(Featured Image: Rabindranath Tagore in China)
About a century ago, Rabindranath Tagore visited Shanghai where he was hosted by a young Chinese poet Xu Zimo, who had studied at Cambridge. Xu died young but changed poetry in China forever by liberating it from the formalism to introduce free form, and his work was influenced by Tagore.
Tagore wrote a poem called The Year 1400 (Bengali calendar – 1996 in Gregorian) addressing a reader a hundred years into the future. In it, he tells the future reader: “My spring birdsong and breeze fills me with song and I can’t send it forward but won’t you too sit by your open window and think of a poet who wrote this poem for you to share the youthful passion spring brings for all.”
Jing Jing, an immigrant from China, moved to the U.S. and taught herself English, to earn her young American daughter’s respect, and eventually become the current poet laureate of Cupertino (aka the place where Apple has built its spaceship HQ). She heard Tagore’s poem, The Year 1400, late on a Saturday night, when she visited our Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley readings last May. We happened to be celebrating Tagore’s birthday by inviting all our Bengali poets to read. One poet, Jayanta chose Tagore’s poem and its English translation by Ketki Kushari Dyson, from Oxford. It moved Jing Jing to goosebumps and tears.
As Jing Jing planned the Lunar New Year celebrations with poetry reading, she invited the grandson and great-granddaughter of Xu Zimo to read his work. Jing Jing remembered Tagore’s poem and wondered if our poets would be willing to read it at the celebration — to bring the old poets’ works together — like the friends who met in Shanghai a century ago.
I had no recollection of it and wondered who might have read it. Jing Jing had saved a screenshot so I knew it was Jayanta. When I reached out to him, he said “Anything Jyoti asks, I have to do.”
But as it turned out — there was a conflict in his schedule. He found the poem and its translation for us, even though he couldn’t read it. That is how I ended up reading Tagore’s poem and another of our poetry circle members, Debolina, read the original in Bengali.
130 people attended this online event. This is amazing for so many reasons. The China, India, US, and UK connections, the passion and love of poems and ode to spring, old friends connected through poetry, strangers making happenstance connections across the impossible distance and centuries, in springtime for celebrations with verse, and me getting caught up to enjoy it all, without leaving the comfort of my home.
Dr. Jyoti Bachani is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is a former Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, with degrees from London Business School, UK, Stanford, USA, and St. Stephen’s College, India. She translates Hindi poems and edited a poetry anthology called The Memory Book of the Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley.
This article was first published on American Kahani.