Rituparna Datta Roy / Influence of Classical Greek Mythology and English Poets on Vihang A. Naik: A Study of Selected Poems

Rituparna Datta Roy

Department of English,

KanyaMahavidyalaya, Jalandhar.

Abstract

Vihang A. Naik is a contemporary bilingual Indo-Anglian poet who is equally at home writing in both English and Gujarati languages. Some of his poems exhibit the distinct characteristic of being authentic and not imaginary (e.g. the descriptions of the city of Vadodara in “The Banyan City”; or of Arasuri Hills in “Ambaji”). Some others remind readers of classical Greek mythology (e.g. “A Matter Of Life” contains broad hints about Aphrodite and Pegassus).[ Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty and procreation, the subject of a world-famous painting by the 15th century Italian painter Sandro Botichelli ,(titled “The Birth Of Aphrodite”). Pegassus is the winged horse, which can easily be called the Greek counterpart of “Pakshiraj”] Still others are redolent with Indian mythology (e,g. “ The Song Of Menaka” and “A Song For Menaka”). Reading his poems of myriad hues is an experience in itself.

Keywords: bilingual, authentic, mythology, myriad hues.

Vihang A. Naik is considered to be one of the foremost poets in Indo-Anglian literature. Born in 1969 in Surat, Gujarat. This young poet has already curved a niche for himself in the firmament of Indo-Anglian poetry.

The term Indo-Anglian literature refers to the literature produced by Indians both before and after independence. Among the stalwarts of Indo-Anglian literature –viz. Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, R.K. Narayan, Vikram Seth, Rohington Mistry, Nayantara Sehgal, Shashi Deshpande, Amitav Ghosh( the list is purely arbitrary, by no means selective, let alone be exhaustive)— Naik is steadily making his (poetic) voice heard across length and breadth of India.

Four collections of his poem have been published so far—Poetry Manifesto(2010), Making A Poem (2004) ,City Times And Other Poems (1993) , and his Gujarati collection of poems, Jeevangeet (2001), which he has himself translated into English. His poems are regularly published in reputed journals and magazines, e.g. The Journal of Literature and Aesthetics, The Brown Critique, Kavya Bharati, etc.

Dr. Sudhir K. Arora believes, “His [Naik’s] skill as a poet lies in offering an aesthetic feast to his readers who feel the pleasures of the senses out of his poems which bubble with melody and cadence” (1).

V.A. Naik actually undertakes his topographical journey from Surat in South Gujarat via the city of Vadodara ( he describes in “The Banyan City”) to Ambaji in North Gujarat (captured in “Ambaji”). It is because of his real experience that the descriptions of both Vadodara and Ambaji are so authentic. The journeys prove to be real assets for his creations.

“A Matter of Life” (65) is about a poet’s vision of making a poem, which, to him, is like a life-giving experience. As a parent gives birth to his child, a poet gives ‘birth’ to his creation, “a life within a poem”, as the poet so succinctly expresses (line 8). The line “…she composed herself from the surf”(3) invariably reminds the initiated reader about the Greek mythological goddess Aphrodite, who, according to the ancient Greek poet Hesiod, was born when Cronus cut off Uranus’s genitals and threw them into the sea, and Aphrodite arose from the sea-foam (aphros) . The world-famous painting, “The Birth of Aphrodite” by the 15th century Italian painter, Sandro Botichelli, also comes to mind. The influence of Greek mythology is even more discernable with the imagery of “splashing waves and horses”(5). Waves splashing around the sea-born goddess, reverentially lapping up her feet is a beautiful image. Of the four animals believed to be sacred to the goddess, horse is one (the others are doves, sparrows and swans).

However, the full expression, “horses without reins” (5) reminds more of Pegasus, the winged stallion of Greek mythology. Pegasus is the child of sea god Poseidon and the Gorgon Medusa, who was born when Medusa was beheaded by Perseus, the famed warrior. Pegasus is the symbol of wisdom, fame and poetry, and the creator of sources in which the poets draw inspiration (especially in the 19th century). This classical animal may well be the source of inspiration of the modern Indian poet. The image of the goddess and her favourite animal render the background of the poem unmistakably classical, taking the reader back thousands of centuries in a few seconds— indeed an unforgettable experience for the modern reader.

The last line of the poem is for Indian audience only: “her odhani stuck to my pen” (13) will be unintelligible to the non-Indian reader unaccustomed to Indian garments. However, to the Indian mind it ushers a sedate image of the goddess leaving an abiding blessing on the poet. The poem comes alive with the saline “smell” of “the ocean and the sand”,(1-2) ,the intoxicating smell of “the rose”(13) , and the poet “…burning the night lamp…/ At the corner of the desk”(5-6) , his mind flown back to thousands of years, and his pen “…making a poem/ within a poem”(1-2).

Vihang A. Naik was interviewed by the writer over telephone. When asked if he is fond of classical Greek mythology, the answer was a resounding “yes”.

“The End Of An Affair” (Pg. 63) is much more prosaic in comparison to the rich classical imagery imbued poem “ A Matter Of Life”. It is a typical poem depicting an equally typical theme: boy meets girl—–falls in love—- love turns sour—– boy gets jilted. While at the beginning of “ the affair” the girl “became a ghazal” (lines 1—3), at “the end of [the] affair” “ love” becomes “as short as haiku” (9) and it is “time to part “amicably(1-10) :-“ Let us kiss and depart”(ibid.). The line reminds the reader of a poem by 17th century English poet Michael Drayton :- “ Since there is no help, come let us kiss and part” (Idea 61). It also rings a faint bell about Byron – “When we two parted….”. The boy, who once espoused “…first silence” as “poetry” (4), becomes shocked to find, soon afterwards, that “…she discovered life is a tale of prose” (8-9). The “…the letter/ Returned” becomes the swan-song “of parting” (12). A very commonplace matter, set in poetic meter, becomes an uncommon experience.

Being questioned about the influence of Byron and Drayton regarding this poem, he answered that though he is a thorough reader of Lord Byron, and the poem might have been influenced by him (unconsciously though) , the poem of Drayton was not at all in his mind while writing this poem.

The poem “Epic” (Pg.62) is a rather pessimistic one, abound with words like “sterile”(1), “incomplete” (2), “fail” (11). The persona narrator’s assessment of himself is that he is “not a poet” (12); that he “…anticipate[s] the pen would fail” (11). It is indeed a sad time for a creative person when he feels that he has “…no one to invoke; there is no muse” (13). Living in creative sterility, feeling “…reality is mechanic” (1-2), it is perhaps not fully unexpected that he would fail to write “…an Epic about her” (4).

“Questions” (Pg. 64) is a rather enigmatic poem, with no answer provided to questions viz. “Who am I?” “How did you come, where will you go?” (4-6). “…a dog’s tail”(2) that “wag[s]” “at the slightest smell” becomes “ content” , “signifying an explored bone”, makes one ponder if the poet is equating a dog’s life with that of a “perplexed” human life(2-13).

“Making A Poem” (Pg.65) is highly reminiscent of Poet Laureate of England, Ted Hughes’s celebrated poem “The Thought Fox”. Hughes describes how a poet, in the eerie silence of the night, laboring earnestly, ultimately succeeds in writing a poem. Vihang A. Naik feels that with concentration, “…words bare/themselves”(4-5), enabling the poet to describe how “Menaka’s charm” slowly seduces “a sage” who “needs senses”(7-8). Finally, “The dance of the black ink and/ Little light” bears fruit: “A poem is made”(12-13), to the immense satisfaction of the poet, and reminding the reader the same creative satisfaction of Hughes:- “The page is printed.”

The interviewer asked about the similarity of theme with the British poet, and the poet answered that the creative process is more or less the same for all poets. The interviewer, while talking about “Reader Response Theory”, mentioned the illustrious novelist, Thomas Hardy, who wrote in his diary,( after his novel Jude The Obscure received harsh criticism from his readers), that it is indeed strange to find what the writer writes in the novel and what the reader finds in the same novel. Naik vetoed the observation , modestly adding that he is not familiar with the “Reader Response Theory”. He agreed that there is always scope of the reader interpreting the writer as per his own choice, based on his own perceptions and prejudices. At this point the interviewer remarked that it is wonderful if the poet’s and his reader’s understanding of a poem matches (which actually happened in case of all the three poems on which the discussion was held).

Vihang A. Naik is one of the promising poems of modern India, who commands rave reviews in renowned journals viz. “The Journal Of Poetry Society”, “Indian Literature: A Sahitya Akademi’s Bi-Monthly Journal”, Indian Book Chronicle” and many others(the blurb of Poetry Manifesto ). Dr. Jitendra Arolia opines that Naik’s philosophy of life is “straightforward but meaningful” (5).The poems in the collection are short and easy to read. But beneath the veneer of lucid language are insightful thoughts, which take a little time to be realized completely. A pleasant experience awaits the initiated and dedicated poetry reader.

Works Cited

  1. Arolia, Jitendra. “Kaleidoscopic Vision In Vihang A. Naik’s Poetry Manifesto”. Research Scholar , 1.11(2014). :125-130.
  1. Arora, S. K. . “Reflective And Aesthetic Landscapes: The Poetry Of Vihang A. Naik.” The Context , 2.2(2015): 253-61.

Bibliography

  1. Arolia, Jitendra. “Kaleidoscopic Vision in Vihang A. Naik’s Poetry Manifesto”. Research Scholar, 1.11(2014). : 125-130. Web.
  2. Arora, S. K. . . “Reflective and Aesthetic Landscapes: The Poetry of Vihang A. Naik.” The Context, 2.2(2015): 253-61. Web.
  3. Drayton, Michael. Complete Works. 1. Ed. by Hebel, J. William. London: OUP, 1961.
  4. Hughes, Ted. Collected Poems. by Paul Keegan. London: Faber and Faber, 2003.
  5. Naik, Vihang A. Poetry Manifesto. New Delhi: Indialog Publications Pvt. Ltd., 2010.
  6. Pandey, Dr Sanjay Prasad. “Book Talk: Vihang A. Naik on City Times and Other Poems”. The Achievers Journal1.1.(2015): n.pag. English. 1 December, 2015. Web. https://theachieversjournal.com/?s=book+talk

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