The Dance of the Peacock: Many Histories,
Rewritten Myths and Canonized Margins
A Review by Jyothsnaphanija
The Dance of the Peacock: An Anthology of English Poetry from India Edited by Vivekanand Jha covers wide ranging perceptions, vivid experiences of myriad poets from all walks of life, all ages, and all cultures representing the diversity of India. Though they are termed under the rubric of Indian poets but their works showcase universal nature of language, responding nature and time, memory, love and loss. The contemporary poetry of Indian writers presented in this book offers a touching flavor of insightful philosophies, the craftsmanship of the experienced writers, and meticulously selected works of wide ranging themes.
Nature is one of the themes much often focused in the works of the traditional poets, and in this book too, there are number of poems on nature, as raging nature, trees wearing colourful bangles, and as Anju Makhija appreciates,
“When raw mangoes
drop on our head, we pause
to appreciate nature’s bounty.”
Nature pained these poets and painted their poetry. Arman Najmi beautifully writes,
“The dry parched river bank
Bearing the burden of deprivation
Has been tolerating the lashes of the scorching sun
On its burning breast
Neither a shade of dense tree
Nor the carpet of green grass
Who will cover its bare bosom?”
The music of the words blended with typical imagery of the landscape of the composing nature was excelled where the poets were capturing the feel of green fields, whisky whispers, huskily rustling leafs, dew of morning grass, falling sky and bitter kisses of roses, where “Shadows of various kinds converge on the west-facing frost-glass windows,”, “Where Clouds let off wrinkled steam and the skies/ See the rocks blossom naked and wild”, with “canopy of the trees of the emerald green”, and in aquamarine rivers, sea of marijuana green, with passionate thunders whipping the carriage horses, wrinkled boats and pastoral afternoons.
Love is another idea conceived in this book. Loveria as Vivekanand Jha writes, there are many love stories this book tells. As it is beautifully composed by Mihir Chitre in his poem Ripples, “In your eyes was/ the warmth of three winters/ The sky shivering/ And I surrendered”, love captures the pain, is like a poem, eternal and loss. As Amarendra Kathua says in Injury Time, “that love has its deepest wound etched inside our hungry togetherness”, love is an injury, is ambiguous, and musical in these lyrics.
Typical Indian culture is indicated in morning ragas, summer mangoes, angulimalas, offerings to Shiva, Deaths in Orissa, floods in Andhra Pradesh, quiet Kerala beach, The Himalayan scenery, ETC. P. K. N. Panicker’s poem Haunted tells how the poet is moved with the modern change in the country,
framed in the memory
of my native village
in God’s own country,
where paddy plants listen
to the scratch of crickets
and to the bellowing of the frogs”
Feministic vision was viewed both by the poets and poetesses in this work. In a soothing language, they talked of dreams, love, hopes, motherliness, desires, old age and widowhood which injure women. Anita Nair’s Hello Lust tells how one is submitted to another in a relationship. Ambika Ananth expresses,
“Sometimes I am called archetype and archaic
When I walk few paces behind my man
That I am under machismo grip
and I have no voice no progressive thought”.
Few women poets have architected the language of their own in these verses with their own imagery. Similarly, Monika Pant’s Monsoon Blues tells the rupture of the betrayed as was written,
“Is it because behind the arches of the derelict monument,
I had stood for long
Holding my white, wispy veil
Or dupatta as we called it,
Across my tear stained face
As I waited for him
And watched the darkening sky swell
Like the belly of a pregnant woman?”
P. K. Joy’s Two Hands of a Man is a satiric poem on the double moral standards of a man who protects his wife in a crowded bus and tries to touch the other lady. This poem shows how the mail centric society treats the women as objects of sexual pleasure and does not apply the same for their own family members. Many of the poems in this book portray how feminism is seen as a different entity from women’s actual lives in the country, rape and adultery of mind, and significantly as repeatedly Ruth Vanita questions “Can you take the lesbian out of India?” While Shefali Shah Choksi’s Mirror Women talks of the invisibility of women, how they are trivialized, Sunita Jain’s Summer Magic tells how the young girls are viewed trivialized. As Usha Kishore says, “an Indian woman attempting feminist writing in a borrowed tongue,”, these women have written their own lives and lives of women around them in English as in Gopa Nayak’s I had Put Mehendi on That Evening, Hazara singh’s Glory of Woman, Tejdeep Kaur Menon’s verses, tell the tales of women’s desires, shattered and trivialized.
This book tells many histories, rewritten myths, and canonized margins. History revealing Taj Mahal, dust and beggars outside the Taj Mahal, new version of Parvaty’s story, Desdemona’s story, Draupadi’s myth, retelling the story of Ravan, Gandhi’s tales, image of Madonna, and poem inspired by Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings, contribute for the imaginative flavor of the anthology. Telling Cinderella’s story till the tragic death of Nirbaya, many of the poets pinned at the society with their pen. They talked about the tribal women, street children, poverty, and caste woes.
This book in no way compromises the readers in giving unusual imaginations, expanding the limits of language and feelings for example, “love as a performing art,” “pregnancy of earth”, “drinking the sky”, “half dreamt dreams”, and many more. As K. Satchidanandan translates,
“God too must have stammered
when He created man.
That is why all the words of man
carry different meanings.”
The imaginative space too carries the infinite interpretations besides the bewilderment of the words hived in the language, and the compositions played by the shallow piano keys. This commendable work promises any reader to offer a simple language covered unusual thoughts, and takes the reader towards a different journey. This book tells the secrets of storms, shows the darkness of the darker nights, and takes towards the wands of irresistible beauty in bringing towards the African continent and the way of the world.
Many of the poets in this anthology wrote how poetry talks to them, how poetry pains them, and how it conjures them. For the poets in this anthology, poetry is a beautiful tree, poetry is love making, poetry is deciphering, and as Pashupati Jha asserts Poetry Makes a Lot to Happen. As C. D. Norman recites, “Words play hide and seek,” and Bipin Patsani attributes making a poem as “The voyage/ More exciting /Than the destination”, these poets sing the patchwork of happiness and sorrows. As Syed Faizan rightly articulates, “What if each breath that every being e’er took, /Has been recorded in a library; /What if each human were a secret book, /Bound in the covers of eternity”, this anthology records the most delicate phases of life, tangential perceptions, and colourful realities.
One should take this book and read to understand the vibrant perceptions of some gifted souls, speaking directly in free verse, making everything crystal clear. Many of the poets presented in this anthology are established poets presenting their unique perceptions and experiences. This book is of perfectly designed to cater the needs of a contemporary reader who can read poems about face book and twitter, and satisfy with the traditional forms blended in modern thoughts where the poets sang odes to Mumbai, and hymns to love and nature. It answers for feministic concerns, makes cry for the unacknowledged pain, seeps us through inevitable imagination.
Some of the metaphors and language flexibilities of this anthology shock the readers in the explored phases of literature. This commendable work is worth reading and refreshes the readers when poetry is losing readers as Jha worries, poetry is frightening as fiction. This book ends with words of Keats “None but the master shall praise us; and none but the master shall blame.” Suggesting that, this collective effort compressed in this anthology can have a critical appreciation from the readers, serving them and enlightening them.
Jyothsnaphanija is a doctoral candidate at the Department of English Literature, EFL University in Hyderabad, India. She did her Masters in English Literature from the same University. This 23 year old young writer was a gold medalist in BA English Literature. She challenged the vision loss which she was having from her birth. Her poetry has been published in Luvah, Coldnoon, Tajmahal Review, Kritya, eFiction India, Miracle, Fragrance, Induswoman Writing and are forthcoming in Skeleton’s Anthology, Kumquat Poetry and Solstice Initiative. Her academic writings have appeared in Subalternspeak, eDhvani, Wizcraft, Barnolipi. She contributed her essays to the books Indian Women Novelists: A Critical Spectrum (2012), and Contemporary Indian Drama in English, 2013. Currently she is in the editorial team of Criterion.