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SAPNE South Asian Folk And Oral Literature Festival

Srabonti Bandyopadhyay and Neena Wahi

Indian culture lives among people.  The vast regions of South Asia are the home of world’s oldest mythology, folklore, ballads and rhythm of life.   Rhythm becomes our company in life, we perform our best when we are in rhythm.  Rhythm is harmony in human existence and it manifests in human expressions.  Without fully analyzing it, we settle it as an inner voice and then we use the term “God”.

On the summer Saturday afternoon of August 18, 2018, under the cloudy skies reminiscent of the romantic monsoons of India, members of South Asian Poets of New England (SAPNE) assembled in the backyard at 180 Bedford Road in Lincoln, MA, to celebrate oral and folk literature of South Asia.  It was a village setting of a garden. The meeting was divided into two sessions with a delicious potluck lunch awaiting the poets. Fifteen poets participated, many who had come with their significant others.  Mrs. Ruth Hill, the octogenarian oral historian at Harvard University joined as the Guest of Honor.  Ruth and her late husband Dr. Hugh Hill have been long-time supporters and participants in the South Asian poetry events.


Dr. Bijoy Misra started the program by introducing the topic of the day by stressing that the folklore is the rendering of our inner voice which is shared by the rest of the community.  A lore is spontaneous, natural and meaningful.   He then invited the poets to recite their poetry and to wrap it up with voice rendering. The first session aptly began with a passionate and beautiful tribute to late Atal Bihari Vajpayee by Mr. Sanjeev Tripathi. His poem in Hindi described the late Prime Minister of India as the rarest of rare jewels, leaving behind a legacy tall in stature and length. He then recited another poem from Madhya Pradesh that praised the medieval king, Raja Chhatrasal.   This showed a different aspect of folk poetry where emotional motivation is achieved through jingoism and superlative narration.

As the next poet just began her beautiful song, the rain gods came calling and we ventured inside.  We continued the program in the library of the house. An exponent of Hindustani classical music, Ms. Madhu Mathur Anand sang in her mellifluous voice, extolling the internal beauty and how the internal beauty is but a reflection of the beauty and love pervading the universe. The language was a combination of Hindi and Urdu.

This was followed by an incisive analysis of the importance of oral and folk literature by Mrs. Ruth Hill.  In indigenous cultures, oral history defines the cultural tradition and the social conduct.  During the period of American slavery, oral literature kept the link between the old culture and the new society.  Most of the African culture in the US is retained through oral history and literature.  Oral literature represents the voice of the people.

Ms. Neena Wahi recited a poem in Hindi titled, Mere Veera No Aalen de Babool, Doli rok lo kaharon ek din hor. The poem is based on a folk song and is about a girl who leaves her childhood home due to marriage. She pleads with her father to let her stay one more night, while she reminisces her childhood days with her brother.  Ms. Geetha Patil followed with a sweet Kannada poem, Nimbiya Banada Myagala, a folk song or Janapada Geethe, sung by villagers at the time of cleaning their farm land or grains.  The song is a prayer to Gods and Goddesses for their blessings.  It thanks them for the bounties of life.

After Geetha’s poem, the attendees broke for lunch, which was a gastronomical treat of Indian delicacies like Sarson ka saag with Makai ki roti, aloo matar, sabzi and curd rice, ably supported by a plethora of desserts like Chocolate Cake, Moong Dal Halwa and Apple Pie along with sweet mangoes.

The session resumed with Ms. Srabonti Bandyopadhyay singing two songs by Shri Rabindranath Tagore, Hridoye Mondrilo Domoru Guru and Mono moro meghero shonghi. Both songs reflected on the beautiful yet awesome monsoons.  Dr. Mir Fazlul Karim followed with two Bengali poems Amar Chotto Gram and Amar Shob Din Ratri. The first poem narrated the rustic village life while the latter joked how social media has pervaded the personal space. Mr. Jayant Dave recited a beautiful Gujarati folk song, Chando Obhiyo Abhama.  The song is usually accompanied by the folk Dandiya dance. The villagers get ecstatic to see the moon while the night appears like a beautiful bride with a star-studded saree to entice the moon.  The moon’s light makes everything beautiful.

This was followed by a love poem in Kannada by Dr. R. Balachandra.   A young girl describes the boy she falls in love with and how she becomes his bride.  The girl loves the boy, but the boy is reticent.  We were then treated to a pair of delectable Ghazal and Sufi songs in the melodious voice of Mr. Nadeem Mirza of Pakistan.  Urdu literature and rendering build on the tonal quality of the human voice and produce the subtle difference in meaning through intensity and stress.  Mr. Mirza played harmonium in his singing.  With the rains outside, the sound was sonorous.

Dr. Rahul Ray and Mrs. Swapna Ray offered their contribution next. The couple recited two beautiful Bengali songs. The first song was composed by late music maestro Salil Chaudhury, written during the period of British occupation.  The song expressed the desire of people for freedom.  The second song was by the National Poet Rabindranath Tagore yearning freedom as a soulful prayer.

Dr. Bijoy Misra rendered two poems in Odia, a stanza each.  The first one Ghanaghataa jaae daaki, written by his father in 1947, talks about the massive internal violence in the country following the declaration of independence.  The poet wonders one dark cloud might have gone, more dark clouds possibly are still remaining.  In the second poem Ahe nilasaila, popularly used in Odisha, an Islamic poet prays to the blue mountain to help remove the misery in life.   Mr. Mahendra Bakshi followed with the presentation of an audio clip of a folk song in villager's Gujarati language. The poem was about how to give a warm welcome to someone who comes to your door.  Mr. Jaspal Singh returned back to the freedom struggle and recited the famous agitation song Bachey Utale bandooke aaj khtam kre Julm ki kali raaat.  His heart-felt rendering brought out the freedom sentiment contained in the lyric. 

The afternoon ended with our comedian poet Mr. Preetpal Singh.  He recited his poetry in Punjabi with English translation breaking everyone into loud laughter. The title of poem was, Mera chota jya pind Mirzapur. Living in a small village was fun.   He narrated pranks, mischiefs and foolery.  “How are you eating apples on a mango tree?” “I did not want to steal the mangoes!”  “How did you get the apples?” “I brought along with me!”  The poet is silent where he got the apples!  More fun followed.

The Indian art Historian Dr. Kalyan Chakravarty and his family along with Mrs. Mary Carmen Lynn Chandra of Harvard University joined at the end.  Everyone was treated to pastries and tea.  The program ended with a couple of final songs by Nadeem Mirza and a song from poet Kabir by Rahul Ray.  

Ms. Neena Wahi helped arrange food with the help from Mr. Sanjeev Tripathi, Mr. Preetpal Singh and Ms. Hardeep Mann.  Mr. Chandu Shah supported the graphics and the P/A arrangement.  Mr. Leo Rousseau recorded the program in video.

South Asian Poets of New England (SAPNE) http://www.spane.boston meets quarterly to celebrate creative compositions among the local writers.  The next meeting is November 18, Sunday at 2:30 PM in Lexington Public Library. SAPNE is hosted by India Discovery Center http://www.indiadiscoverycenter.org, the nonprofit group for the cause of education and research of India’s history and culture. 

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