A Review by Brian D’Arcy
The Dance of the Peacock: an Anthology of English Poetry from India edited by Dr Vivekanand Jha, Hidden Brook Press, Canada, 2013, ISBN 9781927725045009, 518pp, pbk, price Rs 750 / $26.95.
With the reference to India’s national bird in its title, The Dance of the Peacock is a poetry anthology that is stamped with national pride. It is a big volume with contributions by 151 contemporary poets drawn from all over India and the Indian diaspora. The work of most poets is represented by several of their poems. In his ‘Introduction’, Jha calls his book ‘an epoch anthology’ and explains that it is his ‘attempt, as editor, to salvage the legacy, tradition and pride of English poetry of India…. This book showcases a homogenous amalgamation of legendary figures, the established and promising poets.’
The biographies of the contributors is revelatory. They come from a wide range of regional and linguistic backgrounds. Many of the poets describe themselves as bilingual and even, in some instances, trilingual. There is a roughly equal mix of male and female poets, and the ages range from 15 to 92. The anthology has a full variety of themes. In the words of the Foreword, the book is both ‘a celebration of diversity’ and ‘a labour of love’.
The Dance of the Peacock has some heavyweight names among its contributors, including Bibhu Padhi, Jayanta Mahapatra, Keki Daruwalla and Debjani Chatterjee; but there are some exciting discoveries to be made among the many more who are less well-known. Lakshmi Priya’s ‘Concubine’ is a fine example of the narrative poem, a currently unfashionable genre. Lalita Noronha’s ‘Sponge Bath’ explores a serious subject with honesty and original imagery, illustrated here by her description of an invalid mother:
I see my mother cling to the headboard,
her hair a silver fluff
of dandelion, her buttocks flat as dinner plates
her skin phyllo-thin.
A number of poets tackle issues of Indian English and of language generally. Usha Kishore’s ‘Postcolonial Poem’ and ‘L’écriture feminine et indienne’, and Smita Agarwal’s ‘Angrezi Vangrezi’ are noteworthy additions to this important subject.
One reservation concerns poetry in translation. This anthology is not a collection of translations – the sub-title makes it clear that the contents are English poetry from India. Yet, unexpectedly, there are three poets whose work appears to be included in translation. One of these is the well-known Bengali poet Malay Roy Choudhury, whose three poems are all translations. Another is the distinguished Malayali poet K Satchidanandan, whose seven poems are translations. The third poet Ashoka Sen has two poems in English, but a third is her fine translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s famous poem ‘Africa’, a poem whose original author is not the translator and can by no means be labelled ‘contemporary’. These translations sit somewhat uncomfortably in a collection of original poems. Perhaps Vivekanand Jha should have set these aside for consideration for a different collection, one that has its focus on Indian poetry in translation.
In such an ambitious project as The Dance of the Peacock, it is inevitable that readers will regret the omission of some established poets and the quality of some who are included. However, given the ambitious scope and nature of the project, the editor is to be commended for compiling his testimonial to the ‘ever increasing galaxy of talent’ among Indian poets writing in English.
Curtsey: Indian arts and culture magazine Pratibha India where this review first published.