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Mother-Tongue' - South Asian Poets explore through Poetry

Amandeep Singh





It is an old saying that to take away the culture of a people, take away their mother language.


We can best express our creative thoughts and feelings only in our mother-tongue, the language we learn from our mother, in which she sings us lullabies, tells night time stories, showers her love upon us, and rebukes us when we make mistakes! All great writers and poets of the world wrote their best writings in their mother language. Mother -tongue is the best instrument for creative, emotional, and intellectual development of a child.


Rasool Hamzatov, a well-known Russian poet, writes about his love for his mother language, that one day he had died in a dream but his strength came flowing back, when he heard voices talking in his mother language, Avar. May other tongues cure other men in their particular way! He would rather die today if his mother tongue, Avar is going to die tomorrow.


Children can best learn in their mother language, in which they think! Mother language is also a great medium to communicate socially. Most of the posts on social media are written in native languages, even though people often use the Roman script to write them. We can express our thoughts in our mother tongue independently, and without any pressure. Children can learn up to twelve languages very easily but learning mother -tongue is even easier. So preservation of mother language is very important for a culture. And it becomes even more important for people living abroad who are facing a bigger challenge to pass on their mother language and cultural heritage to their children.


Reverberating these sentiments, poets of many South Asian languages, gathered to recite poems in the languages as dear to them as their mother, to celebrate, promote and propagate their cultural, explore the meaning and love of the mother -tongue, remembering atrocities perpetrated against the native languages, and wallowing in nostalgia for the homeland. Outside, it was a fine day with bright and silver sunlight reflecting from the streets of Cambridge and milieu inside the auditorium of the South Asian Institute (SAI) of Harvard was poetic, echoing with stanzas depicting same emotions in different languages. It was eighteenth annual India poetry reading event of South Asian Poets of New England (SAPNE), sponsored by SAI. The theme of the event this year was ‘Matrbhasha’ or ‘Mother -Tongue’.


Twenty-seven poets from India, Bangladesh and Nepal participated, representing Bangla, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. Dr. Bijoy Misra, organizer, opened the event by welcoming all the poets and thanking Sajed Kamal, Maya De, Alok De and Shantamma Prakash, longtime patrons of SAPNE for supporting and promoting the cause of Poetry, who were all present in the first poets’ meeting in 1997. This event was an effort to fill cultural interstices of diaspora abroad by poetry, in their mother language, to use art as a fulcrum to present self-expression and vision, an immersive experience, and create ripples in the thoughts of the audience. All the poets were wonderful and exhilarated to share their poems in their respective mother language.


The first poet was Prof. Sajed Kamal. He recited a Bangla poem describing his love for it, the atrocities inflicted upon its protesting speakers after it was denied status of the official language. The journey of life is like the river Ganga (Ganges), added Sejal Kothari, a Gujarati Poet. Dr. Dinesh Shah, another Gujarati Poet, told a scientist’s quest to unravel the essence of life through the life of fireflies. Aloke De, a Bangla Poet, explored the meaning of a language. Syed Ali Rizvi, an Urdu poet, recited few beautiful Urdu ashaar (couplets) to celebrate the Mother Language day.


Maneesh Srivastav, a young Hindi poet, took a trip down the memory lane, remembering his childhood with his brother – his poem titled “Yaadon ki Sandook” transported the audience to the good old times. Choosing a national language in post-independent India was a conflict in itself, but all the different languages are tantamount to the seven colors of rainbow, echoed Maya De in her Bangla Poem. Nila Shah told the joy of raising children like blooming flowers and transition to a grandmother in her Hindi Poem. A conversation between a bud and flower was the subject of Hindi Poem of Neena Wahi.


Sunayana Kachroo, a young Kashmiri poet, told the feelings of a Kashmiri Pundit, forced to leave his home due to conflict in Kashmir, and his yearning to go back to his home. Chandrakant Shah in his Gujarati poem used blue jeans as metaphor to talk about different facets of human life. Badiuzzaman Nasim, another Bangla poet, compared shining alphabets of a language to treasures of glittering gold.  R. Balachandra, a Kannada poet, encouraged people to fulfill their duties towards their land and language. Annamalai Velmurugan recited a Tamil poem praising role of Tamil language in its people’s lives.  


Arun Chaudhari read his Marathi poem Mother Maharashtra. Shantamma Prakash recited a Malayalam poem, discussing the essence of life and its Vedanta aspect.  Ever changing memories of new and old cross-roads of our lives was subject of Shiva Gautam, a Nepali poet. Anil Mehrotra, a Hindi poet, emphasized the sweet and soothing effect of mother tongue.  Paromita De dedicated her poem to Rabindranath Tagore, the great Bangla poet. Janmejay Shishupal recited Marathi poem by poet Sandeep Khare, titled Namanjoor (Unapproved). Amandeep Singh, a Punjabi Poet, encouraged Punjabi children to learn Punjabi language in which great Sikh Guru’s and Sufi saints wrote their divine poetry.  Vijay Bezawada recited a very interesting Telugu poem about changing times and social media.  Abha Choudhary, the youngest poet in the group, recited her English poem highlighting the importance of English as a language of communication.


Some of the poets recited their poems in tarannum (singing), as Dr. Bijoy Misra stated that it is traditional to sing poems in Oriya language, he explored the meaning of mother and mother -tongue– an eternal bond of love, protection and nurturing. In the end, Dr. Promode Thaker (pen name Kṛiṣṇāditya), in his Gujarati Poem titled “Bhasha”, explored to understand the origin of the very language itself.  These streams of poetry, different yet collectively flowed together with feelings of fraternities, to create a serene and harmonious conflux of different languages.


About SAI

The South Asia Institute (SAI) at Harvard University engages faculty and students through interdisciplinary programs to advance and deepen the teaching and research on social, political, cultural and economic issues relevant to South Asia.  The Department of South Asian Studies encompasses the older Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies.  It deals with language education, philosophy, linguistics and religions in the Indian subcontinent.



What started as an offspring of Outreach activity of Sanskrit Department of Harvard Annual Poetry reading on second Saturday of May every year, has now expanded in to a quarterly poetry reading group named as South Asian Poets of New England.  Consisting of a base of 40+ poets from various South Asian languages, the meetings are held in New England Area. India Poetry Reading, an event commenced in Harvard University in 1997 and has continued every year in the month of May.  For more information or to join, please visit our website or contact Dr. Bijoy Misra at







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