Sudhir K Arora is now a well-known Stephenian scholar as till date he has to his credit two books on Stephen Gill namely The Poetic Corpus of Stephen Gill: An Evaluation and the other an edited volume titled The Flame Unmasked, a collection of critical essays on Stephen Gill’s epic poem The Flame. The present collection of 18 critical essays by genuine scholars has limited its range of study to Stephen Gill’s epic poem The Flame. The book is the need of the hour as it is the criticism of the criticism of lives victimized due to destruction caused by the manic messiahs of terrorism. The book is worth-reading because it carries papers of some very stalwart scholars like R. C. Shukla, Sandhya Saxena, Satish Kumar, G. Domini Savio and K Balachandran who have glanced the book The Flame with different lenses of theircritical eyes. The first paper ‘The Speculative Solemnityin Stephen Gill’s The Flame’ by R. C. Shukla endeavours to throw light on the various “indigestible” but somehow “digested” “experiences” by the poet. The paper seeks to justify its point historically and logically drawing references from Urdu, Hindi andEnglish Poetry. Besides, Shukla has tried to know the importance of Flame in various religions but he finds it in Hindus and Christians only. He is right when he says:
The Flame, as a matter of fact, is the belief of Hindus and Christians. The candlesticks or the earthen lamps used on festive or devotional occasions signifies the faith of the people in their deities who, as their hopes are, will save them from many problems and also grant their most fervent desires. (11)
The book carries six comparative articles in which Sandhya Saxena’s ‘Satan’s Followers with Pandora’s Box: A Comparative Study of The Flame andParadise Lost’ is remarkable as she compares both the entirely different books so skillfully that it becomes hard to find points of dissimilarities in them. Similarly, Sudhir Arora’s ‘Prayer to the Flame: Niranjan Mohanty and Stephen Gill’ also finds similar points of debate in Niranjan Mohanty’s Prayer to Lord Jagannatha and Stephen Gill’s The Flame.
Another paper of Dr. Arora on The Flame in the light of Rasa theory adds the importance of the book because studies in the light of Indian Poetics are rare among Indian academics, who are either indifferent or are lacking in the authoritativeness of this branch of knowledge. The papers of Alka Agarwal, Madhubala Saxena, Anuradha Sharma, C. L. Khatri, Arun KumarMishra and Ruchi Singhal are well-written and have succeeded in justifying their arguments and making a significant point.
The Preface of the book is worth-reading as Dr. Arora has raised a sensitive issue of ‘Art for Art’s sake’ and ‘Art for Life’s Sake’ shielding Stephen Gill’s entire aim of writing poetry in an hour of waning humanism and growing cruelty. He, when asks, ‘how can one isolate from the environment that makes him, mature enough to react as well adjust with the given circumstances?’ (VII) seems to be a follower of ‘Art for life’s sake’ but he himself like others actually prefers its fusion because he feels ‘Life and didacticism cannot be separated. Life is beautiful because of discipline and conditioning that kill the germs of selfishness rooted in human beings’.Literary theory and cultural theory cannot be studied separately despite many different points. Similarly I believe much in Marxian manner that ‘Art for Life’s Sake’ is such a huge concept that beauty is a small but necessary ingredient of it. No art can be an art without beauty and so the fusion of both the theories will be an additional pronouncement of new theory which is nothing but the vain exercise of intellectuals and which is only giving another name to the theory of Art for life’s sake. I feel that the editor must have included a paper on epical characteristics in The Flame.
The book is beautifully designed and moderately priced by the publisher who, though not a big name, has been making a significantly big contribution to Indian English literature for a long time when this branch was a tiny sapling.
The book deserves to be in the bookshelves of both the young and old scholars who have an inclination to read something good and potential. The editor and the publisher deserve kudos for bringing out the book on Stephen Gill at such an economical price. Going through all the papers gave me a new experience. I unhesitatingly recommend the book to all the book-lovers who will have a pleasurable experience while peeping into The Flame Unmasked.