Saturday, November 9, 2013

Indian Contribution to Japanese Short Verses, by Aju Mukhopadhyay, Asian Signature, Oct 2013

Though Japanese type short verses became very popular by seventeenth and eighteenth

century their antiquity may go up to one thousand years. Visiting in 1916 Rabindranath Tagore was amazed at the beauty and simplicity of their haiku, usually written in one line but actually consisting of three lines with 17 syllables. He was the first man to have introduced their poetry in India mentioning and discussing them in his Japan-traveller or Japan Yatri in Bangla. Though he did not write any poem naming it haiku, he was influenced by it, as rightly said Krishna Kripalani in his  Rabindranath Tagore: A biography.

But these poems had and still have quite some varieties slightly differing from each other in their composition, meaning and purpose. Haiku, haikai, hokku, senryu, tanka, waka, renga, rengay, haibun and tanka prose are a few only. Most of them are still in use. There are controversies over their use among the poets and editors of such verses in English language.

Without going into such details we wish to introduce this genre for the readers ofSignature beginning with two most popular haiku by Basho, the most popular among the Japanese masters, referred to by Tagore.


Basho Matsuo

Old pond,
Frog’s leap,
Sound of water.

rotton branch,
a crow,

Two haiku by Tagore himself which were parts of his short verse book, Stray Birds, published at the same time of his visit to Japan, are given below which were one liners and not mentioned as haiku by Tagore himself.

haunts my dreams like the rains
at night.
(Stray Birds /8)

BE STILL my heart,
these great trees are
(Stray Birds /95)
 And here are the modern examples from four poets of the genre from India.

Pravat Kumar Padhy

starlit sky–
feeling so close
to its vastness

pearls of tear–
my mother gathers me
on her lap

Charishma Navneet Gupta

over the graveyard
an eagle flies


Angelee Deodhar

Ours is a non-drinking family…yet on special occasions we always celebrated with spirits. To the slosh of ‘Blue Riband’ gin …he would add the fssst of soda, a twist of lime, a sprig of mint from the backyard patch and ice, all stirred together in frosted glasses…now my sixty fifth birthday approaches and he is gone these past two years… with an enlarged liver all I am allowed is an occasional coke…

from the asparagus
in a hanging basket
the second rain

On my first visit to Japan, I went to several places where Master Matsuo Basho had once lived . When he was working for the Kanda River water works from 1677 to 1681 he lived in the Ryu-in-an.
We entered the new Sekiguchi Basho-an, as it is now called and were invited to join the poets gathered there for their annual renku meeting. I was invited to contribute a verse, which as a neophyte haiku poet I hesitatingly did. Did the Master also have renga meetings there? This is from where I got a sapling ginkgo. It was growing just outside an outhouse below a giant four hundred year old ginkgo tree .The curator of this place, helped my poet friend and me to get the tiny sapling from the ground and put it in a small pot with its root ball intact. He assured me it must have been from the parent tree…from the time of the master. I touched that tree reverently. I wondered if Master Basho had seen it as a sapling then.
Somehow I had to bring the sapling home, to India. After washing away most of the dirt I wrapped it in wet cotton wool, placed it in a Ziploc bag in my carry-on luggage, hoping no one would discover it.
No one did and today, a decade later, it is in my garden, a tall tree with its special leaves. Each winter it is reduced to a nubbly, woody, twiggy shape…and each spring it buds and brings forth tender green 
fan shaped leaves.

as we walk
over the quiet sound of water
a woodpecker’s drumming

Aju Mukhopadhyay

Riding the boat
Now at the end of the season rain greets the earth splashing with light showers. Smiles float in bright blue face of the sky, slightly tinged by purple thickness at times, ending in pouring. Happiness abounds in all the fields pregnant with corns, paddy and other greeneries. Earth is satisfied yet solicitous. Sun is bright. Lake is vast.

washing the face
swishing the edge
water sways the boat-
The lake is full to the brim, smiling with jubilant water lilies- pink, white and red. Lotus buds with stems seem taller than the boat. A small snake coiling the stem looks at him. Riding on a big country boat with two oarsmen at two ends he rejoices the exuberant nature.

rides on the waves

© Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2013

This entry was posted in poetry on October 31, 2013.

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