Blasting the old world’s heart with cannons
We melt moonstones of future
We create paradise with every song
We charge like lion’s in every word
We stand steadfast
These lines establish the politics of much acclaimed modern Telugu poet Devarakonda Balgangadhara Tilak. He was part of the two streams of poetry ‘the romantic’ and ‘the proletarian’ that overflowed in Telugu literacy scene for over three decades.
An advocate of free verse-prose poetry, Tilak carved a niche for himself in terms of style of poetry.
‘The Night of Nectar’, the English translation of, ‘Amrutam Kurisina Raatri’ of Tilak (1921- 1966), by B Indira, is a befitting tribute to the poet who reigned supreme in the Telugu literary world for decades.
Tilak’s poems, divided between individual and social consciousness, brought to the fore the amalgamation of “the aesthetic sensibility” and “the proletarian sensitivity”. The underlying dualist nature in his persona can be read between the lines and dynamic imagination and intellectual realisation go hand in hand in many of his poems. He has the courage to declare that his poesy is no ism. According to him, his letters are triumphant elephants and the poem has people’s power.
“I’have no ideals, Nor faith in sentiments, I search for truth, Amidst thorny fences of life….” (Dualism).
Apparently touched by the plight of fellow human beings destined to suffer, whom he meets “That night wherever I wandered all by myself”, he devoted some of his poems (Last Night in the Rain) to give voice to their woes.
“I was confronted with pitifully curious eyes Silent signs and lamenting hearts…”
His self-confessed lenience towards the proletarian cause gets wings in some poems and he declares “The signs of suffering are indelible…”.
The show of resistance, “We’re humans, We’re force, We tune the course of stars, We move forward, We charge” (Magna Carta), however, sometimes turns into despair, where he realises the bitter truth of life.
“I know now, That the beauty in dreams, Is limited to sleep”
The richness of his imagination and incorrigible fascination towards the beautiful blooms manifold in poems like ‘An Ominous Shadow on the City’ and ‘The Night of Nectar’.
His poetry revolves around nature’s bounty; he sings about the songs of moon-lit nights, caressing colourful flowers, and the red lips of dusk. His imagery is at its best when he reveals that “Thus we heard, Music bathed in moonlight…” (You are not there…Your song remained…) and describes “The radium numbers, On the watch dial, Are the green eyes, Of a black cat! (The Duet).
If the greatness of one’s creative work is defined on the basis of how it can withstand the test of time, then the poems of Tilak undoubtedly fall in that category. The poems, in which the then contemporary issues became fodder to his thought, still seem relevant even in the present day. There is no dearth of sufferings in the earth, nor did civilisations or development erase the agonies of people.
The poem, Postman, in which he portrays the familiar face of the working class, who strives to bring happiness to others’ lives, but returns with heart-full of sorrows.
“You knock on numerous doors, But find no place to unburden your sorrow;
Countless eyes look eagerly for you, But none looks beneath the uniform…”
With the invasion of advanced technology, letter writing culture and the concept of letter carrier seem to be fast moving to oblivion. Though for the young generation in India, postman is an alien concept, those who cherish the joy that the postman brought home along with the dear one’s letters, can easily relate to the poem. Nevertheless to say, the sorrows of postman (or the working class) have only doubled with the passage of time.
The translator’s effort to communicate the cultural aspects unique to Andhra Pradesh without losing its essence to non-Telugu readers is remarkable.‘Amrutam Kurisina Raatri’ won Tilak Sahita Academy Award posthumously in 1970. As rightly put by Tilak’s contemporary Srirangam Srinivasa Rao (Sri Sri):
“He who stands, An elaborate Gangadhar ‘tilak’, On the forehead of the consort,Of romantic poesy, Our friend who held, Crystal clear mirror, To the contemporary problems, Had he disappeared?