An Anthology of Dogri Free Verse

Suman K Sharma
Dogri Sanstha, a prime literary organisation committed to promote Dogra culture and literature, has brought out a special number of its biannual journal, NAMEEN CHETANA, curating 76 short and not so short poems of 15 prominent Dogri poets.
Poetry in these times of universal fear and anxiety about Covid-19! But why not? This is the time. We have to defy the dark forces of disease and dejection with the beaming beacon of human spirit. Writes Prof ‘Lalit Magotra in ‘Paungar’ –
Jailey tugi lagge/Je/Tun andra m’ra karna ain/tahmin apne jeene de rang-dhang/kayam rakheyan…
In the moment you feel that you’re dying inside
Even then maintain the style of your life….
The anthology is special in one more way. All the poems in it are in free verse – which is relatively a late phenomenon in the Dogri poesy. We Duggar are rightly proud of our khand-mitthi Dogri that lends itself charmingly to rhyme and rhythm of formal versification. Noted author Shivnath, in ‘History of Dogri Literature’, has listed some twenty genres of traditional versification, fit for any conceivable occasion – be they the sacred Bhetas in the glory of Mata Vaishno Devi or Aaratis in praise of the Deity, the Karakas and Bars sung to the glory of martyrs, Bihais to celebrate the birth of a child or the Loris to sooth infants, the joyous Suhags and Ghoris of the weddings or even the elegiac Lohanis and Pallas to mourn a death. The advent of free verse is a reflection of our hectic times. ‘… there is nothing surprising in that,’ observes Prof Veena Gupta in her editorial to the volume, ‘the changing milieu has brought about transformation in the rhyming form of poetry as well.’ Poetry in Dogri could not have been an exception.
The prefix ‘free’ may lead a lay person to believe that one has absolutely no code to follow in free verse. That would be a misconceived notion. Free verse elicits more of a poet’s acumen than the formal versification. Bards creating ‘formal’ verse had had their course charted out before them – which constructions to follow and which ones to avoid. In contrast, even though a poet creating free verse may not have to go searching for an apt rhyming scheme or bother about the number of matras in a line, she is entirely on her own in the unchartered sea of letters to achieve her goal. The ultimate test of her success is whether her creation has the lilt of a poem, or it reads like any other piece of prosaic prose. Secondly, a good free verse is expected to have the integrity and the pithiness of content that is hallmark of any literary composition.
The anthology under review is replete with the verses that have the spontaneity and unlaboured music of the gurgle of rivulets, the resonance of clanging kitchen pots and the jingle of anklets –
Bhav mera ik barsati nale de anhgar/meri akkheen ch’ bageya ha/hatth kambeya ha/kish likheya ha/kish missheya ha…
‘Pehli Kavita’ – Arvind
Kavitan -/Havaa ch’ uddardiyan/barang chitthiyan n’…kunney bhejiyan/ku’tthuan bhejiyan/kee bhejiyan/ men neen jaanda
‘Dakiya’ – Prof Lalit Magotra
Men phullen diyan/baankiyan b’haran dikkhiyaan n’/ khirdiyan, hasdiyan/nachdiyan, pehlan paandiyan/ jaadu jagaadiyan/phulli neen samaadiyan/ puyyian neen paundiyan…
‘Phull’ – Shivnath
Migi chiriyan badiyan pasand n’
‘Chiriyan’ – Prof Shashi Pathaniya
Dadi ne migi saumpiyan hiyan/pita hunde safe diyan/kish tandan/Bachpune ‘ch gey
Fotu-Frem – Promila Manhas
What adds to the charm of the word-sounds in the poems is how smoothly the content flows in them from word to word and line to line. Take a stanza, for instance, from Surinder Kumar Barsali’s, ‘Meri Oh’ –
Fesbukk te vatsapp de n’heren ch’/kardi ye oh mere ney/gore hirkhe diyan gallan/chhappi-chhappi/chori-chori
Or, the lines from Shashi Pathania’s poem, ‘Chiriyan’ –
Par/koi bi chiri jislai/uddi-ey bah’r jandi/taan/jaan te jeendi vapas nayeen aundi/je aaee bi jandi/taan/fang tamboye de, jakhmi, lahuluhan
Content-wise, there are at least ten poems such as Ved Rahi’s ‘O Krishan Mere Man’ or Prof Lalit Magotra’s ‘Shiv’ which derive their meaning and impact mainly from religion and spirituality. Women poets, Prof Shashi Pathania, Vijaya Thakur, Promila Manhas, Rekha Thakur and Chanchal Bhasin are vocal about gender issues. Prof Shashi Pathania’s, ‘Chiriyan’, is a highly evocative metaphor of the cruelty that girl child/woman has still to face in the 21st century. Using the same figure of speech of chiri (sparrow), Promila Manhas recounts in ‘Adhikaren di Guthali’ how the contemporary woman, aware of her position, has clawed at her bag of rights which the society had cunningly buried under Kanjivaram saris and gold trinkets. Ved Rahi’s ‘Jindariye’, in just 14 well-chosen words, posits the eternal tangle of here and hereafter. ‘Jitto da Namaan Daand’ is late Chhatrapal’s take on the long-standing one- upmanship between Jammu and Kashmir. Arvind’s ‘Paihli Kavita’ is a nostalgic paean to an 18-year old’s first expression of love. And do you think any anthology of Dogri poetry would be complete without an element of humour in it? Barsali’s ‘Shayar Sukhram ‘Dukhi” – caricature of a would-be poet – Prof Shivdev Manhas’ ‘Sahabgiri’ – satirical depiction on a bureaucrat – and Pavan Varma’s satire of ‘Barsgand’, while holding a mirror to the society, won’t fail to tickle the readers’ funny bone.
The editorial team of Prof Lalit Magotra, Prof Veena Gupta and Prof Shashi Pathania has done a commendable job in putting together the NAMEEN CHETNA’s special number on Dogri free verse; though insertion of thumbnail sketches of the contributors would have been a value addition to the volume.