Dr. P.V. Laxmiprasad

Assistant Professor, Department of English, University Arts College (Satavahana University)
(laxmiprasad.puram@gmail.com)

K.V. Raghupathi’s  third poetry collection: “The Images of a Growing Dying City” is taken up for critical assessment and evaluation in this paper. The volume is a collection in which K.V. Raghupathi has presented 81 sordid images of a city showing how it is simply dying (in terms of values and quality of life) in the name of growth. The poet by drawing the images of the degenerating city indeed makes it to represent any other city.

Indo-English poetry is now an established genre, both by virtue of its quality and quantity. It is known for expression of Indian ethos, sensitivity and sensibility. Indian English poetry has aroused interest among lovers of poetry across the globe. According to Das, “Post-independence Indian English poetry is genuine because it is deeply felt and addressed to the whole community; Indian situations form a vital part of it.” (BK Das 2). The scrutiny of society is the subject matter of post modern poetry. Among the contemporary Indian poets in English, K.V. Raghupathi is an established Indo-English poet who has nine poetry collections to his credit. They are 1) Desert Blooms (1987),  2) Echoes Silent (1988), 3) The Images of a Growing Dying City (1989), 4) Small Reflections (2000), 5) Voice of the Valley (2003), 6) Wisdom of the Peepal Tree (2003), 7) Samarpana (2006), 8) Dispersed Symphonies (2010), 9) Orphan and Other Poems (2010). He has been writing poetry in English well over 25 years now, and his critical articles and reviews have regularly appeared in various journals.

According to  Patra, “the collection traces the genesis of a city which, once upon a time, was unspoiled and unpolluted. It was innocent and natural. Amidst growing complexities, something that is innocent and natural dissipates (Patra 59). The author of this paper presents a few pertinent images in the course of the city’s evolution from its pristine state to its present state of decay and death.  The poet intelligently traces the history of this imaginary city, which was uninhabited, undiscovered, and inaccessible and remained unknown to human species. Soon, it became the land predominantly occupied by human beings who are largely self-conscious. It is now a city that is dazzling and colorful built upon with tireless pursuits and ambitions. Multi-colored structures emerged on the city. Human population exploded day by day like swarms of bees and multiplied by moving in the streets, lanes and by lanes. With the advent of science and technology, the city has developed beyond expectations. All the forests have been cleared; roads and rail routes have been laid like branches of a tree. Factories and machines in city become symbols of pollution. It is all buzzing, zooming and blooming. There is exotic noise and chaos everywhere in the city.

It is all confusing, confusing, confusing…… ever confounding

A city has cropped up with new culture, with new

Traditions, with new conventions and beliefs,

It is a city shapelessly formless, formlessly shapeless

It is growing dying city

It is a stale, sterile, starving city

(Poem 2)

The collection is full of images that symbolize the creation and destruction of city life. To quote Kumar, “the poet casts aspersions on the growth and degeneration of the city life. We forget the fact that this development is a pseudo –development in terms of philosophical, moral, ethical and spiritual growth. We create the city to destroy it, and we recreate it only to re-destroy it” (Kumar, 38-39). The jungle of city life is shrouded in mystery. The city has a rich legacy of history in which the founder is forgotten. Man didn’t know from where he came. The history says he came and settled with two men and two women. It has grown into a human city where status of history makes builders, fighters, promoters and statesmen and so on. The poet contextually satirizes the growth and decay of city.

We are the makers, builders, promoters

Perpetuators and propagandists,

We are the images of our own sorrow.

(Poem 5)

Yet, the people called it a learned city, a civilized city, a modern city and so on. It is a city with new faces, new manifestations, and new creations. In creation is built destruction. According to PCK Prem, a Master critic in Indo Endo-English Poetry, writes about the Images of a Growing Dying City that “life in a city depresses and so he is worried and remains upset, and mistrusts what happens around. Hurried living, erosion of ethical values, contemporary anxieties and disgusting environment cause grievous sorrow, anguish and suffering to man” .( Prem, 176-177)   The city is growing and dying, dying and growing. They build and rebuild the city without destiny. It is their sorrow deeply rooted in their happiness. The predicament of a city-dweller is ironically exhibited.

A portrait hangs before him on the wall

The remedy is shown in destruction.

(Poem 10)

The man of city is living in the sea of emptiness with rough passions and emotions dead. He is already half-dead like a half-beaten snake crawling on the bare. As life is a living dream, the city becomes a constellation of dreams half-fulfilled and half-unfulfilled. Life is neither an adventure nor a dream but a living reality .The city becomes an island of mind and he is a refugee driven by certain things. He is dwarfed and mummified. The poet presents the heart of city in the mushrooming of numberless streets.

Streets, lanes, by-lanes, roads and avenues

cut through the flesh

of the city like veins and arteries

(Poem 16 )

The city has gradually lost its pristine beauty. It has now become a land of roaring houses and tall buildings, a land of men, women and children besides a land of factories, workshops and industries. Yet, man leads an insecure and hopeless life, a lonely life in the city. His mind grows like swelling cyclonic clouds. When he steps on the sixty-five storied building, he is not in the air. It is his creation that holds him upon its own pedestal. It is the world it has made for itself. It is its own world of ecstasy unlike him. T. V. Reddy is a stalwart in Indo –English poetry. He comments that “the poet is very cryptic and sensitive in capturing the images of a dying city and arresting them in the lines of his poem which is interesting to read”. (Reddy 493)

The city is illuminated with dazzling lights, still, the twinkling lights cannot burn the twinkling starry night. The city can be alive through lights at night where the stars are naturally alive and vivacious forever. Man himself is restless in the city which remains busy round the clock. Again, Raghupathi portrays the fall of kingdoms in the poetic mode of narration. The decayed structures of kingdoms have so much to offer for passing generations. The city has gradually lost all the historical monuments and it is now the city which witnesses a mass exodus of people from other parts.

Their decayed structures preserved,

protected, declared

as the inestimable relics of the past,

Where are the emperors, warriors, subjects?

(Poem 23)

The city becomes the city of pillaged temples, topless shrines, dangling pilasters, the suspended beams, the dismantled portico, the cracked pediment, the bruised walls, the scratched ceilings, the abraded notched corners-all symbolizing the marks of human brutalities and heinous crimes. It is the dying city that speaks of ruined life where human existence is frail, impermanent and ever-changing.

Men struggle desperately, despairingly

To become men every time and all time but never…

These speechless paintings, sculptures, stones

(Poem 19)

The poet dwells at length on its growth and decay.  The city is sprawling beneath the diaphanous sky i.e. growing and dying. The city has grown vertically to penetrate into the deep void and yet, the growth has its limits.

The great show on the earth is human show

The mean show on the earth is also human show

But it is a make-believe show,

(Poem 29)

Man in the city is moving and unmoving encircled by forms- crooked, cruel and despotic. He is short in front of tall buildings; he is static in front of fast-moving vehicles.

It is a crowd

like the thick mass of lava spilled out from

volcanic explosions,

It is a destroyed crowd

Like the crumpled stormy clouds in the sky,

surging

(Poem 21)

Raghupathi presents the reflected city life in its nakedness. It is a city of our own reflections reflected from the sea of parquet mind. The city is alive because we eat our own reflections as alive.

It is difficult to see

The lights are off

The city plunged in dark

It is surrounded by dark night,

(Poem 34)

The city-dwellers are singing their songs of misery in misery. They are the street beggars, orphans, and handicapped, crippled, disabled, deprived. The winter wind cannot carry the misery far away. It is just a scar of inhuman elevation. But the city withers away under the garb of night,

Night after night,

it is a city of many-changed faces

(Poem 26)

The city man has lost his freedom. He wept and cried like a waif inwardly. Against each experience, he inhaled no freedom. He is, in fact, chained.

The primordial freedom he craved desperately,

Surrounded by gesticulating forms in movement,

Lost his will he became descript                         (Poem 27)

A city dweller is a man yet he is nothing else. He feels he is everything. He is like a wounded mackerel swimming in the troubled waters. He moves like a crunched cloud.

He exists, in the waking dreams existing,

but not living

(Poem 41)

In another image the poet presents the busy traffic in a city and questions the unconcerned movements. The life of city is as horrible, frightening and disgusting as not to look at the dead through the corners of their eyes. The poet condemns the callousness of city public when they move about recklessly.

Despite the traffic on the bridge unhindered,

moving constantly,

People walked fast like termites

Unmindful of the ghastly sight

(Poem 46)

The city moved beyond the four directions and is still moving beyond the land. It will become a floating city in the water and a flying city in the air. The city extended beyond all limits of human habitation. An unusual migration of people makes the city really uninhabited. There will be no place for human habitation and man will be forced to build home in the water and up in the sky.

I shall build my home in the water

I shall build my home up in the water               (Poem 49)

A city man is in varied forms growing and dying, dying and growing. He feels the city belongs to him entirely. He just sings about himself but is in no mood to listen to others.

It is himself in varied forms growing and

dying, dying and growing

Between growing and dying, dancing,

rollicking, yelping in pain himself in

umpteen forms

(Poem 59)

Human existence in City is always self-centered. He takes no responsibility, cares nothing, rushes onward, feverish, and does something and gets something.

It is his world. Nobody alters.

Nor ever himself

He is responsible and accountable to nothing,

he thinks

There couldn’t be a better world than

himself, he thinks

(Poem 57)

The increasing population makes the city highly invisible. There is thick mist, fog, and smoke everywhere. The city man loses his eyesight. He cannot see city any more. Its location is far beyond the naked eyes. As Kumar observes that, “we wish to know where we are living, and where the city is leading us to.” (Kumar, 54)  The poet presents the difficulties of city life amidst glaring examples.

The city is invisible

In the mingled thick mist and fog and

smoke concealed

It is a land of mist, fog and smoke

(Poem 62)

The city lay like a paralysis-stricken patient. No medicine could cure it from falling like ripe fruit. Raghupathi uses the image of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to effectively convey the most alarming condition of city and its possible extinction.

It is a city just convalescing like the dying

patient kept long in

Intensive care unit

(Poem 62)

The city extends no more the warmth, affection, and love between the parting relations and friends at the bus stations what one finds largely in cities is metallic roads, stupefying curves, frightening structures, vulgar laws, baneful values — all depicting myriad adversaries. The city prefers modernity to tradition.

What is seen between the parting

lovers, relations, friends,

At the bus stations, airports, on the

platforms in this land locked city

(Poem 39)

Such a city becomes a restless city and notorious for corrupt and dishonest people who make to unmake the city every movement. The city plunges into the city of vices.

Yes it is full of men, corrupt,

dishonest, propagandists

Pamphleteers, dummies, pseudos,

neos, imitators and so on

They croak, cackle, chuckle, drawl and drool

They make it lively and lively with

umbilical desires,

(Poem 64)

The city does not grant freedom of life. Freedom is just fleecy. The city-dweller makes an endless search for freedom each day and each night. It is the city of what Raghupathi calls ‘abysmal clamor and confusion’.  The city never enjoyed freedom. It is an incorrigible tragedy.

Freedom is transparent and translucent

and fleecy

Each night, each night he is an

incessant pursuer

(Poem 67)

Further, the poet shows how the city has lost its stature gradually. The baby knows nothing of the heartless-city built by his predecessors. He builds his own graveyard. This is how city has degenerated into the valueless life. The city symbolizes the city of unsung heroes.

This babe when born knows nothing

It is a state lost gradually as it grows

Exposed to the heartless city

built by his predecessors

(Poem 70)

The city is slowly dying in terms of quality and values of life. Prem analyses that “The Images of Growing Dying City” paint a bleak future for man, who lives in the city and yet wants to run away, a philosophical solution it is he finds but every possible way out makes life more miserable”. ( Prem, 176)  The birds have left the cities to seek shelter in the deep woods. All this reflects that city is no more a city but the city of insecure life.

Already birds have flown away one after

another In fright to be extinct

(Poem 71)

The city doesn’t impart the quality of education. An experience of a university don from the city is regarded as a blessed scholar in blessed sate but later proved himself unworthy. He did away his scholarship and became a wanderer in saintly posture. Similarly, a philosopher’s tale is no exception. All his fifty years of learning make him a philosopher of inscrutable hollowness.

It is the hollowness of man’s life

amidst creations

It is the hollowness deeply

rooted in existence

(Poem 78)

The poet writes that the city sleeps half-naked, soused in bars, watching the swirls, swivels and swerves of hips and buttocks in the flicking, flashing lights, sits maudlin weeping over their inherited miseries, works machinations for tomorrow’s life in attics and cellars.

He wonders life has any worth at all

But life moves on forever

The clock ticks, tick tock, tick tock…

(Poem 81)

In conclusion, I reckon that K.V. Raghpathi largely characterizes the special quality of his work, his deep sense of city life and his acute observations in The Images of a Growing Dying City.  In each poem the poet has represented a particular state of the city in a particular image in a remarkable way.  As we move from poem to poem, we discover the gradual decay in terms of life and values. The poet has succinctly captured the images and arranged them in sequential manner.  The sequence is both linear and vertical; hence the decay is seen in all dimensions.  These images are not imaginative but concrete and evocative.  Literary vitality and energy lie only in innovation and creation. The poet has achieved a good balance between the ends and means of city in terms of values and quality of life. The city has grown considerably and at the same time, collapsed on similar lengths and breadths of value-based life. Every bit of city life projects that it is growing and dying, dying and growing. The need to choose the right path is a problem often faced in life more so in cities. The poet ponders over such paths and successfully exposes them as a typical prophet. This paper puts a distinctive stamp on his work – on his chosen theme that is city growing and dying as well as on the manner of its unfolding the main focus of Quo Vadis i.e. where are we heading from here? Where is the city leading us? Is it on the brink of glory or disaster?

Notes :

  1. In this context, it is worthwhile to take note of DilipParameshwarGaonkar’s further elaborations on this point: “However, to think in terms of alternative modernities does not mean one blithely abandons the Western discourse of modernity. That is virtually impossible. . . . Whoever elects to think in terms of alternative modernities must think with and also against the tradition of . . . many other Western (born and trained) thinkers” (Alternative Modernities14-15).
  2. See Partha Chatterjee’s “Our Modernity” (p.8).
  3. Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri started writing for the children by contributing to the children’s periodical Sakha in 1883. He also wrote extensively for the famous contemporary juvenile periodicals Sathi, Sakha o Sathi, and Mukul. At the age of fifty, in 1913, he himself took the onus of publishing a children’s periodical of his own and the outcome was Sandesh that was to become the most popular children’s magazine in the coming years.
  4. The excerpts from Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri’s popular science articles like “SheyalerGolpo” and others that have been taken for analysis in this paper, have been translated by myself.
  5. Napit is the Bengali equivalent of English barber. Napit refers to a traditional Hindu caste occupationally engaged in haircutting. In the traditional Bengali society, the napits are known for their cunningness and penchant for cracking humourous jokes.

6.         The episode is described in Indralokagamana Parva of the Mahabharata (Book 3: Vana Parva, Section XLII). See The Mahabharata of Vyasa by Kisari Mohan Ganguly (http://www.holybooks.com/the-mahabharata-of-vyasa-english-prose-translation/ p. 96).

References :

Chatterjee, Partha. Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse. Zed Books, 1986.

—-The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Oxford UP, 1995.

—. Our Modernity. SEPHIS, 1997.

Gaonkar, DilipParameshwar, editor. Alternative Modernities. Duke University Press, 2001.

Haskar. A.N.D., translator. Raghuvamsam: The Line of Raghu. By Kalidasa, Penguin Books, 2016.

Jana, Sunil, editor. UpendrakishoreSamagra. By Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri, Dey’s Publishing, 2007.

Kopf, David. The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind. Princeton University Press, 1979.

Sengoopta, Chandak. The Rays before Satyajit: Creativity and Modernity in Colonial India. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Taylor, Charles. “Two Theories of Modernity.” Alternative Modernities, edited by Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, Duke University Press, 2001, pp. 172-196.

Williams, George M. Handbook of Hindu Mythology. ABC-CLIO, 2003.

About Drishti: the Sight

Drishti:the Sight is a National refereed Bi-annual Research Journal in the disciplines of Arts and Humanities founded in the year 2012 publishing articles in the subjects of English Literature, Assamese Literature, Folklore, Culture.The journal has been enlisted in the UGC-CARE list (Sr.No. 42) in Arts and Humanities section.The journal is dedicated to the cause of young upcoming scholars of the nation.The journal publishes only authentic research articles. It tries to follow the research ethics to the core.