Exile By R. Parthasarathy – Summary and Critical Appreciation


R. Parthasarathy is one of the greatest poets in Indo-English poetry since independence. His collection of poems Rough passage has a three-tier structure. In the first section of Exile, the poet describes his life in England where he felt like an exile uprooted from his culture. Cultural conflict is at the heart of Parathasarthy’s poems. As a young student, he was infatuated with England and the English language. But his life in England put an end to his anglomania. He was caught in a cultural dilemma.


ln ‘Exile’, the first part of, Rough passage, The poet opposes the culture to Europe with that of India and the consequence of British culture on an Indian. He experiences a loss of identity within his own culture and therefore the need to trace his roots.

The poem begins with the scene of a room in a London flat where young men sit together talking of their country (India) and its art. This young man had spent his youth idolising the Englishman as God. Since he was so captivated by them. The young men realise that the language flourishes in its own cultural backdrop and loses its vitality when imported. lt is like a tree transplanted into a new climate. The bark withers in the new climate and the branches lose their vitality. The only reassuring thought is that the past is there to be cherished. lt is something concrete, something real. ln, this new world, flaunting the dress and poise of the new folks, you are nothing but the, coloured,s
among the white” London city is no ‘jewel’ as was believed by the Indian during the British rule like any other Indian city with its squalor and poverty, London too has its share of smokes and litter and poverty-stricken children.

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ln the ninth stanza,he hears an old man speaking a great truth, a truth which he himself had come to realise. lt is that “you” cannot change people from what they are. They belong to the past and the new environment cannot change them except superficiality. The British empire seems to be losing its glory. From Africa could be heard the voice of protest and stanzas eleven and twelve speak of the all of the British empires. And in this context, the river Thames appears as a retraining force. Just as the martial powers of Boadicea, Queen of Iceni was defeated by the Romans, so too the progress of the British Empire comes to a grinding halt. Now sitting under the shade of the poplars, overlooking the Thames, watching London up to a new day, the young men realise that England has also lost touch with the past.

The young man is now back in lndian among the familiar scenes porters, rickshaw pullers, barbers, etc The bridge hovers over them and trees in the maiden offer shade to one and all. He is full of excitement and rushes to enioy companionship. He still remains thee smell of gin and cigarettes, reminders of the habits acquired in England. Passions over weight words and you succumb to them.

Right now he wants to experience life, experience emotional security. Maturity comes with the passing of years and it brings wisdom . The city of Calcutta on the banks of the Hoogly gives him to the end. He has now passed from youth to aduthood His youth he has left behind
and now his duty is to be loyal to himself as an adult. ln his hurry to be a man of experience, he has given up innocence’

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Critical appreciation of the poem

In Exile R. Parthasarathy reveals that the poet’s infatuation with the English language and culture is under strain. The more he sees alien English life the more he becomes conscious of his Tamil roots.

He dressed in his foreign clothes. England also had polluted lands filled with smoke and litter. There were unbathed English children in a dirty setup. However, people were only disgusted with the coloureds. The poet described how the river divides the city from the night. Perhaps that is the only thing that divides the city from the night, indicating the nightlife there. And the noises reappear as the mechanical routine returns to the day with trains and milkmen foregrounding the scene. The events of the day assume vocal overtones with the newspaper boy.

The poet’s tongue is hunchbacked due to words held back, and the burden of words left unsaid as he heads for Jadavpur to his beloved. She smelt of gin and cigarette ash. Her breasts were aroused and therefore sharp due to desire. The speaker makes sure that he carries this wisdom of the colonial past in the bone urn of his mind. His mind now carries the ashes of his own existence that he now presumes to be dead. It also carries the remnants of a colonial past.

Nevertheless, all that is left are the ashes of things that were once young and beautiful, of the flesh and glow and all that youth stood for. He comprehends that his life has come to a full circle now as he is thirty. When something comes to a full circle, it either completes a cycle or has come back to its beginning. He makes a resolution to give quality to the other half. He regrets that in the scramble to be a man in terms of sexual maturity and in the materialistic march for success, he has forgone his innocence.

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