As politicians step back, poets try bridge barriers in South Asia

Where the sun cannot reach, a poet’s words can, goes a popular saying.

Mallika Shakya

At a time when the concept of South Asian community and solidarity is receding due to the onslaught of geopolitical interests and the widening distrust among regional countries, poets are imagining what politicians have failed to do.

They still hold the view very strong that interactions of ideas and conversation between conflicting viewpoints are the best way to imagine and realize a South Asian community.

The best place to hold this kind of dialogue is South Asian University (SAU), located in the heart of the capital New Delhi and within a stone’s throw away from the power centre of South Asia’s biggest nation.

The SAU is a byproduct of  SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation), a regional grouping that was meant to bring together the South Asian countries under one political and economic umbrella.

However, the differences of opinion between India and Pakistan have stunted the growth of the organization.

But the SAU is trying to live up to the ideas and ideals of the SAARC.

The university, created six years ago brings under one roof students, faculty and administrative staffs from across the eight South Asian nations and provides a life of regional unity envisioned by policy makers of yore.

It was this aesthetic, this ideal, that was on display in a day long poetry festival in the SAU campus.

The festival tried to explore poetic imaginations of Nepal and India through a conversation between Professor Abhi Subedi, a renowned professor, writer and critic from Nepal, and Ashok Vajpeyi, an Indian poet and the former chairman of the Lalit Kala Akademi of India.

When asked about the idea behind this initiative, Dr Mallika Shakya of the Department of sociology, said: “What motivated us to work towards this idea of the “poetics” of South Asian regionalism is the common aesthetics we have in the region. Ministries and military may imagine nations as states built on power, but common people view nations as spaces more inclusive”.

Shakya, who comes from Nepal, further said “Poetry captures common people’s sensibilities better. Tagore’s imagination of nation is more humane than Nehru’s design and Faiz’s lamenting of “nationlessness” moves hearts in a way that no social science theory can.”

The event was meant to demonstrate the power of words and how it can shape the imagination and world view of the masses.

The poetry festival brought together several poets and literary workers from both sides of the border.

Rajendra Bhandari, Daibaki Timilsina, Raja Punaini, Sukul Pradhan,Ramlal Joshi, Bhupendra Adhikari, Nabaraj Lamsal, Vishnu Gurung and Jogen Dargal spoke on Nepali poetry and recited poems.

The event comes at a time when India does not share a strong emotional bonding with with most of its neighbors despite sharing an inescapable geographical boundary and cultural history.

Leave aside Pakistan, India’s relationship with other neighbours is also not conducive. The whole idea of isolating the Islamic republic at the international fora has made the whole idea of the SAARC a prisoner of bilateral animosity. 

Distrust has come to cloud the relationship between New Delhi and Kathmandu also in recent years on the issue of India’s big brotherly attitude. 

However, poetical sensibilities transcend political differences. 

“Emotion in the poetry create a bonding among people despite belonging to different nationalities.”

Poetry creates its own South-Asianism.

“Translations of Pablo Neruda’s poems may sound different in different languages of South Asia,like, Nepali, Bengali, Dari or Urdu but what binds us all together is the emotion that informs the poems of the Latin American writer.

“Similarly feminist writing might be penned in different linguistic expressions but the feelings and the flow of such writing bind the writers of all languages. It is this unity in diversity that is the hallmarks of poetry and creative writing.” the organizers of the event said.

The urge for justice, desire for gender equality, cry for lost love- they might sound different in different languages but a uniform emotion bind the poetic expressions. It is these expressions and emotions that poets of India and Nepal shared when they gathered in New Delhi . The audience,despite coming from  a disparate linguistic and cultural background ,  liked the exposure to this unique experience.

“On the face of it, poetry may seem nation-specific, because languages are associated with nations. But what this poetry festival made us see was that poetry has a certain kind of universality that cuts through translations”, sums up Shakya, who takes keen interest in exposing Nepal’s creative thinking to the world outside.

Herself a poet, the young academician reasons that “when we recited Neruda consecutively in Bangla, Tamil, Sinhala, Urdu and Nepali, we could see how each translation muted Neruda just a little bit, both in melody and meaning, so he became a South Asian Neruda. Or when we listened to women’s rebellious cries from across the region, we begin to see a woman’s Southasia that is markedly different from a genderless South Asia.”