Poetry from South Asia

18 December 2018 12:02 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


I notice that in North India, many writers, particularly women, are writing excellent poetry. In fact, the English language is not the privileged vehicle of communication only confined to Britain and other Commonwealth countries. It is now a powerful weapon in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and ASEAN and African Countries as well.  

In New Delhi I recently picked up a book called OUR VOICES edited by Ajeet Cour and Nirupama Dutt. It is an Anthology of SAARC Poetry published by the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature 14 years ago. As we know SAARC has as its member countries the following: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bhutan.  

In this collection, there are 93 poems by poets of the region. None of the major Sri Lankan English poets is included in this collection except a translation of a Lankan Tamil poet (M. A. Nuhman’s poem] and an original poem by a poet of Lankan origin - Now, a foreign resident- (Indran Amirthanayagam) and again a translation from Sinhala (W. A. Abeysinghe’s poem) are the only Sri Lankan representation. Most of the poems are translations from the indigenous languages of each of these countries. My purpose here is to show how some of the poets look at the world from their individual perspectives.  

Let’s take the two Lankan poets and later the US Foreign Service poet who was originally from Lanka.  

W. A. Abesinghe has translated his own poem written in Sinhala into English:

  A Daughter Without A Name
You who is without a father
Need not a name
Little girl, I must leave you
A dustbin for your cradle
In the deserted streets
And I must go
For they wait for me
In the corner of the street
I must go
Before my youthful flesh
Withers away in relentless sage
The day will come
The whole world will be your mother
To suckle your breast bursting with milk
The day will come,
The whole world will be your father
With Armstrong to protect you
A giant for a father
When that day does come
My unarmed little daughter,
 I will come to you.
Eyes dimmed by relentless age
And body bent
I will come to you
But till that day dawns
I must go to teem
Who wait for me
In the dark corners of the street
I must go to quench their lustful thirst.

This is a simple poem of a single mother in the twilight streets talking to her fatherless daughter whom she had abandoned and yet having concern for the baby’s plight and her own as she has to earn her living by ‘quenching the lustful thirst’ of those who are waiting for in the dark alleys. The poet spotlights a social problem.The other poem is also translation. This time, it is from Tamil.  

The poet is M. A. Nuhman who had helped Sumathy Sivamohan to translate into English.  

It is called Waiting for The White Dove
I was waiting in my courtyard
For the arrival of the white dove
The Hawk came first
And took away my chicks
Came a vulture
Landed on the coconut tree
In courtyard
It purges a volley of shells
Tearing apart my house and living
My soul withers
And I am a refugee once again
This poem clearly depicts a subtle political, military and social problem.
During the protracted war how, ordinary people had to succumb due to the air raids.
Finally, a poem in English by Indran Amirthanayagam
The title of the poem is Star over Jaffna
The Star will live again
The painter will paint the Night
Out again to the films
And dip blue. Dip white.
The fishermen will fix
The holes left by bombs
And rid their boats out
In the bay, and catch
For prawn under the starry night
Farmers have begun to plant
Tobacco and onions
Chillies and brinjals
Weeding out the mines
The rope burns, the stretched bones
The soldiers have flown
Away in aero planes
Sweet star, light
Pipes and chariots
Garland hundreds-armed gods
Put the poet Tiruvallur’s
Head back on the square
Go on, get thee behind
For one guy and girl
To make a handsome chore.
Trumpets and song

Frankly, I don’t understand what the poet is trying to say, but I guess he is positive that after the 30-year war in Yaarlpaanam, the peninsula will be back to normal and will return to the 1970 economic growth.  

So, this a romantic expectation poem and it is positive, but we find the reality is far from the vision of the poet.  The book is worth reading to read other poems by the SAARC poets.     

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