The Tribune - Spectrum

, June 23, 2002

Poetic halo of the Anthill Man
R.P. Chaddah

Anthill man
by Kailash Ahluwalia (Poems) Writers’ Workshop, Kolkata. Pages 92. Rs 100

Anthill manIN the last two decades an important shift has taken place as far as Indian poetry in English is concerned. Its readership is no longer confined to the metros and is now spread almost all over the country. Indian poetry in English is being written, read and appreciated in Assam, Orissa, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Even Chandigarh can boast of a few Indo-English poets who regularly write and contribute to various anthologies of poetry, published from various places all over the country. Some local poets have more than four to five collections of verse to their credit.

Kailash Ahluwalia is a bilingual poet. He writes in English and Hindi. He is an academic-turned-part-time-poet holding a doctorate on the contribution of Arthur Miller to the genre of American drama. The corpus of his work till date is three collections of verse in Hindi and two in English, including the book under review.


Ahluwalia has tried his hand at writing a long poem, an almost forgotten form in the present times. Once in a while, some Indo-English poets do come out with anthologies of long poems. Arun Kolatkar’s Jejuri; R. Parthasarathy’s Rough Passage and Som P. Ranchaan’s Anteros readily come to mind. Like Wordsworth’s Lucy, the Anthill Man grows up in the very lap of nature. This castaway is taken into the protective lap of a lady (his foster mother). He is always lost in his own self and the surroundings. But unlike Lucy, the desire to learn somethings worthwhile erupts in him and he leaves his cave-home in a Siddartha-like quest for knowledge.

The poet’s love of English literature intrudes at times without context, or when he forgets that the Anthill Man is an untutored in the ways of the world. Through the persona of the Anthill Man, the poet relives his experiences, his feelings, his sentiments, his memories, his idea of mythology and a love of the folklore of Himachal.

Memories sometimes/come like deluge and try to drown us/and choke us that way.

The flavour of the interiors of Himachal and Shimla is writ large in the format of the long poem, but the focus remains the Anthill Man. He feels happy in his "golden ignorance" till he meets a teacher who puts in his mind the idea of a ‘godhead’ and one day/you’ll be Shankaracharya setting up a school of philosophy... you’ll be known’.

For a time he ignores this thought and opts for a family of his own and he leaves the sanctuary of his foster mother. He takes a wife and a son is born, but he pines for the love of his mother. Back in the cave he tries to find his mother. The mythical black bird points to an anthill, where he finds his mother sitting in a samadhi under it, oblivious of her physical existence. Unable to leave the precincts of the cave, he starts staying there for aeons, till he himself is taken:

And one day/ the earth parted a little/ and he started/ slipping into the pit."

With the passage of time he achieves sainthood and is even canonised and this way he goes past history, past the bonds of family and past the universe. The poem is a befitting memorial to the memory of the nameless Anthill Man. This long poem running into 80 pages has the potential to keep the reader engrossed in the story of the growth of the Anthill Man by the sheer beauty of the poetic halo with which the poet surrounds the persona of the Anthill Man.

All truths are wrapped/ in lies mists and doubts the real truth has to be sifted-for that one has to undertake a journey.