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Seventh Annual Poetry Reading At Harvard

Manjushree Sen & Umadevi Nelliappan
06/05/2003

CAMBRIDGE MA, May 10, 2003 -- Cambridge is a city of poets, it seems. Every year at this time, Dr. Bijoy Misra, Convener, Outreach Committee, Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, performs an invaluable service to the larger community whose members he invites to participate. For two hours, the audience welcomes each poet to share images that capture the heart, mind, and senses. Sometimes, the poem may be intensely personal; at other times, a philosophical message to the world; often, the passionate words of a world-class poet recited by a devoted follower.

Started in 1997, each annual poetry event is commemorated by a theme. This year, the theme was "Freedom." Steeped in our own thoughts of freedom, we were gently led away from the cruelties of violence for a brief respite on a Spring afternoon, the day before Mother's Day.

Among the poets opening the program were Sajed Kamal from Bangladesh, with an incredibly moving recitation of "Bidrohi [The Rebel]" by Kazi Nazrul Islam; Alok De whose recitation of "Prarthana [Prayer]" by Rabindranath Tagore was delivered with fitting emotion. The English translation of "Prayer" follows:

Prayer
------
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow selfish walls;
Where words come from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into dreary desert's sand of bad habits;
And where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thoughts and actions --
into that heaven of freedom, Oh father, let my country awake.

By Rabindranath Tagore

A Tamil poem composed and read by Uma Nelaippan conveyed in the rise and fall of her voice, a compelling cry for freedom. Impassioned words in Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Marathi, English filled the entire auditorium. Our understanding, however, seemed on another plane, almost needing no translation. The poet's voice and gestures spoke volumes about Freedom. Because May 11th was Mother's Day, I had the privilege of reciting before this distinguished audience the words of a great American poet and activist's profound declaration celebrating all mothers and women.
Julia Ward Howe wrote "Mother's Day Declaration - 1870" which encourages women to rise up against war

(http://womenshistory.about.com/library/etext/bl_howe_mother.htm):


"Arise then...women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism is of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
'We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands will not come to us, reaking with carnage, For caresses and applause.'"

She ends her declaration with:
" In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace."


Dr. Misra recited his own affectionate words to his brother, calling his poem, "Freedom." His brother died at the tender age of 10. In a series of questions, among many unanswered questions, he asks:

"My brother, did you see the terror of gun?
Why didn't you tell them when you saw absurd passion?
Did you see silly fights for land, water and oil?
Did you see those wars, revenge, our technology toil?


"Are you with the sun, do you smile with light?
Do you come in the morning, make the world bright?
Are you those colors, in those flowers that shine?
Are you that fragrance, in those fruits, trees and vine?"


There were at least 21 poets in attendance, including Brother Blue, the Storyteller of Cambridge, best known for his wonderful stories in the oral traditions of ancient cultures. Anyone familiar with Harvard Square has had the privilege of listening to him. It is fascinating to watch him as he listens. He gestures with his hands as a poet reads in another language; he keeps beat to the rhythm of the lines and stanzas. As suits the tradition of this annual event, Brother Blue brings the reading to a close, honoring in spirit that great Indian subcontinent that he sees in his mind's eye, and describes its richness, its rhythms, and its nuances. Brother Blue stirringly unites the world in all its diversity.

On a spectacular Spring Day that we all awaited, an audience sat quietly absorbing the warmth of a poet's words.

(c) 2003 By Manjusree Sen

It was my pleasure to participate in the poetry-reading program in Cambridge. Dr. Bijoy Misra is convener, out reach committee department of Sanskrit and Indian studies. This is the seventh year he is conducting this program in a successful manner. Last year was my first year to participate in this program. The theme was Friendship. This year the title was Freedom. This committee gave a great opportunity for me to share some thoughts with everybody, and brings unity. I met people from all over India. All the poetsí voices spoke about the theme in a different angle, and thatís what makes it interesting, and enjoyment to the audience.

Freedom is not something people take, its something they give. Around 1847-1947, a cloud of freedom thirst hovered over India. Our hearts broke, thinking back at the cruelty our people faced in the fight for freedom. Our people had a strong mind. Without bloodshed and nonviolence, they sacrificed their lives for our motherland.

What is freedom? Freedom is a belief we cannot express through words. Everyone should have their own freedom, for everyone deserves to be free. If everyone had this, there would be less hate, and crime. Nobody should be homeless, or without an education. How can we fix the world if we canít fix this? Nobody should be captured, put in jail, and make as slaves for their own beliefs. The earth wasnít made for one man to rule alone, its for all colors and creatures to whom it belongs to. Now we are back, but still have hatred, we havenít learned from out past. If you want freedom, fighting is the hardest way to get it. If people had not stopped the killing, took time to think, the bombs and hatred would have made mankind extinct.

The best way to get freedom is by loving your enemies, even if they donít understand. The loving ones are the true heroes and you make a difference in the world without fighting. You will be nearer to heaven through love, than through study of Gita, Bible or Koran. Love never fails today, tomorrow or ages forever. Through love, we will have life building, man-making, good character making, and assimilation of ideas. Love is god.

Dr. Umadevi Nellaiappan



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1.Hi Umadevi May 15, 2011janemag 

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