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South Asia Sings at SAI

Sunayana Kachroo, Member, South Asian Poets of New England.


The auditorium in the South Asia Institute  at Harvard University reverberated  with echoes of poets from different regions of South Asia reciting their poetry in this Annual Poetry Meet. To celebrate the golden jubilee of India’s independence Dr. Bijoy Misra of Harvard University began organizing this event in 1997.  Late Catherine Galbraith and Late Swami Sarvagatanandas were early supporters of this event.  Now in its 18th year this event has been attracting poetic talent from diverse regions of South Asia and encouraging them to compose and present poetry either in their own languages or in English.   To organize these activities better an informal group called South Asian Poets of New England (SAPNE) was formed in 2008.  The group helps in locating the poets and organizes quarterly events of poetry reading.


The Annual Meet takes place every year in May with a pre-announced theme.  Until 2012 Harvard’s Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies hosted this event.  Since then the meet is 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.  A vast variety of languages was represented  - Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Kashmiri, Kannada, Malayalam, Nepali and Oriya.


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.


Prof. Sajed Kamal, who hails from Bangladesh, started off with his composition in Bangla titled "“The Meaning of Ekushe”. (Twenty-first).  It  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 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 essense 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" (Yadon ki Sandook) 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 situation 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. She says we all rejoice seeing a rainbow  and don't complain about the seven colors, so why can't we appreciate and accept the multiplicity of 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 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 a warlike atmosphere and aspires to go back.


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 recited "Aamader Ghore Nayee" in Bengali. The poet says that even if we may not have glittering gold and treasure to enjoy, we do have a shinning alphabet of our Mother Tongue to be proud of. .


Annamalai Velmurugan recited a Tamil Poem "Tamil has many names". Until the independence of India, the Indian poets’ main theme was about the national freedom movement. Post independence the theme shifted to regional movements that  enriched indias integration. This author praises the role of Tamil language in such integration. Arun Chaudhari is a Bhakti Poet  and often sings his own poems as bhajans . He read his Marathi Poem "Mother Maharastra" 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 part of the Malyalam poem "Gyana Panna" by a famous Malayali Poet Shankara Nambudiri. In this very beautiful 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 and the soothing effect a Mother Tongue has on its people. The same words in a different language do not bring the same emotion that a Mother Tongue does.


R. Balachandra recited a short Kannada Poem "Kannada" by the famous Kannada poet Kuvempu. The poet encourages and inspires the people of Karnataka to be proud of their language and land. He also recited his own poem – Nammuru (My Home Town).  The poem talks about the changes in the poet’s hometown and the price of progress is the death of beauty.  Shiva Gautam- recited a Nepali poem "Naya Purana" meaning New and Old Roads. In our journey of life we forget  memories of the 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 what we thought they were.


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 Tagore’s ;iterary works were a social force.   Her poem is a  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 make things happen in my own way. "


Amandeep Singh a Punjabi poet who also promotes young Punjabi families to teach and educate their children in Punjabi recited his own poem reflecting this thinking. The Poem was titled "Voice of Mother".  Bijoy Misra, recited a poem in 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 Institue and Dept. of South Asain studies at Harvard University, SAPNE and 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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