( From 'Critical Perspectives' ed. Anil Kapoor, Jaipur: Mark Publishers, 2012, ISBN 978-81-89472-95-5, pp. 59-69)
Reduced to beggary by Mumbai
Ate a piece of jaggery at Kalyan
In a village that had no name
But hand a waterfall
Sold one blanket
And had a fill of water
Chewing peepul leaves
Came up to Nashik
Sold Tukaram there
And ate kheema-pav on top
While leaving Agra Road
Broke a chappal
( Arun Kolatkar, trans. Dilip Chitre)
The relationship between region and literature is an intricate one. The social, cultural and historical location of writers plays a crucial role in determining their sensibility, values, styles, themes and attitudes. As the quest and assertion of identity of writers is frequently a significant characteristic of literary writing and as the social, cultural and historical domain is often intertwined with geographical setting, the quest for identity is often expressed in regional terms. This paper looks at how the post Independence Marathi poetry imagines, negotiates and represent Mumbai. Mumbai has played a decisive role in giving a new direction to Marathi, Gujarati and Indian English poetry. The urban experience of uprootedness, dehumanization, alienation and existential angst against industrialized, commercial and consumerist culture is a constant presence in the modernist poetry the world over. The paper explores the intimate relationship between Mumbai and avant-garde movements in Marathi poetry like modernism and postmodernism by analysing works of major Modernist poets like Vilas Sarang, Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre and Namdeo Dhasal and the works of significant contemporary poets like Manya Joshi, Varjesh Solanki, and Hemant Divate.
Marathi critics have a curious way of periodizing the twentieth century Marathi literary history. The conventional literary history marks the late nineteenth century the beginning of the ‘modern’ literature (which is in keeping with many other Indian literatures), and the phase after BS Mardhekar (c. 1940s) as ‘Modernist’. For some critics the phase of rise of little magazine movements in the sixties marks a new phase in Marathi literature, which is termed as ‘ Sathottari’ or ‘the post-Sixties’ borrowed from the friendly neighbourhood of Hindi literature. This phase is set off as a rejection or rebellion against the modernism of the 40s. This term is however is extremely problematic. The first problem is that the earliest little magazine movements began in the early fifties, with Dilip Chitre, Arun Kolatkar and others starting the cyclostyled little magazine named ‘Shabda’ in 1954, so it is not really ‘post-Sixties’ at all. The second, and more serious problem, is that some of the important preoccupations of the so called ‘post-Sixties’ can be traced back to Mardhekar himself. The preoccupations like amalgamation of international modernist movements with the Bhakti traditions, or with idea of alienation or the depiction of dark subjectivity and explicit sexuality, which is common in the writings of Dilip Chitre, Arun Kolatkar, Bhalchandra Nemade( whose famous novel Kosla, shows clear impact of JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, in spite of his xenophobic version of nativism), Namdeo Dhasal ( who co-founded Dalit Panthers inspired by the Black Panther’s movement in America), Vasant Abaji Dahke ( the dark surreal vision of Kafka is a major influence on his works) and others are prominently present in Mardhekar’s poetry. Hence, people who want to depict the post Sixties movement as a ‘nativist’ rejection of the earlier modernist phase (termed ‘Satyakatha’-Modernism disparagingly by the little magazine wallahs after the name of a reputed literary magazine which published the works of early modernists as well as the early works of Chitre, Dhasal and Kolatkar) have not read their literature carefully and critically.
A controversial position is taken by Sridhar Tilve (1999), who claims the post-Sixties little magazine is a third ‘modernity’ (or alternatively ‘postmodernism’) and the new generation of poets who deal with social and cultural problems of post liberalization phase are the poets of ‘Fourth modernity’ (‘post-post modernist’, by Tilve’s arithmetic, the first phase being the late nineteenth century , the second phase being the early modern phase of Mardhekar, Vinda Karandikar etc and the third phase is the ‘post modern phase’ of Chitre, Kolatkar etc.) The debate over the terminology is largely futile according to me, because in India, no period exhibits complete break with the preceding period and at the same time there is no period in which there is some discontinuity with the previous period. I find Lyotard’s discussion of the term ‘postmodern’ very useful in this context. Lyotard defines post-modern as precisely the avant-garde spirit to question received dogmas, parochial and received norms of literature. If questioning the received dogmas and established norms of literature is postmodernism in Lyotardian sense then postmodern even predates modernism. In the Indian context, this spirit can go back to the Bhakti period which was a period of intense questioning of norms and customs.
In his influential sociological analysis of the modernist movement, Raymond Williams (1990:164-170) focuses on the relationship between Modernism and metropolis between the second half of the nineteenth century and of the first half of the twentieth century. He notes that Modernism has seen in’ the new and specific location of the artists and intellectuals... within the changing cultural milieu of the metropolis’. He notes that the key cultural factor of the modernist shift is the character of metropolis. He points out that immigration to the great cities had direct influence on technical and formal innovations of this period. It also influenced the themes of alienation, strangeness and distance so common in the modernist writings. Raymond Williams is also critical of ideological underpinnings of the entire retrospective project of constructing modernism in a rather selective way.
Monroe K Spears’s book Dionysus and the City (1970) like William’s work examines the relationship between the Nietzschean Dionysus and the context of urbanization in the development of modernism in the West. He says,
‘ Dionysus presides metaphorically over most of the recent trends in theater, from cruelty and absurdity to audience participation, nudity, and the tribal rock musical. On and off the stage, he is apparent in two contemporary figures: the black militant, violently releasing dark and repressed forces both in society and within psyche, and the rock musician, with his female devotees and his orgiastic cult of collective emotion.’ (1970: 35)
Spears in his discerning examination point out that the word City etymologically comes from the civitas, city-state, which is properly an aggregation of cives, citizens and the term civilization too comes from the same root. As a poetic trope, it stands for both the city within and the city without. Spears, drawing upon ideas from Walter Pater’s essay ‘ A Study of Dionysus’, comments that modernism began when Dionysus entered the city. In earlier times, Civitas Terrena or the Earthly City was seen as striving towards a Heavenly City, Civitas Dei, but for moderns, says Prof Spears, it is seen as falling or fallen and moving towards the Infernal City the City of Dis, the city of Dante and Baudelaire, and of Eliot. In short, when the modernist poets paint the city in dark and sinister colours, they are in many ways censuring and negating the process of urbanization as well as the entire foundation of civilization, they are criticizing the city within and without. If modern city stands for modernity, then modernism, as a cultural movement often stands in contradiction and negation to modernity.
This essential link, which Williams and Spears underscore, between metropolis, which is both capitalist and imperialist, and the modernist movement is decisive for analysis of Modernism as an international movement as both capitalism and imperialism have their impact on a transnational scale. Besides, what is termed Modernism has achieved, in Williams’ words, ‘comfortable integration into the new international capitalism’. He also remarks that Modernism is now canonized and its innovation has become ‘ the new but fixed forms of our present moment.’ The well-known art critic Harold Rosenberg, back in 1959 mentioned that ‘ The famous "modern break with tradition" has lasted long enough to have produced its own tradition’ and it was possible to speak paradoxically of the ‘tradition of the new.’ It will be useful to locate Modernism in Indian languages within this ‘tradition of the new’. Though the contours and specifics of Modernism in India will obviously.
However, the relationship between the city and the village is crucial not just in analysis of modernism, but also for entire literary historiography and historical analysis of culture as demonstrated by Raymond Williams’ seminal book The Country and the City (1973). Giving a lucid and rigorous analysis of shifting values, perceptions and associations of the opposition between the country and the city as embodied in English literary history, Williams remarks that this contrast,’ is one of the major forms in which we become conscious of a central part of our experience and of the crises of our society’. (1973:289). He argues that capitalism, as a mode of production, is the basic process of most of what we know as the history of country and city. He cites Marx and Engels from the Communist Manifesto where they say, ‘ the bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns...has created enormous cities...has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilized ones.’ (1973:303). Williams, in spite of being a Marxist, is critical of the idea implicit within Marxism and socialism, the avowed enemies of capitalism, in their perception that the city is more ‘advanced and progressive’ than the country because the industrial capitalism is a more progressive than the feudal capitalism.
However, what is important to us in our analysis of the relationship between modernism and the city in the Indian context is Raymond Williams’s awareness of relevance of this thesis to cultures beyond the British and the western culture. He is aware of the fact that the historical process he is studying is ‘now effectively international, means that we have more than material for interesting comparisons. ‘(1973:292)
While it would be illuminating to examine the imagery and sensibility associated with the urban experience in the modernist Indian poetry, I would be delimiting myself to Marathi poetry and the urban experience of Mumbai which happens to be India's largest city, and the financial capital of the country, and also one of the most important cultural centres of this country. It is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. The city proper has approximately 14 million people and, along with the neighbouring suburbs of Navi Mumbai and Thane, Mumbai forms the world's 4th largest urban agglomeration with around 19 million people. Mumbai is the commercial and entertainment centre of India, generating 5% of India's GDP and accounting for 25% of industrial output, 40% of maritime trade, and 70% of capital transactions to India's economy. Important financial institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India, the Bombay Stock Exchange, the National Stock Exchange of India and the corporate headquarters of many Indian companies and numerous multinational corporations are based in this city. India's Hindi film and television industry, or Bollywood is based in Mumbai. Mumbai's business opportunities, as well as its potential to offer a better standard of living, attract migrants from all over India and, in turn, make the city an assortment of many communities and cultures.
Manya Joshi, a young Mumbai based poet writes in a language that hardly looks like Marathi. The changed metropolitan location deeply informs his poetry. I quote from his poem ‘Marathi Pauperized Me’. The first line obviously is a take on the Kolatkar poem quoted in the beginning.
Marathi pauperized me
So I fingered English shit
My ass aches
From paying for
All escape routes
A white Mercedes
Smashes me to smithereens
I know by heart
The success stories chart
In the personality development class-
-My worshiped location
Ad copies of MNCs
Hold me under their sway
Of virtual reality
In so-called alien intelligence
The world is not mean
But we are jerks
Manya Joshi’s poems often touch upon the segregation of human being from a human being in the age of ‘communication’ revolution. His poem ‘ An Announcement for Mr and Mrs Limaye’ can be read as an expression of alienation in the ‘global village’:
An Announcement for Mr. & Mrs. Limaye
Mrs. Limaye aap jahan
Kahibhi ho forein
Mulund station par chale aaiye
Wahan aapke pati
Aapka intezaar kar rahe hai
Maalik who is sabka ek
O Shirdi king Sai Baba bang bang
People lose their way
People lose each other
People make civil statements
On a superbuiltup world
In a public local train
There is an unimagined itchiness
On your private emotions
You mentally advertise it to yourself
Mr. & Mrs. Limaye
Hiding behind popular philosophies
Facing each other.
The poem which mixes up registers and languages expresses how people lose each other and are alienated from one another. In spite of being a very small world, a married couple travelling in Mumbai suburban train fails to recognize each other on the crowded railway platform. Manya Joshi’s perception of the predicament of alienation in the ‘super built up’ world is not celebratory. It is a rather agonizing situation from which even Sai Baba cannot save us.
Manya, one of the most experimental poets today, employs the post modernist device of pastiche and collage in his poems by drolly using incoherent and queer fragments from various languages like English and Urdu mixed with Mumbai slang. He freely sprinkles the indigested terms from the Western literary theory flavoured with sarcasm and irreverence. The language of his poems is extremely hybrid and heterogeneous.
Vrajesh Solanki uses a similar post modernist device of pastiche and collage in one of this poems entitled ‘ Poems of Advertisements’:
About films: wanted boys and girls for a new TV serial,
Smart, young, having a good command over language, contact us
With your photo for the screen test. Earn! Earn! Earn! Ten thousand a month.
A golden opportunity for the unemployed. Education no bar. A company
With American base wants sales boys and sales girls for door-to-door marketing.
Meet with your bio-data. Vasai: the second Konkan. Green heaven restaurant
Just five minutes from the station. Recognized by Sidco. Twenty-four water supply.
With ultra modern amenities. Loan facility available. Booking open. Are you depressed?
Take two pills of super deluxe before sleep and experience the power and strength
Which you once had. Internet marriage: www.marathilagna.com 45/55 Maratha caste
Fill up online forms. Regarding the change of names: I, vithya dagdo gaitonde
From today onwards will be called vikas dagdo gaitonde as per
Maharastra gazette no. xxxx dated xx/xx/xx. Sanju, please come back
From wherever you are, your mummy and papa are waiting for you. Entire Patil family.
Solve the crossword no.514 please don’t send it to our office address or try to contact
Our office regarding the same.
Vrajesh‘s poetry expresses his anger and suffocation of living in a dehumanizing and fake cultural and social environment. Mumbai, the gigantic metropolis comes out as a bewildering mega machine through the eyes of lesser-privileged sections of the population that Vrajesh represents to an extent. Interestingly, Vrajesh’s first language is Gujarati and he writes excellent Marathi.
Poems of Hemant Divate are concerned directly with the urban social and cultural landscape transformed by the forces of globalization and privatization. In his poem ‘ Even Here He Gets Fucked’ he talks about how these large scale processes have eroded and damaged personal relationships:
I now live in an e-world
whose naturalness I no longer trust.
When I take air in
and throw it out,
I hardly realize
when it becomes breath,
Likewise, when I trickle from space
into cyber space
along with the sound of the cursor
and try to reach the given address
I don't find you there.
One more relationship is dragged away
into the junk mail.
In the poem titled ‘ Shopping at Mega-Mall’, the speaker realizes that he has turned into a commodity a consumer item and is being displayed in the mega mall.
I am Whisper Sanitary Napkin
Lying on the first rack
And I am dreaming of living very close to a young girl
Absorbing her juices.
Or that I am a Huggies Nappy Pad on the second rack
And I am accumulating the excreta as I snuggle
Who I look after tenderly
For five to six hours.
Or I am a high-priced toilet soap
Camay, Yardley or Lux International
The consumer becomes the consumed; the subject becomes the object, not just any object but an object to be sold in a flashy wrapper as the entire world turns into a one huge Mega-mall. This indeed is a dehumanizing predicament.
Or I am the television
And the entire family is sitting in front of me
Eating and surfing my channels
Or that they have switched me off
And have left me alone in this room
Or that I am a foot wipe
Costing twelve bucks
Given free with a purchase
Yet my master coming out of the bathroom
Is wiping his wet feet on me
Or that I am a broom
With which the folks
Are causally cleaning their floor
Or dusting away cobwebs.
My mistress drops me
While using me
And dreams of a vacuum cleaner.
She spits on me
Even if I touch her husband's body
This sense of commodification of self is also an awareness of being used, abused and used as a foot wipe. The last stanza quoted above is almost an example of Dalit poetry, where the owner of the broom spits on it dreaming of vacuum cleaner. The consciousness of the dehumanizing, asphyxiating and sinister aspects of globalization pervades poetry of many contemporary poets like Hemant Divate.
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