Belongs to Rajasthan, the land of desert and sand dunes, Indra Kumar Sharma has become one of the leading voice of Indian English poetry. Born in the year 1932 he has done his graduation from Maharaja College at Jaipur. After that he has studies at the University of Rajasthan and he has also taught there as a professor of English in the department of English till 1991. But he has never retired from writing as his creative faculty urges him to compose six volumes of poetry namely Shifting Sand Dunes in 1976, Native Embers in 1986, Dharma Sala and Other Poems in 1995, Camel, Cockroach and Captains in 1998, My Lady Broom and Other Poems in 2004 and End to End in 2008. He is a bilingual writer who writes consistently in Hindi and English as he has a consistent command of cadence in these two languages. In 1971 he has received Rajasthani Sahitya Award and later he was honoured with Michael Madhusudan Dutt Award. He is the first one from Rajasthan who has not only sensible for triggering and cherishing Rajasthani Poetry but also has the capacity to articulate himself in a more subtle and comprehensive way. Contemporary social issues, values, cultures, norms, tribulations and trials have been transformed into a new way in his poetry. With the aid of satire, irony, black humour, sarcasm and wit he has evolved his poetic technique to such a status that he becomes one of the leading contemporary poets of post-modern sensibilities. His poems are not generally long but within a short parameter he has given a delicate and personal touch to his poems which prove his self-awareness to a large way. With the lucid languages coupled with irony, metaphor, images and verbal devices show his urge and desire to regenerate the forgotten cultures. In a very subtle and personal way he has able to assimilate not only many literary influences along with discordant surroundings but also urban syncopation of the rhymes of life. His dream of creating a brave new world remains the prime focus of his life and he has done it by exposing the follies and foibles of the world in a very intensive manner by conjoining the concerns of life.
In a conversation with Goutam Karmakar, I.K.Sharma has once again shed light on his profound understanding of man and matters along with his vision of life. With this conversation he again tells us that think and act in a gentler manner. Hope this conversation will make his readers and every poetry lovers to think and act.
TEXT OF THE INTERVIEW
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Hello Prof. I.K.Sharma! You have an amazing career both from scholarly and artistic point of view. Can you please make an outline of them?
I.K.SHARMA: Well, my literary career began as early as 1961, the year my article appeared in the Saptahik Hindustan, New Delhi, — a prominent Hindi Weekly of that period. In the following year another article of mine appeared in the same paper. Thereafter many poems and articles appeared in literary magazines and newspapers of Rajasthan, M.P., and Bihar.A year later (1963) I brought out a book (in collaboration) on English Grammar with a Foreword by Prof. V.V. John. Surprisingly, the book in an improved version (A Practical Course in English) is still alive in the market. The seventies was a turning point in my life and literary career. In 1972 I was invited to attend All India Poets Meet at Madras (now Chennai) and was asked to present a paper on the contemporary literary scene of the State and also to read out a few poems of Rajasthani (in original along with their translations). The event was organized by Dr. Krishna Srinivas, the editor of international monthly, Poet. (He became Padma Bhushan much later in his life.) There, I came in contact with many poets and scholars of India.
In 1973 our department organized a three-day seminar on Indo-Anglian and Commonwealth Seminar of which I was the Organizing Secretary. Prof. P.S.Sundaram was the convener. This seminar attracted the best in the field: Khushwant Singh, Nissim Ezekiel, V.V.John, Samual Mathai, C. Paul Vergese, Ms. Sujatha Modayil, A.K.Mahajan, G.S.Balaram Gupta and others. In 1974 I guest-edited a special Rajasthan number of Poet. In 1975 I was again invited to attend Asian Poets Meet, at Madras organized by Krishna Srinivas. On the way back I heard about the clamping of EMERGENCY. The news disturbed me deeply. Next year a seminar on Translation was organized by the Sahitya Akademi (New Delhi) at Bhopal(MP), which I attended along with my friend Rawat Saraswat. The poets of seven languages/states of north India were present. I read out a poem which I wrote the same morning. The Hindi poem is now classic, finds a mention in books including the Critical Survey of Indian English Literature by T.V.Reddy, published by Authors Press, New Delhi this year. The same year (1976) I brought out my first collection of poems The Shifting Sand-Dunes against Emergency. In 1976 I was asked to participate in Skylark International Poetry Competition. I sent three poems. There were 160 entries from Europe, America, and India. Dismissing very weak efforts, the adjudicator was left with 50 strong poems. Of these, he finally selected 18, and my two poems stood there. In the end, my The Leader won the First Prize and Gold Medal. Reason: the poem masterfully compresses a profound political image into eight handsomely- turned lines. (The judgement took place in England—under the International Poetry Society headed by Christopher Fry.) In 1978 I brought out Contemporary Rajasthani Poetry, a seminal work of Translation covering 20 poets, with a Foreword by Prof. V.K. Gokak. Around the same time I was roped in to help edit Indian Book Chronicle, (founded in New Delhi, by Prof. Amrik Singh,) and later —after 20 years— brought to Jaipur by a group of scholars and administrators. I worked for it till its closure in 2011.
In between I reviewed scores of books, wrote critical papers, and helped edit Contribution of Writers to Indian Freedom Movement (section on Hindi writers), 1985. Take a look at the Photocopy of one chapter of it and I have given it to you.In 1981 I attended the V World Congress of Poets at San Francisco, USA and presented a paper. Thereafter I went to Chicago where Prof. A.K.Ramanujan had made all arrangements for me. I was made the Presidents Guest and paid not a single dollar. I returned home via London where I attended the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Diana. In the same decade I gave a 40-page long paper Between Two Hells: The Muse in Rajasthan at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. Before the end of the decade I attended many seminars across the country. In 1988 I went to Bangkok to attend the World Congress of Poets. This is a partial account — one part of my life. The other side is my involvement in social activity of our colony —Tilaknagar—where I lived for 30 years from 19632003. Then, I lived half in town and half in gown, standing on the hit- list twice. I have no regret because I had followed the Geetas: Sarvabhoota hite rita.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: How have the landscapes and surrounding of Rajasthan shaped your creative faculty? Did you have any other source of inspiration like parents and other poets?
I.K.SHARMA: I came to Rajasthan at age 4 with my aunt (fathers sister) to Shahpura, the erstwhile princely State, now part of District Bhilwara. (I was deeply attached to her— something predestined, I say. I rebelled against my parents wishes at Shamli (UP), my birthplace, and clung to her.) My formative period (12years), was, thus, spent there under her care. Put it differently: In every way I was moulded there in those turbulent times. (Bliss it was in that heaven to be alive!) It was the period of national fervour and I had seen freedom fighters lying flat before the cars of British agents letting them go over their dead bodies! They were honest to the core and remained so even after 1947. In 1948 I, along with many school boys, went to Jaipur to view the Congress session, first in Independent India. On the day of departure, a teacher asked us— what for do you go to Jaipur? To meet our Netas was our chorus. No. You go to meet the devtas. That remark still rings in my ears.
I have seen all parts of Rajasthan, from Bharatpur to Jaisalmer and Udaipur to Bikaner including Kota and Bundi. The state is half green and half desert. But the desert has its valuable contradictions— plenty of milk, music, and literature! I have translated two prominent books of that region —Lu and Badali by Chandra Singh Badali. To this literary adventure I gave about five years. Dr. K.M George introduced this venture, wrote the Foreword.
My source of inspiration is my surrounding. My very first volume of poems is a testament of the impact of physical surroundings. I wrote on the famous historical building of Jaipur—The Hawa Mahal. I have composed many poems related to the theme of Rajasthan, like Camel, Desert, Waiting for Rain, Happy Home, etc. Recall what D.H. Lawrence said: All creative art must rise out of a soil and flicker with a spirit of a place.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Why have you started writing poetry in your late forties? And why have you selected to go with only poetry instead of other genre of writing?
I.K.SHARMA: Your question makes me laugh Goutam— Why? And I would like to answer it in my way. But I have been writing all along. Before coming to poetry I had written many Essays in English and published them in The Democratic Youth (Jaipur), even a travelogue at the age of 24—surely an adolescent exercise— wrote a short story, and gave replies to questions raised by readers of our monthly journal (English). Also wrote a regular weekly column (Hindi) for the sister publication of the Rajasthan Patrika.
Mark: there was no university in Rajasthan till 1948 and no English department till 1963. There was no English newspaper or a literary magazine/journal in the state. I did write poems and destroyed them. However, Poetry had always stayed with me, and after attending Poets Meets she didnt like to leave me.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: You are a teacher and a poet. So tell me what is your real self? And have you ever felt that you are among crooked and vicious individuals while dealing with personal and professional career?
I.K.SHARMA: Your question has two parts. Well, I never liked to reduce myself to a mere teacher making money in the afternoon\ evening; instead I strove to raise myself to a different level and worked for my own dreams. That helped me build a wide network of friends and acquaintances across all streams of society: from poets and scholars, politicians and administrators to clerks and petty shopkeepers. And my Poet always stayed well-purged in the inner sanctum.
You cannot know white without knowing black. Hence, contrast is a must. The crooked and vicious individuals, you mention, seem to me to be the part of a divine pattern. They are there and they will always be there. That makes the show of the world go on. In the dark hour, the Geeta illumines the mind. Otherwise, brilliant minds like Aristotle commit suicide drinking hemlock!
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Apart from subtle, simple and gravity of expression and thought, what are the unique characteristics features of I.K.Sharmas poetry? And does your writing in free verse form carry any specific purpose for you?
I.K.SHARMA: Scholars have traced different strands in my poems. At length it depends on the reader what he gets out of the text of the poem. He feels pleased with its shape or with its hidden thought?
Free verse has been the norm after the First World War, though many returned to sonnet and other art-forms. It brings the poet closer to the common man. Poets at present cannot afford to live in egotistical sublime or bellowing prophetic utterances. He is a responsible citizen talking to fellow citizens. The secret of its success lies in its grand freedom. It communicates directly to the reader: s/he feels involved in the composition like a civilized neighbour. The only condition is its smooth, appropriate syntax.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Through irony, pity, sympathy, adoration and admiration, you have conveyed your vision. So how far does this vision help your readers to gain wisdom? In this context tell me sir how do your compositions perch in you to share with the world?
I.K.SHARMA: Wisdom is a heavy word as it is multi-layered. Poetry should give pleasure, happiness.
Wisdom is not the parade of melancholy or a silent procession of wooden statues. It is joyful equilibrium, takes interest in the multifarious activities of life. It makes man free; simplicity becomes his livery.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: How does I.K.Sharma visualize a world where peace and harmony prevail? Do you really think that poetry has the power to make certain possible changes in a society?
I.K.SHARMA: Peace and Harmony belong to the field of Satwa. They are disturbed when Tamas (Ignorance) comes to play. The poet, then, can only admonish not to give status to the wild men of the world.
Wholesale changes in the society in general are not possible through poetry. But it appeals at individual level, for sure. It persuades him through civilized discourse.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Your poems has projected trivial subjects and objects like nurse, peacock, camel, teeth, broom, cockroach, bus, roadside workshop etc. on a large scale. So why have you presented these simple theme on such a large canvas in your poetry?
I.K.SHARMA: If you carefully survey the history of English poetry in India, many poets, you will notice, slip or escape into abstraction or the so-called philosophy. They hold it is infra dig to write on such trivial objects. Such subjects will make them trivial; so they go for high subjects and write in a high language. Is it not the untouchability of a new kind, practised by small minds?
I, on the other hand surmise, that no subject is trivial; it depends on the talent or vision of the poet, and how he treats the subject. All the titles you have mentioned are within our range but are dutifully ignored by contemporary poets of the country.. Do they (trivial objects) not deserve a line of appreciation from our sensitive human beings, called poets? Related to this area is rural landscape. Major poets of our literature, unfortunately, began their poetic journey in England and landed in India in a flannel suit trying hard to fit in in the chaotic Indian scenario. They find themselves more at home in London rather than in the streets of a city in India! From them you will not expect a poem on the farmer of India because they take machine-made loaf of bread with tea and not the home-made roti! They would not waste their high talent on such perfunctory items.Similar is the case of poets who have settled abroad for their personal promotion and write from their hideouts about their two-part soul and memories of India. Liars! Hypocrites!
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Poetry of I.K.Sharma has demonstrated individual thought as you have defined yourself in your composition. So kindly tell how far does your poetry internalize a process of self-definition?
I.K.SHARMA: Every work I do defines me. Every poem I have written is an extension of my Self. If you spread all the poems on the canvass of your mind, you will find me twinkling everywhere.
Good observation Goutam. Then it is a known fact to you that my Preface to Collected Poems sheds light on this point.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Your penned composition has emboldened and substantiated your position as a poet of sarcasm, with, irony, pun, humour and modern sensibility. And this makes you a post modern poet of great significance and relevance. How would you like to justify yourself as a poet of post-modern sensibilities?
I.K.SHARMA: The literary characteristics you have noticed in my poems are enough to upgrade me to the status of a post-modern poet (but without the nightmarish vision of terror, disharmony, and fragmentation). I have never descended into the dark tunnels of emptiness or taken recourse to violence or the so called boldness in painting sex.
This deviation from the norm, from the common pattern, from the prevailing fashion is decidedly a forward step in new writings.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: What is the predominating theme in your works? Can you relate all your poetic volumes in a single thematic thread?
I.K.SHARMA: To tie down about 400 poems on and around a single thread is neither easy nor possible; for, I moved from one time-zone of life to another in my career. If attempted, there will be knots all the way.
Yet for your sake: its an attempt to explore present-day Indian identity or new consciousness that welds the voice of the masses with the voice of the new emerging class.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Are you aware with the ongoing and existing research on your poetry? What are the possible areas you want to be explored by the scholar and readers in general?
I.K.SHARMA: I have come across a few stray articles on my poems. A few researchers had studied my poems, comparatively with the poems of other poets—thematically.
A friendly scholar once wrote to me that nobody has written on your winking humour, or on your poetic art or on features that make you singular in the post- 20th century.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: It seems that you have continuously shifted your focus to negotiate a multifaceted vision. Why have you done so? And why does your poem seem to be swinging between the mundane and the metaphysical?
I.K.SHARMA: True. It was the call of the moment. If I had written on political events, I had written on social scenes too. I wrote on the glory of Nature and the architectural marvels, I also composed a poem on the most neglected person of the crematorium. Hence, to embrace the overall reality the writer moves from one sphere of experience to another effortlessly.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: How do you foresee the future of Indian English Poetry? Do you think that globalization has affected the poetry?
I.K.SHARMA: English is no more the hated language of the sixties of the 20th century India when Angreji Hatao movement was at its peak. Now it is gladly accepted by the new generation of Indians. Several literary magazines and journals that appear across the country have consolidated its position.
Globalization / glocalisation will not affect Poetry as such. People will continue to write poems even against odds. Did the two world wars succeed in sealing its fate? Only its face and tone changed. Surely it has affected the status of poets. They no more enjoy the privileged status of the earlier ages.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: I.K.Sharmas mastery rests in his dexterous handling of satire while depicting social realism. How have you presented the contemporary social issues and scenario in your work? You have discussed the politics and your frustration over it. How have you depicted the political system in your poetry?
I.K.SHARMA: The element of satire you have noticed in my poems is not of a virulent kind harming the victim; rather, it is of a sophisticated nature drawing the attention of the reader. From book one to the last (seventh)I have tried to demonstrate many contradictory faces of Indian society —its apparent holiness, its hollow pride in status and paltry achievements, its protean malingerers, its new faith in TV chatter, and many other ills of the same kind by portraying characters. Yet I havent ignored the street children
I have depicted the political system through characters (visible on the stage), and through other literary strategies like slapping humorous punches
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: What is your favourite poem among those six volumes and what is the reason for selecting that piece? Sir beside this success today that you have achieved must have a struggle. So tell me whether you have faced any obstacles while writing a piece and any struggles you have faced?
I.K.SHARMA: Not easy for me to choose one. They have been written in different phases of my career. An 8-line poem can earn praise from a critic and 10-page long poem can earn a long critical article by another one.
Well, struggle is the part of life. See the maiden flight of a bird — it rises, falls and again rises. At last it flies and surveys the sky— In case of writing the struggle is always with your self— the theme, the language, the presentation a writer has to be alert when the idea strikes if he doesnt catch it red-hot it will give a slip and lost for ever— To avoid this calamity I would keep pen and paper in my bed at night.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: The presence of god and religious passages are undeniable fact of an Indian poet writing in English. So how have you used theology and mythology in your verse? And what are the purposes behind your dealing with religious and spiritual matters in an ironical way?
I.K.SHARMA: Not for various purposes but simply to project the different dimensions of broad Indian culture without being dogmatic I have used all these in an ironical way. I hope you have got my point.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: What is your philosophy of Nature and how have you portrayed Mother Nature in your works? Sir how have you mingled your native Rajasthani cultures and surrounding with Indian ethos in your works?
I.K.SHARMA: I havent propounded any specific philosophy of Nature but I have drawn attention to its value in the scheme of human welfare.
The Indian Culture has its origin in the vast theatre of Nature. The culture of Rajasthan is not much different from the broad Indian culture. We adore trees, rivers (offer them clothes), die for the sake of harmless animals etc. Save- the- tree movement started from Rajasthan. Sur santhe rookh rahe tau bhi sasto jaan ie A TREE is more valuable than a Human Head. You will find poems on this theme.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: How far does the concept of dehumanization give your poetry a humanistic appeal of anger and protest? And how should reader interpret the message of your poetry collections?
I.K.SHARMA: There is always a second meaning in my poems. When you read them keeping in view the goings-on of the world, the meaning will surface A scholar has written an essay on this aspect of my poetry.
- GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Are you engaging with some project now? And what will be your advice for the younger generation of poets?
I.K.SHARMA: I dont have any specific project but I have never felt retired. And they who wish to join the brigade of Indian English poets should never ask when to start and how. Does the cub ask when to kill? Does a bud ask when to open up? Start. You will gather speed. Goddess Saraswati will help you.
Read poems every day. Thus you will stay in the company of best minds. And apart from these I have no advice for them. Enjoy reading poetry.
GOUTAM KARMAKAR: Thank you sir for giving such insightful answer. You will be always remembered as a poet of with and humour with sarcasm also. And like me all the poetry lovers know that how these devices lead to the path of wisdom. So sir please enriches us in this way.
I.K.SHARMA: Oh yes! Goutam. Thank you for your queries.
Goutam karmakar, a PhD Research Scholar Department of Humanities and Social Sciences National Institute of Technology Durgapur West Bengal, India .Email: firstname.lastname@example.org