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K. Satchidanandan

DARK TIMES
By Jagannath Prasad Das
Virgo Publications, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 88, Rs. 190.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 7 July 2007

Jagannath Prasad Das who was recently awarded the prestigious Saraswati Samman is a versatile and outstanding Oriya writer who has been consistently writing poetry, fiction, drama and essays on art for almost four decades now. His poetry has ever remained alive to the traumatic contexts in contemporary Indian history: the starvation deaths in Kalahandi, the Emergency, the nuclear test in Pokhran, the war in Kargil, the genocide in Gujarat, the endangered freedom of expression, the continuing colonial patterns in education, the declining morals in realpolitik. . . If his poetry appears dark and desperate, the blame must go to the times we live in. Remember Picasso: when Franco’s General pointed to his ‘Guernica’ and asked him why he had done it, Picasso had retorted, ‘You have done it’ since the holy city had been bombed by the fascist forces. The title of the collection reminds us of Bertolt Brecht who had asked, ‘Will there be poetry in dark times?’ and answered it himself, ‘yes, poetry about dark times’. The title reminds us too of Theodore Adorno’s famous statement, ‘Poetry is impossible after Auschwitz’ to which one of the poems in this collection makes a direct reference. What Adorno meant according to me was that . . . the old kind of ‘innocent’ ‘impartial’ ‘heroic’ and ‘celebratory’ poetry has become impossible; we need to create a new kind of poetry of concern that while raising all the basic questions that poetry has always raised it also has some space for criticism of the society. The poets of the Holocaust did create poetry, but of another kind, ‘a poetry for the horror-stricken, for those abandoned to butchery, for survivors, created out of a remnant of words, salvaged words, out of uninteresting words from the great rubbish dump’, to remember the words of the Polish poet, Tadeusz Roszevics.   J.P. Das has realized that even the ivory towers of pure aesthetes are not left unshaken by the tempests of history. It is such violent times that compel writers to forge an aesthetics of resistance like the one that Peter Weiss wanted to construct from Dante’s hell-fires that he rediscovered in the Nazi concentration camps. It is only proper that Dark Times opens with these lines from Brecht’s well-known poem, ‘To Posterity’:   Truly I live in dark times. The guileless word is folly. A smooth forehead suggests insensitivity. The man who laughs has simply not ...


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