P. G. Dept. of English DAV College, Jalandhar
Indian English literature, particularly fiction, has received unprecedented acclaim all over the world in recent times. There have been a number of writers who have won prestigious literary awards like the Booker and even the Nobel Prize for their fictional writings. At home also, Indian-English fiction has gained enviable popularity, prestige and critical attention. On the other hand, Indian English poetry has suffered neglect despite valuable contributions being made by Indian English poets. It can be ascertained from the number of critical studies and academic research in fiction and poetry. The Indian English literary scene also points out an interesting fact about the attitude of critics and the writers involved in the evaluation and writing of fiction and poetry. Whereas the established writers of fiction and the critics allow much space for the blossoming of new writers, the emerging poetic voices seem to struggle against the aura of the established earlier poets that tends to smother their growth. The fiction writers are appreciated and eulogized for experimentation in themes and techniques that mark their difference from the earlier writers. On the other hand, the poets are usually expected to follow the standards set by the earlier poets. In spite of such attitudinal compulsions there are poets who concentrate on contemporary issues in their own way. Their poetry marks a discernable shift from earlier romantic, religious, moral and purely aesthetic concerns to the issues that find greater relevance in the present times in philosophical and experiential terms.
The present study concentrates on the poetry of D.C. Chambial and Kulbhushan Kushal to explore how contemporary Indian English poets weave global concerns into Indian philosophical thought and cultural ethos. Their concerns do not remain strictly related to Indian social reality and exhibit an awareness of the problems related to the exploitation of nature unmindful of the consequences. These poets assert how these problems eventually demand the adoption of a view of life that advocates harmony between the human and the non-human world. Such a view understands dharma or religion freed from scriptural doctrines or one’s duty to do good to one’s fellow human beings. It extends the concept of brotherhood to the elements of the non-human world, in other words, to ecology and our surroundings. Consequently, their vision of life spreads across political boundaries, social or cultural and ethnic groups and understands human existence as essentially tied to our surroundings. Their poetry expresses how the culture of gold-digging impacted by lust for material wealth has led human beings to molest and bruise ecology and environment. Their treatment of nature may inspire us to call them nature poets in the traditional sense of the word also but their primary concern to raise a voice against dilapidation and mutilation of nature and an understanding that to harm nature is to harm ourselves brings them closer to eco- critics. It makes the treatment of ecological concerns a form of poetic mode to include broader concerns and issues into their poetry.
As true champions of environmental protection and preservation of nature they reject the prevalent attitude towards nature. According to this view nature and the world surrounding us has value only for human beings and the way they consider it in utilitarian terms. Therefore the use of technology to tame and exploit nature to any extent is justified and acceptable. This view is understood to be “anthropocentric i.e. man centered, which is directly opposed to the biocentric i.e. the earth centered view. But this anthropocentric view is strongly contested in the poetry of D.C.Chambial and Kulbhushan Kushal as they too like, “Deep ecologists reject merely technical solutions; because these constitute yet another form of human dominance”, and sharing the concern of the deep ecologists these poets, “advocate a bio-centric world which recognizes non-human world as having value independently of its usefulness to human beings, who have no right to destroy it except to meet vital needs.” (Waugh 2006:36). Chambial points out how nature resents human dominance through excessive use of technological and scientific power and skill:
Those who brag to have subjugated The nature with leaping aspirations Send satellites into space
Despite meticulous skill
They tumble down, a house of cards (Chambial, 2004:59).
The tumbling down of the huge structures reveals that nature too reacts like an over oppressed person. It reveals a symbiotic understanding and attitude of the poet that treats nature and environment as an independent entity and suggests the need for a mutually reciprocating attitude between nature and human beings.
A similar concern is expressed by Kulbhushan Kushal in his poem ‘Dance of Sirens’ where he equates sea waves with sirens. He feels that the sea storm is the result of human attempts to subjugate and obliterate nature:
Planting marines In their wombs
Made them furious (Kushal, 2005: 79)
Nature has its own laws and values and for ages ‘The water left man alone’ and felt contended like a mother who overlooks some frivolities of her sons. But the excessive plundering of nature forces her to react in the form of ‘Jupiter’s thunder’, ‘To chastise the astray sons, And the daughters’. Kushal, like a true ecologist feels that nature reacts, even if violently, to restore environmental balance and asserts her existence independent of man’s control and thoughts about nature.
The awareness about ecology that proposes happy co-existence of the human and the natural world, these poets assert, leads to an appreciation of the moral and the spiritual faculties of man. Instead of treating nature as something dead and lifeless, its role as a living organism has to be considered. For this, ecologists emphasize that a change of our attitude towards nature and the way we use it is a must for a better civilization: “Deep ecology proposes drastic changes in
our habits of consumption, not only to avert catastrophe but as spiritual and moral awakening” (Waugh 2006:36). These ideas imply that the way we ‘consume’ i.e. use nature ultimately has a deep impact on our lives. D.C. Chambial’s poem ‘This Promising Age’ brings out the consequences of our plundering of nature and destroying it to develop stony structures:
Brooks and parks Mysteriously disappeared in the forced isolation
as glass aquaria stepped into
a room of hundredth storey steel house (Chambial,2004:7)
The poet also hints at the degeneration that our plundering of nature results in :
Passions degenerated into mechanized smiles while coming and going
lips frigid to flowery kisses
inside the tube (Chambial,2004:7).
All these result in the emergence of ‘synthetic cultures and ideals’. Lacking an awareness of the possible results of our misdirected use of nature people fall into a trap of taking the virtual for the real. Such an attitude hampers moral and spiritual growth.
People’s misunderstanding that leads them to take virtual for the real is the result of their estrangement from nature. It has brought degeneration into human relationships. Even the most sacred relation between the mother and child gets impacted due to the excessive and unethical use of technology. The natural process of giving birth to a child informs moral depravity when we find:
A business minded mother decides to be pregnant
for those who do not want
to lose their shape (Chambial,2004:8)
It marks the height of moral depravity that has entered the natural human process of procreation. Apart from this, a loss of concern for values introduces an unhealthy trend in motherly affection and the attitude towards the mother. Kushal expresses the synthetic nature of this relationship that shows people’s misplaced concern for values: Now even a mother has become an ornamental object. Our attitude that sees nature only in terms of its use value has also impacted an understanding of parent –child relationship pointed out by the poet in ‘Sanitized mother’:
Please take real mothers away Substitute please
I am not asking for The real mothers
I want a mother
With a smile pasted on her face
Looks moist, face angelic (Kushal, 2005:38) And to cater to this demand, the other persona in the poem offers;
The mother you may display In your drawing room
And show all those
Who matter not (Kushal, 2005:38)
Ironically, this attitude speaks of our replacement of plastic flowers for the real ones in our drawing rooms. It shows how our understanding of nature has an extremely decisive role that influences our thinking about human relationships. Instead of the real, man prefers the plastic, artificial and the unnatural. This view is further strengthened when we see that the ‘sanitized mother’ here is more of a picture or an image of the mother that one cherishes in accordance with the requirements of the business world. The child here wants to decide the kind of mother that suits his social status. Just like human beings treat nature as something to be used according to their requirements. In both the cases, the ‘other’ i.e. the mother and the Mother Nature are treated as objects.
The implied similarities in human attitude and treatment of nature and the understanding of human relationships indicate that human existence is tied to nature in multiple ways. The poems of D.C. Chambial and Kulbhushan Kushal support this view through the assertion of an interconnection between all lives. The presence of nature in its various forms in the poetry of these writers shows how it plays an active role in human life. In their poetry, “The non-human environment is present not merely as a framing device but as a presence that begins to suggest that human history is implicated in natural history” (Buell 1995:7). These poets seem to suggest that all species on this earth have sanctity of their own and there exists an inseparable bond between them.
Another belief that the two poets seem to share about nature and the non-human world that surrounds us is that, “non-human others have their own value and humans cannot judge them based on their knowledge about them.” (Kumaran, 2009: 16.). The attitude based on human
knowledge about nature and animals alienates them from the non-human world and humans tend to degrade them or take them as something fixed and taken for granted. These poets try to add a different perception by highlighting the value of these objects of nature through the idea of the existence of a bond between man and nature as well as man and the animals. They do not treat these entities as just trees, rivers earth or dogs and cats as they believe that animals and trees etc also have their own grace.
Kushal’s poem ‘Intimate Strangers’ reveals that man may be blind to his relation with his surroundings and behave like a stranger, but there does exist an intimate relation between man and nature, only man has to develop an awareness to realize this . Kushal talks about a symbiotic relation between man and trees in attempt to resolve the doubts, ‘How I am related with the trees’ when he suggests the nature of their common responses:
But I have seen them trembling When there is an earthquake
I have seen them frightened When the lightning
Strikes across the skies I have seen them.
Lost in deep meditation (Kushal, 2008:27)
Similarly, Chambial’s poem ‘Manacles’ shows similarity of attitudes between human beings and animals:
Do not make me a pet like a bird in a cage Or puppy in the lap Nor enthrall
in the manacles
Of your freedom ((Chambial, 2004:36)
The enslavements that man does not like to experience are also abhorred by animals. In similar situations, the humans and the non-humans undergo the some kind of humiliation and helplessness.
The non-human world that surrounds human life has the potential to provide meaningful messages to man. This world also serves the purpose of comparison that brings new awareness and has the ability to provide moral lessons. The world of nature is not merely an object of
observation or limited to spectacular scenes only that human beings have often taken it to be. The words of Berger that animals, “…are always the observed. The fact that they can observe us has lost all significance” (Berger 1980), point out the centralized way of thinking that people have about the world of nature. According to these views humans are treated to be the centre and the animals and natural objects as the ‘other’. D.C. Cambial‘s poem ‘The Difference’ contests this view based on binary understanding. In this poem, the creatures like hen tend to acquire the central position as the human mother is suggested to learn motherly lessens from hen. A hen scares away the cat from her chicken whereas in the human world, A cat
seizes the bowl of milk from the hands of a baby
whose father drudges in office the mother at the type-writer, dreams to spend the evening
at some fashionable discotheque
and listen to music. (Chambial, 2004:72).
In his poem, ‘Dogs’ Kushal also suggests to shun stereotypical attitude indicated by Berger in the earlier quoted lines. The poet emphasizes the evolvement of a different perception concerning human attitude towards animals like dogs: Instead of treating them as observed we should also treat them as observing us:
Dogs may laugh at us At our contrived faces At our gullibility
As we believe We are sleeping
And they are awake! (Kushal, 2008:58).
Kushal’s view about the harmony between man and nature, seeks a symbiosis between the two. Their happy co-existence and a healthy balance evolve in Kushal’s poetry as a form of eco- dharma. His poetry thus can be seen as a prayer for the welfare of the whole universe. This universal welfare can be achieved, Kushal seems to convey in his poetry, through the promotion of awareness about the role of ecology and nature in human life. This becomes a kind of new dharma in the contemporary scenario as Skolimowski avers, “True Prayer and true meditation in our time becomes ecological prayer–such a form of meditation and action which helps to heal the planet which helps to heal other human beings, which helps to heal all other beings–including the forests, soil and polluted rivers.”(Skolimowski, 1999: 14) Conforming to the ideas of eco-
dharma Kushal ironically prays to the elements of nature to remain away from human beings as they have become aliens to nature:
We are aliens
Alienated beings (Kushal, 2008:35)
And man’s alienation has corrupted him to the extent that his proximity with nature invariably obliterates it. Therefore the poet with a concern for their sanctity prays to the elements of nature:
We pray to you
Please stay away from us
Our touch shall temper your heat Shall steal your warmth
And shall rob your sacredness ((Kushal, 2008: 37)
This ecological prayer of the poet seeks to keep the purity of the seasons, trees, rivers, sky and the earth. It shows his condemnation of man’s exploitation of nature. Due to the technological advancement man feels empowered to use nature without bothering about the consequences and its degenerating impact on nature. Man’s unconcern for nature that results from his treatment of nature as dead objects plays havoc with it. Kushal indirectly makes a plea to treat nature as a living organism. He is highly critical of the attitude expressed in these lines:
We eat what you give And in turn we pollute Your heavenly stretch
With our curses (Kushal, 2008: 36)
The poet treats human beings as unworthy of living in touch with nature as they fail to be grateful for the gifts that nature bestows on us. Man’s attitude that shows his dominating and oppressive attitude towards nature goes against Eco-justice that envisions underlying equality between human as well as non-human worlds.
Eco critics also highlight nature culture divide as a source of man’s troubles and sufferings. The divisions amongst human beings based on different cultural systems are human constructions. The traits associated with the ‘high’ and the ‘low’, good and the bad or civilized and the uncivilized are not in accordance with the plan of nature. Nature here is perceived as a divine force that nourishes and governs all forms of life in terms of equality. The treatment of difference in human beings on the basis of these cultural constructs is not fundamental, transcendental or ‘natural’. According to these perceptions peace is not the purpose of culture but nature that sees no differences and follows no discriminations:
No men strangers, no land foreign;
Everywhere shine the same sun and moon; The spring brings buds and flowers forth The clouds rain, the birds sing, Rivers flow And air blows. Meddle not with their course.
We want peace. Give us peace. (Chambial, 2004:60).
How human intervention and exploitation of nature prompts nature to react in order to establish ecological balance forms another major concern of these poets. The natural calamities, these poets feel, are a kind of reaction that nature expresses. The disturbance in the basic harmony is disliked by nature. It is there not as something passive and dead. It has its own values and norms apart from its usefulness to man. Talking about the floods, Kushal expresses this view about nature:
The floods are here again To remind us
How our anarchy has robbed
The peace of the earth. (Kushal, 2005:59)
The happenings like floods and earthquakes also form a kind of warning and reminder that how our ears have stopped
Listening to the music Of water, fore, earth
Either and wind. (Kushal, 2005:59)
The contemporary human culture has destroyed nature to such an extent that even the human existence on this earth stands endangered. With little regard for rehabilitation or restoration of the nature and ecology that has been destroyed man has turned into a parasite. He knows how to extract maximum benefits from nature without ever thinking to give her back its due. According to Eugene P Odum, “Until now man has generally acted as a parasite on his autotropic environment, taking what he needs with little regard to the welfare of the host.”(Odum, 1995:233) Man’s ingratitude towards his environment, ecology and nature has destroyed his surroundings beyond recognition and this has the potential to cause great harm to human civilization. Eugene P Odum also suggests, “If man does not learn to live mutualistically with nature then like the unadapted parasite he may exploit his host to the point of destroying himself” (Odum,1995: 233). Similar situation is presented in D.C. Chambial’s poem, ‘Testimony’ in which we find:
To satiate inner urge a super-scientist
in a super-lab
fired life ! (Chambial, 2004:76).
But ultimately ‘Super-Scylla’ created by this scientist ran out, ‘devouring and devastating’ when non-left, recalled upon father, to satiate the devil in stomach (76). It shows how human tendency to rob, dominate, exploit and destroy nature may ultimately destroy all these things and human beings too. .
Thus these poets express their awareness about the dangers that human race has to encounter due to excessive plundering of nature and contamination of environment. At the same time they express a firm faith in an inseparable bond and harmony between human world and the environment that surrounds it. Their major poetic achievement here lies in expressing this concern without a specific consideration for geo-political terms. Another special feature of their poetry in this connection is their contribution to our perception about the human and the non- human world. Instead of simply extending and intensifying our perceptions through the use of poetic devices like images, symbols, rhythm etc. to defamiliarize the familiar, they insert new reality orientations to our perceptions. It becomes a potent poetic mode in both these poets. These elements certainly point out the shift that contemporary Indian-English Poetry is headed towards that will certainly broaden its horizons extending from the Indian to the global.
Notes and References
Buell Lawrence (1995) Environmental Imagination: Thoreau , Nature Writing and the Formation of American Culture . London : Princeton University Press.
Berger, J. (1980) About Looking , Penguin: London
Chambial , D.C. (2004) Collected Poems(1979-2004) Poetcrit Publications: Maranda
Kumaran ,S. “Eco-dharma in Chandrasekhar Kambar’s Tukra’s Dream”, in Pragati’s English Journal Vol.2.December 2009
Kushal, Kulbhushan (2005) Rainbow on Rocks, Nirman Publications: Jalandhar.
……………………. (2008) Songs of Silence, Nirman Publications : Jalandhar
Odum, Eugene P. (1995) Fundamentals of Ecology, Dehra Dun : Natraj Publishers
Skolimowski, Henryk(1999) Dharma Ecology And Wisdom In The Third Millennium , New Delhi : Concept Publishing Company Waugh, Patricia (2006) Literary Theory and Criticism: An Oxford Guid