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South Asia Sings At SAI

Sunayana Kachroo

The South Asian studies at Harvard University was reverberating with echoes of poets from different regions of South Asia reciting their poetry in this annual meet. In its 18th year this event has been attracting poetic talents and wonderful pieces of poetry from diverse regions of South Asia.   Dr. Bijoy Misra of Harvard University began organizing this event in 1997 when there were efforts to celebrate the golden jubilee of India’s independence.  Late Catherine Galbraith and Late Swami Sarvagatanandas were the principal motivators to guide the program.  An informal group called South Asian Poets of New England formed in 2008.  The group helps in locating the poets and facilitates the event.

The event is scheduled every year in May with a pre-announced theme.  Harvard’s Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies hosted the event until 2012. The program is currently held under the auspices of the new South Asia Institute in association with the reorganized Department of South Asian Studies.  The theme of the event for this year was "Matrubhasha" –Mother Tongue. Twenty seven poets participated in this year’s event from India, Bangladesh and Nepal.  Among the participants from India, there were Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Kashmiri, Kannada, Malayali and Oriya recitation.

Dr. Bijoy Misra welcomed the poets and also honored the long time patrons of SAPNE(South Asian Poets of New England) for supporting the cause of Poetry and promoting it continuously. He recognized Sajed Kamal, Maya De, Alok De and Shantamma Prakash who were present in the first poets’ meet of 1997. Dr Misra talked about the new endeavor of SAPNE to create a book display and sale of the published authors in the group.

The first Poet to recite his poem was Prof. Sajed Kamal, who hails from Bangladesh. He talked about the history of Mother Tongue day and recited his Bangla poem "“The Meaning of Ekushe”. Ekushe (Twenty-first) which refers to February 21st, 1952 when Bangladesh fought to preserve “Bangla” as its official language. In 1999, in response to a proposal initiated by Bangladeshis living in Canada and submitted through the Bangladeshi government, the UNESCO declared, starting in 2000, February to be the “International Mother Language Day,” honoring this day, and all mother languages, to be celebrated annually and internationally.  

Sejal Kothari a Gujrati Poet recited her poem"Ganga-the river". She compared the journey of river ganga with the journey of the life. The values of "Samarpan" and the transition to other phases from its birth to when it merges into the ocean.

Alok De, a Bengali Poet, recited "My Language" a Bengali poem about what Matrubhasha means to him.

Syed Ali Rizvi, a well-known Urdu Poet and a promoter of Urdu language in the local area recited few beautiful Urdu couplets to honor and celebrate the Mother's Day. He then proceeded to recite a beautiful Nazm "Urdu" by Iqbal Ashar narrating the  state of Urdu language in the South Asian region.

Dr. Dinesh Shah a scientist by profession recited a wonderful Gujrati poem "Lamps of Humanity". A scientist's quest to unravel the essence of life through the life of "Fireflies" He played a section of the song set to vocal and instrumental music.

Maneesh Srivastav is a young poet originally from U.P. He recited a very beautiful and well-crafted poem 'यादों की संदूक" it is about two estranged brothers.  When at some point in life nostalgia kicks in and one of them remembers the good old time and realizes how big their childhood happiness was with nothing in hand and how small their current ego is with everything in hand.

Maya De recited her Bangla poem "Rainbow" detailing the fact that choosing a national language in India was a conflict in itself. Poet says we all rejoice seeing a rainbow and don't complain about seven colors so why can't we appreciate all languages?  

Nila Shah echoed the sentiments of many mothers and grandmothers through her poem "Garden"- Meri Bagiya Main Do Phool Khile. She related the joy of raising two children and compared it to blooming flowers in her garden and then the beautiful transition of becoming a grandmother.

Neena Wahi a Hindi Poet recited a very beautiful poem “A conversation between a bud and a flower.” The poem is about the mortality of the flower.

Sunayana Kachroo a young poet who has a published collection of poems and also writes for movies recited few lines to honor the Mother's day. She recited a Kashmiri Poem "Nalmott- A Hug" This poem is about a Kashmiri Pandit who is forced to leave his home in Kashmir due to militancy and aspires to go back to his home.

Chandrakant Shah, a very well-known poet and a theatre personality,recited a very interesting poem " Blue Jeans" a thought-provoking perspective on jeans and how wrinkled and torn jeans can be compared to the different phases of a human life.

Badiuzzaman Nasim is a Bengali Poet recited "Aamader Ghore Nayee". The poet says that even if we may not have Glittering Gold and Treasure to relish  but we do have a Some Shinning alphabets to be proud of. That is our Mother Tongue.

Annamalai Velmurugan recited a Tamil Poem "Tamil has many names". Until independence of India poets’ main theme was about national freedom movement. Post independence era was about regional movements which enriched India's integration. This author praises the role of Tamil language, how it contributes to the peoples life.

Arun Chaudhari is a Bhakt Poet  and often sings his own poems as bhajans . He read his Marathi Poem "Mother Maharashtra" conveying  the glory and honor that Marathi language has brought to the people of Maharashtra.

Abha Chaudhari is the youngest Poet of the group and she recited her poem "English" and highlighted the importance of English as a language of communication and the unifying language when there is so much diversity.

Shantamma Prakash recited a Malyalam poem " Gyana Panna" by a famous Malyali Poet Shankara Namburi. In this very beautifully articulated poem the poet discusses the essence of life and the vedanta aspect of it. Shantamma recited the "Sansar Varnan" part of the poem.

Anil Mehrotra a Hindi Poet recited "Matrubhasha" a Hindi poem emphasizing the sweetness factor and the soothing effect our Mother Tongue has on us. The same words in a different language do not bring the same emotion that a Mother Tongue would do.

R. Balachandra recited a Kannada Poem "Kannada". The Poet encourages and inspires the people of Karnataka to fulfill their duties towards their land and language. Also how progress many times means death of beauty.

Shiva Gautam- a Nepali poet recited a Nepali poem "Naya Purana" meaning New and Old Roads. In our journey of life we leave memories of different roads we travel. When we decide to walk those roads again to collect those memories, we discover that the memories have changed and are not as we might think they would be.

Paromite De a young Bengali poet recited an English poem "Joy of words" about Rabindranath Tagore. The influence of his poems and music came in her life though her parents.  As she got older she realized that these works of literary art were a social force.   So her poem is in dedication to Tagore's "pen as a sword."

Janmejay Shishupal recited "Namanjoor"- Unapproved - a Marathi poem of a famous Marathi Poet "Sandeep Khare". The poet says "I refuse to wait for the wind to come and move my boat. I believe in myself and I make things happen in my own way. I don't change myself as per time/people. I am independent, responsible, and optimistic"

Amandeep Singh a Punjabi poet who also promotes young Punjabi families to teach and educate their children in Punjabi recited his own poem reflecting the thought. The Poem was titled "Voice of Mother".

Dr. Bijoy Misra ji the Organizer and the facilitator of this endeavor recited a poem in his Mother Tongue Oriya- "Mother and Mother Tongue". He explored the meaning of Mother in Mother-Tongue. Mother is an eternal concept of love, protection and nurture. Mother's language lives in the heart and is universal.

John Payne read a poem in English exploring the purpose of soul and the reason we are here by the English poet Wayne Blake.

The concluding reading was done by Dr. Pramod Thaker, a well recognized Gujarati Poet, author of many books in Gujarati. He writes under the pen name "Kṛiṣṇāditya". In the poem, the Poet wonders and explores what are the sources of the language? What really is "Language?"

Sunayana Kachroo concluded the session with vote of thanks to the poets and the audience members on behalf of South Asian Institute and Dept. of South Asian studies at Harvard University, SAPNE and Dr. Bijoy Misra. She ended the session with a quote from the movie Dead Poets Society calling all poets to becoming "Free Thinkers," which the South Asian poets have been!

South Asia Institute felicitated all attendees with tea and snacks.  During the social hour, various authors displayed their books and engaging conversations on words, literature, language and poetry continued with jubilation and nostalgia.

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