poets for peace

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Poetic Unity

daya dissanayake

On May 1st every year the working people around the world march on the streets, carrying placards and shouting the slogan, "Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but chains". This is a corrupted version of the original German quote in the Communist Manifesto, which could be translated as "Proletarians of all countries, Unite". Still they march separately, even within the same country, as they have been marching all these years since they began this ritual.

The May Day rallies came to my mind as I walked with poets of many countries, on their march for peace. It was held first in Dhaka and then in Darainagar (Sea City, once called Cox's Bazar), Bangladesh. Poets too have nothing to lose, but their chains, chains of nation, race and language.

There should never have been a need for poets to march for peace, for there should always be peace among them, and their creative works too should be for peace, because poetry is universal and poets do not have any identities outside their world of poetry.

At first glance there appeared to be greater unity among the Bengali poets. They speak Bengali and write in Bengali. Yet they identify themselves as Bangladeshis and Indians. Some of them believing or claiming to belong to a piece of Mother Earth politically identified as a separate country. There is only this political barrier, created by the idiocy of the British, where once there were no other barriers. Most 'countries' have several barriers, geographical, ethnic, religious and language. Within such countries, sometimes man erects barriers of language and tries to form separate states, while here two 'countries' with the same language are staying apart. There is an imaginary political barrier, a border separating the poets living in Bangladesh writing in Bengali, while on the other side are poets living in India writing in Bengali.

The 'Peace Procession of Poetry, Dhaka to Darianagar' is the brainchild of Prof. Mohammad Nurul Huda, Dean, Faculty of Human Sciences, Darul Ihsan University., and winner of the Bangla Academy Literary Award and Mahadiganta Poetry Award. He was able to gather 'poets from SAARC countries and Beyond', with the sub-theme, 'Poetry for Human Beauty'. For four days, from December 28th to 31st, almost all language barriers were broken, because all of us could communicate with each other in Bengali or English. And we marched together as one family, our national, racial and religious identities all forgotten.

The Peace Procession began from the Shaheed Minar in Dhaka, the monument established to commemorate those killed during the Bengali Language Movement in 1952. It is significant that young people sacrificed their lives to fight for equal status for their mother tongue. It is the youth of Bangladesh who first erected, and young people today who have only heard of the pain and suffering a half a century ago now help maintain the memorial. The next stop was at the grave of the revolutionary poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam, reminding us how great poets should be honoured.

This was the third Darainagar Poetry Fair or KabitaBangla, with poetry reading, recitation, discussion on contemporary poetic trends and free interaction for reading and writing.

The Indian poet Utpal Jah, translated my poem written in English, and also poems by the Nepali poets, Prakash Subhedi and Keshab Sigdel, into Bengali, so we could read them in Bangladesh. Poet Prabath Kumar Mukhopadhyay had translated into English his own poems and the poems of two other Indian writers, so they could share them with all the poets gathered at the Poetry Fair.

Like music, like paintings and sculpture, songs, poetry and drama too could be made universal.

This has been very successfully carried out by the baul singer and dancer, Parvathi Baul, in Kolkata, where she opened her one woman exhibition of paintings. All the paintings narrated a story. The stories were enacted by Parvathi with her baul songs in Bengali. The paintings helped everyone in the non-Bengali speaking audience from around the world to understand and follow her drama. This is really 'art into art', as referred by Prof. Senaka Bandaranayake about the terra-cotta figurines found at Sihigiri.

Parvathi has demolished the language barrier, making her dance drama to be a universal art form. Poets too could achieve this universality by creating art from their poems, so that we could all understand and appreciate the poems across barriers.

At Darianagar we have come a step closer to peace and unity. That is why the Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist poets could gather at the Ramu temple and the statue of the Buddha, for a session of Poetry reading with a theme of Buddha Dhamma, Loving Kindness and Peace. This was also significant, because behind the statue was the temple which had been burnt down by a few misguided misinformed people in September 2012.

Some poets write in English, though they were not born with English as their mother tongue, and do not have an English national identity, but have been burdened down with their own national and racial labels. They too should be able to shed all these unnatural labels and march as poets writing in English, as human beings who have been reduced to use a language which is a strange tongue to many other human beings, but has become a link, a bridge across many language barriers erected by man.

Next year let us look forward to all Bengali poets march together for peace and unity, irrespective of the location of their homes. Let the Hindi and Urdu poets recite their poems as one. Let all the poets share their creativity through the medium of English, even if it is not their mother tongue.

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