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Post Independence Indian English Poetry

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Indian English Literature and especially Indian poetry in English has witnessed multiple social struggles on various levels that motivated a number of poets big and small equally to scribble their pen dipped in the ink of Marxist philosophy of protest. The present paper seeks to explore the unexplored regions of Marxist influence in Indian Poetry in English from its inception to its present day.
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ISSN (PRINT): 1944-1088
Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences
ISSN (ELECTRONIC): 1944-1096

Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences ( 2009) Vol 1, No 2, 281-301

Post Independence Indian English Poetry
Shaleen Kumar Singh, Ph.D., C S J M University Kanpur, India

Abstract: After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the
bureaucratic Stalinist regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe a wave of
euphoria provoked in the West. People rejoiced at the demise of Stalinism
and termed it as the "end of Socialism." The final victory of the "free
market" was trumpeted from the pages of learned journals from Tokyo to
New York. The strategists of capital were exultant. Francis Fukuyama
even went so far as to proclaim the "end of history." Henceforth, the class
war would be no more. Everything would be for the best in the best of all
capitalist worlds. History has proved them incredibly wrong. It we take
the Post independence Indian English Poetry in account, we will find that
Marxist Idiom has played a crucial role in moulding the literature of
Indian in a peculiar way. Indian English Literature and especially Indian
poetry in English has witnessed multiple social struggles on various levels
that motivated a number of poets big and small equally to scribble their
pen dipped in the ink of Marxist philosophy of protest. The present paper
seeks to explore the unexplored regions of Marxist influence in Indian
Poetry in English from its inception to its present day.

1. Introduction

Karl Heinrich Marx (b. 5th May 1818, in Trier,
Germany) ‘is undoubtedly the most influential socialist
thinker’ who was ‘largely unheeded by scholars in his life
time’. The body of social and political ideas that he
elaborated gained increasingly rapid acceptance in the
socialist movement after his death in 1883, and it will be no
exaggeration if we say: ‘Until recently almost half the
population of the world lived under regimes that claimed to be
Marxist’. The fundamental belief of the Marxist that
Economic and Social conditions determine religious beliefs,
legal systems and cultural frameworks’ and that art should
not only represent such conditions truthfully ‘but seek to
improve them’. Similar is George Lukacs’s view that ‘realism
meant more than rendering the surface appearance, it means
providing a more complete, true, vivid and dynamic view
around’. This tendency of translating the lived experiences

ISSN (PRINT): 1944-1088
Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences
ISSN (ELECTRONIC): 1944-1096

Post Independence Indian English Poetry

into verse form emphasizing the content rather than the
form is not entirely new to India. Indian society, a fine
mixture of various cultures, traditions and customs has
been a fertile land for a Marxist. Though for a Marxist critic,
it was more complicated when he turned from the evolution
of content to evolution of form. A. Lunacharsky’s observation
is important to note when he says:

This is an extremely important task, and
Plekhanov emphasized its importance. What,
then, is the general criterion for evaluation here?
The form must correspond to the content as
closely as possible, giving it maximum
expressiveness and assuring the strongest
possible impact on the readers for whom the
work is intended. (15)
Besides, he adds:
An artist should express something that has not
been expressed before. Reproduction is not an
art (Some painters find this difficult to
understand) but only a craft, albeit sometimes
very fine. From this point of view, new content in
every new work demands new form. (16)
To Marx and Angles art ‘is one of the forms of social
consciousness and it, therefore, follows that the reason for
its of changes sought in the social changes. Similarly B.
Krylov found a materialist explanation of the origin of
aesthetic sense itself in the works of Marx and Engels and he
They (Marx and Engels) noted that man’s artistic
abilities, his capacity for perceiving the world
aesthetically, for comprehending its beauty and
for creating works of art appeared as a result of
the long development of human society and was
the product of man’s labour. (Marx, et. al. 18)

In his book Economic and Philosophical Manuscript of 1844,
Marx pinpoints ‘the role of labour in the development of
man’s capacity to perceive and reproduce the beautiful and
to form objects also in accordance with the laws of beauty.
(Marx, et. al. 277)
And later, the idea evolved by Engels in his book Dialectics of
Nature where he noted that the efforts of toil ‘have given the

ISSN (PRINT): 1944-1088
Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences
ISSN (ELECTRONIC): 1944-1096

Shaleen Kumar Singh, Ph.D., C S J M University Kanpur, India

human hand the high degree of perfection required conjure
into beam, the picture of Raphael, the statues of Thorwaldsen,
the picture of Paganine. In this way, we can see that Marxists
vision that man’s aesthetic sense is not an inborn quality
but it is developed in society by and by. Another critic
Caudwell supports the fact:
Language is a social product, the instrument
whereby men communicate and persuade each
other, thus the study of poetry’s sources cannot
be separated from the study of society. (9)
It is a well-known fact that literature and society cannot be
separately studied nor can any literary criticism start
discarding the sources or scales of either. Perhaps for this
particular reason later on Terry Eagleton laid emphasis on
social processes which form the body of literature:
Art then, is for Marxism part of the
‘superstructure’ of society. It is a part of a
society’s ideology- an element in that complex
structure of social perception which ensures
that the situation in which one social class has
power over the others is either seen by most
members of the society as ‘natural’ or not seen
at all. To understand literature, then, means
understanding the total social process of which
it is part. (5)
To all leading critics of Marxism, society and literature are
corollary to each other. Some critics like James T. Farrell
have considered literature as weapon of protest. He said that
‘the advocates of proletarian literature, who wrote principally
in the New Masses, used to argue that literature is weapon
in the class struggle. If the writer is not on one side, he is an
open defender of the enemy or else he is giving aid and
comfort to that enemy’. According to James Farrell ‘life is full
of mysteries, and one of the major mysteries of life is man
himself. Literature probes into that mystery’. However another
statement (his) is also justified when he states:
Literature by its very nature, cannot, in and of
itself, solve social and political problems. Any
solution to a social or a political problem in a
work of literature is a purely mental solution.
These are problems of action. Every problem
delimits the kind of means which can, and those

ISSN (PRINT): 1944-1088
Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences
ISSN (ELECTRONIC): 1944-1096

Post Independence Indian English Poetry

which cannot be of use in it solution. This
statement applies in logic, in mathematics, in
the physical sciences, in the solution of social
and political problems and in the problems
which any artist must face in his own work. It is
as absurd to assume that you an solve political
and social problems with a poem as it is to call
in a painter and ask him to save from death a
man stricken with appendicitis by painting a
picture.(Farrell )
For many Marxists ‘it is not enough to eradicate old firmly
rooted false notions regarding its historical and social
foundation; it is also necessary to draw the literary and
aesthetic conclusion from the correct evolution of these social
and historical foundation’.
George Lukacs proposes rightly:
Literature has a great part to play in solving the
new task imposed by the new life in every
country. If literature is really to fulfill this role, a
role dictated by history, there must be as a
natural prerequisite, a philosophical and
political rebirth of the writers who produce it.
The great lesson to be learnt from the Russian
development is precisely the extent to which a
great realist literature can fructifyingly educate
the people and transform public opinion. But
such results can be achieved only by truly great,
profound all-embracing realism. Hence, if
literature is to be a potent factor of national
rebirth, it must itself be reborn in its purely
literary, formal, aesthetic aspects as well. It
must break with reactionary, conservative
traditions which hamper it and resist the
seeping in of decadent influences which lead
into a blind alley. (Lukacs)
The belief that task of literature and art has always been to
expose and especially all the dark forces harming the masses
must be exposed and all the revolutionary struggle of the
masses of the of the people must be extolled; this is the
fundamental task of the revolutionary writer and artist’ need
a more clear vision which is asserted clearly by Mao-Tse-

ISSN (PRINT): 1944-1088
Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences
ISSN (ELECTRONIC): 1944-1096

Shaleen Kumar Singh, Ph.D., C S J M University Kanpur, India

The task of literature and art has always been to expose.
This assertion, like the previous one, arises from ignorance
of the science of history. Literature and art, as we have
shown, have never been devoted solely to exposure. For
revolutionary writers and artists the targets for exposure can
never be masses, but only the aggressors, exploiters and
oppressors and evil influence they have on the people. The
masses too have shortcomings which should be overcome by
criticism and self-criticism within the people’s own ranks,
and such criticism and self-criticism is also one of the most
important tasks of literature and art. But Mao-Tse-Tung was
always against exposure of the people also because counter
revolutionary writer and artist describe the people as ‘born-
food’ and the revolutionary masses as ‘tyrannical mobs.’
Here it is indispensable that a writer or a poet should
criticize the people’s shortcomings but in doing so he or she
should take the stand of the people and speak out of whole
hearted eagerness to protect and educate them.

2. Marxism in Indian Poetry
If one starts journey through the gallery of post-
independence Indian English poetry, one observes a
considerable influence of Marxism on the Indian Literature
and obviously Indian literature in English equally. Kunwar
Narain admits this reality and says in an interview:
Marxism in 50’s and 60’s was a powerful
influence on world literature. Its emphasis on
grassroots realities, on socio-economic and
political educations of human poverty and
exploration focused the much needed attention
in the problems of common man-that his
anguish could be alleviated by effective political,
social and economic action seemed to bring the
great utopian dream within reach.(Interview)
In the similar tone V.K. Gokak admits Marxism as ‘the only
Western aesthetic theory that has not yet mixed with oriental
aesthetics…’ and for this reason Gokak pleads that ‘the
Marxist believes in the determinism of matter and on that
basis seeks to explain all aesthetic phenomena’. Gokak
acknowledges Marx as an essential branch of knowledge for
understanding social and political phenomenon.

ISSN (PRINT): 1944-1088
Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences
ISSN (ELECTRONIC): 1944-1096

Post Independence Indian English Poetry

But Gokak does not lay on Marxism a peculiar emphasis for
his studies. For him ‘Marxism itself suffered some sea
changes, two of them being Stalinism and Anti-Stalinism’
and in India Gandhism has been an active philosophy of life
so he finds that ‘it is doubtful whether Marxism has any
special reserves of inspiration for the Indian poet.’ But at the
sometimes he hopes and adds: ‘But it can strongly colour
the outlook of some poets here and there. (162)
Gokak’s observation may be true to some extent as his study
was limited to the poets between a particular period of 1947-
1956, but he is not entirely correct if we glance the entire
canvas of post-independence era till present day. As the
rapid advancement of science and technology and the
revolution in the field of media and communication and
transport declined the distances of places to places on one
hand, while the distances of between a persons and a person
are also diminished on the other. Man can easily experience
others’ pains and perforations, injustice and exploitation,
anomalies and traumas occurring thousands of miles away
sitting before his or her computer or television now. So
poetic eyes and ears are now more vigilant as well as have
more opportunities to protest and contest against the fascist,
communal and feudal. Therefore, Bhatnagar’s comment is
right when he says:
The new Indian poetry in English is not merely
novel and varied but also intimately concerned
with the milieu around. (Joshi 8)
The new poets of Post-independence era are adorned with
the feature of realism and protest as they are every day
watching the problems of existence: perversion, corruption,
degeneration, morbidity, privation, insecurity: terrors of
bloodshed; pain and agony of aimless killings and deaths;
feelings of helplessness; awareness of political and social
turpitude; mockery of idealism; exploitation of poor and
independence. In short, the hypocrisy of man is operating at
all the levels of society. So, their poetic sensibility naturally
turns to protest and wishes not only to reflect these
problems of existence into their poetry in a pictorial way but
also urges the masses to rise against these doers of injustice
and rebel against the so called capitalists, much alike in a
manner of the Marxists.

ISSN (PRINT): 1944-1088
Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences
ISSN (ELECTRONIC): 1944-1096

Shaleen Kumar Singh, Ph.D., C S J M University Kanpur, India

3. Literary Journey
The journey of Indian literature commences from the social
reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy who protested firstly against
the exploitation of woman and advocated the rights of press
in his writings as well as actions and movements. According
to M. K. Naik, Roy wrote A Defense of Hindu Theism which
was ‘the first and original publication in the history’. Later on
Henry Derozio (1808-31) who wrote first original poetry in
English was less social conscious but more patriotic. Derozio
and Kashiprasad set the tone for the love of India which was
followed by Toru Dutt, R.N. Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, M.M.
Dutt, Sri Aurobindo, Kashiprasad Ghosh, Goroo Chand Dutt
and R.C. Dutt. Similarly the first quarter of twentieth
century followed Romanticism, Victorianism. Poets like
‘Meherji, A.F. Khabardar, N.B. Thadhani, Nizamat Jung,
Harendra Nath Chattopadhyaya, and Ananda Acharya
exploited Indian and oriental thought in the typical Indian
manner’. The second quarter of twentieth century leaded a
rich harvest of poets like ‘V.N. Bhushan, S.R. Dongerkery,
T.P. Kailasam, N. Krishna Murti and A. Menezes’ continued
the humanistic trend while Nolini Kant Gupta, Dilip Kumar
Roy, E.L. Vaswani, Nirodvaran K.D. Sethna, Nishi Kanto,
and Themis carried forward the tradition of mystical poetry.
‘The third quarter of 20th century has seen the further
strengthening of modernist as well as new symbolist’s trend’.
Here the poets published from ‘Writers Workshop’ like, P.
Lal, Kamala Das, V.D. Trivedi, Marry Erulkar, A.K.
Ramanujan and several others seem to reveal significant
development modernist lines in Indo-Anglian poetry’.
The age from 1922 to 1947 can easily be called the age of
indianness as all the writings of this period were either
glorifying the rich heritage of India or admonishing her
decline, but there was no upsurge of protest in the poems of
that time as the people of this period were (under
Colonialism) struggling for freedom of nation or dazzled by
the light of industrial revolution. But few poets cum social
reformers protested against the social evils and ills that had
taken birth in the medieval age.
4. Post Independence English Indian Poetry

ISSN (PRINT): 1944-1088
Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences
ISSN (ELECTRONIC): 1944-1096

Post Independence Indian English Poetry

Indian English poetry before and independence has been a
debatable topic among the critics. Critics are bifurcated into
two groups on the achievement of Indian English poetry.
There is group of critics like C.D. Narasimaih and V.K.
Gokak who applaud the poetry of Sri Aurobindo and his
Sarojini Naidu, while critics like Parthasarthy and others
have appreciated the poetry of post-independence era (after
1947) and have outrightly condemn the poetry of pre
independence period. According to these critics there has
been no serious poetry written before independence and this
poetry was lacking the voice of protest and common mass
and steeped more into ‘Romanticism’ or Lyricism.’ B.K. Das
Post independence Indian English poetry is
genuine because it is deeply felt and addressed
to the whole community; Indian situations form
a vital part of it. (4)
In fact, these ‘Indian Situations’ of post-independence period
which were full of struggles, sufferings, protest of new India
against the age old dogmas and customs and traditions
which have already lost their grace, sanction and hold on
society in the medieval ages, were responsible for giving birth
to ‘protest’- a term refreshed by Marx and Engels in Modern
ages, and the same term, gained new charms in Indian
English poetry after independence.
Though Marxist tendencies or the idea of protest in not
entirely new to Indian literature, rather it has its roots in our
ancient Vedic literature also. To quote I.K. Sharma is
significant: Protest as an idea is not new to India. Our
ancient literature gives umpteen references of a
person who opposed, disapproved ungodly,
unethical acts of their elders, superiors, mentors
and so on. Was ‘nt Prahalad, the first greatest
protestor? Further, we have Buddha
Shakaracharaya, Kabir and scores of Vama
Margis (leftists) who vehemently opposed the
conventional and rigid way of thinking in
matters of religious.’ (Sharma, I.K.)
Undoubtedly we have sufficient instances of protest which
clearly establish the fact that Indian literature has roots in
some deeper layer of Marxist soil also, which later on

ISSN (PRINT): 1944-1088
Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences
ISSN (ELECTRONIC): 1944-1096

Shaleen Kumar Singh, Ph.D., C S J M University Kanpur, India

bloomed and nurtured new roses of ‘Protest’ in Post-
independence climate. The first flower of protest blossoms
after independence during ‘Emergency’ (1975). Prof. John
Oliver Perry, a devout scholar and critic of Indian English
poetry, edited Voices of Emergency -an all India Anthology of
Protest Poetry of 1975-77 in which the poems ‘touch on
universal themes which have been evoked by similar
injustice an incarceration the world over’. The poems of the
anthology, according to David Selbourne mirror ‘the poet’s
fear of his own cowardice, or of the impotence of the poem; a
sense of the world, and the word, befouled; the poet’s
cautious and sidelong glance at the tyrant, the identities of
both camouflaged by metaphor, the sardonic smile of the
unbowed- a untouched- mocking the pretensions of power;
and plain defiance, as old as tyranny itself, but much more
enduring’. (Perry: “Foreword” IX)
However, the book contained some 280 poems from eight
languages and two hundred and fifty poets from various
parts of India whose voices of protest were not muffled and
were taking the shapes of written words. The book depicts
the trauma of oppressions, incarceration and detention
during the periods of 1975-77 which was also no less deeply
vocalized by poets of Indian English. The voice of protest in a
higher crescendo can be listened in the words of Dilip Chitre
who opens his poem with a question in a conversational style
as follows. And he seems more shattered when he says:

For all that, you might still prefer to be
A traitor among stupid people

Trying hard

Not to die. (VE 135)
In the same anthology, the voice of Kamala Das is also
stronger than any other poet of protest who says:

Tomorrow they may bind me with chains
stronger than

Those of my cowardice, rape me with bayonets

Hang me for my doubts. (VE 230)
Another poet, Amrit Gangar rises rapidly and says
vehemently in the words of Rajan who was imprisoned in
Kerala in 1975 and died apparently from police abuse. The
poet asks:

ISSN (PRINT): 1944-1088
Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences
ISSN (ELECTRONIC): 1944-1096

Post Independence Indian English Poetry

I’m Rajan


Why didn’t wail with me


When they perpetrated on me. (VE 173)
And he exhorts:

Let your lust become


Bloody red


Bloody red. i
While in the same anthology, Kusum Gokarn laments the lot
of downtrodden and says:

Now that I am forsaken

I feel for the orphan’s sobs;

Now that I am forbidden,

I understand the window’s sighs. (VE 147)
The anthology contains best poems of emergency. These
poems castigate the political scenario with equal proportion
to the social system. Besides ‘the poetry of emergency period
of political turmoil in India presents spectacle of self
discovery on the part of Indian poets as well as plays a
dominant role in shaping the present form of Indian English
poetry’. K. Ayyappa Paniker seems aright in this context:
Thus the poetics of the emergency may be seen
to have a greater validity than its politics, for
now we know neither the politicians nor those
who support them learned any lesson from the
experiences of the emergency. The only gain of
the emergency-if anything at all of value has
lasted- is perhaps this new poetics which has
begun to mould the features of the poetry of the
post-emergency period. (Perry “Introduction” 3)
Although, the anthology contains poems of other Indian
languages, the poems written originally in English by Jayant
Mahapatra, Nissim Ezekiel, Neeraj Sinha, Melani Silgardo,
I.K. Sharma, G.V.J. Prasad, Nag Bhushan Patnayak, Navroz
Modi, Keshav malik, H.S. Lal, Ivon Kostaka, Satyapal Julka
and G.K.G. Joshi carry the theme of protest with equal
gravity and poetic sensibility. After emergency, Indian the

Post Independence Indian English Poetry



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