Kanwar Dinesh Singh has published ten poetry collections in English: Reveries Incessant (1993), Implosions (1996), Asides (1996), Thinking Aloud (1999), The Theophany (1999), House Arrest (2000), Deuce: Haiku Poems (2001: in collaboration with Patricia Prime of New Zealand), The Flow of Soul (2002), Rainbows, Moonbows and Fog (2002), and Scintillations: The Junctures of Satori (2003). In Hindi, he has published two volumes of poems: Put-bhed (2003) and Kuhra Dhanush (2006).Singh is the recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award from the Government of Himachal Pradesh for his poetry book House Arrest (Kolkata: Writers Workshop, 2000). His poems, reviews and articles have also appeared in several leading newspapers, journals and magazines viz. Indian Express, Hindustan Times, National Herald, The Tribune, Femina, Sun, Rashtriya Sahara, Amar Ujala, Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagaran, New Quest, Poetry Today, Journal of Indian Writing in English, Poet, Poetcrit, Continuum, The Quest, Indo-Asian Literature, Indian Book Chronicle, Art and Poetry Today, Heaven, Metverse Muse, Urdu Alive, The Brain Wave, Bridge-in-Making, Canopy, Cyber Literature, Kafla, World Poetry, Wanderlust, Litcrit India and hyphen among many others.
His poetry has been highly admired by a number of scholars. For example, N D R Chandra writes thus about his poetry:
Singh’s verse has originality, the spontaneity, simplicity and gravity which may bind any serious reader of poetry.
This man of intense poetic genius talks to Dr Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal* about the influences on his poetry, poetic creation, pantheism, English Studies in India and several other issues.
NKA: You are from the state of Himachal Pradesh. How has the scenic beauty of the land created poetic upsurge in your heart? Please enlighten.
KDS: I am really indebted to the land of Himachal Pradesh that has with its splendid natural beauty enthused and motivated the poet in me, and has provided a bountiful and fertile matrix for the growth of my verse. One can find pictography of hills, vales, snows and sylvan atmosphere in several of my poems. It is not merely picturesqueness of nature on this blessed land but its geniality and affability that remain consistent, committed and absolutely nonpareil. It is the camaraderie with the magnificent nature that has offered a propulsive energy to my themes and expression.
NKA: The poet’s psyche is stirred by some emotional experience. The example of sage Valmiki, who was raised to the summit of Mount Helicon (Mountain of Poetry) by the pathetic vision of the killing of the Kraunch bird, is quite common. In a way, a poet, through his poetry, transmutes his own personal experiences, emotions and feelings into something which is of universal and general nature. He universalizes his subjective emotions. What emotional factors are responsible for your lyrical impulse? In your The Flow of Soul, you seem to soar very high on ‘the viewless wings of poesy’. Are there some personal experiences behind this lyrical outburst in your poetry? Please illumine.
KDS: I agree to your statement that there are certain emotional factors behind lyrical outburst. The poetic expression is appealing only when it comprises heartfelt and genuine experience and feeling. A poem cannot move the heart of the reader unless it embodies the authentic and the factual along with the imaginative. As you have said it was the “pathetic vision” of sage-poet Valmiki that had quickened the poet in him. In other words, it was the inherent sensitivity or emotion of pathos resting within him that became manifest in empathy with the external.
In my case, there are quite a few moving experiences that have aided in my poetic surge. I have tried to metamorphose or transmute my felt experiences and fervent feelings into my poems. Even if somewhere I have spoken through a persona, it’s the voicing of my own feeling engendered or prompted by a certain arousing, heart-warming or disconcerting experience.
I must say it is my inborn emotional, contemplative, introspective, inquisitive and sensitive nature that has shaped my poetic sensibility. It is my responsiveness to a specific milieu and moment in time. Accordingly, my tender feelings, emotions, cravings and passionate hankerings of adolescence have dominated my early poems. Later on, however, existential and metaphysical questionings of self, god, life, death, suffering, love, loss, hope, and a number of human predicaments besides some social concerns became my major preoccupations.
NKA: What is the significance of nature imagery in your poetry?
KDS: Imagery in majority of my poems draws on the gargantuan variety of the objects of nature. Nature images proffer me reasonably fitting symbols, similes, metaphors, collations and objective correlatives. I would like to confess that I have plagiarized a lot from the outstanding epical verses inscribed by nature on her each and every object.
In fact, nature has offered me an apt and effective idiom to communicate my experience, feeling, thought and concept in the best possible way. I must say nature is my confidante and is accompanying me through thick and thin.
Moreover, nature imagery provides me with ample scope for pathetic fallacy, in the light of which I feel I can prevail over my moments of despair, gloom, loneliness and desperation.
NKA: In your poem ‘They and I‘, you have exhibited human destiny under the guise of the sun. The concluding lines “I am shorn of both/Light and Warmth” touch the innermost chords of the reader’s heart. Are you trying to establish a triad of Man, Nature and God? Are you indicating at the non-dualistic philosophy of the Upanishads in your poetry? Nature and Man are just the two different reflections of One Great Ultimate Reality. In the poem ‘Absorption‘, your pantheistic approach is evident, when you say “Come, and do absorb me/Within yourself.” This emphasis on pantheism and non- dualism can cure the various ills of the contemporary society. Perhaps, this approach can eradicate ‘the weariness, the fever and the fret’ of life. Your views, please.
KDS: The poem “They and I” depicts the relationship between man and nature. Human sustenance / existence is dependent solely on nature. Yet, human being is too self-seeking and ungrateful toward nature. Through symbolism of Sun, the source of light, warmth and energy, this poem shows how when Sun, during the first half of the day, is capable of giving, human beings adore him, and when by fall of the night, he loses capacity to give, human beings turn indifferent and callous to him. It is the selfish nature of man that causes conflict with nature. Man must realize the fact that he is dependent on nature for all his needs, for his overall existence. Thus, the poem primarily deals with ecological perspectives and human ingratitude towards nature.
There are several other poems of mine in which you will find reflections on the triad of man, nature and God with emphasis on pantheism and non-dualistic philosophy. As, for instance, you have taken the poem captioned “Absorption“. This poem, on the one hand, invokes human beings (symbolized by rivers) to live in harmony / unison as all have one and the same destiny (symbolized by ocean), on the other, holds that all religious faiths are different passages leading to one Great Ultimate Reality, which is the Absolute Truth.
And I agree with you on your statement that emphasis on pantheism and non-dualism can cure the various ills of the contemporary society. Besides, this approach can certainly help eradicate what you call “the weariness, the fever and the fret” of life. In other words, with this approach, as a way of life in today’s world, we can make our living better, dignified and full of grace.
NKA: The fifth part of The Flow of Soul contains poems which violate the traditional canons of English language, as you have completely avoided the use of capital letters. Is it under the influence of verse libre of the moderns? Moderns have violated traditional language, as they found that language to be unfit for the expression of their sensibility. There is a complete breakdown of the language in their poetry. Is the complete elimination of the capital letters in this fifth section under the subconscious influence of the Great Moderns? Or, are you trying to imaginatively create something new? Please elaborate.
KDS: As regards the employment of small letters in the fifth part of The Flow of Soul, the violation of traditional canons of English language has been done deliberately and purposefully. Technically, the use of small case is suggestive of many things at one and same time:
(1) it stands for continuity – these mini poems being certain intrusive or inductive or appended or conclusive remarks in a continued (imaginative) discourse;
(2) it stands for brevity – there is more unsaid than said giving rise to semantic variations;
(3) it stands for serendipity – these poems are notes of sudden revelations or flashes or fleeting images or intermittence of thoughts, feelings, reactions and responses to the stimuli in a particular milieu;
(4) it stands for spontaneity or instantaneity – of feelings, thoughts and reactions; and
(5) it stands for spirituality – in an existential query it evokes smallness of human being in the light of the divine as evident in using small case even for the first person singular “i”. Thus, all solecisms are deliberate and with a definite purpose.
Reviewing these poems, first published in an independent volume entitled Thinking Aloud: A Collection of Mini Poems, in The Tribune, R P Chaddah has likened my style to that of e e cummings, who also used the small case.
NKA: There is a Haiku collection Deuce too from your pen. What is the future of Haiku poetry in India?
KDS: Deuce contains free Haiku and Senryu in collaboration with Patricia Prime of New Zealand. Haiku and Senryu poems have origins in Japan. A conventional Haiku is a metrical composition of three-line respectively with 5 – 7 – 5 syllable structure and on the theme of nature. Senryu is also a three-line poem on themes other than nature. In my Haiku / Senryu, one can find intense metaphor, symbolism, allusion or suggestion, which is sometimes jejune in conventional Haiku and Senryu, as these are records of instantaneous experience sans coatings of figures of speech. Recently, I have published all my Haikuesque poems in one cover under the title – Scintillations: The Junctures of Satori. Here, the Japanese term ‘Satori’ refers to a state of sudden revelation or enlightenment as sought in the practice of Zen.
Haiku style is gaining acceptance and appreciation in India as well as in other countries. It is becoming popular because of its brevity, instantaneity and instancy of thought and feeling, and because it takes comparatively lesser time to read and more relish than longer poems.
NKA: As a teacher of English Literature and Language, what do you think are the major problems faced by the students of English at the Indian Universities? What are the possible remedies to solve these problems?
KDS: The major problems faced by the students of English language and literature in colleges and universities in India include lack of proper / requisite infrastructure for language and literature teaching, lack of linguistic laboratories, insufficient library facilities, lack of atmosphere apt for the study, application, research and teaching of English language and literature, lack of incentive, financial support and encouragement to creative writing in English, etc.
To overcome these problems the faculties must be strengthened by providing specialization and expertise in the required / concerned area, best infrastructure, latest books and journals, sufficient funds for organization of seminars, conferences, colloquia and creative writing symposia and workshops.
NKA: What are your views about the current curriculum of English studies in India? At the Undergraduate and Postgraduate levels, a number of colonial texts are prescribed for the students. Some texts are highly irrelevant for the Indian students. Should not there be the decolonization of the English Studies in India? Should not we come out of the slavery syndrome in teaching English? Should not we apply Indian critical tools like Rasa, Dhvani and Alamkara etc. to analyse English texts in place of the Western critical tools like Catharsis and New Criticism, etc. Why should we stress more on the Literature of England in our curriculum? In a way, English studies in India should focus on Literature in English Language and not on Literature of England. Your point of view, please.
KDS: The current curricula of English studies at Undergraduate and Postgraduate levels in Indian institutions certainly need overhauling and reconsideration. The focus of the syllabi should be on texts not conceding to any of the ideological biases, but rather conforming to universal or common humanitarian concerns, human values and vital academic requirements for the development of an impartial, balanced and free-thinking outlook in the student. The personality of a student should not be crippled by any kind of dogmatic or pedagogic tutoring.
Since a bulk of literature has been created in English by Indian writers, Indian English writing is now becoming a part of the curriculum of English studies. No doubt, Indian writers have been indigenising English language, but English being the native language of England, and being in use in most of the Western countries, certain English classics and old and recent standard works in English from other western countries need to be there in the curriculum. It’s not the question of relevance or irrelevance of coloniality or anti-coloniality, but rather of universality and canonicity of literature that can withstand barriers of space and time. Good literature is beyond all border lines.
In literary criticism, we ought to apply an integrated approach including theories or norms or tools of both Indian and western poetics to analyse and evaluate or judge literary texts without any preconceived notion. The major drawback of the contemporary western practice in literary criticism is that it is now split into so many “-isms” or hostile camps that have overcomplicated the studies in literature than simplifying them. There is a certain individualistic, ideological or political bias in every approach that has pitted one against the other. And this is evident in creative writing as well. The writers seem to be producing leaflets of the ideology they subscribe to. This attitude of the modern western poetics / aesthetics has come in conflict with the traditional Indian as well as western poetics, which laid emphasis on literature as a source of delight, illumination, catharsis, values, instruction, learning, understanding, meaning and transformation.
Moreover, evaluation of modern literary texts in terms of classical Indian poetics shall be too difficult. As, for instance, contemporary poetry, be it from India or western countries, lacks in proper or passable observance of Rasa, though it may be considerably rich in exploitation of use of certain figures of speech, or Alamkara, the ornaments of language. Most of the recent poetry rather abounds with the flaws enumerated in classical Indian poetics. Hence, most of the poetry may possibly disappoint if it is tried on the touchstone of Sanskrit poetics, especially in terms of Rasa theory.
NKA: You have also written Hindi poetry. Which medium of expression do you prefer – Hindi or English? Please illuminate the readers about your poetry.
KDS: I write both in English and Hindi with equal ease. I think language is only a medium of expression. Thoughts and feelings are spontaneous and are only clothed in most apposite words. Therefore, language is the clothing for thoughts, feelings, ideas or concepts. I choose the linguistic medium, which aptly and effortlessly conveys my thoughts and feelings.
NKA: Who are the other major contemporary poetic voices form Himachal Pradesh? Have they inspired your work?
KDS: In Himachal Pradesh, there are quite a few poets writing in English including D C Chambial et al. And since they all are contemporaries, there is no question of being inspired by any of them. Each one has a distinctive voice of his own.
*Dr Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal is Senior Lecturer in English at Feroze Gandhi College, Rae Bareli.