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This report is taken from PN Review 107, Volume 22 Number 3, January - February 1996.

Letter from India Tabish Khair

'This blooming Babel of Indian English poetry,' an Indian poet wrote to me recently, indulging in that ancient poetic custom of breast-beating, hair-tearing and hai-hai-ing over imaginary corpses. This particular poet had used the expression in a rhetorical way, but he was closer to the elusive Truth than he had realised. Even after a century-long adolescence and fifty years of maturity, Indian English poetry has not spawned a movement, a school, some would even say a 'tradition' (though there rages a controversy - best side-stepped here - over whether there can be an Indian English 'tradition' separate from the genuine English English). There have been talented Indian English poets and some of them have banded together now and then to review each other, run a journal or chitchat over a cuppacha'. But they have remained isolated. They have established no school, ushered no movement, published no significant manifesto. They have failed to pass any particular, distinctive torch to the next generation. It appears that each Indian English poet is born carrying his/her own torch - and the flame sputters out at the instant of his/her death. (This is in stark contrast to the profusion and tenacity of movements and schools in other Indian languages - nationalistic, romantic, modernist, surreal, the 'Progressive Movement' in Urdu, 'Nai Kavita' in Hindi, 'Dalit' protest poetry and 'Nava Kavya' in Marathi, etc.)

The closest the Indian English world came to 'schools of poetry' was in the decades of its inception. As has ...


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