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This review is taken from PN Review 187, Volume 35 Number 5, May - June 2009.

OASES IN THE WILDERNESS RABINDRANATH TAGORE, The Golden Boat: Selected Poems. Translated by Joe Winter (Anvil Press) £11.95
KEKI N. DARUWALLA, The Glass-Blower: Selected Poems (Arc) £12.99 hardback
AVIK CHANDA, Footnotes: Poems (Shearsman) £8.95
It is hard to believe, but there was a time not so long ago when Indian poetry and non-fiction prose of a certain type had a bigger readership in the West than Indian fiction. There was even a degree of thematic overlap between the poetry and the non-fiction prose: both seemed to arise from an intermingling of aspects of Indian mysticism and Sanskritised classicism. A spiritual affinity, one might call it, tongue firmly in cheek.

Aurobindo Ghosh, who started off as a revolutionary and poet but ended up as Sri Aurobindo, the mystical sage of Pondicherry, perhaps best exemplified this dual trajectory. By the time M.K. Gandhi, the Mahatma, came along, a degree of prosaic division had occurred between poetry and mysticism: the Great Soul’s English prose, always capable and careful, trembled on the verge of both at times, but perhaps shied away more consciously from poetry than from mysticism. Nehru, on the other hand, was partial to poetry in his prose, rather than mysticism.

Not so, it has often appeared, Rabindranath Tagore, older contemporary of Gandhiji and Nehru, who won the Nobel Prize in 1913 largely on the strength of Gitanjali (Song Offerings), a collection of melodiously mystical poems. Here we have a case of poetry meeting mysticism on equal terms, it appears. Appearances in the case of someone like Tagore, who wrote widely, brilliantly, unevenly, multilingually (though mostly in Bengali) and in almost every genre conceivable, can be deceptive. I personally grew up with an ...


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