The SAARC literary Festival in Dhaka made me think that we could call South Asia as Tagoredesh. I met so many poets, writers and fellow travelers, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and our own Sri Lanka. All of them held Tagore in the highest esteem, as the greatest literary figure of recent times.
Many moons ago, I wrote in this column, (20 June, 2012) about how we sang the Indian anthem and then the Sri Lanka anthem, at a ceremony in Colombo to honour Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, and how I wished we had a universal anthem which all of us could sing together. At the Literary Festival in Dhaka, all the Bangladeshi sang "Amar Shonar Bangla", while all the poets from the other seven South Asian nations stood at respectful attention. Instead of 'Bangla', if we had a word to include all South Asia, we could have sung this anthem together, because singing all eight anthems would not be very practical at such a festival. When they sing 'O ma' we could accept it as our 'O Mother Earth', and we all live under the same sky, breath the same air amidst our mango groves and paddy fields.
Or, as I suggested previously, we could use Gurudev's own composition, "Jana gana mana" as the national anthem of all our countries, perhaps changing a few geographical locations, because he had said, "In a sense it is more a religious hymn for all mankind than a national anthem for any country". It could be the 'Morning Song of South Asia' for now, and later to be made the 'Morning song of Humanity'.
The 2014 literary festival was organized by the WRITE Foundation of Bangladesh (Writers Readers Illustrators Translators and Educators Foundation), an affiliated Chapter of the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL). The theme was "Beyond Borders: Towards Trust and Reconciliation". The festival was not just the reading of the papers and poetry, but more importantly, the interaction of all the delegates and the young students from the universities. We crossed all our borders, all barriers, and became one family.
The delegates were from all wakes of life. We had a former Diplomat, a former Member of Parliament, a former Commissioner of Elections, Managing Directors and Directors of private business organizations, but who were also novelists, short story writers and poets.
As Ibrahim Waheed from Maldives (Indian Sahitya Akademy Award winner) mentioned, we have our political borders and we need passports, which he called 'stop-ports', because some of us, even within the South Asia region cannot pass a border without a valid visa on the 'passport'. Yet what we need for perpetual peace was described by Immanuel Kant in 1795, that one condition for perpetual peace was universal hospitality or world citizenship. People from one country should be free to live in safety in others as long as they do not bring an army in with them.
Among the Sri Lankan delegation was Prof. J. B. Disanayake who reminded us of the ancient links with Bangladesh, with our children's song, "Olinda tibenne koi koi dese/Olinada tibenne Bangali dese/Olinda sadanne koi koi dese/Olinda sadanne Sinhala dese". We have learnt of 'Bangali dese' from our childhood. (Olinda or Arbus precatorius, in Bengali is Kunch or Ratti and in English is Indian liquorice). Prof. M. A. Nuhuman and State Award winner Kamala Wijeratne, also read their papers and poetry.
To move on to the theme of the festival, Towards Trust and Reconciliation, it is evident that once we develop trust among all our people, reconciliation comes inevitably. Poetry and all forms of literature could bring the trust among us, because poetic language is common to all of us, whether we write in Bengali, or Urdu or Dhivehi, or Sinhala, we share the same thoughts and feelings. We also have so many words in common, that it is not so very difficult to understand the other tongue to some extent.
The South Asian Tower of Babel is not as complicated as the global Babel. We have managed to communicate with each other to some extent, within our Babel, because most of our languages have grown from same origins and we share so much in common. We have so many of the South Asian nations communicating across borders in common languages, or which could be understood by many. That is why we could understand to some extent and enjoy the Bengali poetry, even though we did not know the language.
We do not have to develop a common language, though at present we use English as our link, and as our 'Lingua Anglia'. And we can continue to do so, because there is a revival of the English language in our schools and universities, and we should be able to manage with it till such time as we could develop translations by our computers. Once we have instant translations of our South Asian languages into English or any other South Asian language our language barrier would disappear completely. By then also we could all meet in cyberspace, and we need not worry about all the geographical and political borders. We need not worry about the four-letter word 'Visa'.
All these borders and barriers were created by us and we have created rules and regulations and synthetic labels. It is our duty and responsibility to move beyond these borders. It is time for us to rewrite the entire history of mankind, to emphasize togetherness and humaneness, and use the study of history as a healing process and ensure that all human beings would become Peaceful and Useful.
Let us not take 'ekla chalo re' at its face value and walk alone, but sing together and walk together to a better, more humane world.