Dancing with the Peacocks…

A Review of The Dance of the Peaccok by Prof.  Vishal Bhadani

“We live only to discover beauty, all else is a form of waiting” words of Khalil Gibran kept reverberating for quite long time while flipping through pages of the new anthology of English poetry from India called The Dance of the Peacock edited by Dr. Vivekananda Jha. Significantly, such anthologies do not appear so frequently but when they appear, it is, I must say, a treat to read, relish and to be with them. While reading this anthology, you will hardly differentiate between a poem and a peacock!

The constellation of poets and poems that Dr. Jha has taken pains to chose keep surprising you by uplifting you to the wonderland of ecstasy. Characteristically these Indian poets and their imaginations are heterogeneously spread across a range of direct responses to the human experiences as they are: black and white. Poets in this collection can happily be classified into three broader classes: 1) Romantics, 2) Mystics or Philosophers, and 3) Rebels.

Fortunately, they appear magically without any introduction or so called biographical details (thanks to the editor for not colouring readers’ perception by doing so!!). Sometimes these poets, through their poems, either just say “hello” and fly away or the other time they hold you inside out that you wonder how they exactly know about your-self! Ambika Ananth is an exponent of preserving poetry the experience of Love:

I being there

is just a pretext of life

The reality is ‘you’

I have no identity..

How enticing, how soothing

is this state of ‘not being’

The ‘self’ is one those issues that so many poets in this anthology take forward to world of poeticity and philosophical dialogue. In all such poems the ‘self’ get encoded, decoded and recoded for the readers. I must indicate to those poems that speak volumes of confrontations of/to self in few-familiar words, as in Asha Viswas’

My body’s landscape

with footprints and traces from the past

is like a huge, old island

that understands the patois of the shore.

Or Aparna Kaji Shah’s sense of release after and nausea of the tough battle with the self can be felt loud and clear when she says:

Free at last, the self rises

Like an unwavering flame,

Dispelling the darkness of the mind.

Depersonalizing what it means to have a ‘self’, to realize it and to articulate emptiness that one feels every moment in/of the fragmented time sequences we call life. Poets, chosen here, are brutally honest in deconstructing the “romantic” version of life (as it was so handy with some earlier poets obsessed with natural and spiritual themes) and have audacity to represent some of those failed aspirations as engulfed by human instincts. For instance, in his “Guns and Gods” Asoke Chakravarty compulsively nullifies the pseudo-democrats of the first World when he satirizes:

We have the peace bomb.

Your bombs are not so peaceful.

In the name of democracy and justice,

Our peace bombs kill humanely.

Your bombs are not so humane.

There are plenty of such poems which stare eye-to-eye at you till the point you are internally disturbed and convinced. More gravely Samartha Vashishtha articulates those realms of Diaspora that many poets carry burden with always, alike, alone. As the poem “Escape” reads:

Burning tyres in Gujarat

brown as her eyes

my country weeps;

I dream of white women

and the firmness of their breasts.

 

Then sipping at my glass of Coke

letting the deluxe bus go

I dream of a place called New York

miles and miles from my bus-stand

cleaner than a river called Ganges.

It makes bullet holes in your eyes, there are numerous question marks floating through them, there are reminiscences of painful events that rest for a while and take shape of tears. Poems like these and many more have set, through this anthology, high standards for the poets to come from Indian English category. For example, late in the anthology, there dances a poem called “Ashamed” by Satish Verma states: The mother tongue weeps. / The masks will write a history, in exile.

Interestingly when we trace the development of symbols and metaphors across the languages and literature, we feel that something has happened to the poets of these age that there is radical, sometimes ironic either, shift in the choice of them. As in this poem “Absence” of Asha Viswas:

A verse inscribed with a red lipstick

glimmers from the looking glass

A spider leisurely walks between the lines

While the wakeful cat on the window sill still waits

for the departed one.

Verses used to be blessed by the Muses and there was a sense of piousness or elevated emotions and thoughts, but with this “red lipstick glimmering” new kind of poetry is born for which we need a different kind of poetics altogether. It is quite possible that the culmination of poetry or sublimity of the aesthetic experience we have during the poem may not happen at the end. Often you get elevated in the beginning itself and the rest is, then, just anti-climax or craftsmanship, for instance, the poem “When Without Rains” the first line speaks: As there are seasons, /I have reasons to change.

 

Ah! It is irresistible a task of talking about as many as possible provided the fatal and finite space of the words allow you to. The Dance of the Peacock is an anthology of peacocks who dance as poems. As their areas of poetic expertise, poets have almost covered all major human emotions, nature, problems of modernity, socio-political situations, dialectics of internal and external worlds, poetry writing etc. A must read for all those students, teachers and other poetry lovers who have so far read poetry for the sake poetry and I am sure you will get many more than just poetry i.e. is dance of poems. You will discover much more gems than I could while reading. Last but not the least, Sukrita Paul Kumar says in his “Parting again”:

 

Sadness sits like

a snake in my belly

turning and twisting

 

I would say, after going through this anthology The Dance of the Peacock edited by Dr. Vivekananda Jha,

Happiness leaps up like

A peacock in my heart

Dancing and dancing!!

       ***********

Prof. Vishal Bhadani, Assistant Professor in English, Department of English, Center for Education, Indian Institute of Teacher Education, Gandhinagar (Gujarat-India).


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