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How Brazil’s Festival of India Paid Homage to Lovely Indian Poetry

The Festival of India was organised by the Indian Embassy in Brazil to commemorate 70 years of Indian independence.

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There is a cache about places separated by oceans and yet brought closer in the imagination of its respective artists and writers. An exchange of the imaginative spirit between India and Brazil reflects, for instance, in the picturesque landscape and shimmy carnival of Brazil in several poems of diplomat Abhay K, and the life-long poetic engagement with Indian philosophy in the works of late Cecilia Meireles.

The tryst of Indo-Brazilian imagination took a tangible turn this month in Brazil with the Festival of India organised by the Embassy of India in coordination with the Ministry of Culture of India.

The festival, held from Aug 31 to Sep 10 included Indian music, dance, exhibition and poetry performances by celebrity guests in the Brazilian cities of Brasilia, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

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I am fortunate to have attended the Indian literary festival in São Paulo, where I live at present.

Sahitya Akademi's choice of poets from different linguistic and regional backgrounds of India is commendable. R Venugopal, who is the current Head of Chancery at the Consulate of India in São Paulo contends that the award-winning poets of international reputation – Shiva K Reddy from Andhra Pradesh, Shafi Shauq from Kashmir, and Mona Lisa Jena from Orissa – serve to represent the rich diversity of India in Brazil.

The Festival of India was organised by the Indian Embassy in Brazil to commemorate 70 years of Indian independence.
I am fortunate to have attended the Indian literary festival in São Paulo, where I live at present.
(Photo Courtesy: Shelly Bhoil)

Mona Lisa Jenna emphasised in her talk that though the international exposure comes to Indian literature through Indian-English writers, the regional languages remain the sustaining spirit of Indian literature. She considers herself a byproduct of the legacy of mythology, folk and tribal life alongside the sufferings and discrepancies of modern life. Jena made the audience bite their lips during her heart-touching rendition of the poem ‘Noh-ka-likai.’

The legend has that the Noh-ka-likai waterfall in Cherrapunji is named after the fatal jump in the fall by the deceived mother Likai after she was fed her daughter’s meat by the latter’s swindler stepfather. Yet another legend-based poem ‘Kalijai’ also moved listeners with the story of the newly-wed girl who drowned in the lake: “Many girls’ tears have merged in this lake/slowly and steadily/turning this ‘sweet lake’ into a ‘sea.’”

Shiva Reddy highlighted the role of literature in reflecting society and bringing revolution. Reddy familiarised the audience with Telugu literature, linking it to the common issues of the subcontinent. Among other Telugu writers, he discussed Lakshmi Narayana’s epic novel Malapally – written on the deplorable conditions of the untouchables, and Gurujada’s play Kanyasulkam that depicts the plight of widows in traditional Brahmin families of Andhra Pradesh. Reddy also brought to the audience’s ears the music of Telugu by reciting one of his poems in its original language.

Shafi Shauq’s Kashmiri poetry had a Wordsworthian feel to it. While the English romantic poetry was an escape from industrialism of the Victorian era, the therapeutic ‘nature’ in Shauq’s poetry is in the backdrop of bloodshed that floods the valley of Kashmir.

Sample these lines, for instance, from his poem ‘Thus Returns the Spring’:

A frail wisp of smoke rising
from the smouldering roof scribes
an elating message in the azure:
the mourning aged couple shall have
all comfort in the other world
vain cannot be the blood of their son.

Shauq also gave an overview of the linguistic variety in India, while also expressing concern about having “a plethora of writing but an atrophy of reading” on the one hand and relishing the Indian writer’s advantage of being a polyglot on the other.

Shauq applauded the role played by the Sahitya Akademi in facilitating inter-lingual translations which augment the dynamics of literature in India.

The poetry of Jenna, Reddy and Shauq was translated into Portuguese by a group of Brazilian translators for the monolingual audience and to serve as a cultural dialogue. In the discussion round, the poets expressed their regret for not being able to lay hands on a bilingual book of Brazilian poetry that they could take home in India. Cielo G. Festino, an erudite scholar of Indian literature, who was the moderator for the evening on behalf of BRINDARC (the Brazilian Association of Indian Studies), spoke to the Brazilian audience about the necessity of translation of Brazilian literature into English for its easier access to an international audience.

The Festival of India was organised by the Indian Embassy in Brazil to commemorate 70 years of Indian independence. It may be thus befitting to conclude this article with Shiva Reddy’s poem ‘Need A Bit of Freedom,’ which he rendered – coincidentally – on Sep 7, the Independence Day of Brazil!

Need a bit of freedom
to flap the wings
to shake off rain drops on the wings
to set right the feathers with the beak
to stretch out this foot this way, that foot that way—
to lift the head and look at the leaves on the trees
when a rain drop falls “tup” on the head—
to widen the nostrils
and inhale the air with eyes
when the breeze blows ever so gently—

Need a bit of freedom
to call a man a man
to call an animal an animal
Need a bit of freedom
to call a night a night
to call a day a day—

Need a bit of freedom
to flap the wings
to fly in the air

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(Shelly Bhoil is a poet and academic, living in India and Brazil. Her forthcoming publications include two edited volumes of Tibetan exile narratives and her second poetry book.)

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