Kumar, Shiv K(umar)

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KUMAR, Shiv K(umar)

Nationality: Indian. Born: Lahore, Punjab, 16 August 1921. Education: Fomman Christian College, Punjab University, Lahore, 1941–43, B.A. 1941, M.A. 1943; Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, 1953–56, Ph.D. 1956. Family: Married Madhu Kumar in 1967; two sons and two daughters. Career: Lecturer, D.A.V. College, Lahore, 1945–47, and Hansraj College, Delhi, 1948–49; program executive, All India Radio, Delhi, 1949; broadcaster, BBC, 1951–53; senior lecturer and chair of the department of English, Government College, Chandigarh, 1953–56; reader in English, Punjab University, Hoshiarpur, 1956–59; professor and chair of the department of English, 1959–76, and UGC Emeritus Professor of English, 1984–86, Osmania University, Hyderabad; professor and chair of the department of English, and dean of the School of Humanities, 1976–79, and acting vice chancellor, 1979–80, University of Hyderabad; consultant, Indira Gandhi National University, New Delhi, 1986–91. Visiting professor, Elmira College, New York, 1965–67, Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia, 1968, and University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, 1969; cultural award visitor, Australia, summer 1971; visiting professor, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa, 1971–72, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, 1972, University of Kent, Canterbury, 1977–78, Oklahoma University, Norman, 1980–82, and Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1982–84. President, All India English Teachers Conference, 1975. Awards: Smith-Mundt fellowship, 1962; Charles Holmer prize, 1984; Sahitya Akademy award, National Akademy of Letters, 1988. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1978. Member: Advisory Board (English), Sahitya Akademy, 1978–83. Address: 2-F/Kakatiya Nagar, P.O. Jamia Osmania, Hyderabad 500 007, India.



Articulate Silences. Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1970.

Cobwebs in the Sun. New Delhi, Tata-McGraw Hill, 1974.

Subterfuges. New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1976.

Woodpeckers. London, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1979.

Trapfalls in the Sky. Madras, Macmillan, 1986.

Woolgathering. Hyderabad, Orient Longman, 1998.


The Last Wedding Anniversary (produced Hyderabad, 1974). New Delhi, Macmillan, 1975.


The Bone's Prayer. New Delhi, Arnold-Heinemann, 1979.

Nude before God. New York, Vanguard Press, 1983; New Delhi, Penguin, 1987.

A River with Three Banks. New Delhi, UBSPD, 1998.

Infatuation. New Delhi, UBSPD, 2000.

Short Stories

Beyond Love and Other Stories. New Delhi, Vikas, 1980.


Virginia Woolf and Intuition. Hoshiarpur, Vishveshvaranand, 1957.

Virginia Woolf and Bergson's Durée Hoshiarpur, Vishveshvaranand, 1957.

Bergson and the Stream of Consciousness Novel. London, Blackie, 1962; New York, New York University Press, 1963.

Examine Your English, with M.M. Maison. New Delhi, Orient Longman, 1964.

Contemporary Indian Literature in English. Simla, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1992.

Editor, Modern Short Stories. Madras, Macmillan, 1958.

Editor, Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman. New Delhi, Eurasia, 1962.

Editor, Apollo's Lyre. Madras, Macmillan, 1962.

Editor, The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane. New Delhi, Eurasia, 1964.

Editor, British Romantic Poets: Recent Revaluations. New York, New York University Press, and London, University of London Press, 1966.

Editor, with Keith McKean, Critical Approaches to Fiction. New York, McGraw Hill, 1968.

Editor, British Victorian Literature: Recent Revaluations. New York, New York University Press, and London, University of London Press, 1969.

Editor, The Life, Adventures, and Pyracies of the Famous Captain Singleton, by Daniel Defoe. London, Oxford University Press, 1969.

Editor, Indian Verse in English 1970. Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1971.

Editor, Short Stories of Yesterday and Today. New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1978.

Editor, with R.K. Tongue, English Miscellany. New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1980.

Editor, with Saros Cowasjee, Modern Indian Short Stories. New Delhi and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1983.

Editor, A Portrait of India: A Selection of Short Stories. New Delhi, Vikas, 1983.

Editor, Contemporary Indian Short Stories in English. New Delhi, Sahitya Akademi, 1991.

Translator, Selected Poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. New Delhi, Penguin Books, 1993.


Critical Studies: "An Essay on the Poems of Shiv K. Kumar" by R.K. Kaul, in Osmania Journal of English Studies 11 (Hyderabad), 1, 1974; "Beyond the Empiric Point" by M. Sivaramkrishna, in World Literature Written in English (Arlington, Texas), November 1975; "Towards an Idiom of Sincerity" by K. Venkatachari, in Journal of Indian Writing in English (Gulbarga, Mysore), July 1976; "Between Kali and Cordelia" by T.G. Vaidyanathan, in Osmania Journal of English Studies 13 (Hyderabad), 1, 1977; "Resonant Bones" by J. Birje-Patil, in World Literature Today (Norman, Oklahoma), autumn 1977; Shiv K. Kumar issue of Journal of South Asian Literature (East Lansing, Michigan), 25, fall 1990; "Modes of Self-Knowledge in Shiv K. Kumar's Poetry" by C. Sengupta, in Creative Forum (New Delhi), 5(1–4), January 1992.

Shiv K. Kumar comments:

Although I scribbled some verse during my undergraduate days, it was only at the age of forty-nine or so that I wrote my first serious poem. Since then poetry has been one of my most continual sources of joy.

A poem comes to me as a phrase, a line, or a nebulous image that then gets crystallized into a cluster of words. An idea never starts it off; I seem to have an innate distrust of statement. I believe that a poem achieves its most effective articulation when it emerges from the intensity of a writer's lived experience. It may not be "a kind of locked trunk of confessions," as Gabriel Pearson puts it, but it acquires its sharp identity from the poet as a private person.

Of course a poet must never forsake the artistic distance and control that mold the disparate elements of experience into a pattern. Nor should he allow any kind of intellectual discipline to ossify his sensibility. My dual role as critic and writer has made me particularly conscious of this dilemma, but I agree with Anthony Thwaite that one's activity may "fall into different compartments and that the one doesn't influence the other."

I do not think I have been influenced by any poet, though I greatly admire the work of Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton. Ultimately each poet has to work out his own credo of life and imagination—"we perish each alone."

Do I consider the use of a language I am not born to a serious impediment to my creativity? No. I feel that it is as much the language that chooses its writer as the writer who selects his medium. In any case, I have grown up with the English language and cannot write in any other, so I have no alternative.

It has sometimes been remarked that one of the recurring themes in my poetry is cultural interaction, a preoccupation with the polarities of East and West. But this preoccupation must be unconscious. Maybe I have stayed too long in the West, and my Indian sensibility keeps assessing my Western experience. Fundamentally, I guess, I am something of a "primitivist" who may never overcome his nostalgia for prelapsarian innocence and simplicity. What hurts me most is any kind of regimentation—political, social, intellectual, or religious. I feel that poetry is an impassioned testament to man's inner freedom. I have done other kinds of creative writing, but it is the poem that satisfies me most because it summons forth my imagination in its intensest form. In the beginning was the word, and that word was the poem, man's profoundest experience articulated through cadence and harmony.

*  *  *

Shiv K. Kumar's poetry is vibrantly about everyday life, felt on the tips of his senses but undercut by an ironic and sometimes satirical sense of humor. Uniting the strands of the confessional, the natural and urban landscape, and social satire is Kumar's ebullient celebration of the life principle, which is often revealed in his constructs of his "gutsy" sexuality. At his best the poems may be seen symbolically as a bursting of creativity at the seams of the repressive conventions and rituals of Indian society that are forever pressing in upon him. "Renunciation is a mere chimera," declares an early poem and is, therefore, ruled out even as a temptation; "the river of time" is "sullied by ritual and dogma—ashes and bones," laments one of his later poems. Thus, the temptations, tensions, and limited rewards of this world are Kumar's constant preoccupations.

With some exceptions Kumar's poems in Articulate Silences are characterized by a rather fanciful use of hyperbole, pun, and erotic imagery: "Those scythed curls … enact the Hegelian dialectic"; the salesgirls at Paris International Airport are "duty free"; "the girls in their minis—the thigh is the limit:— / flourishing their maxi breasts / bursting to frank exposure." Other poems such as "Genesis," "Karma," "Revelation," and "Buddha at a Night Club" play upon traditional religious concepts in order to focus on what are, in effect, aspects of an adolescent romanticism. "Sounds of Hunger," for example, spends fourteen lines describing, through a series of metaphors, the sounds of physical hunger, only to draw attention in the last four lines to "the other hunger" that "forages for silken thighs / swishing past / beyond accessibility."

"An Encounter with Death" and "Rickshaw-Wallah," both reprinted in Subterfuges but with the former cut down by eleven lines, anticipate Kumar's more mature style. "An Encounter with Death" recalls how on a "gutsy afternoon," sharing a boisterous joke with his old mother, he overlooked the forebodings of her sudden death and how for thirteen days, as the Hindus say, he "communed with her spirit." It is significant, however, that Kumar leaves the question of his own belief in the superstition ambiguous. "Rickshaw-Wallah," in its compression of satire and compassion, achieves an aesthetic effect that is absent from "Sounds of Hunger":

   Pulling his cross
   on a bellyful of questions,
   with obesity belching complacency
   on the cushioned seat behind.
           he computes the patches on the street's tattered shirt.
           Beyond the municipal precincts,
           in a slummed roost,
   the mother-hen is gagging
   her chicks full-throated cries
   for a few grains of rice—
   their last supper.

"Broken Columns," a twelve-part sequence in Woodpeckers, comprises vignettes of the poet's journey from the age of four, when he "plunged into precocity," through the "fuzzy yearnings" of adolescence, his visit to Cambridge, his return to India, and his marriage to "a woman I had only half known." In a sense it is the typical journey of a Hindu boy in India, but the reconstructions of memories suggests a wholly modern, skeptical, and irreverent sensibility, forever aware of the hidden ironies of life. In capturing the sensuous and the incongruous moment, "Broken Columns" encapsulates some of the range of Kumar's thematic concerns and the resilience of his style.

Examples of Kumar's tendency to project his sexuality into a social or natural scene around him abound in his poetry. For example, in "Broken Columns" a concerned father, suspecting his son's propensities, sends him to the priest in a Shiva temple for counseling; the priest, instead, takes him into a dark chamber, only to caress his neck until "my nerves tingle like a horse's flanks." As he leaves the temple, he is redeemed by his revived memory of the "aroma of deodar" and "the cluster of mynahs" on the skirt of his playmate Shiela, whom he had at the age of ten once "transfixed" in a timber shop in order to "plumb the bay of Bengal."

Kumar, however, is equally deft at evoking, through cross-cultural associations, the atmosphere of a place, city, or historic monument. He is at his best when he takes up an object, a routine scene, or an incident from everyday life and sculpts it into a poem. In "Clouds" Kumar humanizes the clouds only to focus on the cosmic link between their peripatetic versatility and the mundane world. His clouds, like his poetry, do not simply float high over vales and hills but are involved in life on the earth. They are dexterous, friendly, and reliable, and

Above all, it's their discernment—
they'd let the sun break through when
a child is on the zebra crossing,
or drop a veil when a woman steals
out for a rendezvous.
Not even saints, limited in their choice,
even pause to look about.
But if you've once mated on this thistle-down
beds of clouds, their mirrors
will never betray you.

—Devindra Kohli