shadows on the : several merry shadows reflec-
catwalk ted on the narrow footway
33-34. Something opened in the : Nostalgic memory about the
past mother. The present experi-
ence of watching the woman
links the poet with his past,
childhood and mother.
37-38. nineteenth century silent : the memory about the mother
house is inseparable from that of the
house. The house as dowry was
one of the stabilising links
between mother and father.
Snakes are held in awe and reverence by religious-minded Hindus.
Hindu scriptures are replete with stories of snakes which could claim
equality with man and gods. The snake is very much present in the
religious consciousness of the Hindus. Ramanujan exploits this ethos in
Snakes. The poem originates in the poet's 4 hooded memory' of the
snakes and meanders through experiences concerning snakes and
snakesmen. The sudden dawning of memory about snakes which
overtakes the poet in anexpected places leads him to the recollection of
'ritual cobras* in his ancestral home and the weird snakesman with
cobras wound round his neck. Snakes concludes with the recapitulation
of a night when the poet accidently trampled on a snake with his
*clickshod heeP and left it like a sausage rope dead in the woods. Now
the woods are safe for the poet! But are they safe for the snake?
5-6. looking at... curves : looking at the way the books
are arranged in rows in
14-16, The twists... fanners* : This sensitive image gives a
feet concrete shape to the snake's
hisses. They twirl like the dust
17. lorgnettes (pron: lorn-
19-21. scales that moult...
22. ritual cobras
26. writing a sibilant alpha-
bet of panic
35-39. Sister ties... hair again
41 . my left foot., footfall
44. clickshod heel
53. sausage rope
53-54. frogs can hop... eyes
55. and I can... woods
cones that wind through the
feet of farmers who walk on
dusty village roads
eye-glasses with a handle
the reference is to the moulting
of snakes. 'Moulting* is the
process by which snakes cast
off their scales
cobras are considered to be
auspicious. Devout Hindus
feed them with milk as the
poet's mother does (1.27)
the cobras uncurl and writhe as
if writing a language of terror.
'Sibilant' means hissing
sounds like those of alphabets
V and 4 z'.
Sister's braided knee-long hair
evokes snake-memories in the
utter silence of the night is
shoe-heel fitted with a small
piece of iron underneath
tramples into the mud
now the crushed snake is like a
sausage rope or sausage tube
The lines suggest a sad
contrast. The snake which has
sent tremors through man is
now being preyed upon by
frogs and flies.
Now the woods are safe for the
poet. Probably an ironic
146 Gathered Grace
This is one of the thirty-one sections from Jejuri. The theme of the
poem is an irreverent pilgrimage to Jejuri, a place in western
Maharashtra sanctified by the temple of Khandoba.
The Bus expresses the sensation of the journey by a state transport
bus to the temple town. It was a cold morning and the journey through
the countryside becomes a sensation rather than an experience. The
poet, with his genius for details, notes several minor fragments of
experiences during the journey. The central image is that of movement,
movement from darkness to light, from ignorance to awareness. The
wind that keeps on whipping the tarpaulin, the sun that shoots at the old
man's glasses and the bumpy ride that divides the image of your own
face provide a strange significance to the early morning bus ride.
1-2. The tarpaulin... bus : This is because of the severe
cold wind of the early morning
7. roaring road : road along which the bus runs
11. an old man's nose : the old man is probably sitting
opposite to you. In his pair of
glasses the image of your face
is reflected in two.
17. eyelet : a small hole
19-20. A sawed off ...temple : Note the poet's power of
Irani Restaurant Bombay
The poem attempts an ironic presentation of an Irani restaurant scene in
Bombay. The squint-eyed Irani, the decomposing cake in the showcase,
the inevitable fly, the loafer at the table, the sticky tea print on it, the cat
under the chair, the corpse-like burnt matchstick are the components of
a restaurant atmosphere that causes revulsion. However, there is a
meaningful thematic progress from the decomposing cake in the
showcase to the almost decomposed human body in the morgue through
a series of images of beauty and ugliness, light and darkness.
c Ezekiel's Irani Restaurant Instructions,
Shah of Iran
10. landscaple in a glass of
1 1 . scholarly attention
12. blank testament of the
13. an instant of mirrors
15. two timing sleep
20. politely the corpse rises
a sarcastic reference to the
Irani, the owner of the
the cake decomposing is an act
parallel to the reality of the
the reflection of the landscape
wobbling in the water in the
glass whenever the table or the
glass is jerked*
note the irony
stray writings on the tea table
the reflection from a group of
sleep divided into two halves
a place where dead bodies are
kept for identification
The upturned movement of the
ends of a burnt matchstick
when placed on a table is
compared to the rising of a
corpse from a block of ice in
the morgue. The imagery is
148 Gathered Grace
A Hot Noon in Malabar
One of the central themes in Kamala Das's poetry is her nostalgic
memory of the family house in Malabar and the childhood experiences
centred round it A Hot Noon in Malabar evokes the typical experience
of a hot summer afternoon in her home. The prosperous ancestral house
attracted several strangers every afternoon beggars, kurava girls,
bangle-sellers. All these strangers were attracted, probably, by the
munificence of the generous grandmother of the poet. Kamala Das has
celebrated her ancestral home in poems like My Grandmother's House,
Blood and Evening at the Old Nalapat House. Familial memory has a
curative effect on the troubled mind of the poet It restores her.
AJK. Ramanujan is another poet who exploits this theme successfully.
3. fortune-cards : the fortune-tellers keep a pack
of cards on which predictions
4. All stained with time : discoloured due to constant use
through a long period of time
kurava girls : girls belonging to kurava tribe.
Kuravas form a caste of
'fowlers, basket-makers and
9-10. devouring rough miles : travelling long distances
13. window-drapes : window curtains
17-20. strangers... jungle : These lines suggest the myste-
voices rious strangeness associated
with the visitors. Their passion,
wildness and mistrust are
22-24. Wild feet., far away : Nostalgia becomes a gnawing
pain and torture for the poet
who is far away from home.
The Dance of the Eunuchs
The poem was written in the summer of 1963. The poet had an
encounter with a group of eunuchs who insisted on dancing to celebrate
the birth of a baby in the house of a friend of the poet's mother. The
master of the house refused permission. So the eunuchs cursed the baby
in anger and moved on to another house and began dancing there. The
poet was fascinated by the dance of the eunuchs because 'they seemed
so perverse, so unwholesome and sinister'.
Kamala Das confesses that the poem has echoes of sympathy for
the eunuchs who are denied the experience of love-making. She herself
was pursuing an ill-fated love affair at that time and probably the
passion and pain of this experience also have gone into the making of
It is argued that Kamala Das has mistaken hermaphrodites for
eunuchs. Eunuchs are castrated males. The poet appears to be aware of
the partial womanhood of the dancers though they lack generative
powers. This, obviously, means that the dancers are hermaphrodites.
However, the poet prefers to call them eunuchs.
1 . It was hot, so hot : It was summer
4-8. Beneath the fiery... : The poet attempts an imagi-
almostfair native transformation of the
sexless eunuchs into passionate
4. fiery gulmohur : gulmohur tree with red
flowers. * Fiery* also
emphasises the heat and
passion of the dancers.
5. Long braids flying : the entwined knots of hair
flying in the wind caused by
the movement of the dancers,
dark eyes : a hint at the secrecy of sex
6. They danced... they : The poet imposes on the
bled eunuch womanly qualities. By
vigorous dancing they are
9- 10. they sang... unborn
11. sorry breasts
13-14. like half-burnt togs from
15-16. Even the crows... trees
16. the children, wide-eyed
18-20. The sky... mice
capable of menstrual flow.
They bleed. They are on the
way to becoming women with
an intensity of passion.
symbol of fertility.
the sterility of the eunuchs* life
Note the irony. They are * sorry
breasts* because they do not
flow with milk; they are not
pretended ecstasy. The
eunuchs are incapable of
symbolic of the decadence of
life. The image evokes the fire
of death and the destruction of
Crows are vile creatures. Even
they are surprised, probably,
because they have not seen
such a scene as the dance of the
children are an antithesis to
Nature is presented in a
perverted form as a parallel to
the abnormality of the dancing
eunuchs. As a contrast to the
"heat* at the beginning of the
poem, now there is *rain% but
'meagre rain* mingling with
the smell of dust and the urine
of lizards and mice. Thus a
bleak picture is presented
suggesting the perpetual
barrenness and infertility of the
The Old Playhouse
The theme of the poem is the precariousness and incompleteness in
man- woman relationship. This is one of the recurring themes in Kamala
Das's poetry. Woman needs love desperately but the search ends in the
discovery of man's monstrous ego. She has to protect her vital self from
the threat of man's egoistic solicitude. She has to be resilient in the face
of man's enormous self-centredness and lust Man is surrounded by
artificiality and narrowness and he serves love only in small lethal
doses. The woman is deprived of her joy and fulfilment. In the grip of
such a relationship, there is no mirth or happiness in her life. Her mind
becomes an old playhouse where no lights shine, no music plays and no
dance is done.
Woman's search for identity through conjugal love, man's lustful
response to woman's quest and the devastation of the feminine self
caused by such a relationship are suggested. The symbol of *the old
playhouse* points to the pathos inseparable from woman's search for a
satisfactory relationship with man.
There are autobiographical elements in the poem. The poet,
presumably, addresses her husband. She protests against the constraints
put on her life. She resents the artificial comforts afforded to her; she is
revolted by the routine of lust into which her husband has converted
their relationship. She is dwarfed by the abominable egoism of the man
and her life is deprived of all mirth and activity* It is simply an 'old
1. tame a swallow : The metaphor suggests the
husband's efforts to dominate
the wife. It also suggests the
theme of the poem.
4-5. the urge to fly... of the : The woman's desire to have a
sky free relationship with man
without being dominated by
7-8. but every... yourself : egoism of man
8-12. You were pleased... : woman's desire for love is
bitter-sweet juices converted by man into lust
12-14. You called me wife,.
16. Became a dwarf
19-21 . Your room... shut
22-23. The cut flowers...
24-25. my mind... put out
27. Narcissus at the water's
Man's uriromantic concept
about wifely duties.
Woman's identity is lost in the
grip of man's egoism
The oppressive unnaturalness
of the home-atmosphere is
Degeneration of natural im-
pulses into repulsive routine is
suggested. Flowers smelling of
human sweat is a metaphor for
the distortion of the instinct for
beauty and delicacy.
The 4 old playhouse* is the
central metaphor of the poem.
It suggests a mind which was
once mirthful but now barren
In Greek mythology, Narcis-
sus, a beautiful youth, was
enamoured of his own face
reflected in a fountain. He died
of despair and his name was
given to a flower. Thus
Narcissus is a symbol for
egoistic self-love leading to
Death is so Mediocre
The poem is a meditation on life and death. At the confluence of life and
death the past experiences appear hazy with dim outlines. Yet
participation in life becomes an inescapable duty. Our response to life's
demands becomes ineffective and poor as death slowly moves in. Even
our adherence to wealth and lust, the two ruling passions in most
people's lives, becomes a faint memory. The final rites associated with
death and cremation appear to be vulgar. The last journey into the 'sure
but invisible sea' is performed in silence and not even a fingerprint is
left behind for others to identify us. The crowded earth does not suffer
any loss by our disappearance and the several misunderstandings we
had with society vanish along with us. The poet seems to think of death
as a consummation of life, a slow transformation into another stage.
1-3. Life has... my eye
2. ritzy splendours
4. A garbage collector
9. serviette blooms
9-13. And, after... burglars of
13. wealth and lust
14-15. Death is so mediocre
23 . paid marauders
24. unbleached shroud
26-28. that secret edge...
the first three lines express
disillusionment with life
One who collects garbage and
other worthless matter. The
metaphor indicates the
presence of guilt
placed as if in a morgue, a
place where dead bodies are
laid out for identification. The
death-theme is suggested.
table napkins arranged like
The lines suggest an inability
to express thoughts. The ability
to respond to social demands is
For most people wealth and
lust are the two important
concerns in life.
The poet plays down the
popular notion that Death is all
a satiric reference to the people
employed to wash the dead
body and do other rites
connected with cremation.
It is a custom to cover the dead
body with unbleached cloth
before it is taken for cremation
the slow transition from life to
death is implied.
Fingerprint is used to identify
154 Gathered Grace
criminals. The poet is not
going to leave behind even a
fingerprint! Note the irony.
32. My alliances... you : My social relationship with
This is the first poem in Under Another Sky included in Rough Passage
as the first poem in the section 'Exile*. The poem is centred round the
theme of growing up through experience and the desirability of man
taking stock of himself when he approaches the age of thirty. It may be
argued that thirty is too early an age to take stock of one*s life.
However, the poet believes that at thirty man reaches an age when he
cannot trust his own image in the mirror. More experience does not
necessarily mean more knowledge and thirty is as good as any other age
because 4 the mind will have settled* by that time and you can see
yourself from a distance. The poem indicates a contemplative mood
combined with a deep sense of wistfulness*
4. At thirty the mud will : At thirty a sort of calm must
have settled have entered man's life. He
must have become mature and
his experiences must have
settled like mud particles at the
bottom of a vessel containing
6. refuse the image : do not accept the image
1 1 . Experience doesn't always
make for knowledge : Identification of experience
with knowledge is wrong
because experience itself may
be a series of mistakes.
13. Do the same things over
17-19. The luminous.,,
25-26. you will be alone like the
stone benches in the park
Man does not learn from expe-
rience but simply repeats the
mistakes he has done earlier.
The metaphor is that of a river
overflowing its banks but never
reaching the shore because the
flow is stopped by the pebbles
on the shore. Excessive
infatuation for woman retards
the expansion of man's
faculties. There is a suggestion
of the poet's early infatuation
with English and the later
after English gods'.
The utter disillusionment after
experience is suggested. The
imagery of the 'stone benches*
is striking. A sense of
loneliness is suggested.
Death and Love are juxtaposed in this poem. The poet faces Death with
relief because it is inevitable. Man's readiness to die or otherwise has no
relevance to the inexorable law of death. The severity of death is
softened by the experience of love, by its 'rainbow touch*.
4. if I were stopped and cut
8. 4 I haven't finished*
12. Night curves
1 3- 14. I grasp your hand in a
rainbow of touch
If death comes suddenly
protesting that I have not
finished living Reluctance
Slow approach of death is
Love comes as a relief on the
point of death.
156 Gathered Grace
The central theme of the poem is nostalgia over childhood memories.
The family album releases a chain of intimate memories centred round
the child. The photo of the girl with her arms round the neck of her
mother against the background of the Taj Mahal takes the poet back
along the memory path to the childhood of the girl. The poem is
remarkable for its delicacy of sentiment and picturesqueness. A note of
sentimentality is introduced by the reference to the death of the
2. I shared your childhood : I went back to your childhood
through the memory path.
3-4. the unruly... Taj : A striking description of the
photo of the girl against the
background of Taj Mahal.
7-8. squatting on fabulous : refers to the Taj which appears
haunches to squat like a woman on her
1 1 . the spoonfuls of English : the smattering of English learnt
in the school.
14. succulent folklore : interesting folklore
19. bronzed : hardened; acquired grown-up
2L you turned the corner in : suggests the transformation of
a child* s steps the child into a young girl
The poem is a meditation on life. It begins with an attempt to bring back
order into a disorderly life. The poet has spent forty years in disorder,
deception, anxiety and now he spends most of the time brooding over
the onslaught of old age. Occasionally he takes flight into the realm of
fancy to escape from the tedium of introspection.
1-2. This afternoon... : An attempt to bring back order
everything in order into life.
6-14. there is no end... : A meditation on the deceptions
complete anything indulged in by the poet in his
lifetime. He has spent forty
years of deception and
8. live of f friends : live by cheating friends or at
the expense of friends
10. not batted on eyelid : never felt any prick of
13. I have even kept letters : I have kept my letters
unopened for days unopened due to anxiety about
what bad news the letters might
16. plucking grey hair from : suggests the coming of old age
my forehead and how it worries the poet
17-18. Follow the smoke as it : An occasional flight into the
were a private tour. realm of fancy.
Woman on the Beach
Katrak* s talent to work up to a focus of excitement and terror through
several stages of a theme is seen in Woman on the Beach. The central
theme of the poem is an encounter with a dying woman on the beach
who slowly crawls towards the sea before she dies. It was an early
winter night. The poet saw the woman first behind the car, flat on her
broken back. Next morning he saw her dead, a red horror over which
flies moved in swarms. After an instant meditation over the possible
cause of her tragic death, the poet succumbed to a reflex of fighting the
sense of terror within evoked by the gory sight A death-awareness
shaped through experience, shock and meditation overwhelmed the
5-6. The first., sudden winter : indicates early winter. There is
also a remote suggestion of
15. This woman was a detail
1 9 . clucking annoyance
20. There she lay
30-32. In puppies... imagined
47. counted my life
67-70. The flesh had... in
88-90. the only flesh... one f s
This woman came to my view
in all vividness and clarity
annoyance expressed with a
clucking sound like that of a
Note the abrupt and straight-
forward manner the poet
introduces the woman.
A gory picture of accidental
deaths in which bodies get
mangled and mutilated
law of compassion found
hidden in every human being
A gory picture of the mutilated
reaction. A sudden reaction
comes after the meditation
over the cause of death.
Only in a subjective and self-
centred manner man can look
The poem expresses the insensitivity that has gone into the soul of the
Bombay man. Nothing stirs him. Neither the images of suffering nor the
images of love had any effect on the Bombay man's conditioned
consciousness. Even walking the street is a routine activity. The only
experience that can arouse him from his poise is that of physical pain.
The poem is in the vein of Nissim Ezekiel's Bombay poems* A
causeway is a raised path, usually paved with stone, through a marsh or
Here... familiar view
The lines present the images of
pity and suffering
8. But I have grown remote : I have become insensitive to
from pain others' pain
12. Walking this street, I only : Even walking the street is an
move involuntary and routine
15. skittles a stone : throws a stone like a missile.
16. 'behnchod' : an abusive word in Hindustani
Keki N. Daruwalla
Hawk is a merciless meditation on the predatory nature of man. The
ferocious bird of prey, the hawk, is presented as a forbidding symbol of
modern man. He hovers over the world like a black prophesy weaving a
cocoon of death. The tone is frighteningly accurate and bitter, the
images are scribbled with the colour of death and torture, pain and
The poem is divided into four sections. Section I presents the hawk-
king on the kill. The poet has observed him both in the morning and in
the evening. He runs amuck among the other birds which are less
aggressive and therefore more vulnerable.
Section II is about the trained hawk, tamed by man for the purpose
of game. In fact, the trained hawk is worse, probably because he is
trained and tamed by man. The only difference is that the predator's
passion is skilfully moulded into an art
Section III depicts the scene of a hare-hunt by a 'mother hawk and
son*. The hare is flushed out of the grass hideout and is killed through
protracted torture, not in 'one fell swoop*.
Section IV is an imaginative identification of the poet with the
hawk-king. The only experience he recollects is the period of taming
which has hardened him against all humanity. Now he has identified his
future victims and is ready to pounce. The poem ends on a note of
despair in the juxtaposition of Moves' and 'hawks' in the last line.
Hawk is any bird of the falcon family, not an eagle. It is a predatory
bird. It flies very high and its eyesight is very keen.
6, nothing could thrive here
20. the cup cf his hate
3 1 . His eye tJhe storm
32. Discoverin g his eye
36* splayed wings
38 . a gust of feathers
41-44. Hacking,. . his heart
48* in one fell sv^oop
king of hawks. There is an
ironic attribution of kingly
qualities to the hawk. Bird-man
identification is also implied.
pierced, went up
suggests the barrenness of the
the bird soars up with a
murder of anyone dear.
the bird becomes a symbol of
hate, cf, 1.9
a covering for the hawk's head
having several small holes
the sinister power of
penetrating vision is suggested
Awareness of his potentiality
wings that are spread out
feathers in a sudden blast of
Hawking is imagined to be a
horrible ritual in which a
quarry bird is sacrificed. The
myth of primitive religious
practices is hinted at to impart
a weirdness and inevitability to
in one single wicked swoop
over the hare. It is suggested
5 1 . one talon-morsel
53-54. His heart... horses
59. leather disc
66-68. But I am... wives.
71-77. I will hover... gun.
72. cocoon of death
78-79. During the big drought,
and it will rain hawks
that the killing of the hare is
done by intermittent attack on
it, not at once
a morsel of flesh hooked to the
talon of the hawk
This beautifully striking image
suggests the immense torture
the hare undergoes
the piece of leather that covers
the eyes of a game-hunting
Hardening of the mind against
humanity. Slow process by
which hate grows to engulf
humanity in its cruel hold.
The imagery in these lines is
suggestive of death and
destruction cocoon of death,
sheath of death. It suggests a
breeding ground for death
The poet anticipates a
barrenness in the life of
humanity, *big drought* and
predicts despairingly that the
forces of peace and love will be
subjugated by those of death.
(doves and hawks)
Easy and Difficult Animals
The poem is an imaginary monologue addressed to the poet's wife. She
is a woman of clear distinctions. She is not weighed down by any
confusing problems because she sees things and categorises them into
two unmistakable groups. Her thoughts do not frighten her because she
has already arranged them in two neat compartments. Dreams are either
animals or birds; the moon is either dark or bright. Even the delirium
162 Gathered Grace
called life is divided into two neat divisions easy animals and
difficult animals. Among easy animals she has included all animals,
birds, fishes and reptiles. Against this crowded menagerie of easy
animals there is only one difficult animal, man.
2. cower : shrink in fear
10. dark fruit/incandescent : dark side of the moon and the
fruit bright side of the moon. The
moon looks like a fruit
11. Your distinctions were a : Your distinctions were sharp,
18. taxidermist : one who is engaged in
preparing, stuffing and
19. gizzard and buzzard and : kinds of birds
21. menagerie : a place for keeping wild
animals. Here it refers to the
collection of animals and birds
mentioned in the earlier lines.
Apothecary is a dramatic monologue in the manner of Robert
Browning's. The speaker is Rizwan-ul-Huq, a Hakim of Hyderabad and
the Physician Royal to the Nizam. A boy from Sarai Khwaja who
receives treatment for an earache in the morning dies of a stomach-ache
in the evening. This made the appthecary suspect in the eyes of the
public. He is denounced as a fraud and a killer. While the homeo doctor
across the road who practises allopathic remedies on the sly, attracts a
crowd of patients, Rizwan-ul-Huq slowly withers away in his
profession. This is in spite of his ardent faith in Allah!
The monologue is confessional and the conflict arises out of the
tension between the Hakim's sincerity in the profession and the reward
society pays to him. There is a note of pathos throughout. The progress
of the monologue is from confessional pathos through sarcasm to
cynicism; In the oppressive and fake world of unexpected and irrational
happenings, to be humble, truthful and faithful is of no avail. We simply
end up as splendid corpses. There is effective counterpoising of
disparate sentiments and visions like success and failure, reputation and
drudgery, truthfulness and fraudulence, faith and scepticism converging
towards a climactic realisation of the futility of all and the inevitability
For this week... flies
32-34. As there... ailment :
37. nightcap :
56. suppository :
59. Hippocrates :
69. pad the hook with the bait :
face that exhibits signs of
person who writes obituaries
a small one-horse carriage
Now patients do not come to
He spends his time simply
Physician who practises Indian
The utter irrationality of the
world is mockingly suggested
alcoholic drink taken at
a medicated plug used to
administer medicine through
Greek physician who lived in
the 4th or 5th century BC.
Earliest among ancient
to make the bait look
attractive attempt to cheat
The Holy building in Mecca
First month of the Muslim
Ramzan, the month in which
Sailing to England
Sailing to England is a vision of love and death. The voyage invokes the
poet's memory about his beloved and her delicate sad face rises before
him from the sea- The episode where three people were swept out into
the sea is referred to in a picturesque description of how they struggled
for life in the rolling waters until one of them was drowned. The man
who could not swim had to sink. There is a suggestion of resurrection
from death to life in the closing stanzas. Death is conceived light-
heartedly as if it is inconsequential like a nap in the afternoon.
I am in love, and long to
stones for eyes
inland watchers groaned :
elbows jerking in a skein :
Like giant women knitting:
Trawling her whisper :
across the sprawling seas
a paradox is suggested 'love*
A common metaphor in
Moraes's poetry. In 'Song*
dancers have * stones for eyes*;
in 'Bells for William
Wordsworth* there is the line
'His flesh had gone back into
soil and his eyes into stones'.
The metaphor suggests
permanence and wholeness. It
may have also an implication
of magical or mysterious
those who stood ashore and
watched the incident groaned.
elbows coming up and going
down while struggling for life
in a mass of waves.
a bizarre metaphor suggesting
the figure of death.
The imagery is that of whisper
spreading across the vast
expanse of the sea like a trawl,
net that is moved across the sea
to catch fish
23-24. Or choose... afternoon : A nap in the afternoon is
mentioned as a wise alternative
to death. This brings the
traditionally invincible death
within the volition of human
beings. The strangeness and
obscurity of death-experience
is softened for us.
At Seven O* clock
The poem speaks of an early morning experience of being massaged by
a masseur. However, the merely physical experience of the * human
flesh* assumes a spiritual tone when the poet recognises the reborn
Christ in the masseur. Now his fingers touch not only the poet's skin but
also his soul. Towards the end of the poem the masseur from Ceylon
becomes a religious symbol.
Two creative movements are taking place in the poem. One is the
evolution of the ordinary masseur into a Christ-figure by an act of
imagination of the poet and the other is the physical resurrection of the
poet by an act of touch by the masseur. Through this interacting process
of imagination and reality, the poet acquires some of the aspects of the
Christ-like figure of the masseur.
1. masseur : massagist, one who massages
balding head : indicates that the masseur is
4. As though he were about : religious significance is
to preach or bless attributed to the masseur.
5. poulterer" s fingers : fingers like those of a
poulterer, one who deals in
queasy : unsettled, loose
7-8. he keeps his thin... : probably to avoid the smell of
turned away the human flesh
166 Gathered Grace
9. antarctic eyes : very cold eyes
15. His fingers touch the : The knowledge of the soul
skin: they reach the soul through the body is suggested
17-20. Within my mind... Arise : Masseur becomes a symbol of
the reborn Christ
20. breathes : conveys the idea of a new birth
Arise : conveys the idea of blessedness
or invocation into life.
On Killing a Tree
The poem is a light meditation on the process of pulling out a tree, root,
trunk, boughs and all, from the inside of the earth and transforming it
into brown hard wood. The tree is anchored in earth; any amount of
hacking and chopping would not kill it totally because it has a
bewildering way of healing the wounds on its bark and sprouting green
twigs and leaves. It has to be pulled out entirely from the entrails of the
earth to kill it. The sun and air would transform it into lifeless wood.
Total severance from the earth kills the tree totally. The poem seems to
suggest through the tree metaphor that life, pulled out of its immediate
earthly environment, withers; it is difficult to kill deep-rooted life-truths
and there is a self-sustaining principle underlying all living organisms.
2. simple jab of the knife : simple thrust with the knife
causing a cut or wound.
3-7. It has grown... water : The principle of life that
sustains the tree as an offshoot
from the earth is suggested.
8. leprous hide : rough and scaly bark of the tree
13-18. The bleeding... former : In spite of the attempt to
size destroy it, the tree survives.
The self-sustaining principle of
life is suggested.
21. anchoring earth : the earth in which the tree is
anchored or firmly rooted.
23. snapped out : dragged out
29. For years inside the earth : earth is the source of life for the
tree. The age-old relationship
between the tree and the earth
is also suggested.
30-34, Then the matter... : The effect of the sun and air on
withering, the fallen tree is that its trunk
gradually hardens and withers.
31. choking : compression of the tree trunk
due to the scorching heat of the
The poet's encounter with the man begins with the matter-of-factness of
a commercial transaction. The man's interest is aroused only when a
rupee note is given to him. He offers hospitality on the corner of the
cloth spread on the ground and he is now ready to talk. The second stage
is the man's attempt to search into the affairs of the poet through
questions about his family and job. A sort of personal equation is soon
established between the two in spite of their attempt to hide from each
The theme of the poem is the prosaic nature of human relationship
in the constricted environment of modern urban life where everything is
reduced to neat commercial propositions.
1. simplicity of commerce : a simple commercial
transaction, i.e., giving a rupee
note to the man
4. groundspread : the cloth spread on the ground
7. external gestures : perhaps it is only a show of
8-9. As always.... click shut : There is an element of
cunningness in the relationship
between the two men.
13-15. Enquiries after... he : The several enquiries the man
poses makes and the attempt of the
168 Gathered Grace
poet to evade them appear like
18. The darkness cocoon : the darkness that envelops like
a protective covering
22. What then, Sir Poet, of
political choices : note the irony.
The poem is a sympathetic response to the plight of waiters of Tamil
origin in Bombay's hotels and restaurants. These waiters, noted for their
darkness, have come to the city for better prospects and change. They
stand aloof from the phoney sophistication of the city, their buttoned up
manners presenting a striking contrast to the * soiled and cluttered*
culture of the city.
The Waiters has three parts* The first part introduces the dark-
skinned waiters who have left behind them a miserable past. The second
part presents them as 'guardians of good taste, an inevitable part of the
city's sophistication/ *polite of speech, punctilious, guarded, kind'.
The third part suggests the sudden transformation of the waiters when
the day's ministry is completed.
The poem is full of similes and adjectives. The poet achieves a
dramatic effect by balancing and contrasting images. The descriptive
observations in the poem support a continuous change of the image of
the waiters from dark-skinned drudges to refined and polite servers and
back to a race of tired workmen stripped to their essentials and being
swallowed by the ever-feasted city.
1-2. Blacker than,., recall : The Tamil waiters are noted for
their dark appearance.
Darkness is an image
indicating the poverty and
drudgery of their life.
3. sallow ;
5-6. The long summers,... :
sun of contrast
7. Stick in a language their :
clients won't allow
10. Polite of speech, ;
punctilious, guarded, kind
15. pasted smiles
15-16, their darkness... in
20. The spit and polish of our
22. Shrug off their coats like
priestly cloaks of pity
24. In the throat of the
feasted pink-faced city
pale, yellowish colour
The waiters have renounced
their native life for better
prospects and change.
The waiters are unable to speak
the language of the clients
Soon the waiters acquire the
necessary for success in their
soon the dark waiters develop
insight into the dubious nature
of the city
For the city-dweller eating is
an elaborate ritual carried out
with religious fervour. Note the
Remove their waiter's uni-
forms. Service is mockingly
identified as a ritual and the
waiter's coat symbolises the
The waiters are being swall-
owed by the feasted and
probably drunk (pink-faced)
city. The image is ironic. The
waiters who have feasted the
city in the daytime are now
being feasted upon by the
Approaching Santa Cruz
The central theme of the poem is alienation. The poet approaches the
area of alienation with a probing consciousness. The reaction of the
exile on the point of landing at Santa Cruz airport is one of doubt, fear
and trepidation. Now that the aeroplane is hovering over 'home*,
arguments are useless; the exile's senses shake, guts tighten and his
heart is gripped in the clenched claws of disillusionment. Approaching
Santa Cruz is symbolic of the approach to the home country, diseased,
populous, with its slums, poverty and decay and encircled heat. The
immobile boy holding a mass of breadcrumbs whom the exile
encounters on landing is symbolic of the home to which he returns
The poem is an attempt to explore the aching inner landscape of the
sensitive exile against the background of the visible outer landscape of
the home country represented by the precincts of an airport
A union of homes
stunk and populous
The various ways of
dying that are home
* Dying is all the
country's living for*
show me my place
Arguments are endless*
32-35. The heart., what it is
38-40. And this is home...
like a stone
a conglomeration of houses
suggesting the crowd and
congestion in the city
It is the exile* s notion about his
an ironic statement about the
living conditions in the home
note the paradox
sense of alienation
An instinctive response on
realising that the time has
come to land.
Through several images the
poet brings out the sense of
revulsion and fear caused by
the compulsion to land. Note
the use of the words - 'clenched
claw*, 'shrivelled*, 'cage*,
* steel*, * swoops*, - all
presenting rough and hard
The boy symbolises the
ethos of India from which the
poet stands alienated.
A Lunch on the Train
The poem is based on an experience of travelling in a second class
railway compartment. The exorbitant fare prevents the poet from
travelling first class and she is thus thrown into the company of second
class fellow-travellers. She watches their strange habits. With great
forbearance and sympathy she narrates the lunch-time scene in the
compartment. The strange assortment of passengers consists of a
husband and two wives, a young mother and her three children, a long-
nosed man with a tiffin-box on his knee, a youth in the corner trying to
read a book and the poet herself. The lunch- time presents a contrasting
picture. The young mother and her three children have no lunch. They
are the foodless four. The long-nosed man eats from his tiffin-box; the
two wives feed the 'large appetite* of the husband with sweets and fruits
from many boxes. This scene fills the poet with a sense of guilt and her
own sandwich packet now appears like an enormous crime. So in an
expression of charity and humanity she buys a bunch of bananas and
distributes them to the foodless four, at least to salve her conscience.
6-10. Next to me... two : This group consisting of a man
wives and two women presents some
difficulty for the poet as she
could not easily make out their
relationship. So she concludes
that it must be a strange case of
one man having two wives.
12, Too young to have been : The second group of four
a mother of three persons also presents a strange
spectacle as the mother appears
to be too young to have three
22. Trying disdainfully to : The 'disdain* is perhaps due to
read a book his sense of superiority to the
others in the compartment
1 72 Gathered Grace
24. expectorations : Refers to the children spitting
here and there in the
compartment as the mother
does not exercise any control
42. The youth is on a diet : a half-ironic remark about the
of mere knowledge youth who prefers reading to
51. salve conscience : clear up conscience.
The theme of Migraine is the inexorable reality of pain and the
disintegration of personality under its impact Migraine begins in timid
doses but enlarges upon human consciousness in spite of attempts to
stall its sting. The incipient beginning, the slow but determined growth
and the final triumph of migraine over the body and the mind are
suggested in the poem. 'Surrender to the fact of pain* leads to
destruction of identity and disintegration of personality. One can
resume one's identity only during the brief non-migraine spells. In due
course, life of pain becomes an accepted reality and the spells of relief
appear like briefly worn disguise or mask.
5-6. ...showing just a tawny : Migraine is compared to a
tail the beast awaits yellow-tailed beast which
shows only its tiny tail first
7. aspros, codeins and cool : These are supposed to contain
drinks the migraine
9. placing its paws : the animal imagery continues
11*21. But it's clever... reality : The slow but determined
manner migraine oveipowers
the victim and destroys a
person's identity is suggested.
It is like a beast felling its prey
through a slow process of
22. not medicine, not gods : Nothing can stall the pain
and ancestors caused by migraine. Science,
23-24. Only your... fact of pain
26. You can resume human
religion and tradition fail
There is no choice but to
surrender to the fact of pain in
The normal human condition
looks like a disguise because
most of the time pain holds
Calcutta If You Must Exile Me
The poem is an agonised response to the violence and cruelty that has
ruled the city of Calcutta at the time of writing. The poet whose life is
inextricably involved with the ethos of the great city emotionally
identifies himself with it and articulates its agony in powerful tones. He
does not want to leave the city in spite of the perils involved in living
there as long as his senses and reason are intact He does not want to
narrate the sorrow and despair of the city to others.
The poem suggests the vital core of Calcutta's social, economic
and political life. The several allusions to the topography of the city
impart a sense of realism to the theme. The Jarasandha myth invests the
theme with a sense of universalness. The sense of indignation and
despair is made poignant with the introduction of a nostalgic strain.
It is a political poem that deals with elemental sentiments deeper
and more significant than those associated with politics. There is a wide
range of passions touched upon by the poet death and despair,
violence and cruelty, torture and deprivation, vengeance and hate, pity
wound my lips
burn my eyes
the headless corpse...
make me unable to talk
make me unable to see
several macabre scenes are
mentioned. There are also
They will... your thighs
they will tie... at the
hang you from a
I will show... never
the hawker who died
with Calcutta in his eyes
several instances of torture and
cruelty are highlighted. They
were daily occurrences in the
The myth of Jarasandha is
invoked. According to a
Jarasandha was killed by
Bhima after a prolonged duel.
Bhima tore him into two halves
lengthwise on the suggestion of
Two ancient forms of torture
crucifixion and burning at the
stake , are mentioned.
History repeats its methods of
torture in spite of the passing of
*wordless* qualifies *you'
symbolic of the sickness and
mutilation of the city.
The reference is to the pros-
titutes of Burrabazar another
symptom of the city's sickness
The hawker represents every
man who dies in the street. The
'hawker* may also suggest the
preying bird *hawk* surveying
the whole city like a curse
hovering over it.
The theme of this prose-lyric has three aspects love, union and
separation. The slow process by which love grows and encompasses the
very existence of the lover to become a part of his consciousness and
action is suggested. But soon the love that finds expression through
weighted words alone leads to disillusionment. The realities of life take
over and the dream of love is relegated. So separation comes leaving
behind only silence and memories.
When words catch up with their speakers, illusion crumbles and the
bitter taste of reality strikes one silent and leaves one with endless
memories to live on.
1 . The first time... : The three stages of surrender to
vulnerable the lover are mentioned
innocence, readiness and
2. But words cannot live : Realisation about ihe hollow -
your life for you ness of love expressed through
3. ...where I left her to the
mercy of the rain : 'rain* suggests separation
4. ...it was friday... : a day of sacrifice
A SELECT LIST OF BOOKS FOR FURTHER
Abidi, S.Z.H., Studies in Indo-Anglian Poetry, Bareilly, Prakash Book
Chavan, Sunanda P., The Fair Voice: A Study of Indian Women Poets in
English, New Delhi, Sterling Publishers, 1984.
Darawalla, Keki N. (Ed.), Two Decades of Indian Poetry: 1960-1980,
New Delhi, Vikas Publishing House, 1980.
Dwivedi, A.N., ToruDutt, New Delhi, Arnold Heinemann, 1974,
Gokak, V.K. (Ed.) A Golden Treasury of Indo-Anglian Poetry, New
Delhi, Sahitya Academy, 1970.
, Studies in Indo-Anglian Poetry, Bombay, Sai Ratan Agency,
lyengar, K.R. Srinivasa, Indian Writing in English, 3rd edn., New
Delhi, Sterling Publishers, 1983.
, Indo-Anglian Literature Bombay, International Book House,
Jussawalla, Adil (Ed.), New Writing in India, Harmondsworth,
Middlesex; Penguin Books, 1974.
Kalinova, Elena J., Indian English Literature: A Perspective,
Ghaziabad, Vimal Prakashan, 1983.
Karnani, Chetm,NissimEzekiel, New Delhi, Arnold Heinemann, 1974,
Kohli, Devindra, KamalaDas* New Delhi, Arnold Heinemann, 1975.
Kulshrestha, Chirantan (Ed.), Contemporary Indian Verse: An
Evaluation, New Delhi, Arnold Heinemann, 1980.
Lai, P. (Ed)., Modern Indian Poetry in English; An Anthology and a
Credo, Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1969.
Lall, Emmanuel Narendra, The Poetry of Encounter, New Delhi,
Sterling Publishers, 1983.
Melwani, Murli Das, Themes in Indo-Anglian Literature, Bareilly,
Prakash Book Depot, 1977.
A Select list of Books for Further Reading 111
Mohan, Ramesh (Ed), Indian Writing in English, Madras, Macmillan,
Mukherjee, Meenakshi (Ed.), Considerations, New Delhi, Allied
Naik, MX. (Ed.), Aspects of Indian Writing in English, Madras,
, Dimensions of Indian English Literature, New Delhi, Sterling
, (Ed,), Indian Response to Poetry in English, Madras, Macmillan,
, Desai, S.K.; & Amur, S.G. (Ed.), Critical Essays on Indian
Writing in English, Madras, Macmillan, 1977.
Nair, K.R. Ramachandran, Three Indo-Anglian Poets, New Delhi,
Sterling Publishers, 1987.
Narasimhaiah, CD., The Swan and The Eagle, Simla, Indian Institute of
Advanced Study, n.d.
Parathasarathy, R. (Ed.), Ten Twentieth Century Poets, New Delhi,
Oxford University Press, 1976.
Peeradina, Saleem (Ed.), Contemporary Indian Poetry in English: An
Assessment and Selection, Madras, Macmillan, 1972.
Rahman, Anisur, Form and Value in the Poetry of Nissim Ezeldel,
Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1981.
Shahane, V.A. & Sivaramakrishnan, M. (Eds.), Indian Poetry in
English: A Critical Assessment, New Delhi, Macmillan, 1980.
Sharma, K.K. (Ed.), Indo-English Literature, Ghaziabad, Virnal
Sinha, Krishna Nandan (Ed.), Indian Writing in English, New Delhi,
Heritage Publishers, 1979.
Sen Gupta, Padmini, Sarojini Naidu, New York, Asia Publishing
Walsh, William (Ed.), Readings in Commonwealth Literature, London,
Oxford University Press, 1973.
Williams, H.W., Indo-Anglian Literature 1800-1970: A Survey,
Bombay, Orient Longmans, 1977.
INDEX OF TITLES
Approaching Santa Cruz, 93
At Seven O'clock, 85
Background, Casually, 43
Blue Bird, The, 30
Bride, The, 51
Bus, The, 60
Calcutta If You Must Exile Me, 101
Chorus of Brahmins, 2
Colaba Causeway, 75
Dance of the Eunuchs, The, 63
Death is so Mediocre, 65
Dewdrop, The, 27
Dream of Surreal Science, A, 31
Easy and Difficult Animals, 79
Encounter with Death, An, 39
Epitaph on an Indian Politician, 40
Exile - i, 69
Farewell Song, The, 8
Harp of India, The, 2
Homecoming - xiii, 71
Hot Noon in Malabar, A, 63
Indian Dancers, 33
Indian Women, 39
Irani Restaurant Bombay, 61
June Sunset, 35
Lotus, The, 36
Lotus, The, Sonnet, 22
Lunch on the Train, The, 96
Moon in September, The, 8
Morning After a Storm, 6
Morning Walk, A, 45
Mountain, The, 52
My Thoughts, My Dreams, 12
Of Mothers, among Other Things, 55
Oft Like a Sad Imprisoned Bird, 13
Old Playhouse, The, 64
On Killing a Tree, 89
Our Casuarina Tree, 20
Railway Clerk, The, 48
Rider on the White Horse, The, 25
Sailing to England, 85
Still Another for Mother, 56
Striders, The, 55
Thought of the Future, 50
Tiger and the Deer, The, 30
To a Buddha seated on a Lotus, 34
To a Dead Crow, 9
To the Pupils of the Hindu College, 2
Tree of Life, The, 22
Waiters, The, 93
Walk by Moonlight, A, 3
Woman on the Beach, 73
INDEX OF FIRST LINES
And search.,., 55
And that woman,.., 56
A poet-rascal-clown was born..., 43
As a man approaches thirty he may..., 69
A solemn mask on a liquored-up face..., 80
At first you say, if I lie here, eyes, 97
Blacker than wine from the loaded grapes of France, 93
Brilliant, crouching, slouching, what crept through the green heart of the
Broad daylight, with a sense of weariness, 22
Calcutta if you must exile me wound my lips before I go, 101
Coming around the bend, we felt the head, 73
Cross-legged, sunk in a rope-cot throughout the day, 50
Driven from his bed by troubled sleep, 45
Expanding like the petals of young flowers, 2
Eyes ravished with rapture, celestially panting, what passionate bosoms
aflaming with fire, 33
Fallen into a Dream, I could not rise, 85
Farewell, my lovely native land!, 8
Farewell, sweetest country; out of my heart, you roses, 25
Gay minstrel of the Indian Clime!, 9
Hark, Lakshman! Hark, again that cry!, 15
Here at the Southern limit of the city, 75
Here shall my heart find its haven of calm, 35
How did I lose you, sweet?, 25
How like the breath of love the rustling breeze, 8
I am the bird of God in His blue;, 30
I force initially simplicity of commerce, 90
In the bliss, they say, of the love that laves the skies and ocean and earth, 27
In this triple-baked continent, 39
I saw the wild hawk-king this morning, 77
I smell upon this twisted, 55
It isn't my fault, 48
It started as a pilgrimage, 46
It takes much time to kill a tree, 89
It was hot, so hot, before the eunuchs carne, 63
Last night - it was a lovely night, 3
1 80 Gathered Grace
Life has lost its clean outlines. Or else I may, 65
Lightly, O lightly, we bear her along, 33
Like a huge python, winding round and round, 20
Lord Buddha, on thy lotus-throne, 34
Loud benedictions of the silver popes, 93
Love came to Flora asking for a flower, 22
Lovers, when they marry, face, 47
Mortal as I am, I face the end, 70
My thoughts, my dreams, are all of thee, 12
No, it does not happen, 57
Oft like a sad imprisoned bird I sigh, 13
mystic lotus, sacred and sublime, 36
One dreamed and saw a gland write Hamlet, drink, 31
Over the family album, the other night, 70
Scatter, scatter, flowerets round, 2
Shackled to the earth it stands, all its dead weight, 52
She who fought her fevered farewell all night, 5 1
Since I cannot bring myself to hand over, 96
TTie blue-bells clanged like, 39
the cockeyed shah of iran watches the cake, 61
The elements were all at peace, when I, 6
The masseur from Ceylon whose balding head, 85
The tarpaulin flaps are buttoned down, 60
The third time is always the most difficult. Or so, 102
1 have been told, 102
This afternoon I dusted my table, 71
This is a noon for beggars with whining, 63
Three happy children in a darkened room!, 19
Vasectomised of all genital urges, 40
Why hang*st thou lonely on yon withered bough?, 2
You have no problems such as mine, 79
You planned to tame a swallow, to hold her, 64