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Sensuously Shadowy

Rakhshanda Jalil

Translated by David Rubin
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 106, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 12 December 2005

In the 1920s and ‘30s a new kind of poetry began to be written in Hindi. Coming close on the heels of Bhaktivad that had dominated the Hindi literary firmament for very long with its devotional and mystical poetry, it was derisively referred to as Chayavad (literally meaning Shadowism). These new poetasters, or so their critics alleged, seemed to shun the social and political concerns of the era, so central to the very existence of a creative writer of that period, and instead chase after airy-fairy inconsequential things such as clouds and nectar and milky ways in the sky. Far from being offended by this pejorative appellation, the Chayavadis, for their part, took this definition to heart and embraced it for all it was worth.       The Hindi poet who had hitherto been writing either about courtly love in the Radha-Krishna tradition or rousing nationalistic poems such as Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s Jhansi ki Rani or on nationalistic subjects such as Maithilisharan Gupta’s Bharat-bharati adopted a far more personalized style than had ever been attempted before. Literary critics were quick to spot the parallels with western Romantic poetry in the league of Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley largely because of the Chayavad’s preoccupation with the individual and an unabashedly subjective interpretation of the universe. Also, the sublimely sensuous references to Nature and to Love and Beauty made it a close cousin of the sort of Romantic poetry that had been much in vogue in 18th century England. Other noticeable influences seemed to be Tagore who had been awarded the Nobel prize for his Gitanjali in 1913 and the Sanskrit classics of Kalidas and the hymns to Usha in the Rigveda.      The detractors of Chayavad found much to complain about: its lack of engagement with the concerns of its time, its “other worldliness”, its appropriation of medieval devotional literature for a new kind of, what was perceived as egotistical and therefore reprehensible expression of the Self, and its coinage of an entirely new kind of Hindi. Yet, more than the polemics of the debate, it was precisely this new Hindi – an amalgam of Khari Boli and time-honoured Sanskrit words and phrases given an exciting new twist – that caught the popular imagination. The poets associated with this new “movement” acquired name and fame and a near-cult status in a relatively short span of time. Their new concept of love and an entirely ...

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