When profound verses flowed from her pen, Indian English poetry got the first women poet. She is Toru Dutt, the poet whose creative genius took the literary veterans and connoisseurs by surprise as the genesis of thoughts of matured philosophical sense was a teenage mind.
Born to linguist-poet father, Govin Chunder Dutt and a highly cultured mother, Kshetramoni on March 4, 1856, this Bengali prodigy brought in a new era in Indian English poetry by introducing the genre of Indian-Anglican literature to it.
Toru’s stronghold on the three languages, English, Sanskrit and French is well-expressed by James Darmesteter in the words – The daughter of Bengal, so admirable and so strangely gifted, Hindu by race and tradition, and an English woman by education, a French woman at heart, a poet in English, prose writer in French.
Toru’s poetry was a beautiful confluence of the finery of English and essence of Indian Hindu life. In her analogy, ‘Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan’, she made an eloquent and poignant description of legends of India’s past which were originally scripted in Sanskrit. This volume was published as ‘Sanskrit Sheaf’ by Kegan Paul in 1882. The essence of the original never got lost in the colours of translation and this is what made Toru Dutt a translator who kept the original alive.
This volume that was posthumously published in 1882 reflected her belief in that formless and intangible power which designed and drove human life. These poems highlighted the most important spiritual bedrock of Indians, the belief in the supremacy of fate in human life. The unfathomable greatness of Toru’s work in Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan can be gauged from the words of literary critic Lotika Basu – For the first time reveals to the West the soul of India through the medium of English poetry.
Though she was converted to Christianity, her belief in Indian gods and goddesses is confirmed from the several poems that she wrote on them. Savitri, Lakshman, Buttoo, Jogadhya Uma, Prehlad and Dhruva. Her mystique love for nature and her ruminations on natural phenomena found expression in poems like The Lotus, Baugmaree, and The tree of Life. Toru impeccably brought out the inseparable bond that nature and human life share in these poems. Colours played an important role in her poetry and this colour was added to human life by nature. One could also feel the feminine nature of her poems in these colours.
In silence, hour by hour. What was the need
Of interchanging words when every thought
That in our hearts arose, was known to each,
And every pulse kept time? Suddenly there shone
A strange light, and the scene as sudden changed.
I was awake:–It was an open plain
Illimitable,–stretching, stretching–oh, so far!
And o’er it that strange light,–a glorious light
Like that the stars shed over fields of snow
In a clear, cloudless, frosty winter night,
Only intenser in its brilliance calm.
- The Tree of Life
Toru grew up in an ambiance and amidst people who draught her upbringing with seeds of literary intellectualism. No wonder, the prowess to weigh life and its vicissitudes came to her in an unthinkably early age. But unfortunately Toru’s pen stopped writing at an age when, history knows, human imagination and creativity takes the first flight. She died at the tender age of 21 and thus the world lost a litterateur of her caliber.