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The haiku form and style of writing verse was invented in Japan and was much influenced by Zen thinking. Traditionally it was a short poem consisting of three lines.The first line had five syllables, the second seven, and the third had five. Within a total of 17 syllables the haiku practitioner had to express his thoughts, emotions and observations. This obviously required much discipline and practise. What was essential was the juxtaposition of two images with a kireji (‘cutting word’) between them. The leading Japanese masters such as Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki made the haiku a sophisticated art form.
Tagore was so fascinated by the form that he wrote haiku in Bengali. The first poet to write haiku in English was Ezra Pound. R.H. Blyth, an Englishman who had lived in Japan, popularised haiku in the Englishspeaking world after Japan’s collapse in 1945. Japanese culture spread to other countries through the medium of haiku verse. Poets in various languages took to writing haiku.
Jaspreet Mander, an Indian academic, has just published Our Land, Our Times which is a fine collection of her free-form haiku. She lays bare the disharmony and discord of Indian society in general and Punjabi society in particular. However, Professor Emeritus Harjeet Singh Gill of Jawaharlal Nehru University asserts that she “transcends the mundane to arrive at the abstract, the conceptual and the spiritual”. Here are a few examples: Contemporary Punjabi wombs / traverse great lengths to / end female foetuses. Fragility and strength / live in / liquid waters. Where birth is not a delivery / chrysanthemum tendrils emerged / with smiles and fragrances. Bee and petal / their mutual surrender / yields nectar.
This book is a pleasure to handle. It is imaginatively designed and adorned with paintings, computer graphics and calligraphy.
The latest collection of poems by the Pakistani poet Ejaz Rahim is titled Roots at the Edge. Many of his verses have more than a hint of haiku in them such as: Open the mouths of graves / And you’ll find / The same stench emanating / From a saint’s and sinner’s / Mortal remains.
Since this book has been warmly dedicated to my wife Jamila and me, I must thank Ejaz Rahim publicly in print.
The Agra-based engineer and entrepreneur is also a practising poet. His 21st Century Love Poems: Love is a lot of work is dedicated to his wife with everlasting love. This collection has particular importance and relevance for this hi-tech century. The vast number of young upwardly mobile Indians who are impatient with the ‘moon in June’ sort of saccharinesweet love poetry will respond to these verses. Even though tough IT whizz-kids compete in an international arena and have to cultivate a killer instinct in terms of professional expertise, they are still human. They fall in love.
The verses of Rajiv Khandelwal speak to today’s technocrats in a language that they will comprehend and to which they will relate most readily. The poems have an immediacy and urgency. Their sharp laserlike intensity penetrates the head and the heart. Khandelwal is a new voice singing songs of love for the new generation of the new world.
Mulk Raj Anand(1905-2004) was with Raja Rao and R.K.Narayan a founding father of Indian fiction written in English. He adroitly captured the idiom and colour of Punjabi and Hindi as spoken by illagers who were by and large illiterate. He was born in Peshawar, now in Pakistan, and his father originally a coppersmith joined the British Indian army as a sepoy and served in WW1. By sheer hard work and devotion to duty Lal Chand Anand was promoted to the rank of Subedar, the second highest rank that an Indian could attain at the time. A Subedar was a Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer.
Anand was educated at the universities of Punjab, Cambridge and London. In London he was friendly with the likes of Eliot and Virginia Woolf. In India, under the influence of Gandhi he wrote The Untouchable which deplored the iniquities of the Hindu caste system. His next significant novel was Across the Black Waters (first published in London in 1940) which detailed the struggles of Indian sepoys on the Western front during WW1.
The central character is a sepoy named Lalu and the title of the novel is taken from the old Hindu belief that it was sinful to cross the seas. Nothing good could come of it since a Hindu lost his caste in a foreign land. And to lose one’s caste was to lose one’s identity. That was a curse.
The battle scenes are vividly described as are the conditions in the trenches. Anand is aware of both the brutality of war as well as the compassion of the common soldier. What emerges is the utter futility of war. He says in prose what Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon said in poetry. What is brilliant about the book is that though it is set in Europe and is written in English it is still an Indian novel. This revised edition has been translated into eleven European languages and is available in London from Soma Books who are based in Kennington(020 7735 2101).
A hundred years ago Indians of all castes and creeds fought against tyranny in Europe and hence the historical significance of this novel which ranks with Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Dominic Rai, director and founder of the Man Mela theatre company has written the preface. In 1998 he produced and directed a dramatized version of the novel at the Hackney Empire. Baroness Flather inaugurated Salt of the Sarkar in the Palace of Westminster and on October 22 the new edition of the novel will be launched at Houseman’s (Peace) Bookshop, King’s Cross, London. Rai is now planning a new production based on Anand’s novel.