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Nostalgia, Humor And Activism Echo In Voice Of The People

Amandeep Singh

Do people speak individually or do they speak collectively?  Is there a voice of a people?  Does the voice develop in time or does it become a function of geography and climate?  Is voice a piece of wisdom or is voice an instinct?  The South Asian Poets of New England (SAPNE) devoted its Fall meeting to explore the voice of the people of South Asia as reflected in the writings and expressions through the literature.  Thirty poet friends from various regions of the subcontinent assembled in Cary Memorial Library in Lexington to relish poems, thoughts, words and expressions.  It was an afternoon filled with emotions!

A characteristic New England Fall day - crimson, yellow and brown - colorful leaves of Fall, blown by the wind, spread on the ground like an oriental rug, the weather sunny and mild.   The nature is kind in the Fall.  Cooler temperatures produce colors. Themes of the poems presented spanned from patriotism, Gandhi, Tagore, Diwali festivities, historical atrocities and pains of humanity. Deep and profound is the influence of Mahatma Gandhi and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s poems on most of the poets from South Asia. 

Bijoy Misra, the convener, welcomed all to the meeting.  “The goal of the meeting is to reflect on the voices that trained us for our life in society and to explore a mechanism to document it for the future of the immigrant community. Being old in tradition, the message of South Asia could be considered as the message of the world!” He then called upon Dr. R. Balachandra, Professor Emeritus from Northeastern University to preside over the meeting.

Dr. Balachandra reflected upon the voice of the people and said that voice can be one of pleasure or one of pain!  The voice has its colors.  He recited an inspirational poem titled “Kaanada Kadalige Hambaliside Mana” by Kannada poet G. S. Shivarudrappa.  The poet longed for unseen majestic sea and wanted to meld into its waves like rivers! He followed up with his own poem titled “My Town’s Hill”.  The poet remembered a hill at the edge of his town, where he used to play with his friends. After many years when he visited his town he could no longer find that old hill.  Instead he saw brick houses everywhere, all the natural beauty and peace had vanished!  He laments that the material progress destroyed nature!

Maya De’s Bengali poem was about the life and living of the South Asian immigrants. Life revolved around jobs, residences, taking kids to school, visiting temples, puja or other festivals.  When the kids become older they have their own culture, they don’t like parents’ activities.  Her poem was inspired by a poem by Rabindranath Tagore.

Alok De’s Bengali poem was inspired by Tagore’s dance drama “Play of Illusion in our lives.” The poet poked fun at the election, Alok did to the American Elections. The elections appeared to be about who got more publicity and attention. 

Rosie Kamal wondered about the whereabouts of one’s home in this changing world, where so many atrocities happen!  She read “Why Mustn’t I Flare Up?”, translation by Sajed Kamal of an original poem in Bangla/Changma by Kabita Chakma, of the Chakma indigenous community in Bangladesh,  a call to stand up against the injustice in the world where people are forced to abandon their homes, become alien in their own birth land, women get turned into slaves!

Sajed Kamal in his English poem “Trails of tears 2016” saw similarities in the age old sufferings  of Syrian refugees and native Americans who were forced to give up their lands east of Mississippi River and migrated to Oklahoma due to Indian removal policy of 1838. In another poem “Mission Peace”, he wishes to send peaceful poems across the earth instead of bombs.

Pallika Kanani read Gujarati Poet’s nostalgic poem titled “Veshahar”, a comparison between Mumbai and Philadelphia. She didn’t forget Mumbai and loved it.  She safely kept the precious treasures of memories that she received from her birth city.  She loved Philadelphia too.  Cherry blossoms of Philadelphia reminded her of Gulmohar of Mumbai. Pallika also had similar experiences relating to New York and Mumbai.

Bijoy Misra, took his inspiration from the Oriya poet Gopabandhu Dash, a freedom fighter and hero to his father.  Gopabandhu’s poem from the jail called on his countrymen not to be scared in the episode of detention (by the British).   “Do take it as a good omen and do not feel any pain, it is a time to die with mirth for the freedom.”  In his own poem “Sansarara Drshya”, Bijoy shifted to the new world order of a burning world where children die from starvation.  Bombs are not for children!

Muneebur Rahman in his melodious Kashmiri Poem titled “She Didn’t Open Her Eyes” wrote about pellet gun injuries to eyes in young boys and girls through the turmoil in Kashmir. With the help of life's celebratory images of beauty, the poet painted the sadness of the situation.

Rahul Ray in his Bengali poem titled “Voice of People - 15th August” reflected upon the meaning of freedom which apppeared now lost in India; gone are people with idealism who promised to stop hunger, poverty and illiteracy.  Presently, people looked helplessly towards the Government. The rich grabbed everything leaving poor in despondency.  
Swapana Ray and Rahul Ray’s soulful rendition of Tagore’s poem to Mahatama Gandhi - “Tore daak sone  keu na ase tabe akla chalo re (Hindi -Teri awaaz pe koi na aye to phir chal akela re)”, mesmerized the audience and transported them to era of 1940s. Tagore encouraged Gandhiji to march alone if nobody listened to his call.

If nobody listens to your call then go it alone Rabindranath Tagore (-Translated by Rabiul Zaki)

If nobody listens to your call 
Then go it alone, go it alone! 
If nobody talks to you, 
If everybody turns away from you 
If everybody is afraid (of the truth) 
Then open up your heart,
Speak alone (about) what’s in your mind! 
If everybody turns away 
If nobody notices you -
While traversing the hard path
Then alone you tread under your bloodied feet!
If there is no light in sight 
If the doors are shut by the dark & stormy night 
Then let the claps of thunder set your heart ablaze
And let it burn - alone.

Chandu Shah recited Suresh Joshi’s Gujarati poem titled “Poet’s Will”.  The poet pleads the readers to “tell the Sun that when it rises, he still has tears to dry and some shadows to burn.”  In his poem “Blue Jeans/Genes”, took pun on the sound, as in Gujarati Jeans/Genes are spelled the same.  He wished to have Jeans/Genes that never needs washing.

Dharmvir Sharma’s Hindi poem “Ek Khat Gandhi ji ki Naam’ - a letter to Gandhiji questioned his philosophy of nonviolence (ahimsa) when Britishers were beating peacefully protesting freedom fighters like Lala Lajpat Rai to death.

Anil Mehrotra recited famous Urdu poet Munnawar Rana’s poem “Mujahir Nama”, an emotional and touching narrative of the pains of refugees who were uprooted from their homes in 1947 during the partition of India. Sadly it is still happening in Syria and other places in the world!

Bringing in some light mood, Preetpal Singh’s hilarious poem was about how lucky we really are (khushkismat) that we are married and have kids as 20-25% people don’t even get married (he googled this information!). It is a different story that married couples fight everyday and kids drive their parents crazy (and he didn’t have to google this one).

Maneesh Srivastava read his grandfather’s poem about Cremation Ground, final journey of the life. He depicted the same thoughts in his own poem “Antim Padav” or “Last Stay”, one has to go thru the uncrossable river(Baitarni) on other people’s shoulders.

Rajesh Tyagi recited Sahir Ludhianvi’s famous poem “Kabhi Kabhi“.  Sometimes the poet thinks that his dismal life could have been fulfilled while basking under his beloved’s love! Rajesh’s own poem “Har raat aa jaati ho” was about memories of a lost love that tormented him in the evenings.

Sanjeev Tripathi’s Hindi poem “Deepawali ki Shubh Kamnaye” was a remembrance of Diwali festival. The poet wished for pollution-free Diwali.  Let it bring hope and education for women and children!  Neena Wahi’s Hindi poem was also a tribute to Deepawali - on festival of lights we need to lighten the lamps that can dispel the ignorance. 

Neeta Agarwal recited some of the memorable couplets from the great mystic poet Kabir. She followed up with the lines from the more recent Poetess Mahadevi Varma.  Ravi Agarwal followed with Hindi poem of his father on the theme of Gandhiji’s vision of violence free India.

Amandeep Singh reflected on the poet’s duty to raise voice against the injustice.  Guru Nanak complained to God when Babur invaded India.  Amrita Pritam lamented about millions of crying daughters of Punjab during the riots of 1947.  She called on Waris Shah to write about the agony to complement the work on “Heer” !  Amandeep’s poem spoke about anti-Sikh Pogroms in 1984.  Pangs of its haunting memories are still felt in poet’s heart. 

Young Hindi poet, Amit Khare in his poem titled “Jagriti” wants to bring a much-needed revolution in the world. Like Sun and the new dawn, poet wanted to take the first step alone to initiate a change and hope that other will join him. 

Bijoy Misra thanked everybody.  The next meeting of SAPNE will be on February 12, 2017 in Lexington Public Library. The 

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