“Hope, Defiance and Compassion” echo “Humanity”-    22nd Annual India Poetry Reading at Harvard University

Amandeep Singh                                                                                                                                          PICTURES

                                                           

Twenty-five poets descending from various regions in India and two from Bangladesh gathered at Tsai Auditorium in CGIS at Harvard University last Sunday, May 13, in the 22nd Annual India Poetry Reading sponsored by Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute and Department of South Asian studies at Harvard.  The topic for the afternoon was “Humanity”.  The range of thoughts spanned from the realms of cosmic animation to the pathos of desperate deterioration. Is human an individual or is he a role-player in the planet?  “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be” – wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson two centuries ago.  Is decision making the role of humanity? 

The poets recited their poems exploring and expanding the meaning of humanity, what it is and where it is heading. As an old warming planet making giant leaps in technology, humanity appears to be reduced in its scope.  Are we heading towards destruction?  Is there a ray of hope?  Humans are causing casualties of war and are killing each other.  Respect and love appear to be lost!  Children are being raped! Disparity between fortunate and destitute people is growing. Humans are losing freedom, relationships are reduced to wealth. Can humans live peacefully and weave quilts of warmth?  We could learn from a mother!  This was Mother’s Day.

Any reflection on the meaning of humanity is not complete without the name of God who is cause of causes, the creator, the protector and the destroyer, everything is subject to his command, and whose name will live forever! Amongst all, what is a poet’s duty?

Convener Bijoy Misra, Associate in Department of South Asian Studies, welcomed all and gave a short introduction of the event.  The reading began with Poet Sajed Kamal reciting “মানুষ - Human Being” by Kazi Najrul Islam, the legendary national poet of Bangladesh. Rosie Kamal recited the English translation done by Sajed Kamal.  Humanity does not live in symbols, religions or vanity. It is the call of the heart, it is the dignity of man!

Srilakshmi Srinivasan, sang excerpts from the “कुमारसम्भवम् - Kumārasambhavam” by the immortal poem of Kalidasa, the king of Indian poetry.  With the grandeur of imagination and words, the poet animates the nature and expresses humanity as an living cognitive manifestation.  Humanity is a state of being!  After her beautiful rendition, she recited her original Tamil poem on humanity called “மனித நேயம் Manitha Neyam”, a tribute to the mother.

Rekha Upadhyay’s Gujarati poem “માનવતાની રજાઈ - Quilt of Humanity” called to turn simple sweet happenings into a unique quilt of humanity. Badiuzzaman Nasim’s Bengali poem “মাতৃ দিবস - Mother’s Day” was a commitment by the poet to fulfill obligations.  Onaly Kapasi’s English poem “Mungu (Swahili) – God” explored the connection between God and humanity. R. Balachandra’s English poem “The Destitute and the Fortunate” talked about the disparity between the fortunate and the destitute people, and the commonality among them.

Poppy Awasthi focused on human love regardless of material possessions in her Urdu poem “दीवारों से रिश्ता – Relationship with Walls”. Ipsita Nanda reflected on being human when her five year old asked the question. In her poem “On Being Human” she observed that every bit of creation was interconnected. If we could do our share however small for even one creature around us, we may achieve the essence of being human.

Sanjeev Tripathi in his Hindi poem – “मानवता का अर्थ - Meaning of Humanity” emphasized that humanity is a fundamental quality.  Some of us nurture it and keep it alive throughout the life.  Others become so much occupied with materialistic things that they slowly move away from themselves and humanity. Geetha Patil’s English poem – “Humane Culture” described how the cultures or societies encourage and reward individuals for being fair, altruistic, friendly, generous, caring, and kind to others.

In her Bengali poem “মম থেকে মানবতা জানুন – Learn Humanity from Mother” - the creative artist Arundhati Sarkhel narrated the unconditional love and compassion of a mother and how we can learn from her.  Jaspal Singh in his Hindi poem – “मानवता – Humanity” reflected on the news story about the rape of eight-year-old Asifa Bano in India.  With confidence and compassion in his voice, the poet sang his composition in the Raag Dhanasari.

Bijoy Misra recited the Odia poem – “ମଣିଷ କାହିଁ ପାଇଁ? Why should man exist?” Is the man simply an observer to the events in the nature and the world, or is he the creator of the events that he witnesses?  He experimented on the syllabic depiction of thoughts.  Mir Karim in his Bengali poem – “নদী ও মানুষ - River and Human” told the tale of people living on the banks of the mighty Ganges from Devprayag to Bengal delta, and hoped that humans could learn from the tales of the rivers.

Neena Wahi in her Hindi poem pleaded – "You are a human, don’t kill other humans”.

तुम इन्सान हो इन्सान की जान ना लो, मिट्टी से बने हो एक दिन मिट्टी में ही विलीन हो जाओगे, फिर किस अहँकार में भ्रमित होते रहते हो.  “All come from earth and dissolve in it! Where is the confusion?” Amandeep Singh in his Punjabi poem – “ਆਸ ਦੀ ਜੋਤ - Light of Hope” called for humanity to tear down the walls of hatred and build dream mansions of love and hope. He conveyed Guru Nanak’s message of universal brotherhood “ਨਾ ਕੋਈ ਹਿੰਦੂ, ਨਾ ਮੁਸਲਮਾਨ- No one is Hindu or Muslim, we all are Children of One God”.

Shekhar Shastri reflected on the duty of a poet – “कवि का कर्त्तव्य”.  In a beautiful rendering, the poet wove an aesthetic bridge across the myriad colors of human conditions. What should a poet do besides choosing words to express them?  Sajed Kamal in his English poem – “What Did I Do?” depicted the face of brutality inflicted on a child, a casualty of war.  The innocents get killed through others’ rage!

Chandu Shah in his Gujarati poem – “રીઅરવ્યુ મીરર - Rearview mirror” - reflected on what we leave behind when we take off in our journey from this world. All our experiences together make us what we are!  Prem Nagar in his Hindi poem – “स्वभावता में आंदोलन - Agitation in Innate Nature” described that humanity as the manifestation of our innate nature. Initially it was wheel, and now it is miniaturization.  Convergence of technology appears to be making us less agile, endangers our humanness.

Sunayana Kachroo in her Hindi poem – “पानी - Water” called to take care of mother Earth and conserve water.  Maneesh Srivastava painfully rendered his conviction that the humanity was heading towards destruction. He narrated the gory details about how people are bringing down the humanity in his Hindi poem- “बर्बादी की ओर - Towards Destruction”.  Alok De in his Bengali poem “বিডম্বিত মানবতা - Mocked humanity”  depicted that human society has progressed a lot in different ways, but society as a whole has failed to grow up mentally.

Preetpal Singh, Punjabi poet brought some lightness to the serious ambience with his humorous poem – “ਗੈਸਟ ਪਰਮੇਸ਼ਰ ਦਾ ਅਵਤਾਰ ਹੈ – Guest is like a God.” Unlike old times, these days people are not happy when a guest arrives!  Maya De in her Bengali poem – “মনুষ্যত্ব, আসিফা ও আমরা - Manushyatwa, Asifa o Amra" explored humanity from the raped child Asifa’s perspective.  Asifa wonders about humanity as she watches criminals go around unpunished.

Priya Samant Parulekar in her English poem – “She is a woman just like you” described her experience working with the unprivileged artists in impoverished areas of Mumbai and New Delhi. Will to work hard, provide better for their kids and uplift themselves from their current living conditions is “just like you!”. Last but not the least, Jayant Dave recited his Gujarati poem – “આખરી ગીત - Last Song”. Suffering-વેદના- is rolled into the world.  Let us weave this suffering like salt in bread!

It was a soulful and creative literary afternoon.  In a quiet appreciation of each other and expressing pleasure through applause, the poets and the audience reflected upon the meaning of humanity in the current world. We don’t know if humanity is heading for destruction or not, but there is a glimmer of hope! There is light at the end of the tunnel!

The event marked the tenth anniversary of SAPNE, the South Asian Poets of New England (SAPNE)  http://southasiapoets.wixsite.com/sapne an organization under the nonprofit entity India Discovery Center https://indiadiscoverycenter.org/.  A beautifully produced hard-cover book comprising the contributions in the meeting of 2016 on “Environment” was released.  There was a small reception hosted by the South Asian Institute following the meeting.  Jee Soo Knag and Abanish Rizal of SAI were thanked for their assistance in organizing the event.

The next SAPNE event will be on the Folk Poetry from the subcontinent and is scheduled for August 18, 2018.  Please contact Bijoy Misra bmisra@fas.harvard.edu or Chandu Shah at chandu420@gmail.com to participate in the activities of SAPNE.

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