“Freedom” as a theme in Folk Literature –
SAPNE 6th Annual South Asian Folk and Oral Literature Festival
Amandeep Singh Video
Folk and oral literature go back to the pre-literate era when literature was passed to generations orally only, and it played an important role in life's all major events, e.g., birth, wedding, death, etc. Folk literature thrives or stays alive in the community that passes it to the next generation. Therefore, it is important to celebrate it and pass it on to our children. Every summer, SAPNE organizes a folk and oral literature poetry festival outdoors in a picnic setting. However, due to the lingering Covid-19 pandemic, this year's event was held virtually over zoom with local participants from New England as well as international from Canada and India. It was a beautiful sunny August morning when Bijoy Misra, organizer of the program, welcomed the poets and introduced this year's theme "Freedom/Mukti". He said that South Asia is a large part of the world's folk literature, and this event was an effort to represent it on the world stage, and also, at the same time to understand our emotions and freedom to find joy and love.
The program started with guest poet Night Jean Muhigambo from the Republic of Congo, reciting famous Congolese poet Patrick Karlkuri's poem - "In the mind of a thinker" soulfully. The poem expresses that everyone is free to think, everyone is a thinker, and we can use this idea for the betterment of humanity.
Mahendra Bakshi recited Sarala Devi (1872-1945)'s poem অতীত গৌরব বাহিনী মম বাণী - গাও আজি হিন্দুস্তান 'Atito Gourab bahini mama Bani ~ Gao aji Hindustan', a poet involved in the Swadeshi movement. She sang this poem at the Calcutta Indian National Congress in 1901. In the poem, she linked together the different provinces, the creed, and watchwords of various religions to instill the spirit of unity and patriotism.
Vasant Machwe recited his Hindi poem titled "स्वतंत्रता का अनर्थ Destruction of Independence", in which he believes that the new generation wrongly interpreted the meaning of freedom as they do not listen to their elders and are indulged in drugs, sex trafficking and changing relationships.
Debilal Mishra, a Professor of Mass Communication In India, in his English poem - "The Feel for Freedom", expressed that freedom is always a positive phenomenon. To be free is to be free from all the inner frailties. Self-awareness leads one to feel freedom in its entirety.
Shakuntala Gupta, a professor from Odisha, sang her poem ଲଏଁ ପାହା ଦେବୁ ଆଡ଼ି ( ହଳିଆ ଗୀତ) ,"Be careful with your steps", written similar to a Halia folk song of farmers from Western Odisha. These songs include folklores of Ramayana and Radha Krishna. During plowing and harvesting, farmers sing satire, and witty songs against the ruling system, landlords, and money lenders for fun. They also address their beloved.
Oh, Surubali (lady's name),
Be careful with your steps
on the edges of farming fields.
Let the time flow
a bit more than usual
near the small pond
(Hrr.. tuu tuu…; making sounds to guide cattle while plowing)
Rice-water may fall
on your tilted hairdo;
a slippery frog lying flat
struck by lightning
on your way to the field!
Jayant Dave, a poet and playwright, from his New Hampshire abode, presented the poem ભોમિયા વિના "Bhomiya Vina” (Without Guide) by famous Gujarati poet Umashankar Joshi. In the poem, the poet wants to roam around in the mountains, caverns, lakes, streams, and forests, without any guide so that he can immerse himself in nature, listen to his heart, and wipe his tears!
Sajed Kamal, a Bengali poet, painter, and climate activist, recited Bengali Baul poet Madan's poem "The path to you is blocked by temples and mosques". The Bauls are a community of wandering singers, poets, and musicians in both East and West Bengal. Many of their poems are characterized by radical unorthodoxy, striving for universal spiritual unity and inner freedom as evident from the following poem.
The path to you is blocked by temples and mosques,
I hear your call, O Lord, yet I cannot come -
Gurus and preceptors block my way!
Neena Wahi, retired teacher and painter, recited her Punjabi poem titled ਆਜ਼ਾਦੀ ਕਾ ਜਸ਼ "Azadi da Jashan", a satire on the celebration of independence, when big malls are open, the leaders dance but the public suffers. There are heavy taxes, farmers lose their harvest. Who is celebrating independence?
Sangeeta Prasad, Business Professional and activist, beautifully sang कजरी Kajari, a season-based Bhojpuri folk song sung during the monsoon season. Women gather, sing, and dance while swinging on the jhoola (swing). The Kajri is a dialog between sisters-in-law - 'nanad' and 'bhauji.
Sunanda Mishra-Panda, a teacher and entrepreneur from Canada, recited her Odia poem about her native city “କଟକ” Cuttack. Poet called her beautiful city of Cuttack the glory of Odisha, where the river Mahanadi flows in one corner of the city, and lush green grass on the other. Lord Mahadev's abode at Gadagadia Ghata in the east, and Maa Cuttack Chandi in the west, who are always there to take care of their people!
Amandeep Singh, an IT Professional and poet, presented the famous Punjabi folk song ਟੱਪੇ Tappe. People sing Tappe on life's every occasion celebrating birth, wedding, etc. Tappe he sang are about a wife missing and longing for her husband who has gone abroad. She hopes that he can come home soon as life is too short and ephemeral.
In the end, Bijoy Misra, President of India Discovery Center, recited an Odia poem by poet Bhima Bhoi (1850-1895), a prolific poet of the Mahima order. Believed to be blind by birth, he sang his poems with traditional instruments. Overwhelmed with the grief and suffering of people in colonial India, he appeals to his teacher:
How would you handle so much grief, O’ my Teacher!
How do your bear this enormous pain?
Let me offer myself, let me suffer in hell,
Let the world be rescued from the pain!
The program ended with a vote of thanks to all participants and the organizers. The video for the meeting is uploaded at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGG3H8pnwVY
SAPNE https://www.sapne.boston is a wing of India Discovery Center https://www.indiadiscoverycenter.org an educational initiative in Boston. SAPNE meets four times a year. The next meeting is “Voice of the People – Human Rights” scheduled for Sunday, November 20, 2022. Interested people may contact Maneesh Srivastava 347-409-0007, Chandu Shah 781-983-4941, Jaspal Singh 617-497-0316 or Bijoy Misra 617-864-5121.