This is a disappointing anthology. It is not a histori¬cally comprehensive collection where all the important and not-so-important poets of past and present are included, making the work serve as a re¬ference book as well as a liter¬ary treasury. Here the editor attempts to trace the develop¬ment of Indo-Anglian poetry from its beginnings to the pre¬sent day by selecting a number of representative poets with their characteristic work. What he selects, dissatisfies, what he omits, frustrates. In a book of 159 pages, 10- pages are devoted to poetry. Of these, 67 pages are given to poets of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That leaves only 34 pages for the contemporary poets of the post-Independence period. And it is this wrong sense of priority displayed by the edi¬tor which makes one wonder what ultimate purpose such an anthology is intended to serve.
Indian poetry in English begins with Nissim Ezekiel. The poets that come before him, all the Dutts and Ghoses, only serve to satisfy historical curiosity. Their work can be read only as evidence of how a literate section of Indian society res¬ponded to the introduction of English language and literature to the subcontinent.
It has nothing to offer in terms of poetic value. I can put the matter in another way: these poets do not constitute a poe¬tic tradition to which an Indian poet writing in English today has to turn. In order to discover and establish his identity, he does not feel com¬pelled to know the work of this period, to react to it by accepting or rejecting it. He may be entirely ignorant of the works of Nobo Kissen Ghose and Michael Madhusudan Dutta and yet feel no lacuna in his poetic identity. An Eng¬lish poet and an Indian poet writing in English today share the same poetic tradition. With the obvious difference, of course, that the Indian poet also inherits the indigen¬ous tradition with which he must learn to cope before arriving at his identity.
It is because of this that one questions the validity of devot¬ing so many pages to old poets when many important contem¬porary poets do not find a place in the anthology. The editor talks of striking a com¬mendable balance between the old and new schools of poets but, as I have pointed out earlier, the balance is definitely tilted in favour of poets who have contributed nothing of significance to the tradition of Indo-Anglian poetry. Again, the poems of the poets that are included cannot be said to be representative of their work.
The exclusion of poets like R. Parthasarathy and Keki N. Daruwalla does not make the anthology representative of all that is significant and original in Indo-Anglian poetry. What we have in their place is the poetry of Pritish Nandy—sans rhyme, sans reason, sans meaning, sans everything—and the editor’s miserable attempt to make it meaningful by offering comments like:
In the poem, the poet seems to be overwhelmed by cer¬tain uncontrollable, con¬stantly hammering memories of the past.
All in all, a disappointing work. Very few would like to turn to its selection of nineteenth century poets. And if some-one wants to read the works of contemporary poets, he will have to content himself with a few poems by Nissim Ezekiel and A.K. Ramanujan.
Mukesh Vatsyayana is a freelance journalist based in Delhi.