No Singular Truths: The Postcolonial Poetry of Arun Kolatkar, A. K. Ramanujan and David Dabydeen
University of Kansas
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This dissertation attempts to engage multiple elements of location, language, genre and gender in the readings of the three poets, Arun Kolatkar (1932-2004), A. K. Ramanujan (1929-1993) and David Dabydeen (1955- ). What brings them together, despite the divide of geographical location and cultural contexts, is their writing practice: through a questioning of gender roles (as figured through vernacular language and culture), they highlight the fissures in the nationalist project of India. This study explores the ramifications of this nationalist project by examining its impact within the state of India, in the Indian diaspora, and also in the construction of other nations, like Guyana. Through this examination, it will be clear that there is no symmetry between the different Indias imagined by these writers, and that each poet demonstrates the impossibility of the inclusion of all the complex identities in post-independence postcolonial nation-states. These three poets also present case studies of how postcolonial poetry engages with the Indian nation in different socio-geographical contexts. Because the West regards poetry as national and feminine simultaneously and because the new nation is structured on a cultural imprisonment of the woman, Arun Kolatkar, A. K. Ramanujan and David Dabydeen refute the modern protocols of literature, culture and nation through their work. They resist both Western and native assumptions about nation, gender, and regional culture through their bilingual poetry that interrogates these patriarchal processes. Through such a poetic unsettling of the gendered nation, they make room for various subaltern voices in their work--of Indians in Guyana and Caribbeans in England; of vernacular culture in sanskritized Brahmin South India; and of the homeless and the poor in Mumbai and in India. This dissertation examines, in individual detail, the various facets of the poets' engagement with the constructions of the poetic genre, the nation, (India in particular) and of women. It is through the undermining of the popular notions of all four categories that the poets reconfigure the role of poetry in Postcolonial studies and debunk any unitary comprehension of the Indian nation.
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