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The Poetry of D. C. Chambial: A Brook from the Himalayas
Dr. D. C. Chambial, Indian English poet, critic and editor has been the vibrant voice of India to his compatriots as well as to the rest of the world for nearly three decades. Born in the Himalayan valley of Himachal Pradesh in 1950, his poetic muse made him compose poems from his High school days onwards. Fortunate to be born in the lap of Nature, he was extraordinarily blessed and inspired by Lord Shiva, and his poetry flows like a brook or like the Ganges from Shivas’s head. Chambial himself tells about his poetry, “Creative process, in my case, has always been like a river flowing without any pause” (Nilanshu). He has published so far six anthologies of poems and two books of criticism on the poetry of Krishna Srinivas and O. P. Bhatnagar. His poetic anthologies are: Broken Images (1983), The Cargoes of the Bleeding Hearts & Other Poems (1984), Perceptions (1986), Gyrating Hawks & Sinking Roads (1996), Before the Petals Unfold (2002), and This Promising Age & Other Poems (2004). These six books have been compiled into one book under the title Collected Poems (1979 – 2004) published in 2004. Chambial’s poetry has been researched by half a dozen scholars for M. Phil and Ph. D., and several others are now doing research on his poems in different parts of the country. Chambial has won several awards for his poetry from India, Australia and America, including the prestigious Michael Madhusudan Academy Award. His poems have been translated into Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, German, French, Greek and Bengali.
D. C. Chambial is familiar to the academic circles in India and the West not only as a poet but also as an editor par excellence. As the editor of Poetcrit, established in 1988, he has been serving the established and emerging writers of India and abroad by exposing their vibrant thoughts and passions to the readers all over the world. Hundreds of scholars are indebted to him for their Ph. D degrees, not only for the materials of their theses but also for the publication of their papers as requirements of the degree. Innumerable college/university teachers have been getting promotions as Readers and Professors by their publications in Poetcrit. The pain and labour of an editor is usually unrewarded, and when one understands that Chambial, the editor himself, without any help from others, has been solely editing and publishing the biannual every January and July–thick issues pregnant with innumerable poems of scores of poets from India and abroad, several critical articles and reviews, at a very low subscription rate—one cannot but bow one’s head before that Himalayan man with a Himalayan mind. Chambial as an editor and critic has contributed much to the growth of Indian English poetry. R. C. Shukla compares Chambial with P. Lal who published a large number of new poets through his Writers Workshop. Chambial, according to Reddy, “is an exiled Prospero performing from his hack with no Ariel or Caliban to carry out his commands” (xi).
D. C. Chambial’s poetry has the loftiness of ideas and imagination as it originates from the Himalayas and has the depth of the ocean which is the destination of his creative process. For him a work of art is like a diamond, whose multi-coloured lights could be seen from varied angles, and therein lies the beauty and worth of that art. Chambial writes in his Prefatorial Note to his Collected Poems:
A reader’s oeuvre to discover varied meanings in the given work of art not only gives added pleasure but also helps in understanding the hidden beauty and sublimity of that work; this discovery of multiple meaning entertains as well as instructs the prudent reader and transports him/her to a ‘wonderland’ of imagination far removed from the land of ‘sick hurry and divided aims’.
Prof. Shiv K. Kumar has rightly assessed Chambial in his Foreword to Collected Poems:
He is essentially a poet of the hills—of valleys, clouds and birds. But he does not limit his vision to mere descriptions of nature, but also charges his verse with a refreshing moral fervour. He is anguished by the corruption that has seeped into out lives. However, he does not articulate this disillusionment through abstraction but only through images, metaphors and similes which are truly striking.
What Chambial writes is pure poetry. “There are no intellectual barriers in his poetry, no undiscoverable mythological references, no imagery exhausting the mind and no conscious effort to emulate Eliot or Pound” (Shukla xi). His social concerns are with the poor and the needy. “The most significant thing with Chambial is that his entire poetry is, like the poetry of O. P. Bhatnagar, rooted in contemporary life and its ordeals” (Shukla xi). R. C. Shukla’s reading of Chambial as a poet is cent per cent true:
The nature of Chambial’s poetry is never vulgar or trivial; it is always serious and sober; it is always thought-provoking and purposeful. One thing more, his poetry is steeped in Indian philosophy and journeys from the cottage of a shepherd to the green sky where angels tread. For Chambial, poetry is not a matter of form but of substance. As such, it can be said that he belongs to the school of Shakespeare, Milton and Wordsworth. In India, he belongs to the school of Madusudan Dutt, Toru Dutt, Tagore and Manmohan Ghose. (xii)
Being a true Indian, learned in its rich myth and tradition, Chambial draws the real Indian life in his poems with its natural throbbings, thrills and tears. Since living in the lap of Nature, he is Wordsworthian in the description of natural scenes and beauties. As T. V. Reddy states, “His poems presenting nature reveal that like Wordsworth he belongs to the category of the Nature poets who belong to and describe hills and valleys, rivers, lakes, and seas, clouds and birds. What is striking in his poems of Nature is that scenic description and philosophical reflection merge with each other . . .” (xvii).
Social criticism as a major theme of his poetry, Chambial’s indignation over the deterioration of social, moral and ethical values is visible in many of his poems. Ajay Kahol opines:
A large part of his poetry embodies a sense of dissatisfaction, despair, frustration and anguish at the erosion of values of life. His tone is satirical and ironical and he never lets the things go unnoticed. With his tremendous knowledge of people ranging from the working class to the ruling one, he presents hypocrisy, dishonesty, corruption, selfishness, exploitation, oppression, futility and anarchy prevalent in modern society. (10)
Similar idea has been shared by another great fellow Indian English poet, R. K. Singh. He writes, “There is a continuation of the spectacles of poverty, corruption, violence, disease, suffering, pain, mental and emotional deterioration, ‘moral striptease,’ general apathy, and indifference that Chambial has been talking about in his earlier volumes . . .” (25). Chambial is a serious poet and he deals with eternal themes and realities. As R. S. Tiwary writes, his “gaze is seldom earthly, even while traversing the soily earth” (57).
Having shared the invaluable assessments of Chambial’s poetry by eminent writers-cum-critics, let me analyse a few of his poems. This Promising Age & Other Poems (2004) is the latest of his anthologies which contain some very excellent poems. The opening poem “This Promising Age” seems to be the longest poem Chambial has written. Containing one hundred and eighteen lines of free verse in eleven stanzas of varied length, it is a characteristic poem of the present times with its “sick hurry and divided aims.” Look at the poet’s despair echoed in the following lines:
Civilisation cannot reverse gears
nor present to past.
What, then, do we expect
in this jungle
Vats-man is captive,
calculates and infers
of Homo sapiens. (Collected Poems 5)
The present civilisation, or the present times cannot go back to glorious days mankind has traversed through. The present civilization, according to Chambial, is a jungle of automation. Man has no role in the present world. The machines instruct him, bring achievements for him and calculate for him profits in terms of money. Man is just a tax payer, a Vats-man who is the captive of the machines. Man and the present civilization has deteriorated to such an abyss that his creative mind, potentiality, art, aesthetics and all such qualities which God has injected in him have been surrendered to the machines, which are again a product of his intellect. The loss of values and faith is depicted in the following lines:
What other role awaits
in this robot culture
where soul defies
the principle of metempsychosis
and enters into
wires, screws, transistors,
magnets and diaphragms
to help, interpret and amuse? (Collected Poems 5)
Man has become just an insignificant cog which assists machines and robots. Living in the midst of machines and computers he does not heed to the call of his spirit and thus he defies the principle of reincarnation, challenges even the Creator, and finds pleasures and values which the machines provide. The poem continues:
descends down on the earth
like a beam
the abortive eye;
compassion, pity, sympathy
in the face of hypocrisy and cynicism. (Collected Poems 6)
Material prosperity or the accumulation of profit and money which is the agent of devil, comes down to the earth like a beam and impregnates the abortive eyes of the people. The result is that the noble qualities of compassion, pity and sympathy retreat from their minds and hypocrisy and cynicism take their place.
Even the Nature has been cruel or indifferent to the honest people. See how the poet bemoans the situation:
Nature has been cruel
to the honest individual.
Painful cries rend
the sky and ocean alike
on the pitiless planet
where to do ill is the sole delight. (Collected Poems 6)
Chambial through these lines might be hinting at the natural calamities of earth quakes and tsunamis which devoured millions of innocent lives. The vast majority of the lives lost in those calamities are that of poor, innocent and honest people’s. Virtue is not rewarded in the present age, where delight could be found only through evil. Nature, which has been a balm to aching hearts, has no longer the charm to the modern man. Look at the following lines:
Can clouds save any more
the blistering skin,
the parched mind,
the marmoreal wind
stop the throbbing of bleeding heart? (Collected Poems 6)
Nature’s healing power has lost since man does not properly deal with her. The materialistic modern man has no time to sit in the lap of Nature to get her caressing touch. Moreover he has destroyed the green, spongy, velvet on her lap; felled the canopy bower so that no clouds or breeze can save his blistering skin from the scorching heat of the sun. The global warming, the aftermath of his irrational way of life, will continue to augment discomfort not only to his body but also to his aching mind.
The idle, futile day-today life of the middle class is portrayed in the following stanza:
In this affluent society
watch and sit, sit and watch
before the signaling knob;
morn to eve, eve to morn
on the cross-roads of crises
minutes are stretching longer
than hours and days;
years contracted to seconds.
into mechanized smiles
while coming and going
lips frigid to flowery kisses
inside the tube. (Collected Poems 7)
How exactly Chambial has portrayed the affluent people’s life before the TVs! People forget to sleep and thus sit before the tube from morning to evening and then evening to morning. Look at the poet’s attack at the mega serials where activities of a few minutes are stretched to hours and even days. Years are reduced to seconds. Poor man, he does not understand that he is befooled by this mock box. Replication of insipid life and passion beguile his senses and thus he loses his real aesthetic sense.
The next stanza of the poem depicts the loss of man’s aesthetics. Look at the stanza:
Brooks and parks
in the forced isolation
as glass aquaria stepped into
a room of hundredth storey of steel-house. (Collected Poems 7)
Modern man is forced into an isolated life. He has no time to frequent brooks and parks. Hence he is content with glass aquaria in the sky-scraper flat he lives. See the irony of the replica of the brook in the glass aquarium in a room of the hundredth storey. How far is the distance between the real brook with fish and the miniature brook with fish in the glass container!
The last but one stanza of the poem discloses the tragic fate that awaits humanity. The identity of each man is going to be lost. The stanza reads:
The unique individual
as the hapless fate of RNA
and the soil is ready
for a bumper crop of deformities.
A business-minded mother
decides to be pregnant
for those who do not want
to lose their shape. (Collected Poems 8)
The poet attacks cloning, which he fears is going to be experimented on man. The RNA which gives unique individuality to man is experimented on to create replicas. This will ultimately lead to survival of the fittest and massacre of the weak, poor and disabled. Here man is challenging the Creator, which is highly unethical and immoral. We can get a bumper crop, but that is a crop of deformities, not healthy ones. See the irony of the maternity. Maternity, which is a very divine and spiritualistic creative process, is degenerated to be a business, money earning materialistic act. Modern middleclass women have become so selfish and materialistic that they do not want to be pregnant and give birth to children because they will lose the beautiful shape of their body.
“This Promising Age” has some similarity to T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. Unlike The Wasteland, Chambial’s poem is simple, rhythmic, direct, non-allusive and at the same time poignant, satirical and ironical. The very title is ironical because the present age, as pictured in the poem, is not all promising but very dark, sceptic and cynical.
“Dark Deeps” is a poem portraying the terrible after-effect of the global warming. Look at the lines:
If ever you decide
to crawl under the rock
and swim in the green waters,
do not delay,
for, mountains are budding
in the sea.
begin to thaw and melt
into molten matter in sea. (Collected Poems 8)
It is a naked truth that Himalayan-size glaciers have started drifting from the arctic area. Their floating as well as collisions will result in dangerous consequences to the marine life and their thawing and melting will cause immersion of low lands into the seas. The only way to arrest further thawing and melting of the glaciers is to reduce the global warming. It is the duty of the intelligentsia, particularly writers, to make the people as well as the administrators aware of such catastrophic phenomena and thus save the planet, humanity, and plant and animal life from extinction. And that is what the poet, Chambial has been doing exactly through such powerful poems.
Through the poem “On This Day,” Chambial prays to God to teach the political and religious mafia a lesson in ethics. Let me quote the poem:
On this day
and entice our politicians
(like your Gopikas
or the pied-piper of Hamlin)
and teach them
a lesson in ethics –
get to rape the nation next time
in the name of serving people,
their conscience is stirred
and they peep into the deep well
full of mire and stench
that alienate man from man.
Men and women born white as pearls,
innocent as lambs,
the lust for power
(political and religious)
makes them blood-thirsty;
turn into wolves and hyenas.
Save them! Save their souls! (Collected Poems 12-13)
The poet is pleading God to entice the politicians, like the Gopikas who allured Him (Krishna) or like the pied-piper of the legend who enticed the mice and rats. He requests God to teach the politicians the lessons in ethics when they get to power next time and start raping the people in the pretext of serving them. Look at the harsh word of ‘rape’ which the poet uses to qualify the politicians’ exploitation of the people. No better term is apt to express the poet’s anger and disapproval at the politicians’ corruption and misuse of power. The poet asks God to make the politicians look into their deep well of conscience which is full of mire and stench which alienates them from the masses. Chambial pleads God to save the souls of those political and religious mafia who have turned to blood-thirsty wolves and hyenas because of their lust for power. When they were born they were as pure and white as pearls and as innocent as lambs.
“Dust to Man” is a highly philosophical poem which reminds man of his end. Look at the poem:
Dust raised its head
from under the feet
of Proud man
and said – ‘You’re me
and again shall be me.’
can’t estrange you from me.
And again lay down
on the dusty path
for the tramplers
and still be a witness
to the ever mute time. (Collected Poems 13-14)
Each time the Proud man tramps, the Dust from under his feet raised its head and reminded him that he is going to be part of the Dust and hence it is necessary for him to be humble. The Dust warns the Proud man that his haughtiness cannot estrange him from the Dust or in other words he cannot avoid his death. After his death his body will be turned as dust for the tramplers and will remain a witness to the ever mute time. The poem has the biblical reference to Christ’s warning to the people that they are dust and unto dust they will return.
Space doesn’t permit me to analyse the remaining scores of poems in Chambial’s different anthologies. Every poem he has written is worth analyzing and interpreting. It contains subtle and concrete images fused with symbols. Chambial’s diction is simple, sonorous and rhythmical. His syntax is unlike the other contemporary Indian English poets’—more poetic than prose. Most of the lines are short and rhythmic though composed in free verse. Alliteration and assonance are sprinkled, though not deliberately done, adding spice to the lines. I feel that it is high time that Chambia’ls poems are taught in Indian schools and colleges. The reason why they are not included in the syllabus is nothing but the colonial hang or legacy which is still haunting the authorities. The curriculum committees or subject experts are either sceptical of the contributions of the contemporary Indian English poets, or they are ignorant of their merits. How apt is the proverb: no prophet is honoured in his own country.
Agarwal, Nilanshu. “D C Chambial: In Discussion with Nilanshu Agarwal.” Muse India. Issue 21 Sep-Oct 2008. Web. 26 Feb. 2010. <http://www.museindia.com/showcurrent10.asp?id=1059>.
Chambial, D. C. Collected Poems (1970 – 2004). Maranda (Himachal Pradesh): Poetcrit Publications, 2004. Print.
—. Prefatorial Note. Collected Poems (1970 – 2004). By D. C. Chambial. Maranda (Himachal Pradesh): Poetcrit Publications, 2004. Print.
Kahol, Ajay. “Anger Expression in the Poetry of Chambial.” The Poetry of D. C. Chambial (Essays in Evaluation). By T. V. Reddy. Maranda (Himachal Pradesh): Poetcrit Publications, 2007. 10-16. Print.
Kumar, Shiv K. Foreword. . Collected Poems (1970 – 2004). By D. C. Chambial. Maranda (Himachal Pradesh): Poetcrit Publications, 2004. 3. Print.
Reddy, T. V. Introduction. The Poetry of D. C. Chambial (Essays in Evaluation). By T. V. Reddy. Maranda (Himachal Pradesh): Poetcrit Publications, 2007. xvi-xxvi. Print.
Shukla, R. C. Foreword. The Poetry of D. C. Chambial (Essays in Evaluation). By T. V. Reddy. Maranda (Himachal Pradesh): Poetcrit Publications, 2007. ix-xv. Print
Singh, R. K. “Some Recent Poems of Chambial.” The Poetry of D. C. Chambial (Essays in Evaluation). By T. V. Reddy. Maranda (Himachal Pradesh): Poetcrit Publications, 2007. 24-27. Print
Tiwary, R. S. “Chambial’s Poetry: Sober and Serious.” The Poetry of D. C. Chambial (Essays in Evaluation). By T. V. Reddy. Maranda (Himachal Pradesh): Poetcrit Publications, 2007. 57-66. Print