"My Society” – India Poetry Reading at Harvard University
Alok De and Bijoy Misra
The Annual Indian Poetry Reading hosted by the Outreach Committee of the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University was held on Sunday, May 9 at 3 PM in Hall A of the Harvard University Science Center. The topic “My Society” was in celebration with the lecture series entitled “Indian Society through the Ages” that has been continuing for the academic year. Besides poets of Indian origin, poets from Bangladesh, USA and Indonesia participated in the Poetry reading event. The language of the composition was no bar and the poets were encouraged to give a short interpretation in English. With different languages and multiple voices, it was an intimate and thoughtful afternoon.
The opening reading was by Professor Subrohmonia Aiyer, former Dean of Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai. Through a narrative in English he explained of a word like “society”. “society” forms and evolves. It’s non-static. It contains knowledge, living and ethics. Above all, it needs survival to be known in the future years. Society is what we make. The second entry was by Dr. Vivek Sharma from MIT. In the first Hindi poem “kyun.kar kiske liye” (translation: what and whom for), he explored the poet’s imagination on his Purpose. Unknowingly writers chronicle events and so we know about the unseen scenes. He had powerful word play in Hindi. The second poem “Adha” (translation: half) was Still stronger and talked about how the progress in society only meets half way. Half the resources reaches half the people, always a half remains unasked.
The next poem was by Ms, Maria Cusumano of Andover. A beautifully expressive poem “Shirts not Stuffed” explored the acts that human beings play through their living. “We come we go, Between our passions show. Dressed frets in gown, We crown the working clown, By whacking her with balloon bats.” She expressed the artificiality and the mimic that goes to create social structure. She believes everyone knows the truth behind the masks. The following reading was by Mr. Alok De of Cambridge. He read a Bengali poem “amader samaj” (translation: our society). It’s a critical view of the evolution of the society. The human society lives under changing political, social and economic conditions with goal of controlling people’s lives, who will control whom and how many . Society as a whole makes progress not for masses (the silent majority),but for very few individuals who manipulate control. The chariot of progress is slow but unstopable.
Continuing the analysis of society, Dr Sajed Kamal of Boston reflected on the strife and oppression in society, and the warring global scenario which all societies are subjected to. His poem “Prayer” presented the poet’s wish that the societies in the world could be “where God takes no sides, and evil can’t hide, and all abide, by the rule of the universe, where billions of stars, spread across one heaven, side by side.” He reminded in his prefatory remarks that the modern day “Mothers Day” (May 9, coinciding with this reading date) originated as an anti-war proclamation in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe. His second poem, “Coming Home, America,” is a critical reflection on the socio-cultural condition of the United States. It ended denouncing the erosion of true cultural diversity and identities under the systemic conformity to the “melting pot” ideology, while reclaiming those essential elements and their hopeful potentials toward the remaking of society as it continues to evolve into the future.
Dr Pramod Thaker who writes under the pen name “krishnaditya” followed with a beautiful poem “kalakar” (translation: artist). An artist has only a brief entry, but gets ovation and awards, never sure where he/she belongs. The poem ended as translated by the poet “I am decorated with many medals, I am an artist. I am a poet. I am lost.” The second poem was “jago” (translation: wake up). The poet calls to people: “Let us topple the fortress of spite and arrogance, from its very foundation. Awake, the whirlwind of unity and fearlessness.” The recitation of the poem was powerful and strong.
The audience was next treated to a beautiful rendition of a folk song from the Aceh area in Indonesia. The artist was Mr. Argus Nur Amal who has been visiting the US from the area. The poem is a celebratory song calling for hope and new life in future. It’s a prayer that God made everyone equal and all have right to fire, air and water. The accented rendering of the poem made it particularly interesting.
He was followed by Mr. Jayent Dave of Nashua, NH, who analyzed friend and friendship in two reflective poems. Friends have many forms and faces, they may have contrasting qualities, each may not know that the other is a friend. So is friendship, it’s an experience. We have friendship when we feel comfortable. Friendship brings respect. The next reader was Ms. Maya De from Cambridge. She read two poems “amar dui desh” (translation: my two countries) and “mukhosh” (translation: mask). In the first poem she narrated her early life in India growing up in a conservative Bengali household where femininity, marriage and motherhood were valued. In contrast, her adult life in the US is marred with urban setting, dress consideration, multiple roles and stress. She addressed the setting in her second poem where she challenges all to come out of their ‘masks’ and be genuine. Her voice was stressed with the masks everywhere and in every person.
The last reader in the afternoon was Dr. Bijoy Misra, the Convener of the Outreach Committee. His poem was in Oriya and was entitled “samaja – sathi na sarathi” (translation: society – friend or guide). He reflected that the society carries the collective consciousness and is friendly to us till we come of age and wish to build our own society. While building on our own we discover that there is little new and we lose our freshness. In stead of a friend, we look for a guide. The only guide available seems to be time. So he reflected: “I wish to understand if Time is the only one, That remains fresh in me, In my corners and through my borders.”
The afternoon ended with a vote of thanks and a friendly reception among the poets. The poets meet every quarter and you may contact Chandrakant Shah (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn of the next event. The Outreach lectures will commence in November and the next annual poetry Reading at Harvard will be in May, 2011. Please contact Dr. C. Gopinath (email@example.com ) to be in the mailing list for the Harvard outreach lectures.