* Article first published in FORTELL September 2011 issue.
Teaching texts as remote in time and place as Spenser’s Epithalamion is a challenge indeed. The ears of city-bred adolescents, so accustomed to the unabashed big bang of our pronouncements in Backstreet Boys, Venga Boys and Savage Garden etc. just do not respond to the snow-soft mercy-petitions in Platonic love poems addressed to “impossible she’s”. And the small towners: the rural and the semi-urban first generation migrants, sitting quietly as “backbenchers” in the class, find it funnier still because fresh in their mind are the reverberations of a more vibrant, terse and dialogic Desi or Margi (popular and classical) tradition of native love poetry embedded in Mangalacharsi, Barahamasasii, Bhramar Geethasiii and other Radha-Krishna duos like these.
Any Indian child who has had the chance to spend even a few hours with grandparents, distant aunts and other folk-narrators readily available at community meets is at least vaguely exposed to Parkeeya Nayikaiv or Nakh-Shikh Varnan Paramparav of Indian classics. And my humble submission is that one of the ways of arousing interest in Spenser and his kind of apparently artificial and urbane utterances of love is to place them against the more sophisticated and vibrantly passionate utterances of love in the popular songs or couplets of Jaidev, Vidyapati, Soordasvi, and the Reetikal poetsvii. Thus, studying Epithalamion, as the mangalachar of a typical marriage song of the Nachariviii tradition could be both interesting and rewarding from the post-colonial perspective of highlighting the subtext of differences.