AESTHETICS AND POLITICS
Great poets sensitize us, inspire us. At a time when in the name of ‘nationalism’ critical voices are suspected, it is important to invoke the poetry of resistance—its aesthetics, its politics, its pedagogic possibility.
Ritu Sinha teaches Sociology and lives in Delhi. Her keen interest in historical sociology has led her to explore social processes of religion, education, Hindu nationalism, gender, language, etc. She is curious towards political sociology and aims at developing sociological understanding of politics and art.
The discourses on nationalist imaginings, the dialectics of tradition and modernity, and dilemmas of socio-political transformations have attracted a wide array of responses in the sphere of social sciences. These are always enriching, provided new perspectives, analysis and fodder for thinking anew, but also leave us with unsettling questions when theories encounter everyday living and experience. This theoretical space or lacuna necessitates the political relevance of creative artistic and literary expressions, and intersects most creatively in the realm of everydayness. The void is bridged with ease, answering questions of social theory, responding to immense transformations and also performing the task of philosophical teachings or texts. Internal to all literary expressions— whether different forms of novel, poetry, autobiography, prose, plays— are theoretical structures, religious, narratives and aspirations for change. The new changed world acquires shape and constructs a reality to be dream and experienced.
Poetry as literary and artistic expression is winged dreams of change and resistance giving remarkable flight to all human emotions abound by optimism. Amidst time of desperation and bitter violent struggles, poetry showered hope, faith and love and offered new meanings to intimacy and romance. Nonetheless, it is also about pessimism, agony and remorse. Altering the landscape of self referential, beauty oriented poems enamored with metaphors catering to aesthetic sensibilities of certain kind—when the face of moon was also seen as tilted and with scar, when a new chapter of poetic expressions stunned the readers with refreshing romance with humankind— poetry showcased dreams of liberation and change. Engulfing lives of ordinary people in a manner to reflect on the purities and impurities of human conditions, its symbols, artifacts, when poetry is seen adopting metaphors like “blood of children flow out on the street/like…like the blood of children” and when it contemplated people’s rendezvous with modernity, it romanced with politics of transformation. Poetry as a form of literary expression then acquired the potential to speak and constitute what we understand as Gramscian ‘common sense’.
Such traditions of poetry across the world have shown footprints of history with cultural imaginings, lived moments of its period and envisioned future of transformed social relations and societies. Therefore, it shaped and also sculpted itself like any other creative expression in the moments of resistance and change of all kinds whether breaking silence over certain regressive practices like racism, apartheid or against oppressive conditions of fascism, colonialism and militarism or reclamation of revolutionary change. Its form as verse or sonnets or lyrics, etc. with a practical edge of being easily performed, recited or reproduced and yet to be most forcefully convincing of individual or collective affirmations and struggles, enabled it to emerge as most popular form of literary expression to be adopted by great revolutionaries and romantic communists like Brecht, Lorka, Hikmet, Neruda, Roque Dalton or activists revealing repressed truths, like Maya Angelou, Adrienne Rich, Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde and others.
In colonial and third world societies, amidst multitudes of human oppression by fellow humans, natural catastrophes, shades of poverty and hunger, displacement, powerlessness, cultural denunciation, and as a result the rise of nationalist imaginings, brought vernacular literature and language to the forefront and its creative usages as cultural resistance. The polyglot Indian subcontinent repudiated the cultural reform-ism of colonialism with exceedingly prolific vernacular literary utterances. The cultural resistance to colonialism and nationalist struggles evolved with consistent incessant flow of literary narratives in vernacular languages. Hindi emerged as the dominant vernacular language, developed its literature with definite nationalist overtones, and gave expression to the liberation and freedom movement against British imperialism. Beginning from the spurt of political consciousness after 1857, changes with Russian revolution, socialism and rise of anti-imperial struggles worldwide and growing nationalist sentiments vented the radical thoughts of freedom and liberation against British imperialism, resulting into diverse political assertion by 1920s. Gradually by 1930s the literary narratives absorbed concerns for the plight of common people facing inequalities and discriminations subsequently arising with colonial intervention in trade and commerce. 1930s saw a spurt of writings in Urdu, Hindi and other vernaculars that redefined the idea of radical and progressive writing. With common themes of nationalism, social reform and anti-colonial struggles from 1920s, the 30s brought anti-religion, agnostic or irreligious vision in the realm of radical thought, and expanded resistance from state to socio-religious indigenous social structures fostering a certain moral and ethical world based on segregation and inequity. The publication of famous Urdu collection of short stories ‘Angarey’ in 1932 and emergence of Progressive Writers Movement set the tone and tenor for socio-political consciousness and sowed dreams of social transformations emphasizing links between literature, resistance, revolution and change. Writers and poets from different vernacular languages under the guidance of literary stalwarts of the time like, Tagore, Iqbal, Narendra Dev and others turned their attention towards realist, people-oriented literature with the aim of socio-political change and with a popular appeal for nation building and progress. Neruda wrote in 1940 responding to the plunder of Latin American natural resources by American capitalist firms:
Their obese emperors
from New York are suave
who buy silk, nylon, cigars,
petty tyrants and dictators.
They buy countries, people, seas,
police, county councils,
distant regions where
the poor hoard their corn
like misers their gold.
Its reverberations shook the world and enthused poets world over to produce poetry as a tool of resistance and revolt. In India, Progressive Writers movement and later Indian People’s theatre Association in 1943 created a whole generation of poets, writers, playwrights, cultural activists, film makers, who contributed significantly with their works to shape popular political consciousness and pro-people culture with strong commitments of nation-building on socialist ideas.
It is crucial to mention that before commencement of khari-boli Hindi in north India and rise of poets writing on socio-political change and resistance, the most readily quoted poets amongst north Indian poets is famous bhakti-poet Kabir, who revolted against the structured religion of Hindus and Muslims, caste- based temples and mosques for personal formless gods: Listen carefully, Neither the Vedas, Nor the Quran/ Will teach you this: Put the bit in its mouth/The saddle on its back, Your foot in the stirrup/And ride your wild runaway mind, All the way to heaven. Kabir in twentieth century is identified as the radical poet proclaiming plurality and syncretism over narrow religious divisions. The twentieth century khari boli Hindi poets also asserted coexistence, syncretism and pluralistic traditions in free India and resisted colonial attempts of religious divide. Nirala writes in 1946, ‘The King got away’, […], Religion was encouraged, so was treachery.
A holy war was fought.
A river of blood flowed.
The people shed their eyes and bathed in it.
Their eyes opened. The king got away.
The anti-colonial Hindi poetry exalted India’s civilizational glory (Ayodhya Singh Hariaudh, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar and Shyam Narayan Pandey) and had renderings of nationalist religious overtones like Maithili Sharan Gupt’s “Bharat Bharti”(1912) and Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’ (1930), and Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’s, nationalist imaginings in search of reinvention of energy against colonialism in “Ram ki Shakti Pooja (1936). The progressive writers movement impacted on the subject with new concerns by bringing class division as social reality, when we see Nirala soon in 1937 writing, “Patthar Todati”(1937): Besides a road in Allahabad,
I saw her,
No tree to give her shade, A dark skin
She brought down the heavy hammer
Again and Again, as though it was
A weapon in her hand.
Across the road-
A row of trees, high walls,
The mansion of the rich. […]
He brought complexities of Indian traditions, memories of past but also problematized the tradition with absence of struggles of working class. Further, Shamsher Bahadur Singh in 1945 writes, “Vaam Vaam Vaam Disha” with a strong message of left politics, resisting dominant articulations of Hindu pasts as cultural alternative and bringing cultural narratives of working class and formulation of Independent India representing the dreams of poor and common people. The other poets like Trilochan, Sarveshwar Dayal Saksena, Dhoomil also contributed significantly. Sudama Pandey Dhoomil’s anthology titled ‘Sansad se sadak tak’ created ripples and he strongly commented on petty bourgeois leaders in a modern nation; he wrote:
There’s nothing I have done
For the city to commission
A bust in my honor,
At whose unveiling
Its wise citizens
Must waste a whole day.
I have sat in a corner of my dinner plate
And lived my ordinary life.
Meanwhile, Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, a Marathi by birth but renowned Hindi poet with extraordinary talent from central India, laid the foundations of Central India Progressive writers association in Ujjain, organized anti-fascist writers conference in 1944 and constantly mingled with workers and laborers while surviving as teacher by profession. Muktibodh’s poem ‘Andhere Mein’ is one of the remarkable commentary on history of masses and a burning hot iron like document of pre and post independence India. As Shamsher describes, this poem beautifully depicts the harmony of individual and masses and layered emotions and aspirations for the real liberation of the country, its sky and air surrounding its land. The poem is also referred as Picasso’s ‘ Guernica in Verse’. Overflowing with romanticism yet realist and modern in nature this poem resonates and stands equal to the structure and form of Mayakovasky and Walt Whitmen’s poems. “Kaale-kaale ghodon par khaki military dress/chehre ka aadha bhag sinduri gerua/aadha bhag koltari bhairav/aabdar!! Kandhe se kamar tak kartoosi belt hai tircha./rosh bhari ekagradrishti me dhaar hai/karnal, brigadier, general, marshal/kai aur senapati adhyaksha/chehre ve mere jaane boojhe se lagte,/unke chitra samacharpatron me chape the, unke lekh dekhe the,/yahan tak ki kavitayein padhin thi/ bhai vaah!” (on State’s violent repression and its celebration). Giving primary emphasis to direct concrete human experience and rejection of unduly primacy to aesthetics and beauty over true and genuine concerns of human conditions, defined Muktibodh’s poetry that genuinely idealized the society free of human bondage. He writes in his poem ‘Error’:
Before them is a man,
Tall his face slashed,
His hands shackled,
His body covered in garden creeper
Of still fresh blood marks.
Truth is in custody.
Fearless he meets the royal eyes
With eyes that crackle with lightening; then silence.
Poets and Sufis,
Al Ghazali, Ibn Sina, Alberuni,
Grammarians, captains, generals,
All are silent.
In the wake of Muktibodh’s death in 1960s, his poems acquired centrality in Hindi literary world giving rise to new era in Hindi poetry. Nazim Hikmet’s epic novel in verses ‘Human landscapes, the beat generation of American poetry, vehement opposition of American attack on Vietnam with the popular slogan of ‘My name, your name Vietnam’, rise of poetry of resistance across the world, Allen Ginsberg journey to India, the rise Beatles, all these developments contributed to new phase of Hindi poetry of resistance in 60s. On the other hand, disillusionment with Nehruvian model of nation-building and development, the deployment of emergency, Ram Manohar Lohia’s anti-establishment views, the revolutionary spirit of Naxalbari movement that revolutionized the Bengal’s Hungry generation, Naked Writer’s association in Telgu, the Dalit Panther movement in Marathi poetry and many such seemingly imminent changes in the cultural and political sphere altered the face of Hindi poetry. Translations of Paash in Hindi left indelible impact on poets of Hindi heartland. Paash, one of the finest Punjabi poets of their time voice his struggle for change with his powerful poetry against fundamentalism, separatism and police repression. Paash, popularly known as Lorka of Punjab, was sent to jail several times and was considered the dangerous poet by the state. He wrote about hundred and thirty poems and one of his most popular collection of poem “Beech ka raasta nahi hota”, that appeared in 80s, instilled new zeal for resistance, commitment to fight against oppression and the necessity of giving no consolation to individualist opportunism and ignorance. Paash popularized meaningfulness of political radicalism and people’s dream for transformation. The shared dream of liberation, of connectedness of one being to the other and the society as commune sharing immense love and passion for familial and national bondings, made Paash the favorite poets for millions who shared similar passion, loved their country, its land and people. He wrote: “Mehnat ki loot khatarnak nahi hoti, Police ki maar khatarnak nahi hoti, Gaddari lobh ki mutthi sabse khatarnak nahi hoti/ baithe-bithai pakde jana bura to hai, sehmi si chup me jakde jana- bur to hai par sanse khatarnak nahi hota/sabse khatarnak hota hai, murda shanti se bhar jana, na hona tadap ka, sab sehan kar jana, ghar se nikalna kaam par, aur kaam se laut kar ghar jaana, sabse khatarnak hota hai hamare sapno ka mar jana.” Paash ignited and rekindled the passion to dream to breathe in a real free world of Muktibodh, to learn to resist, inspired to tread the path for social transformation with a message loud and clear “Beech ka rasta nahi hota”(there is no middle path to be taken).
The Hindi poetry that appeared during this time had its borrowing from such cerebral waves of that time and was swept with anti state articulations and oppositions to power structures. In the 70s it witnessed and recorded the political and violent outburst of all kinds and sharpened its language style and form with realist underpinnings. It is here, that Indian subcontinent experienced the presence of another astonishing people’s poet, Gorakh Pandey. He wrote, “Hamari stithi sirf oopar se faile andhakar ke beech nahi hai, hum neeche se utpeedit logon ke sangharsh se phootati hui raushani ke beech me bhi ji rahe hain aur kavita sirf andhakar ke bare me nahi, andhakar ko todne wali raushani ke aujaron ke bare me bhi likhi ja rahi hai aur likhi jayegi.” He discusses that poetry is not all about darkness and also has to be written as symbol of struggle against darkness and tool to fight oppression. While he develops sensibleness for experimental phase of Hindi poetry and themes of individualism in new Hindi poetry, he also features revolting voices of Kabir and Mira in his poetic expressions. Following the tradition of Muktibodh and many others, he vehemently evolves critique of the literature which disassociated with masses and people’s aspirations. Post Naxalbari, his poems are bristling with revolutionary spirit and are primarily poems of freedom- from oppression, exploitation and bondage. The imaginings of emancipation, true to its core, reveals itself in these lines, ‘Azadi tum jeevan ka saara pyaar ho’ (Independence is love of life), ‘Mehnat ke haathon se azadi ki sadkein dhalein’(with hands of hardwork, the roads of freedom get moulded), ‘gulamia ab nahi bajaibo, azadiya hamara ke bhavele’ (will not be bonded since I enjoy freedom), ‘Sapne bhi sukhi aur azad hona chahte hain’(dreams also want to experience happiness and freedom), etc. For Gorakh poems are companions in the struggle for freedom and if peasants, laborers and women are residents of his poetry it is not so that he completely distances from middle classes though he fights against petty bourgeois ideology most vociferously. Gorakh sung his poetry with his friends and comrades and made extensive use of folk narratives, metaphors and traditions. With distinct ideological resistance in his poetry his purpose remained to reach the ordinary, for freedom in everyday practices and rituals and to convey a possibility of egalitarian relationships. Through his poetry he led his struggles against patriarchy, social divisions, brahminical laws, dominant bourgeois power relations, institutions of civil society, feudalism, bureaucracy and other repressive practices that transmitted social practices of exclusion and prejudice. ‘Ankhey dekh ke’ expresses such repression. It says,
Yeh Ankhey hain tumhari,
Takleef ka umadta hua samandar
Is duniya ko
Jitni jaldi ho
Badal dena chahiye.
Another one describing the orthodox religious patriarchal rituals: ‘Buwa ke liye’, a story of a very common member of every village, every family in countryside and even in middle class families.
Tumhare chehre par ugi
Ghani jhurriyon ke peeche jhankta hoon
Aur takleef ki salvation me badlate
Saal dar saal ke aaeene me
Ek kam umr ki ladki dekhta hoon
Jiski maang se sindoor pocha jar aha hai
Haathon ki chudiyan todi ja rahi hain
Gavana hone se pehle
Jiske sahare ki akeli lakadi toot gayi hai
Jo ab moorchit hokar gir padi hai.
[..] santan dharm ka ek abhishap
[..] hamare liye tum ma ho
[..] Aakhir kyon sabki barabari me
tumhe yakin nahi hota?
Bolo, chup mat raho.
With several such poems Gorakh unearthed the subjugated structural ugly truth and stifled emotions woven intricately in the everydayness of mundane living. His poems surfaced muted voices of millions and promised help in exigencies by becoming overt expressions of subdued unwillingness to accept any form of servitude. In the present world when passion for revolution and change are on back foot, and left on the whole is dealing complexity of caste question by shouting ‘jai bheem’ along with ‘laal salaam’, Gorakh’s famous lines, ‘Hamari khawahishon ka naam inqlab hai, hamari khwahishon ka sarvanam inqlab hai, hamari koshishon ka naam inqlab hai, khatam ho loot kis tarah jawab inqlab hai, khatam ho kis tarah sitam jawab inqalab hai, hamare har sawal ka jawab inqalab hai, sabhi purani takaton ka naam inqlab hai.’; echoes in our ear, on drumbeats louder and louder, vents our frustration and relives our tormented soul so to fight Rohit Vemulla and to answer all questions of nations and nationality.
Poets like, Manglesh Dabral, Viren Dangwal, Asad Zaidi, Nilabh, Alok Dhanwa, Kuber Dutt, and many others belong to the radical left progressive writers association, Jan Sanskriti Manch and continue to enrich the vast terrain of Hindi poetry since 1980s. Their poetry undertakes criticism of the bourgeois political parties, caste and class and responded to historical events like Babri Masjid Demolition, Gujarat Massacre and other incidents of state repression. It is important to point out however, that the shift towards needs of urban middle classes and distancing from the working poor peasants of rural India is visible in these poets. The shifting contours of nation, globalization and the workers, peasants and women of neo-liberal state have still not surfaced with strong resonance in their poetry. The rise of Dalit Hindi poetry perhaps is accepting the challenges of resistance and poetry. Yet the contributions of these poets are remarkable highlighting the false consciousness in the Marxian sense and exposing the anti-secular state’s interventions in redefining the regular harmonious existence of the masses.
Manglesh Dabral makes confessions of changing times and addresses the crisis of present time. In his famous poem ‘Letter to Children’, he responds to the crisis and also spreads hope. The lines of the poem are:
“Dear children, we could do nothing for you. You wanted us to join in your games, and you wanted to play ours, you wanted us to become innocent like yourselves.
Dear children, we told you living was a war without end. We sharpened the knives and were the first to use them. Hatred and anger made us blind. Dear children we lied to you.This has been a long night, long as a tunnel, and though the view outside is clouded, we hear the weeping. Children forgive us for sending you there. We lied when we said life was a battleground.”
The poems on Babri Masjid expressed lost of hope in a modern rationalist world and surfaces bold voices of dissent towards state led acrimony and conflict. Rajesh Joshi write, “Mein Hindu hoon aur sharminda hoon, Mein Hindu tha aur sharminda tha, [..]” Another one by Kuber Dutta demonstrates the big jolt on decaying syncretic pluralist tradition of north India leading to intolerance and Hindu euphoria. It is called ‘Bakar Mia’:
banate the khadaoon Ayodhya me
Khadaoon jati thi mandiron mein
Ram ji shukraguzar the Bakar Mian
Allah bhi khush tha
Uske bande ko mil raha tha
Namaz aur samaj Ayodhya me
Ek din jala di gayi
Bakar Miyan ki dukan
Jal gayi khadaoon tamam
Mandiron tak jana tha jinhe
The Hindi poetry and its romance with change and transformation express multiple shades of style and form responding to the socio-political changes and weaves different narratives of political intervention, cultural assertions of local and shared practices and appear as a strong voice for downtrodden masses.
IMAGE : MUKTIBODH
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