Extremism in Tone & Language of Arun Kolatkar

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Extremism in Tone and Language of Arun Kolatkar

By – Pulkita Anand (Published in January 2016, Issue XII of Ashvamegh)


Abstract: Language is an essential means by which we communicate and record our thoughts. The present article attempts to highlight the unique qualities of Kolatkar’s language and tone. Kolatkar makes his special language the vehicle of the thoughts that lie beneath his outlook to life. In the poetry of Kolatkar, language and realism come collectively in a kind of unavoidable marvel.

Keywords: language, theme, experimentation, technique





Language is our only means of conveying abstract ideas, keeping records, writing views, making theorems ,and involve in the many other acts wherein we state or record thoughts. Therefore, language is the basis by which society functions. Without language, we won’t have the creations turning into reality. The language of the poet is a crystallization of his understanding, something that flows of his being as a blood of his existence.

Verbal experimentation is a sign of opinions and feelings that influenced Western culture as a whole in the first decades of the twentieth century. The verbal experiment, it involved were not a plunge into disorder, but an exploration of other concepts of order. Language, as we know, is vehicular, and Kolatkar makes his special language the vehicle of the thoughts that lie beneath his outlook to life. In the poetry of Kolatkar, language and realism come collectively in a kind of unavoidable marvel. Kolatkar has used language with no concession to conventional recognition, he has always wanted his readers to drop all the accoutrements of the Grammarian and the rhetorician that he may be wearing as protective clothing and to approach his poems as it were naked and unafraid. This is not to say, however, that Kolatkar does not know rules and tradition. He is instead a prime example of the old adage that an artist must know all the rules before he can break them. Kolatkar makes full use of the native American and Mumbai speech. A blend of sound pattern and American colloquial is perceptible in the poem “today i feel i do not belong” as:

today i feel i do not belong

                        don’t you feel like that sometimes?

                        then come along man come along

                        unzip the briefcase bring out the booze

                        and pour me a drink as i polish my gong

                        i mean to beat it black and blue

                        tell it’s a limp and sad oblong


                        bongggg(CPE 226)

The recurrence of ‘g’ sound has created a melody of its own. In a similar manner sound pattern is created in the poem “Song of the Flour Mill” as: “chug chug chug chug chug chug” (CPE 236). The line without punctuation creates a swift image of the flour mill He uses the words of everyday speech. He introduces everyday turns of phrase and expression into poetry. Kolatkar views colloquial speech as common humanity’s experiment with the language. He regards it as a kind of poetry. English language purists are alarmed by Kolatkat’s obvious delight in American slang words. To them poetry should always present a sophisticated vocabulary, but of course that hardly suited Kolatkar’s purpose. He uses all the words that he can grab and he is simply giving us the proof of his democratic feeling. Kolatkar’s vocabulary are numerous and diverse and this explains the exceptional richness of his language .He absorbs words from all stages of language, all languages and all areas. Kolatkar makes an extensive use of foreign words in his poems. Some words of great importance in his vocabulary are of foreign origin. Kolatkar shows a special flare for coining new words. He has coined words and phrases to realize his own artistic ends.

In all his poems Kolatkar not only choose incidents and situations of life of common people, trivial and insignificant, but like Wordsworth he too believes in the use of language of the common man and by certain colouring of his imagination common becomes uncommon and trivial significant. Assimilation of modern technique like symbolism, imagism, psychoanalysis, eco criticism etc. is visible in Kolatkar’s poetry. Another unique technique of Kolatkar is negation, but paradoxically it presents affirmation as:

                        No more a place of worship this place

            is nothing less than the house of god.( CPE 44)

Why Kolatkar used rhetorical question? It seems to make the reader think about the possible solution of the problem. It is a kind of foregrounding device as: “do you really believe that story” (CPE 52)

That’s no doorstep

It’s a pillar on its side



That’s what it is. (CPE 45)


And in another poem as:

it was one more temple

It isn’t another temple,

he said,

It’s just a cowshed. (CPE 49)

Emma Bird explains “the repetition of demonstrative pronouns-“That’s; “It’s”; “That’s”- directs the reader’s attention to the material particularity of the pillar, recreating how the narrator encounters it: as a tangible, rather than as a symbolic, object” (CPE, 236) .These are pointer of the non – conformist predicament of Kolatkar’s poetry which are revealed by the contrast of belief and scepticism.

The poem deserves to be quoted in full for its unforgettable rhythm and clear language. Easy words evoke powerful feelings and an incantatory rhythm calls up the ritualistic nature of experience in the poems of The Railway Station as in “the indicator”:

            a wooden saint

            in need of paint


            the indicator

            has turned inward

            ten times over…..

            the clockface adds

            its numerals

            the total is zero (CPE 69)       

He takes liberty with syntax, punctuation and sometimes with grammar mainly because it is the expressive energy of this speech that brings the world alive for him. It is impure poetry in the sense that he does not polish the line to perfection to invest them with sentimental significance. The poem “Heart of Ruin “has iteration as:

                 May be he likes a temple better this way….

                        May be she likes a temple better this way .…

            May be they like a temple better this way…..( CPE 44)

The repetition of this syntactical pattern provides cue that there is no difference between he/she/they, as all come in the same sentence structure of the lines. It is a harsh indication on how once a sanctified place is now turned into a shelter for pariah puppies. Repetition helps to intensify grievance: “what is god / and what is stone”(CPE 53). Even the word god and stone take on a special connotation because there is no faith in God and even in his form. His language is everywhere graphical and strong, he sings many things before untouched in prose or rhyme in an idiom which is neither matching with a prose nor rhyme nor yet orthodox blank verse.The transience, ephemeral form of butterfly is depicted in short poem as:

            it opens before it close

and closes before it o (CPE 53)

In a carefully crafted way Kolatkar has used language. The letter “0” means open, but in an experimental style Kolatkar has used only “0” which is also an exclamation / a sigh/ a surprise. Illogical distortion of words may be playful, but it has established that language suggests the poetic mind an entry into improbable, illogical substitutes to suggest, a source most fully subjugated in the above piece of poem.

As far as Kolatkar’s language is concerned, there is not only simplicity and smoothness of a roller- coaster ride, but also a blend of traditional ritualistic words. The use of archetype in modern style signifies a fusion between traditional and modern as:

                        the young novice at the tea stall

has taken a vow of silence


when you ask him a question

he exorcises you


            by sprinkling dish – water in your face

and continues with his ablutions in the skin


and certain ceremonies connected

with the washing of cups and saucers (CPE 70)

The highlighted words(mine) highlight the paradox in the language and thoughts:

The spirit of the plane

lives inside the mangy body

of the station dog


doing penance for the last

three hundred years under ……( CPE 70)

And also: slaughter a goat …(CPE 72)

It is the style of evocation, fusing locale, colloquial allusion and the poet’s reflection. The register depicted above is exclusive to an Indian situation. The use of such imagery seems to have become a natural and involuntary process for Kolatkar and is an unmistakable pointer to his Indian Identity. K. Venkatachari writes “the Indo-English writers Raja Rao, Ramanujan and Kolatkar stand out by virtue of their being able to present a poetically authentic Indian image which could celebrate ‘the perceived ambiguities, puzzles and paradoxes in human experiment”(67).

Kolatkar is not only an extremist in his language but also in the treatment of his theme as is evident from the very treatment of Sarpa Satra. In Sarpa Satra Kolatkar has subverted the original myth of Mahabharat and brought its bearing on contemporary time. Instead of presenting Krishna as a superhero Kolatkar has presented Krishna as an accomplice in Arjuna’s crime as:

It wasn’t just him                    

He was aided in this crime


by another.                 

A crosscousin of his,              

a crony since childhood.( CPE 195)

Kolatkar has subverted Jaratkaru’s character-a snake woman and mother of Astika, a marginal character in Vyasa’s narrative. The poet uses language and summons before our mind, as language must do ,an array of thoughts and images ,his object being to communicate the feeling which these thoughts and images arouse in him .The feeling sometimes includes and transcends the thought and imagery sometimes merely insinuates itself among the thoughts, touching their surfaces.

Kolatkar has evolved his own techniques and devices to give expression to his visions and aspirations by painting familiar and easily identifiable objects not as he sees them, but rather as he understands them structurally, depicting various aspects of the objects simultaneously. It can be illustrated by analyzing his image poem “Between Jejuri and the Railway Station”. In order to present a picturesque description of cocks and hens in harvest dance. Kolatkar rendered this with the typographical arrangement of “up” and “down” to convey joy and topsy –turvy nature. The poem that follows Kolatkar’s elucidation of how words are changed by reality so that they are free to take part in the overall design of poetry is perhaps an example of what he indicates:

(CPE 68)

Magical experience of life in the fertility dance is suggested by magical representation of words. The words are strewn without any order, yet they present beauty and novelty suggesting the beauty of life. The reader is struck by this mosaic typographical experiment. The poet sees a cock and hen dancing in itself a very ordinary phenomenon, but in the view of Kolatkar, it is an action of intense beauty and liveliness. To create this effect Kolatkar does not use the verbal medium in the traditional way simply because that would have failed to make the readers feel what Kolatkar perceives, in it. So, he resorts to typographical representation with a view to compelling us to see in the dance what he himself has marked in the thus commonplace event. Kolatkar had tried to realize his idea of poetry as a linguistic activity in several of his poems.

            The words take part in the designs built up in the poem which have little to do with their importance, yet the significance is an indispensable part of each word. In the balance of Kolatkar’s extraordinarily keen analysis into the poetic use of words, converts mere suggestion in poetic meaning. Real, detached observation and reportage are, of course, crucial; private feeling would impede with the plunging, almost palpable outcome of the reference. The isolation of words and phrases in short lines is another aspect of this. The simplest is, yet placed as it is, it provides a final surface for contagious the meaning connected with the word.

Kolatkar’s poetry reflects a vein of greater casualness and joyous liveliness, ensuing in lowering down on the poetic pitch. There is also a greater dependence on the slangy, conversational and apparently antipoetic diction, showing Kolatkar’s reliance on verbal devices he uses for the comic effect, which has degraded at places into witty generalizations and obvious mannerisms. Kolatkar’s verbal creativity demonstrates its power in a number of truism that have, no doubt, a colour of generalization. Kolatkar exemplifies the extension of the cultural past into the present not only at the specific Indian level but also the universal .Herein lies his uniqueness as a writer par excellence.




Bird,Emma. “Re-reading Postcolonial Poetry : Arun Kolatkar’s Jejuri .” The Journal of Commomwealth Literature 47.2(2012):229-243.Print.

Mehrotra ,A.K (ed) Arun Kolatkar, Collected Poems in English.London: Bloodaxe Books, 2010. Print.

Venkatachari,K .”The Third World Poetic Consciousness : Okigbo and Kolatkar” Recent

Commonwealth Literature : Vol.II. R.K.,P.V.Dhamija and A.K.Shrivastava Dhawan (Eds.) New Delhi : Prestige books,1989.65-73.Print.




Introduction to the Author:

Pulkita Anand Article
Pulkita Anand

Pulkita Anand, a meritorious student of Vikram University (M.P) is currently working as an Assistant Professor of English at Banasthali Vidayapith in Rajasthan. Her areas of research are Indian poetry in English and British Drama. She is pursuing her Ph.D. on Arun Kolatkar from Vikram University. She is a poet and short story writer. She has participated in many national seminars and has written papers which have been published in national journals. She is also a member of the editorial / advisory board of the journal New Academia.

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