P.C.K. Prem’s History of Contemporary Indian English Poetry: An Appraisal, Volume I. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2019. Pp. 740. Price: Rs. 2900 | $ 150. HB. ISBN 978-93-89110-11-0031
P.C.K. Prem’s History of Contemporary Indian English Poetry: An Appraisal, Volume II. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2019. Pp. 679. Price: Rs. 2500 | $ 125. HB. ISBN 978-93-89110-11-1
P.C.K. Prem, a former academician, civil servant and member of the Public Service Commission, Himachal Pradesh, India, is a renowned author of more than fifty-five books—poetry, novels, short stories, criticism–in English and Hindi. He has now come out with his second amazing critical book on Indian English Poetry in two volumes after his monumental monograph, English Poetry in India: A Comprehensive Survey of Trends and Thought Patterns published by Authorspress, New Delhi in 2011. I have been fortunate to be part of both these books as my poetry is discussed in detail in both, along with several others. I also contributed a long introduction to the first book.
The present book under review has two volumes, the first one carrying 740 pages and the second 679. Both volumes are superb in appearance—capturing cover pages, superior quality papers used, excellent layout and very good binding with hard covers. Many congratulations to the reputed publisher Shri Sudarshan Kcherry of Authorspress, New Delhi. What distinguishes P.C.K. Prem from other critics is that he uses a narrative style entirely different and appealing. His is an exploration of poetic ages and poets both chronologically and thematically, with sub chapters and telling captions for each poet detailed. Just by looking at the contents pages one can learn a lot about the book and the poets. Prem has taken utmost care and pains in collecting the material and moulding it into these magnificent volumes. The groundwork he has done on nearly 200 poets in these volumes is marvelous. He has meticulously gone through almost all the poetic collections of these poets before writing on them. He has given sufficient quotes from their poems and even without reading any poem of any poet one can get a good idea of the poet’s style, contents and themes.
Let me begin the review with the first volume. There are fourteen chapters in this book followed by an epilogue which introduces a few critics and editors of Indian English poetry and their works. As a prologue to the chapters there is a long introduction by Prem in which he makes a survey of Indian English poetry from the nineteenth century till the present. He has pictured both chronologically and thematically almost all the Indian English poets analysing their work over several decades.
Chapter 1 of the book is entitled “Beginning and Growth: Early Poetry I”. Starting with the depiction of the early literary scenario, the author then writes about the religious movements and goes on to the aspect of nationalism. Prem shares the anxieties, drifts in poetic thoughts, and then writes on the distinctive spirit of universal love and secular attitude. The author then speaks about the poets’ influence on society and changes that took place in literature, especially in early poetry.
Chapter 2 is titled “Socio-Political Awakening, Spiritual and Mystical Quests and Sufferings of Man: Early Poetry II”. In this chapter, Prem writes about the scenario of the beginning of the twentieth century. It was an age of transformation. Even though the British Government had assured that independence would be given to India, it was not fulfilled and it caused anger and resentment among the freedom fighters and writers. Gandhi arrives in India and under his leadership India gains freedom. Independence gives momentum to the life of the nation and it creates unity among the people. The author then writes about the early poetry based on religious beliefs and their traditions. The poetry then depicted saints and holy men as well as anecdotes from epics and scriptures. Life after death was a chief concern in the early poetry.
In Chapter 3 with title “Poetic Scenario: A Little Before 1920 and After” Prem examines the poetry that existed just before 1920 and moves forward with poetry after 1980. Urbanisation started and the poets living in urban areas wrote about urban life and sensibilities. There was amalgamation of rural and urban themes in their poetry. At the same time there were poets settled in metropolitan cities concentrating on the life of urban people. The background of the poets is reflected in their poetry. National consciousness and feelings as well as happenings in other parts of the world were also a subject for their poetry. Eras of Renaissance, Romanticism and Reformation are discernible in Indian English Poetry. Industrial growth and various movements found material for the poetry of that period.
Having written in general about the poetic eras, themes and movements, Prem now starts analysing poets one after another in Chapter 4 entitled “Continuity in Thought Patterns Strengthens Consciousness”. Poets born in the third decade ‘1921-24’ of the twentieth century and their poetry are discussed in this chapter. There is a brief introduction to the scenario after Independence, and its influence on man, society and creativity. Poets Shiv K. Kumar, Nissim Ezekiel, Hazara Singh, Maha Nand Sharma, Rachakonda Narasimha Sarma and Srinivasa Rangaswami are studied in this chapter in detail in forty-eight pages of the book. Before analysing each poet, Prem starts with a descriptive caption about the main feature and area of the poet in bold letters, which gives an overall awareness of the poet’s trends. This is something unique that I have not come across in any such critical book. For example, one can find the following caption at the beginning of the analysis on Shiv K. Kumar’s poetry: “Age creates affirmative possibilities amidst bewildering situations as unreciprocated questions stare at the intellect for want of response while realities challenge and one confronts life with some doubts, cynicism and hope and that gives meaning.” Since space does not permit me to touch upon Prem’s critique of these poets and other poets coming under various chapters, I am not going to discuss on each poet or any one in particular.
Chapter 5 with the title “Steady Thought Patterns and Perception” deals with the poets born in the third decade ‘1926-29’ of the twentieth century. Poetry of Keshav Malik, Mahendra Bhatnagar, P. Lal, Jayanta Mahapatra, A. K. Ramanujan, R. Rabindranath Menon, Kailash P. Varma and K. V. Suryanarayana Murti is discussed in detail with sufficient quotes on sixty-one pages.
Chapter 6 is entitled “Religious-Secular Thought and Universality”.Poets born in the 4th decade ‘1932-34’ of the twentieth century are discussed on the forty-two pages of this volume. The poets studied are Arun Kolatkar, O. P. Bhatnagar, Baldev Mirza, I. K. Sharma, Som P. Ranchan and Swami Nem Pal.
Chapter 7 is named “Secular Ambiance and Anxiety”. It deals with the poets born in the fourth decade ‘1934-36’ of the twentieth century and their poetry. The poets analysed in fifty-three pages of the book are Kamala Das, R. Parthasarthy, Binayendra Chowdhuri, N. P. Singh, G. S. Sharat Chandra, K. B. Rai, Anant Kadam, K. D. Katrak and H. S. Bhatia.
Chapter 8 entitled “Towards Indian Consciousness” writes about the poets born in the fourth decade ‘1936’ of the twentieth century. The poets analysed in thirty pages are J. Bapu Reddy, Iftikhar Hussain Rizvi, Dwarakanath H. Kabadi, Lajpat Nagpal and Motilal Jotwani.
Chapter 9 is entitled “Steadiness in Thought Patterns” and the poets discussed are those born in the fourth decade – ‘1937-38’ of the twentieth century. The poetry of Keki N. Daruwalla, K. N. Sharma, Kailash Ahluwalia, Amerander Kumar, Dom Moraes, Ashok K. Khanna, Mahadeva R Iyer, V. V. B Rama Rao and A. Padmanaban is studied on pages 358-415.
Chapter 10 is titled “Continuity Strengthens Consciousness” and the poets analysed are those born in the fourth decade ‘1940’ of the twentieth century. Poetry of Dilip Chitre, Gieve Patel, Adil Jussawalla, Eunice de Souza, Yayati Madan G Gandhi, P. K, Joy, Aju Mukhopadhyay and R. A. Lakhanpal is discussed in detail from pages 416 to 461.
Chapter 11 titled “Realisation and Stability” speaks about the poets born in the fifth decade ‘1941-42’ of the twentieth century. On pages 462-506 Prem has analysed the poetic works of P. K. Majumder, Onkarnath Gupta, K. C. Prashar, Gopal Honnalgere, Syed Ameeruddin and Mohammed Fakhruddin.
Chapter 12 is titled “Regions of nearly Idealistic and Meaningful Existence” and the poets born in the fifth decade ‘1943’ of the twentieth century are discussed. The poets thus presented on pages 507-551 are T. V. Reddy, O. P. Arora, R. C. Shukla, A. N. Dwivedi, M. S. Venkata Ramaiah and Abdul Rashid Bijapure.
Chapter 13 with the title “Consciousness and Realisation” deals with poets born in the fifth decade – ‘1944-48’ of the twentieth century. The poets discussed here on pages 552-611 are SaleemPeeradina, Nar Deo Sharma, P. C. K. Prem, Bhagirathi Mahasuar, Pritish Nandy, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Hoshang Merchant, Jasvinder Singh, R. K. Bhushan, B. S. Nimavat and Vinod Khanna.
Chapter 14, the last chapter of this volume, is entitled “Possible Stability and Judgment.” Poets born in the fifth decade ‘1949-50’ of the twentieth century are studied in this chapter comprising pages 612-664. The poets studied are Vijay Vishal, D. C. Chambial, R. K. Singh, S. L. Peeran, V. S. Skanda Prasad, Krishan Gopal, Virender Parmar and H. C. Gupta.
Pages 665-726 constitute an Epilogue by the author. Prem provides a list of acclaimed critics of Indian English Poetry. They are: Bijay Kumar Das, M K Naik, Bruce King,Satish Kumar, Iftikhar Husain Rizvi and Nasreen Fatima Rizvi, P. C. K. Prem, Sudhir K. Arora, O. P. Arora, T V Reddy and K. V. Dominic. He has also listed names of reputed editors of books on Indian English Poetry. They are: Vinayak Krishna Gokak, PritishNandy, R Parthasarathy, H. S. Bhatia, Niranjan Mohanty, S. N. Joshi, Syed Ameeruddin, K. Ayyappa Paniker, P. C. K. Prem, C. R. B. Lalit and K. V. Dominic, etc. The author then shares with us titles of some reputed journals on Indian English Poetry, such as The Journal of Indian Writing in English, The Literary Criterion, The Journal of the Poetry Society India, Indian Literature, Asian Quarterly, The Journal of English Studies, Littcrit, Indian Literary Panorama, The Quest, Poetcrit, Creative Writing and Criticism, Cyber Literature, Writers Editors Critics, Contemporary Vibes, Taj Mahal Review, Harvests of New Millennium, Phenomenal Literature and Verbal Art, Poetry Chain, Biz Buzz, Platform, Kohinoor, Voice of Kolkata, Creative Writing and Criticism, Deshkaal, Indian Journal of Postcolonial Literatures, Interdisciplinary Journal of Literature and Language, International Journal on Multicultural Literature, Metverse Muse, MIT Journal of English Language and Literature, Replica, The Literati, etc.
P.C.K. Prem then proceeds with a brief review of each of the famous critical books on Indian English Poetry. The reviews thus made are on Bijay Kumar Das’s Modern Indian English Poetry, M. K. Naik’s A History of Indian English Literature, Bruce King’s Modern Indian Poetry in English, Satish Kumar’s A Survey of Indian English Poetry, Iftikhar Husain Rizvi and Nasreen Fatima Rizvi’s Origin, Development and History of Indian English Poetry, Sudhir K. Arora’s Cultural and Philosophical Reflections in Indian Poetry in English in Five Volumes and T V Reddy’s A Critical Survey of Indo-English Poetry. There are also review articles by D. C. Chambial and K. V. Dominic on P. C. K. Prem’s English Poetry in India: A Comprehensive Survey of Trends and Thought Patterns, and O. P. Arora on P. C. K. Prem’s Towards Indian Consciousness: A Study of Ten Poetic Minds in English Poetry in India.
Prem then gives brief appraisals on the edited poetry anthologies such as: Dr Vinayak Krishna Gokak’s The Golden Treasury of Indo-Anglian Poetry, Pritish Nandy’s Indian Poetry in English Today, R. Parthasarathy’s Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets, H. S. Bhatia’s Modern Trends in Indo-Anglian Poetry, Niranjan Mohanty and D. C. Chambial’s Poetry of Himachal Pradesh, H. S. Bhatia’s Prevalent Aspects of Indian English Poetry, S. N. Joshi’s Nascent Warmth, Syed Ameeruddin’s International Poets, K. Ayyappa Paniker’s Modern Indian Poetry in English, and P.C.K. Prem’s Contemporary Indian English Poetry from Himachal.
History of Contemporary Indian English Poetry: An Appraisal, Volume II deals with the poets born in the 1950s and after. P.C.K. Prem divides the book into several chapters as he has done in the first volume. Again as in Volume I, the author makes an analysis of the poets and their poetry taking each decade after decade till the present. In the long Introduction of seventeen pages, Prem makes a survey of Indian English poetry from the nineteenth century. He analyses poets and their themes in the chronological order of their birth. Also he focuses on trends and aspects of each decade, both rural and urban poetry. The second volume has two major divisions—Part I and Part II. Part I has Chapters one to six and seven to eleven constitute Part II.
Chapter 1 is entitled “The Strengthening of Consciousness” and the poets born in the sixth decade ‘1951-52’ of the twentieth century are discussed from pages 31-77. The names of the poets are: Bibhu Padhi, Bipin Patsani, Rajender Krishan, Vikram Seth, Ravi Nandan Sinha, D. Srikanthmurthy, Katta Rajamouly, R. A. Janakiraman and Alexandar Raju.
Chapter 2 with the title “Power of Realisation” deals with the poets born in the sixth decade – 1952 or so of the twentieth century. The poets are: Lalit M. Sharma, P. Raja, D. S. Varma, PashupatiJha, Dalip Khetarpal, Gopikrishnan Kottoor, M. T. Ahmad and Tenneti Venkateswara Rao. They cover pages 78-124.
Chapter 3 is called “Poets and Region of Perception” and the poets born in the sixth decade – 1953-55 of the twentieth century are studied in it on pages 125-164. The names of the poets are: Sankasan Parida, Anil K Sharma, Manas Bakshi, S. A. Hamid, Kamalaprasad Mahapatra, Suresh Chandra Pande and Deepak Thakur.
Chapter 4 is given the title “Continuity in Perspectives with SomeVariations is the Strength”. Poets born in the sixth decade – ‘56-60’ of the twentieth century are analysed in it on pages 165-228. The names of the poets are: K. V. Dominic, K V Raghupathi, Sailendra Narayan Tripathy, Parvat Kumar Padhy, Gopal Lahiri, Suresh C. Jaryal, Sunil Sharma, Rajiv Khandelwal, Ashok Chakravarthy Tholana and Rabindra K. Swain.
Chapter 5 entitled “Understanding Teaches Art of Life” deals with the poets born in the seventh decade – ‘1961-70’ of the twentieth century. It covers pages 229-294. The poets are: Aldous Mawlong, Suman Sachar, C. L. Khatri, Bijoy Kant Dubey, Arbind Kumar Choudhury, Shujaat Hussain, M. R. Venkatesh Prasannanshu, Biplab Majumdar, Sudhir Kumar Arora (Isheetiva), Harish Thakur, Vihang A. Naik and P. V. Laxmi Prasad.
Chapter 6 with title “A Change in Thought and Emotions Beautifies Lyrics” deals with the poets born in the eighth decade of the twentieth century. It covers pages 295-330. The names of the poets are: Mandal Bijoy Beg, Kanwar Dinesh Singh, Shankar Divyasingha Mishra, Jaydeep Sarangi, Kiriti Sengupta, Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar and Vivakanand Jha.
Part II of the book deals with Contemporary Indian English Poetry and Women Poets. Chapters 7 to 11 are set apart for women poets.
Chapter 7 is titled “Women Poets” and on pages 331 to 338Prem makes a survey of women poets from the nineteenth century till the present. He has established here comprehensively how the women poets have registered their presence through eloquence and articulation.
Chapter 8 entitled “Women’s Poetry of the Last Three Decades of the 20th Century” speaks about poetry of ethical strength and modern sensibility. From pages 339-397 the following twelve poets are studied: Sukrita Paul Kumar, Meena Alexander, AnjanaBasu, Etty George, Hetty Prim, C. D. Irene, Nirmal Thakur, Tulsi Naidu, MahashwetaChaturvedi, S. Modi, Asha Viswas and Rita Malhotra.
Chapter 9 with the title “Women’s Poetry of the First Decade of the 21st Century” focuses on the poetry of women poets up to the period of 2005. The poets discussed are: V. LalithaKumari, Chandramoni Narayanaswamy, Madhavi Lata Agrawal, Meenakshi Verma, Suparna Ghosh, Nandini Sahu, Maria Netto, Esther Syiem and Nalini Sharma. They are studied in detail on pages 398-450.
Chapter 10 entitled “Women’s Poetry of the First Decade of the 21st Century Up to 2010” writes about continuity in enigmas of life and realities. On pages 451-528 the following poets are analysed: K Pankajam, RenuUniyal, Srishti Sehgal, Purnima Ray, Rita NathKeshari, Indira Babbellapati, RizioYohannan Raj, Sreyashi Ghosh, Nita S Nagarsekar, Janet Wilson, Satabdi Saha, Suraksha Giri and UddipanaGoswami.
Chapter 11, the final chapter of the volume, is entitled “Women’s Poetry of the Second Decade of the 21st Century”. The chief characteristic of the poetry of the period is contemporary consciousness and cultural heritage. Sixteen poets are analysed here on pages 529-603. The poets are: Meenakshi Hooja, Sangita Mehta, S. Padmapriya, Jose Large, Shernaz Wadia, Sunitha Srinivas, Nita B. George, Smruthi Bala Kannan, Molly Joseph M., Vinita Agrawal, Poonam Dwivedi, Vinayana Khurana, Sangeeta Mahesh, Geetika Kohli, Aparna Chatterjee and Chitra Lele.
Pages 604-665 constitute the Epilogue of the second volume which is the same as the first volume on which I have commented above in three long paragraphs.
Before winding up my paper let me add a few sentences about the labour and pain behind the creation of these voluminous books. Prem is a close friend of mine; more than that, like an elder brother he has shared with me the background of his major works. He told me that he had worked six hours a day for four years to complete the composition of these volumes. He had to search for the primary sources and materials extensively and collected many books from his poet friends and book bazaars. The impetus behind his hard labour is not profit motive but sheer love of Indian English literature, particularly poetry, and he wants to see his compatriots and future generations read and study Indian cultures, ethos, philosophies, traditions, emotions, dreams and beauties. When we examine the syllabus of English literature in our schools, colleges and universities we will be shocked to see that importance is given primarily to British literature, then American literature, Canadian literature and finally Indian English literature. Why should we keep studying these foreign literatures giving least importance to our own? Isn’t our Indian English literature as rich and competent as the British, American, Canadian, etc.? Aren’t our legends Kalidasa, Vyasa, Valmiki, etc. greater than Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, etc.? Then why don’t we study their works in English first and then the foreigners? We should be proud of our country and its literature. Indian English is accepted as a separate English like British English, American English, Canadian English, Australian English, etc. We have our own syntax, pronunciation, intonation, etc. which have a connection to our own mother tongues. We should promote it at any cost. It is through this English that we speak to the world sharing our culture, history, philosophy, traditions, way of life, etc. One can’t understand why the curriculum committees and board of studies run after British and American literatures when they draw up syllabus for English literature papers. Of course an English literature pupil and student should be aware of foreign English literatures. But the primary importance should be given to our own Indian English literature. More papers should be on our literature and less on the foreign aspect. But most unfortunately the practice here in all our states is just the contrary. It is not because there are not sufficient materials for teaching in Indian English literature. The committees are either prejudiced against Indian English literature or they are ignorant of the literature here. They are ignorant in the sense that they don’t care to read Indian English literature created every year. The hangover of the British legacy of Indians’ inferiority complex is with them even now.
The importance of P.C.K. Prem’s History of Contemporary Indian English Poetry: An Appraisal is to be estimated based on the statements I have made above. These volumes are gems-like rich critical materials for Indian English poetry, particularly at the college/university level and for those doing research on Indian English poetry. An English teacher who loves Indian English poetry will surely recommend these books to the college/university libraries, and if financially affordable, would buy a copy personally. I congratulate P.C.K. Prem once again for composing such a unique book! I also extend my congratulations and gratitude to Shri Sudarshan Kcherry once again for taking such a financially burdensome project, because of his love of Indian English literature. He is undoubtedly the greatest publisher in India promoting Indian English literature and publishing the maximum number of critical and creative books in this literature. I wish all lovers of Indian English poetry an enlightening mental feast.