when i was younger, i'd often walk long distances on not-so-walkable city streets to a library or an auditorium where a kavi sammelanam was being held or a book of poetry was being released. at these sammelans, as at those mushairas telecast on etv, one might get to hear only a line or two of impressive verse. most of the poetry could be on well-trodden themes, not very smartly expressed, cliche-ridden. which means you go there expecting nothing more those one or two good lines. and nursing the hope that there'd be more than one or two.it's my view that it's culture, or community, that drags you there, in the first place. and language, or words, that hold you.
if there is an audience for telugu or urdu poetry, why isn't there an audience for english poetry? the problem isn't the lack of an audience for Indian poetry or the lack of an audience for poetry in India: some mushairas fill stadiums, and some 15th century telugu poets can draw one lakh people on a day. what does indian english poetry lack or miss? is it community (or culture) or words or both? for the moment, i'd like to move onto other related issues. smoke screen says in one of her very perceptive comments here:
...I think that for poetry to strike a chord, it has to be in a language which has a social life.english in india doesn't have a social life? i know smokescreen uses the phrase in a cultural sense, of life outside work, but we also know that knowledge of english does seem to affect the material well-being of individuals in indian society. or, at least, it does seem to put those who know the language in the best jobs, for instance. marx says: 'life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life'. he means material life, of course. material life influences culture. but the increased usage of english in work, or production, doesn't seem to have produced a culture that matches this expansion. like an audience for indian english poetry, for instance. if marx is right, why hasn't this happened?
some dalit bahujan intellectuals like kancha ilaiah and chandrabhan prasad suggest that the lower castes should drop, or reject, regional or vernacular languages (i don't like both labels) and embrace english, totally. because those languages carry the the caste virus, or culture. while english is the language of progress, egalitarianism and reason. the assumption being that english doesn't carry the seed of racism, genocide, colonialism, class and exploitation.
the primary reason for both those intellectuals promoting english in this time in indian history is that english is the language of the community of the successful middle class white collar worker, those with the best jobs, in this country right now. these intellectuals are exhorting the young among the lower castes to join this community of the successful. chandrabhan prasad has clearly spelled out that most of those who now belong to this community are from the upper castes of india. emulate their example.
it's a theory with a wide appeal, and its logic seems impeccable on the surface. but i ask myself: are those in the best jobs there because, primarily, they speak english or are they there because of other reasons? both of the dalit bahujan thinkers seem to contradict both dr.ambedkar and marx, in my view. if adoption of a certain language could change the material conditions of the lower castes, then caste doesn't really have any role to play in who gets the best jobs, or in determining their material conditions. and if material conditions determine your culture, or language, and not vice versa, then what's the point of adopting a new language (which doesn't even seem to have a strong culture)?