Father in Poetry: A Spotlight on a Shadowed Territory

Rama Adhikari

For most of the poets in the world, ‘mother’ occurs to be a natural subject. Many poets even start their career with a writing on mother, or take up this theme down the line in their creative pursuit. Very few poets consider ‘father’ a subject worthy of poetry. Only a handful of poets like Robert Hayden and Theodore Roethke wrote on fathers, portraying them as they are, and yet, loving them on their own merits. Some confessional poets like Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton have also written on the subject, but they are extremely critical of their fathers. Plath’s “Daddy” and “The Colossus” are examples. In fiction, the number is quite high though, Kafka and Turgenev are considered exponential.

As what can be termed a very rare incident in the world of poetry, Delhi-based publishing house Sambhavana Prakashan has recently launched an anthology of poems Andheré Méin Pita Ki Aawaz exclusively dedicated to fathers. Edited by celebrated poet and academic Satish Nutan, the anthology accommodates Hindi translations of poems collected from many Indian languages including English, Assamese, Urdu, Odiya, Kannada, Konkani, Gujarati, Dogari, Telugu, Nepali, Punjabi, Bangla, Manipuri, Marathi, Malayalam, Maithili, Rajasthani, Sanskrit, Sindhi and Bajjika. Many poems collected here are those written originally in Hindi.

The collection has a story behind it. Editor Satish Nutan, as the book reveals, is the son of celebrated Hindi poet and lyricist, late Hari Prasad Chaudhary ‘Nutan’. Poet Chaudhary spent his life teaching literature, befriending poets, and publishing his works. He was the immediate inspiration behind Satish Nutan’s venture into the realm of literature. But when poet Chaudhary died of cancer in 1994, he was denied a decent cremation by burning. Instead, he was disposed of into river water, hinging on the blind belief that a cancer patient does not deserve cremation by burning. This hurt young poet Nutan and he thought his poet father was unjustifiably denied his due.  To compensate this discrepancy, he decided to collect poems written on ‘father’ by poets of different cultures and publish a book as a mark of true homage for his father, who was a poet. In his authorial titled “Pita Matra Ek Smriti Nahin”, he writes, “Dismissing the rituals I conducted myself, I decided that I shall perform one more posthumous ritual for the peace of my poet father’s soul , for which, I shall make poets my priests and their poems my mantras. Andheré Méin Pita Ki Aawaz is an outcome of the same resolution I made.”

The anthology is cross-generational and representative. It is cross-generational because it accommodates poets of several generations. It is a privilege to find senior and highly famed poets like Agyaya, Sarbeshwar Dayal Saksena, Kunwar Narayan, Sitakant Mahapatra, Sitanshu Yashashchandra, Dilip Chitré, Namdev Dhasal, Sukumaran, Nida Fazali, Rajendra Patel, and Ashok Vajapayee, and poets of the younger generation like Satish Nutan and Nepali poet Mahesh Paudyal. It is representative, because it accommodates poets from various cultural spaces within India and abroad, including Nepal.

A scrutiny of the poems spread over 266 pages reveals a few striking things. First, they are connected by a chord of thematic unity because each of them takes up father as the theme. Some of the poems handle generational gap as their central subject, while most of the poems are eulogies celebrating the greatness of a father, who is not just a progenitor but also an institution that protects, provides, acculturates and inspires. A few poets like Manipur’s Aparna Sinha even call their father “God”.  Sitakanta Mahapatra connects father with the very idea of heaven and festivity.

If the male poets have objectively dealt with the concept of fatherhood and have prodigally expressed their gratitude to their respective fathers, the women poets have unfolded their emotional and intimate bonding with their fathers. As a case in point, we might consider the poem “Aarogya” by Bengali poet Navanita Devsen, in which she writes:

You shall be healthy again
I shall gift you the moon from the autumn full-moon night
And the glittering smile of the white walls
I shall give you the compassion of birds that died last year
And the dreams of the banana shrubs
That shall grow another year.

Poems by elder poets, who represent an earlier phase of modern Indian poetry, have been woven in extremely figurative and standard languages. Even their Hindi translations seem highly refined, rather complex and fashioned after the style popularized by experimental poets like Agyeya. Poets of the later generation, however, have opted to use rather informal and easy language, fit to be called general public diction, informed by informality, simplicity and directness. We may take two representative poems to showcase the stylistics of the younger generation poets. “Fridge” by Satish Nutan, who is also the editor of this book, uses the fridge as a symbol of irony. The fridge, as he describes, is filled with items that contain a high concentration of sugar, and are not recommended for diabetic patient like his father, although the latter’s heart is still inclined towards something sweet. One extremely powerful hook in the poem is the line, “melting inside the fridge is the wrapper of insulin”, whose mention is self-explanatory. Use of things like fridge, sugar and insulin give the poem a tinge of modernity and immediately connect with the reality and paradox of the life of many people in the world today.

Another poet of this category is the Nepali poet Mahesh Paudyal. Paudyal is perhaps the only poet accommodate from a space outside India. A poet writing for about two decades, Paudyal, like in his Nepali original, has kept his Hindi poet short, simply worded and epigrammatic. His poem titled “Pul” (meaning ‘bridge’) is a father’s eulogy at the surface, but delves deeper to unfold various meanings associated with fatherhood. Fatherhood, as the poem reveals, is a bridge that enables an individual to commute from one world to another. The father has been described as a miraculous bridge, on which, every falling step immediately leads one towards his or her destination. Bringing the poem to an epigrammatic end, the poets says he sees the sky in the bridge, and finds himself to be a tiny moon.

Many of the poems dramatize an absence that evolves in the lives of the poets after their fathers depart for their heavenly abodes. Santosh Bhumkar’s “Pita Ki Mrityu” is an example. In the poem, the poet describes the death of an unfortunate father who had to endure the deaths of his three sons, his wife and a little granddaughter before himself falling into the jaws of death. Another case in point might be Malayali poet K. Sachhidandan’s poem “Pita Jahan Baithté Thé”, in which he describes an empty armchair his father used to occupy when he was alive. Now that the father is no more, the poet recalls the lost glory of the chair that sent out the odor of sandalwood and labor in the past, but is presently empty and filled with gloom. Manikuntala Bhattacharya, in her “Pita” also recalls the death of her loving father, who used to gift her books, one of which contained the poetic lines of Poet Robert Frost: “The woods are lovely dark and deep…” Nida Fazli also deals with death, but in a different way. He says, his father cannot die as long as his blood run’s in the poet’s vein, and the news of the father’s death was a big lie. Ranjita Nayak thinks, going of her father is going away of almost everything from her life.

A major chunk of the poems those dealing with nostalgia. The poets recall the loving past they spent with their fathers. Sadik, in his poem “Bachpan Ki Baat” remembers his dead father and says, he looks into the eyes of his son today and imagines what his father was like, long ago. There also is a portion of poems where the poets regret having hurt or misunderstood their fathers. A few others like Madhav Bolkar describe how their father, perhaps because of Alzheimer’s disease, forget everything that belonged to their pasts. Many of the poets recall their people’s advices, magnanimity, diligence, sacrifice and greatness.

The anthology is, in itself, historic. Editor Nutan deserves commendation for doing something rarely done and building a perspective, in which we can read various interpretations of fatherhood in the modern times. These poems, so beautifully crafted, are a vindication of Nutan’s selective capacity, poetic sense and critical faculty. It can be hoped that the anthology will remain a must-read stuff for poets for many decades ahead.


[Adhikari, MA, is a critic, storyteller and a teacher trainer.]