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7th Annual India Poetry Reading

Bijoy Misra


Following the tradition since 1997, India’s 50th independence anniversary, Harvard held it’s multilingual Seventh Annual India Poetry Reading on May 10, 2003, Cambridge, MA   ‘Freedom’ was the theme of this concluding event of the outreach lectures and programs sponsored by the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies. Appropriately reflecting India, a colorful sequence of fourteen poems, in eight languages: Hindi/Urdu, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Telagu, Malayalam, and English were recited. Six of them were read by the poets themselves, while others chose their favorite poems from open literature, including a vigorous, long Bengali poem that was recited by a group of five. These participants, though few were they, bravely proved the remarkable fact that the ‘machine’ has not yet taken over all.


Welcoming the audience, Dr. Bijoy Misra of the Outreach Committee of the department gave opening remarks, introducing the theme of freedom, some historical perspective, and his thoughts on the meaning of freedom. Followed by an uplifting Rabindranath Tagore prayer read by Dr. Alok De, as ‘theme definition’ Dr. Sajed Kamal recited ‘The Rebel,’ a long poem by Kazi Nazrul Islam that he has beautifully translated from Bengali. As a single unit, I would consider this to be the best listening pleasure (or, perversely, pain) of the event.  Recitation along with the imagery was vibrant and massive, as if its profusion itself would redeem the rebel with tempestuous certainty.  However, the most striking aspect, and most marvelous, was the succession of flawlessly autochthonous mythological wonders that the poem conjures and shapes and pierces. I have not seen many poems of Hindu poets with such powerful allusions: Durvaasa, Bhrigu, Parashuram, Balram,…,and Uchchashravaa! This ‘Rebel’ brought to my mind the fierce rebellion against division of tongues, of heritage, of minds, of Hindus, of Muslims, of …’ And I think, I was not day dreaming. Now some other poems that left an impression in my mind.


 The Tamil poem  (Uma Nelaippan) ’Swatantram’ covered 1847-1947 and pointed out that freedom is not what you get, but what you give. Amrita Karamblekar read a Marathi poem ‘Paliv Popat’ of Dhondo Vasudev Gadre that implores a bird in a golden cage in simple but beautiful language, to see what it is to fly, not to eat what is given by the master, but be free to pick its own. Some of the phrases of the Kaisee Azaadi  (Hindi) by Lalit Kaul were poignant and expressed the plight of a Hindu Kashmir who is forced to feel like a foreigner in his own homeland.  Lakshman Thakur’s gazal (Hindi/Urdu) ‘Talawar see kyaa hai’  interpreted freedom as freedom to see leafless trees as the beginning of sprouting buds in spring or the death of the last leaf and oncoming dread of the winter. Bijoy Misra’s ‘Freedom’ was a very personal memory of the death of his brother, which frees his brother but also engulfs the family.  The Bengali group recitation of poet  Joy Goswami’s long poem ‘Maa Nishad’ (Nishad:Huntsman) by Bivash Dasgupta, Sankha Bhowmick, Aurnab Ghose, Monideepa Roy, and Shamik Ghosh provided tonal differences and vocal variation  that made the poem more enjoyable (distributed synopsis was very helpful). Even a non-Bengali speaking person could feel the struggle between the dark and light side of human life expressed in the poem.


The concluding reading was by Brother Blue, ‘the poet of Cambridge,’ his gestures, his body, his speech was all poetry. ‘Do not mock your own people,’ ‘Help others,’ ‘You are beautiful,’ ‘You must believe in your self,’ was his message, which a mountain of words other than his could not express.  Dr. Bijoy Misra adjourned the reading with thanks to those who helped, and he invited suggestions and volunteers for the coming year’s program to make it more visible and even more interesting.                               


We encourage you to join Harvard-India-Outreach to get information on such cultural activities. 

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