A Hundred Gourds 2:3 June 2013
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Haiku in India

| Introduction | page 2 | page 3 | page 4 | page 5 | page 6 |

Haiku in India – Some Reflections

Johannes Manjrekar went to school and college mostly in Mysore town in South India. He grew up rather multi-culturally, learning several languages. Johannes studied life sciences in college, receiving his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and is presently teaching post-graduate courses in Biotechnology and Microbiology in M.S. University of Baroda in Gujarat, India.

“Haiku doesn’t come easily to us. Despite the innumerable streams of Indian philosophy, today’s urban middle class culture is not big on subtlety or understatement. We like our spices strong, colours bright, judgments unambiguous. I don’t know to what extent this is rooted in older traditions, but it’s surely been sharpened to the point of banality by modern mass entertainment.

To express ourselves in the terse language of haiku involves immersion in a mode of expression that does not come to us “naturally”. And how shall our haiku express our experiences in an Indian way, without losing that “essence” of haiku? This question goes beyond that of Japanese kigo, which do not correspond to the rhythm of nature in India.

I’m also uncomfortable with claims that haiku is derived from Indian aesthetics and spirituality, because didn’t Buddhism originate in India, and isn’t the word zen derived from “dhyan”? I think the aesthetics of haiku evolved outside India, and to appropriate it as quintessentially Indian is misguided chauvinism of little help in evolving haiku “with Indian characteristics”. Those will have to develop from our lived experiences, not from cultural supremacist assertions.

Nevertheless, there have been encouraging developments. While haijin in non-metros still have little opportunity to interact with others locally, there has been increasing contact through print media, internet forums and meetings such as those Kala Ramesh organised over the past several years. Of particular note is the thriving internet community of Punjabi haiku enthusiasts. It’s also important to recognise the efforts of Angelee Deodhar to make available Japanese haiku in Hindi and promote Indian language haiku.

Indian haiku will continue to grow and hopefully achieve greater popularity, but in the near future it seems destined to remain a peripheral activity. We look forward to the time when this situation changes.” – Johannes Manjrekar

Angelee Deodhar, an eye surgeon by profession, lives in Chandigarh, India. Her work has been published internationally. She has translated six books of haiku from English to Hindi, notably the Children’s Haiku from around the World– A Haiku Primer.

“Even after one hundred years after Tagore, haiku has not gained the popularity it deserves in India. English language haiku in India is slowly finding a foothold. Some poets are bilingual or multilingual but haiku written in one language does not get easily assimilated into another.

One sees every recognized form of the English poem taught in schools all over India, but haiku is not taught nor is it a part of the curriculum. Unfortunately, India does not have any formal haiku association or club. Unless haiku is introduced into the schools it will not gain the attention it deserves. The language for the study of haiku in India will have to be English, so that Indian poets can communicate and share haiku with poets worldwide.” – Angelee Deodhar

Kala Ramesh

“I feel India has woken up to haiku in a positive way. Yes, it can never be as popular as mainstream poetry or writing. But haiku will soon find its place in India, just as art movies and parallel cinema will always have a niche in the world of Bollywood.

I’ve seen young people’s eagerness to learn more about haiku when they were exposed to it. What’s exciting is to see them respond to their own cultural experiences through this art form. On that Saturday morning when I saw most of my under graduate students reach the foothills of Bhamburda forest for their ginko walk I was deeply moved. The next day, their professor said she couldn’t believe haiku and a nature walk could pull her students out of bed at 6 am.” – Kala Ramesh

Sandra Photo Kala Ramesh was invited to read her haiku and haibun poems accompanied to Indian classical bamboo flute at Pune Biennale, a ten-day event to celebrate the hills through art, architecture and design this January.

Having conducted five haiku sessions at Bookaroo, Festival of Children's Literature in Delhi last November, Kala has been invited again to the Kashmir Bookaroo festival to be held in May 2013, where hundreds of children will be exposed to this art form.

Her book titled “Haiku” published by Katha (Delhi) in 2010 was awarded the Honourable Mention for Best Book for Children: The Haiku Society of America’s Mildred Kanterman Memorial Merit Book Awards. She has three poems in Haiku 21: an anthology of contemporary English-language haiku (Modern Haiku Press, 2012)

Kala is one of the founding members of the ‘IN haiku’ group.