P. Lal heralded a movement againstthe older poetry written in English in India which was more imitative and ledIndian poetry to a more realistic form that had the attributes of modernity aswell as Indian tradition. Apart from being an Indian poet, he was an essayist,translator, professor and publisher. P.
Lal wrote eight books of poetry, somevolumes of literary criticism, dozens of translations from other languageschiefly Sanskrit into English. He pioneered in encouraging, gathering andpublishing the poetry of upcoming poets at his publishing house, WritersWorkshop, Calcutta. His assertion that real poetry can be written only inEnglish, integrating the diversity of Indian languages, yet preserving thelocal colour, revolutionized the perspective of the Indians towards Englishpoetry. He was far greater than just a poet. Keywords:Mahabharata, Poetry, Translation, Transcreation, Writers Workshop, IntroductionIndian poetry written in English ischarged with a new urgency of utterance. However it does not depart fromtradition. Tradition enters deeper into the poet’s consciousness and influenceshis experiences of the living present. Our ancient traditions emanating fromthe Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ramayana,and the Mahabharata, devotional poetry, mythology andlegends, trees and rivers, folk songsand dances have shaped the modern English poetry of India.
India saw the advent of the Englishlanguage as a meeting of East and West. While it was still in its feudal shape,the language introduced to the Indians was a representative of bourgeoisculture, art and democracy. An impact of this type brought about a veritable renaissance in Indiaand thinkers and authors got busy assimilating the new consciousness and thenew literary forms for nearly a century.
The “new poetry” had already madeits appearance by the fifties. In 1958, P. Lal and his associates founded theWriters Workshop in Calcutta, which became an effective forum for modernistpoetry very soon. The first modernist anthology was Modern Indo-Anglian Poetry (1958) edited by P.
Lal and K.Raghavendra Rao. In the Introduction, the editors condemned “greasy, weak-spined and purple-adjectived spiritual poetry” and “the blurred and rubberysentiments of…Sri Aurobindo” and declared that “the phase of Indo-Anglianromanticism ended with Sarojini Naidu.” They affirmed their faith in “a vitallanguage” which “must not be a total travesty of the current pattern ofspeech.”( Naik 192) Puroshottam Lal or Professor P.
Lalwas among the first generation of Indian poets writing in English to appearafter independence. He categorized Indian English poetry intoAurobindonean and Non-Aurobindonean andinitiated a movement against the older poetry that was more imitative. Besides being an Indianpoet, he was an essayist, translator, professor and publisher. He wrote eightbooks of poetry, volumes of literary criticism, dozens of translations from otherlanguages mainly Sanskrit into English.
He also edited a number of literaryanthologies. A few years after India gotindependence in 1947, a time when the English language was often consideredcolonial baggage, P.Lal opened a publishing house to promote Indian-Englishwriting. A popular teacher of English literature, he firmly believed that “Englishis an Indian language as well”. The Miscellanyof Creative Writing(1960) edited by P.Lal carried an interesting symposiumon questions like: Can real Indian poetry be written in English? In what senseis the poetry now written in English in India truly Indian? To these, severalwriters responded, but the most positive and satisfying reply came from Prof.Lal:Without trying to be facetious, I should like tosuggest that only in English can real Indian poetry be written; any otherpoetry is likely to be Bengali-slanted or Gujrati-biased, and so on. OnlyIndian writing in English can hope to attain the ‘Indian’ flavor.
(Iyengar 650)Prof. Lal co-founded Writers Workshop in order to provide apublishing venue for himself as well as his talented student writers. Since itbegan in 1958, Writers Workshop has become the epicentre of a literary movementand a community of writers and readers.
The list of authors that the companytook a chance on when they were little known includes Vikram Seth, Kamala Das,Agha Shahid Ali and Nissim Ezekiel. Decades before the current publishing boomin India, and the rise of Indian writing in English as a literary force, Prof. Lalpioneered a model for alternative publishing. Prof.Lal was born in Kapurthala, Punjab and moved to Calcutta while he was young.Educated at St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta, he started teaching there after hisgraduation in 1953.
He was extremely popular as a teacher who nurtured thestudents beyond their regular curriculum. He transcreated the Brhadarankaya and Mahanarayana Upanishads on a Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship Award in1969-70. He was a Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature, HostfraUniversity, spring 1971; Distinguished Visiting Professor and Consultant,Albion College, April to May 1972; Prentiss M. Brown Distinguished VisitingProfessor, Albion College January to May 1973; Robert Norton VisitingProfessor, Ohio University, September 1973 to June 1974; Visiting Professor ofIndian Culture, Hartwick College, September-October 1975, Eli Lilly VisitingProfessor, Berea College, February -May 1977; Honorary Doctorate of Letters,Western Maryland College, 1977 (Writersworkshopindia.com). Hewas awarded the Hawthoranden Prize for poetry in 1958. He was also the editor of an important Indian-Englishliterary journal, called The Miscellany, where he published his ownwork along with that of many other upcoming writers. Hispoems are contained in The Parrot’s Death,Love’s the First, Change! They Said, Draupadi and Jayadratha, Yakshifrom Didarganj, The Man of Dharma and The Rasa of Silence, Calcutta and The Collected Poems.
His poetry is characterized by asharp intellectual tone, like John Donne. He pictures a communion with naturelike Wordsworth and projects his living experiences with an adroitcraftsmanship and tender irony like Auden. He earned a wide reputation as aneo-romantic poet and was primarily pre-occupied with nature, love, man andtruth. He felt that man and nature are bound together by the bond of love, whichis truth: Love like a flower Hasroots that reach Beyondfragrance, beyond flower Ofloving speech.
(Lal “The Bee’s Love”18)Love is the centre of his poetry, but he does notintellectualize love. He believes in the intuitional and instinctual love,primarily a divine gift. In his Preface to TheCollected Poems, he boldly asserts:”…all these poems are really lovepoems, even the ones that do not have any explicit Sringara theme perhaps,strangely. Specially those God, nature, or the human beloved- whatever the’subject’or ‘theme’, poetry’s source is “compassion”, rooted in love,preferably of course nature.” (Satish Kumar 201-202) “P.Lal’s graceful celebration ofbeauty” (Iyer 37)and his passion for imagery depicting beauty in diverse forms is evident in his poems.His images and metaphors are evocativeas well as emotive, and clarify his views on love, truth, nature, man and life.The spontaneity, suggestiveness, intensity, aptness and refinement of dictioncan be seen at a number of places in his poetry.
For instance: Alas,if beauty would not come on the sodden streets Andcatch my heart in the morning, I would know peace; (Gokak282)His poems disclose his awareness ofsocial realities and complexities. His long poem “Calcutta” reveals theintricacies of human existence, more specifically the dreariness and uglinessof the urban world with a T.S.Eliot type turn of phrases and symbolism. Some other poems like “The Guava Tree” swing betweenaestheticism and social realism, bearing the colouring of the British modernismas well as Indian sensibility. Another poem with an Auden like quality is “Darling Talk of Crime”talking of “Bengali’s elation… spurred by elation”. His keen observation andclever imagery comes alive in his famous poem “The Poet”:For all his wild hair like an aureole,Stammer at parties, slipping from a tram,Putting off the mending of a sole,And putting on a mock-heroic Damn!,He notices the spider’s intestinesClaim harlot, smuggler and blackmarketeer,And in the clicking grin his eye divinesA moody world of artifice and fear.
Above all, this: When a womanturnsBlack clouds of hair, with a rhythmic handWeaving their silk in the possessive sun,He sees her common eyes stretch to a landO lost, lost; as when repentance yearnsFor hope, and love, and finds that there is none. (Nisheedi 79)As a poet, he had a noble messagefor the readers. By communion with nature and love, modern man can find ameaning in life, an order in chaos and beauty in wilderness: “Roses have priceswhen not on trees, /And white are scarce:”(Gokak “Because Her Speech isExcellent” 281).
His poetry is ennobling and refines our feelings. He talked oflove and beauty, the intensity of which was far ahead of his times. However, his greater contribution toliterature is his transcreation of the great Indian epic, Mahabharata, into English. “Transcreation” was a concept beloved tohim, and which he distinguished from translation. He did not intend to simplyreplace words of one language with those of another, but aimed at creating anew text based on the original to enhance its relevance to the contemporary manin the present world. The task he set himself was to render the epic intocontemporary literature using simple, straightforward English rather thanpreserve it in its archaic form for the sake of preservation. Line by line, hisrendition of the Mahabharata inEnglish into 18 volumes shall always bear testimony to his unparalleled abilityas a translator. True to the oral tradition through which the epic has passedfrom generation to generation, Prof.
Lal started a reading series in 1999 forthe transcreated epic at a local library in Kolkata. His translations fromSanskrit also include the translation of the twenty- one Upanishads. Hetranslated works of literary gems like Rabindranath Tagore and Premchand. Inthe essay “On Transcreating Sakuntala”‘, he says that, “The perplexingproblems arise when a perfectly orderly set of conventions and values of oneway of life has to be made perfectly orderly and comprehensible to readersaccustomed to values often slightly, and sometimes totally different! So it is inthose situations, where there is a difference in culture that the authorattempts to transcreate. This is more relevant in the case of ancient classics- especially in the plays where he could see a variety of techniques used,uneven divisions, asides, soliloquies etc. Faced by such a variety of material,the translator must edit, reconcile and transmute; his job in many ways becomeslargely a matter of transcreation. Thus, according to P.
Lal, the translator isfree to depart from the original to speak to his contemporaries because hethinks that one is always translating only for one’s contemporaries. Creativewriting may be done for a hundred years hence; not translation. It is this viewthat makes P. La1 a transcreator (Jothiraj 160). Through his transcreations, he intended torender the value systems, cultural conventions and comprehensible forms to audiences,both Indian and Western.
He wanted the ancient texts to be not only readablebut also comprehensible to the modern man. Prof. Lal’s contribution to Indian poetry inEnglish is unsurpassable for being the pioneer publisher, critic, teacher,scholar, translator, poet all in one. His encouragement to the writers, poetsspecifically, remains unchallenged. He nurtured several generations of poetsand provided launching pads to them at his publishing house. He was an editor,proof reader and publisher, all in one. Books published at his publishing househad a simplicity, homeliness and a beauty- calligraphed in style, lending the cottage industry at Lake Garden,Calcutta, the charm of a much sought-after place.
ConclusionProf. Lal saw the future of poetry with a vision ofa saint. He passionately motivated people around him to sensitize themselvestowards life and give expression to their thoughts through poetry and hepublished that poetry at his own publishing house thus inventing a dream placefor poets of India.
The contribution of this towering personality can be summedup in the words of the poet GopikrishnanKottoor, “As long as Indian writing in English flourishes, this greenbird who dreamt up the colossal bird-family for English writing in India, androse tall, sheltering voices dim and bright under his shaded plume… He’ll liveon as the root and seed of the germination of true Indian Poetry in English.”(Kottoor”A True Pioneer”)