Human Voice Orchestra –
An experiment in SAPNE Folk Literature Festival
Geetha Patil and Bijoy Misra Video
Human voice is an expression of the human heart. Hence the sentiment of human pain and jubilation is expected to have the same expression irrespective of one’s upbringing or language. The hunger has no language and the oppression has no location value. The human cry is a signature of the human species. In case of creativity, the sentiment gets expressed in melody suggesting that the voice melody independent of the person singing. The South Asian Poets of New England (SAPNE) set up their summer meeting to experiment on the concept in the 4th Annual South Asian Folk and Oral Literature Festival.
With the corona-virus affecting the country, the in-person meeting was substituted in favor of a remote video broadcast meeting. The topic for the meet was set as “Liberation songs”. It was hosted on Sunday, August 16, 2020, with the help of Zoom software supported by poet Sri Chandu Shah. Remote participation helped poets from outside the Boston area to participate. Thirty-one poets from across the world presented poems reflecting the sentiment of liberation. All were requested to render their poem in melody than recite through vernacular. To add a twist, the poets were asked to sequence them to a live audio-track to follow the previous poet’s rendering of his or her poem. Besides the US, poets joined from India, France and Canada. Languages represented were Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Kannada, Odia and English. Topics of liberation ranged from the class subjugation, caste subjugation, political subjugation, economic subjugation and call for the freedom of man!
After a welcome by Dr Bijoy Misra, the convener, the poets celebrated their rendering and their expression. Dr. Sheela Verma from India opened the festivities with the rendering of a chhayavaad poem बीती विभावरी जाग री by the legendary poet late Sri Jaishankar Prasad. The poem described a young woman being awakened by her friend at the advent of dawn. The poem was a reflection of the independence movement of India. It called to awaken the young India to the new beautiful new morning. Mr. Jaspal Singh followed with his composition singing the uprising of people against the atrocities of the enforcement forces in the US and elsewhere. The marvelous melody was sentimental and expressive.
Dr. Ambuja Salgaonkar from India sang सुंदर काया, सुंदर जाया, a Marathi translation of Shri Adi Shankaracharya’s गुरु अष्टकम्. Liberation is through a Guru, a teacher. Not a pretty body, a beautiful wife, fame or money fetches much in life! Ms. Sunayana Kachroo reflected the naturality of liberation. Her poem, ‘Embersa’ described the first spring flower that blooms in Kashmir woods near Jhelum river. The flower abruptly opens and rises like the sun with the advent of spring!
Dr. R. Balachandra returned to freedom movement singing a poem ಸ್ವಾತಂತ್ರದ ಹಣತೆ written by a well-known Kannada poet K.S. Nissar Ahmmad. The poem paid tribute to the heroic and brave efforts of the freedom-fighters. “Let the freedom shine forever! We offer flowers to our motherland for her greatness.” Dr. Gouri Datta extended the thought through her poem आजादीं. Let there be freedom of the body and the soul. Let all enjoy liberty filled with prosperity and happiness. Let no one have any pain!
Ms. Chanchala Priyadarshini recited मगध के लोग of poet Shrikant Verma. The poet paints the contrast of the old Magadha of the Mauryas to the current. King Ashoka became a monk, a later king destroyed the empire. All happiness is transient! Dr. Tanmay Panda from Canada recited the poem ଦୁର୍ଗ in Odia by the renowned poet Pandit Godavarish Misra. Recalling the past, the poet reminds that freedom needs protection through the strong forts!
Dr. Bijoy Misra recited his father’s pre-Independence poem ଏକ ହୁଅ – a call to Indian people to unite in the battle field to win the freedom. The marching song inspires the zeal for liberation irrespective of caste, color or occupation! Mr. Mahendra Bakshi reflected on the pain of plantation laborers and that of the exploited labor in India during the colonial days. He recited a poem by Charles Andrews “Dinabandu” about the indentured laborers in Fiji Islands and of “veth” system exploiting the unpaid work in Gujarat. The poet sings રોજ રોજ વેઠના વાયરા, ઓ હવાલદાર, રોજ રોજ વેઠના વાયરા "Day after day, every day, I have to endure veth!”
Mr. Amit Khare recited सादर प्रणाम, ध्वनि ये स्वाभिमान की, a call to protest injustice and treason. Let us salute the motherland! Let us cultivate self-esteem and let us develop respect to our freedom! Dr. Rahul Ray followed with a contrast to respect. ‘White Supremacy Manifesto’ described how a black man saw a white man who said that the “Black Lives” did not “Matter” কালো লোকের জীবনের কোন দাম নেই ! Ms. Swapna Ray was melodious in singing বন্দে মাতরম written by Poet Rabindranath Tagore. The poet celebrated the beauty of the motherland. The mother empowers billions of her children with collective strength to nurture freedom and fight aggression.
“All is not rosy” was reminded by Amitava Ganguly through the poem, আমি সেই মেয়ে written by Joy Dasgupta described the exploitation of women. Women are exploited both sexually and emotionally in their daily existence. Let the exploited woman incarnate her into the Goddess Kali wearing hundreds of skulls! Dr. Sajed Kamal continued with of the theme of liberation of Bangladesh. Dance Shiva Dance described the agony of a person towards God as he is desperate to be liberated and eager to enjoy freedom.
Ms. Jyoti Srivastava from India recited हिन्दूस्तान की बेटी. The poem narrated excellence offered by women in different fields of life. Let the modern woman remain empowered and self-reliant. Neena Wahi recited her composition आजादी की मांग. All people call for freedom from casteism, racial discrimination, economic oppression and religious prosecution. Mr. Rajesh Tyagi continued the thought with मेरी ख्वाव और आप की नजर that depicted the dream of an ideal world to be liberated from the societal divisions based on caste, color, religion, country and many man-made boundaries.
Focusing on the pandemic affecting the world, Dr. Sunanda Panda from Canada recited her poem, ଜାଗ ସପ୍ତମୟୀ, ଜାଗ in odia. The poet prayed to Mother Goddess to shield us from the scare of the pandemic. Geetha Patil sang a Kannada Tatvaswaroop folk song, ಯಾರ ಹೊಲ ಯಾರ ಮನೆ / Yara hola yara mane.’ The land and property are owned by the Supreme Lord. Blessings of people are our only solace. We need a teacher to guide us through our life. Ms. Arundhati Sarkhel celebrated her passion for music, dance, and art through her poem, ‘Freedom.’ “They are my happiness; and they are my rain. They cannot live without me; I cannot live without them.” She followed up with the recitation of Rabindranath Tagore’s একলা চলো রে “Walk alone with your will!”
Amandeep Singh followed up with, ‘ਅਸਾਂ ਨਹੀਂ ਰੁਕਣਾ !/Destination: We will not Stop’, in Punjabi that described the spirit of reaching our destination in the face of all the odds. Even though our body gets exhausted, we feel thirsty and our feet tired, a spark of hope can let us to reach our destination. Dinesh Shah sang a song My cart moving without oxen that was influenced by the ideas of Narasimha Mehta. A dog walks under the bullock cart and assumes that it carries the load. “I do everything” is the eternal ignorance.
Chandu Shah presented another Gujarati folk song પાપ તારું પરકાશ જાડેજા It is a story of confession made by a dacoit to his wife narrating the bad deeds he had committed. A cruel man does cruel acts that count the hair on his head! Jamunabai Prakash called for compassion in her poem Field dedicated to George Floyd and many others who died through the brutality perpetrated by the law enforcement people. She searched “where is Krishna?”
Prem Nagar recited हे रूणीचे रा धणियाँ राजा about Baba Ramdev or Ramsha Pir, a respected folk poet in fourteenth-century Rajasthan. He devoted his life for the upliftment of the downtrodden and poor, both Hindus and Muslims, of the society. David Radjalou Pidha from France sang a popular folk song, நம்ம நாடு நல்ல நாடு sung by farmers and fishermen that describes the beauty of their mother land and include awareness about what to do during covid-19.
The comedy poet Preetpal Singh recited a poem in Hindi, titled हम ब्राउन लोग . In the US, the black community gets sympathy if they are hurt and the white community thinks them to be superior. What happens to brown people? Shiva Sheel recited a Hindi Gazal, سرفروشی کی تمنّسرفروشی کی "Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna" written by Ram Prasad Bismil. The was voiced by the martyrs Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapur, and Shivaram Rajguru on their last walk in life. Jayant Dave sang his poem, મેરો મન મસ્તાનો. The mind has no shackles, no bondage, and does not follow the rules. It goes through the events in its own way not in the conventional way. It looks at the world standing on its head down and enjoys its freedom!
The venerable Prof Vasant Machwe completed the afternoon with popular Hindi poem, गुइयाँ. A newly married girl’s husband leaves home for work in a distant land. A drunk ex-boyfriend visits and scares her. The bride shouts “लाल पानी” and creates noise. She plots to escape! Liberation!
The afternoon appeared as a human-voice orchestra. In the concluding discussion a participant aptly said, ‘I enjoyed this virtual version of organic melody from the ground. It is unusual and fascinating.’ The video for the meeting is posted at https://youtu.be/wpEfVnWiNxM
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