Confusions of a Young Indian Poet
Recent incidents all over the country open an old debate about the role of the intellectuals in the society. There is a direct fight going on and there is a tension between state machinery and dissenting intellectuals. It seems, a big shift in understanding of power equation is imminent and may be the tendency will be more towards totalitarianism.
Where do I stand as a poet? That is one question I am not getting an easy answer. Collectively, the intellectuals (not in the Gramscian term) consisting writers, artists and opinion maker whose voices together are strong are part of democracy as an opposition – I am not talking as of them. I, as individual with poetic faculty, humble political understanding, secular unscrupulous mind – where do I stand? Collectivism, I understand can give me a sense of safety, but how my art will be part of that becoming more confusing. Poetics and Rhetoric lost the separate entity long ago, from the time of European Renaissance, and we after colonial cultural syncretisation cannot avoid that, otherwise the whole question of democracy and individual right and freedom become meaningless. So the age old debate of poets dilemma comes back, am I to write in language of existing politics, and write with social concern or be something of a recluse and create my work from a distance?
One may ask, why bother? It is nothing but a choice of an individual. But what lay behind the choice is a matter of concern. I spent my apprenticeship as a poet to master the tropes, but now the idea of trope is no more that simple. Tropes are mere tool that we use, but what the end product means depends on how our socio-political and cultural ideas already formed. So what we try to communicate is also dependant on the ideas of the reader. It is removed from my idea when the ‘misreadings’ or readers’ creative constructs of my text happen. So the first problem I face is that can I control these ‘misreadings’? if not then is there a possible direct way of creative writing catering to the need of the contemporary social concerns?
Rhetoric classically means persuasive speech. According to Merriam-Webster Rhetoric is – 1. The art or skill of speaking or writing formally and effectively especially as a way to persuade or influence people; 2. Language that is intended to influence people and that may not be honest or reasonable.
Poetics we know classically an imitative art, and thus when this binary of Poetics/Rhetoric comes into our mind how feeble we feel in front of it.
This may sound self contradictory, if I say this is also questionable, as it can also be taken as a personal construct of mine. An urban youth of nineties of the last century, which saw the fall of Communism and had deep distrust for Bureaucratic-Left can be said to be fed by the tenets of neo-liberalism. It may be deep rooted inside thus bringing out a defence mechanism for his bourgeoisie mindset. But this contradiction is not to be chided, as I see this is not an unique problem. Poets for long faced this contradiction. Any idea which though progressive, must not be treated linearly.
Let’s take example of Tagore, the play Raktakarabi (Red Oleander) he himself said is charged with the social considerations. He wrote about the ‘menace of organization’ and how his play is a commentary, but again he refuses to call it propaganda. He writes ‘I trust to have the right to evoke it in my own play, not in the spirit of a politician, but of a poet, possibly a lyrical poet.’ (The Visva Bharati Quarterly, October 1925). He was very much aware this play might be politically interpreted and his intension of creating a poem out of Human nature may get lost. It is foolish to think that Tagore was not politically aware person, but he was more aware perhaps about this binary of Poetics/Rhetoric.
Tagore questioned progressive idea of his times like nationalism, patriotism and never took the easy way. Thus he remains one of the sound political thinker of his time as well as one of the greatest writer. But do we have the same conviction or becoming mere rhetorician and puppet of the system?
When I think of political, social responsibility and try to take a stance (not as a person but in the practical business of writing) I get to understand the self defeating nature of my endeavour. The problem is firstly with the tropes – whose language am I using? If it is bound by my class, my cultural milieu, then am I not addressing to a specific section? That cannot reach to the ‘other’ I am targeting. If the target is not the other then why should I write at all?
Second problem is the media I am using to spread my creative effort. Is it not from the beginning biased against the people I am standing for?
So the idea of overtly political or socially concerned poetry seems very confusing.
Amidst this deep personal doubt, there is a chilling situation someone like me faces. It is a kind of everyday inquisition – which side are you on? And this is not an inner turmoil but a real existing pressure. In this age of Social Media one cannot really stay away from the public glare if he is not a total recluse and that too will be seen as an aberration and not usual. Yet someone like me who was never involved in direct activism, who happens to gather and understand about it from second-hand information (press, pamphlet, activist friends) is present virtually in the same field due to the social media. Thus there is a certain pressure of taking side instantaneously. And more importantly to engage in it by own creative effort. As a writer often I fear my writing can become muck by this rush. It is the problem the neo-capitalist corporate system creating for us, and I dare say deliberately.
A poet or any artist cannot only be a reactive person, nature of his work differs from mass product in this respect. This new system engaging us into a position where our creative work is dictated by the speed, the reaction quotient, the fanning out to the public – and ironically through the same channels used by them and thus doubly profitable to them. Few days ago a friend asked me to read Hind Swaraj by Gandhi. I found one very interesting remark about his aversion to the modern machinery especially the railways. He said, “Good travels at a snail’s pace—it can, therefore, have little to do with the railways. Those who want to do good are not selfish, they are not in a hurry, they know that to impregnate people with good requires a long time. But evil has wings.”
I am not saying I totally believe what he said about the modern world, but yes there is some valid point. Are we riding on ‘evil’s wing’ thinking it as a deliverer? Even if I reject Gandhi as an idealist utopian, I cannot reject the very idea of the manner we are forced into reacting. And I am not alone, Kundera in his novel ‘Slowness’ tried to point out this. He termed this as our ‘Kitsch’ reaction.
It is my fear that asking me to question which seems good. For somehow I learned not to believe in the rhetoric (isn’t it natural for any writer however bad, ‘cause that is his tread). I am more afraid of my knavery than anything else. Yes I am, like many others from my class and social milieu cannot be trusted blindly. Why am I taking side directly in my writing, is it because it is really something I believe or understand that I can portray, my art can hold it, metamorphose it in its unique language or is it some base ambition of gathering brownie points to be shown for scholarship, fund, awards etc.
These are important questions if poetry or any art in this country have to remain independent and not become something like the production system of Bollywood films, which however brings out ‘Hatke’ or alternative flicks, remain a pretension system which is detrimental to independence of art.
Subhadip Maitra also writes short stories. His Story was selected for Shunya Doshoker Golpo Sangraha, an anthology of Bengali Short stories of first decade of this century. He has attended short story workshop of Kahani Punjab at Dalhousie on 2014. His poetries, short stories and essays have been published in various magazines and web journals of India, Bangladesh and USA. Sahitya Academy’s journal Indian Literature published his poems and translation works.