The Radical Unflinching Voices That Revolutionized Indian Poetry

If you turn to textbooks, you will find multiple rules that define the structure of how the words ‘should’ be used to form an expression but if you move beyond the boundaries, you will find that poetry is everywhere around you.

Poetry has the power that deepens your understanding of the world around you; every word, every prose and every rhyme is a tool of thought that reflects ones’ perspective to an extent that it stirs your insides, makes you wonder, bridges the gap, exemplifies the beauty and in the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.”

Poetry Not Luxury

For years, poetry has engraved itself in our daily lives and enriched the human experience. Platform For Artists, since its inception has celebrated thought provokers, the creative minds and the change makers who have shared their private thoughts on public domain. Since, PFA is running #VoteMeDum, a campaign to wake up people and realize their power through the action of voting, we are taking you back to the memory lane and highlight few poets and revolutionary artists who represented different aspects of the Indian society; its beauty and the ugliness and the relevant issues and societal dynamics in various styles. In this article, you will come across a range of poets who have inspired generations with their unique perspective, their thoughts and words that reverberate till now and will continue to do so for years to come.

There lived a number of famous poets such as Rabindra Nath Tagore, Sri Aurbindo, Harivanshrai Bachchan, Sarojini Naidu, Amrita Pritam, and Ismat Chugtai etc. whose beautiful work found a lot of accolades but there were lesser-known poets who have written exceptional poetry and this article is a tribute to their work that this young generation ‘must’ read.

1.Nissim Ezekeil: The Father of post-independence Indian verse in English, Nissim was an India born Jewish poet, actor, playwright, editor and art critic. He is known to have a strong voice that addressed several contemporary issues with a comic angle. His poetry included subjects such as corruption, political movements, and radicalism and violence seen all over the Indian sub-continent in the post war years of the 1940s onward. His famous work includes ‘Night of the Scorpion,’ ‘Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher,’ ‘Minority Poem,’ and ‘The Patriot’ among several others.

Nissim Ezekeil

Here is an excerpt of his poem ‘The Patriot:’

‘What you think of prospects of world peace?

Pakistan behaving like this, China behaving like that,

It is making me really sad, I am telling you.

Really, most harassing me.

All men are brothers, no?

In India also

Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs

All brothers-

Though some are having funny habits.

Still, you tolerate me,

I tolerate you,

One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.

You are going?

But you will visit again

Any time, any day,

I am not believing in ceremony

Always I am enjoying your company.’

2. Kaifi Azmi: Athar Husain Rizvi or famously known as Kaifi Azmi was an Indian Urdu poet who brought Urdu literature to Indian Motion Pictures. He wrote his first ghazal ‘Itna to zindagi mein kisi ki khalal pade’ at the age of eleven and continued to write for years on communalism, religious fundamentalism and for the rights of women. Azmi’s one of the greatest works was the screenplay and dialogue of MS Sathyu’s masterpiece ‘Garam Hawa.’ One of the finest Urdu poets of his time, his best known poems are ‘Makaan,’ ‘Daaera,’ Bahuroopni,’ and ‘Aurat,’ to name a few.

Kaifi Azmi

Following is an excerpt from his nazm called ‘Dusra Ban-bas’ depicting the reaction of Lord Ram on demolition of Babri Masjid on 6th December 1992:

‘Raam banbas se jab laut ke ghar mein aaye

Yaad jangal bahut aaya jo nagar mein aaye

Raqs-e-divangi angan me jo dekha hoga

Chhe December ko Shri Raam ne socha hoga

Itne divane kahan se more ghar mein aaye

Jagmagate the jahan raam ke qadmon ke nishaan

Pyaar ki kahkashan leti thi angdayi jahan

Mod nafrat ke usi rahguzar mein aaye

Dharm kya un ka tha, kya zaat thi, ye janta kaun

Ghar na jalta to unhe raat mein pehchanta kaun…’

3. Kazi Nazrul Islam: A Bengali poet, writer, and revolutionary, Nazrul for his fervent activism for social and political justice earned him the title of Bidrohi Kobi or the Rebel Poet in Bengal. His work included harsh criticism of the British imperialism and the growing religious intolerance and intense rebellion against orthodoxy and oppression during his time. Also, a part of the socialist political movement of Bengal, Nazrul lived in isolation and was alleged to have slow poisoned by the British government afraid of the power of his writing. His famous work includes ‘Agni Bina,’ ‘Phanimanasa,’ ‘Nirjhar,’ ‘Morubhashkar,’ ‘Bhangar Gan,’ and ‘Samyabadi,’ amongst many.

Kazi Nazrul Islam

Here is an excerpt from his poem ‘Bidrohi:’

‘Weary of struggles, I, the great rebel,

Shall rest in quiet only when I find

The sky and the air free of the piteous groans of the oppressed.

Only when the battle fields are cleared of jingling bloody sabres

Shall I, weary of struggles, rest in quiet,

I am the rebel eternal,

I raise my head beyond this world and,

High, ever erect and alone!’

(English translation by Kabir Choudhary)

4. Kamala Surayya: Popularly known by her one-time pen name Madhavikutty and married name Kamala Das, Indian English poet and a leading Malayalam author from Kerala, Surayya wrote her honest assessment of marital problems and inspired women struggling against domestic and sexual oppression in more than 20 books, short stories, poetry, essays and memoirs. An advocate of human rights, Surayya’s famous works include her memoir ‘My Story,’ and short stories such as ‘Padmavati the Harlot’ and ‘A Doll for the Child Prostitute.’

Kamala Surayya

Here is an excerpt from her poem ‘An Introduction:’

‘I don’t know politics but I know the names

Of those in power, and can repeat them like

Days of weeks, or names of months, beginning with Nehru.

I am Indian, very brown, born in Malabar,

I speak three languages, write in two, dream in one.

Don’t write in English, they said, English is

Not your mother-tongue.

Why not leave me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,

Every one of you? Why not let me speak in

Any language I like? The language I speak,

Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses

All mine, mine alone…’

5. Daya Pawar: A Marathi poet known for his immense contribution to Dalit literature, Pawar highlighted the atrocities experienced by the untouchables or the Dalits under the Hindu Caste System. Using his strong introspecting analytical intellect, Pawar portrayed a transparent and realistic illustration of the society in his autobiographical book ‘Baluta’ which received a strong anti-Dalit reaction when it was published in Maharashtra. His famous literary works are ‘Chavdi’ and ‘Dalit Jaanivaa’ and collection of poems ‘Kondvada.’

Daya Pawar or Dagdu Maruti Pawar

Here is an excerpt from his book ‘Baluta:’ (Translated from Marathi)

‘The hand was crushed under a stone, yet no cry was heard

How many generations of imprisonment? Who created this prison?

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