Tag Archives: poetry

Poetry in Bharatanatyam: Vinitha Subramanian

Guru Smt. Vinitha Subramanian, the Director of Natyalaya School of Dance in Austin, has been teaching in the Central Texas area for over 35 years. She has scores of arangetrams to her credit and has staged several dance dramas and thematic presentations such as Jungle Book – Seonee, Ganga- A River’s story, Nouka Charitram, Navahavarna, Roopa Viroopa, Ek, and Agasthya, just to name a few. I interview Vinitha Subramanian, in what was a fabulous exploration into the connections between Indian poetry and classical dance.

UA: Bharatanatyam is performed to the accompaniment of poetry in Sanskrit and other South Indian languages. Can you trace the relationship between the two genres historically?

VS: Sanskrit was the preeminent literary language in India for many centuries. The poets and playwrights wrote in Sanskrit in the various courts of India’s rulers. In addition, poets also wrote in local languages: example Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamizh. There has been a profusion of composers in local languages in more recent times as the support for artists moved away from the Kingly courts. Tamizh poetry is very old, dating up to 4000 years.

UA: Who/What are these classical poetry forms that are foundational to the practice of Bharatanatyam?

VS: There are so many forms – starting from very old Tamil poetry which are over 3-4000 years old.

Sangam Literature and poetry: contains 2381 poems in Tamil composed by 473 poets, some 102 anonymous, of these Kapilar is the most prolific poet. These poems vary between 3 and 782 lines long. The bardic poetry of the Sangam era is largely about love (akam) and war (puram), with the exception of the shorter poems such as in paripaatal, which is more religious and praises VishnuShivaDurga and Murugan. The most acceptable time range for the Sangam literature is 100 BCE to 250 CE

The history of Tamil literature follows the history of Tamil Nadu, closely following the social, political and cultural trends of various periods. The early Sangam literature, dated before 300 BCE, contain anthologies of various poets dealing with many aspects of life, including love, war, social values and religion. This was followed by the early epics and moral literature, authored by HinduJain and Buddhist authors, lasting up to the 5th century CE. From the 6th to 12th century CE, the Tamil devotional poems written by Nayanmars (sages of Shaivism) and Alvars (sages of Vaishnavism), heralded the great Bhakti movement which later engulfed the entire Indian subcontinent. It is during this era that some of the grandest of Tamil literary classics like Kambaramayanam  (very famous poet Kamban) and Periya Puranam (lives of the 63 saiva saints complied by Sekkizhar)  were authored and many poets were patronized by the imperial Chola and Pandya empires. The later medieval period saw many assorted minor literary works and also contributions by a few Muslim and European authors. 

In modern Bharatanatyam, it is hard to use Sangam poetry (though we use some selected verses), as it is very hard to understand the ancient language.  

We do use Christian poems in Bharatanatyam – several poets in Kerala (including a priest) have written songs for Bharatanatyam.

Generally medieval Tamil and Sanskrit poetry is extensively used: Poets like Kalidasa and Adi Shankara from (1st– 2nd centuries), Andal  and Alwars (5th-10th century), Kannada Dasa poets like Purandaradasa (15-17 century), Annamayya and Telugu poets( 12th century- 20th century), Sanskrit poets like Jayadeva (12th century) Most modern Bharatanatyam songs are, however, derived from compositions of  relatively modern composers like the Carnatic Trinity (Tyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Sama Trinity) and the Tanjore Quartet (Chinnaswamy, Ponniah, Vadivelu and Sadanandam) considered the fathers of modern Bharatanatyam. Other popular modern composers include Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar, Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi, Papanasam Sivan, Poochi Sreenivasa Iyengar, Ravikiran. These poets composed in a variety of south Indian languages. With Bharatanatyam spilling beyond south India, poetry in many North Indian languages are also being used: Hindi (Tulsidas, Kabir), Marathi (Tukaram and other Abhang composers), Gujrati, Bengali (Rabindranath Tagore).

The Carnatic Trinity
The Carnatic Trinity: Sri Syama Sastri, Sri Thyagaraja, Sri Mudduswamy Dikshitar

UA: Mostly, what are the kinds of poetry and poetry forms used in poetry accompanying classical Bharatanatyam?

VS: Poetry had religious and devotional themes, and romantic-mystical poetry was prevalent as it was felt that people would comprehend the texts better. Independence-based themes, social reform-based poetry, religious tolerance and moral teachings emerged over time. Indian poetry is generally classified in accordance to the language in which it is written, or the region from which it hails. However, in general, Indian poetry is generally classified into the following types: epics, couplets (dohas), ghazals, bhajans, folk poetry and others.

UA: Indian music and dance is based on raga, bhava and tala. Please help us understand each of the terms with a special emphasis on tala.

VS: Bhava – Facial expressions that help in storytelling. Raga – Melody to which dance-song is set. Tala – The intrinsic beat of the poem as reflected in the music which is set to the measures defined in Carnatic music.

UA: What are the dominant stanzaic forms and meter used in the poetry?

VS: In terms of meter – 2 line poems (haiku like) called Dohas/Shairis are popular, such as those by Kabir. This is also found in Thirukkural, an anthology in Tamil by Tiruvalluvar. Examples of other meters used are Gayathri meter poems from the Vedic literature, the octet poems of Jayadeva and Adi Shankara, longer sonnets are very popular among older and modern poets and have all found a home in bharatanatyam.

Sanskrit prosody or Chandas (meter) is the study of poetic meters and verse in Sanskrit. This field of study was central to the composition of the Vedas. The Chandas, as developed by the Vedic schools, were organized around seven major meters, and each had its own rhythm, movements and aesthetics. Sanskrit meters include those based on a fixed number of syllables per verse, and those based on fixed number of morae per verses as expounded in Pingala’s Chandasutra. 

UA: Nattuvangam- it’s practice, definition and importance to classical dance?

VS: Nattuvangam (pertaining to dance) and Konnakol (pertaining to vocal- instrumental music)  is the practice of reciting rhythmic syllables that emulate the drumbeats  that allow the elaboration of the  inherent beat of the music in various permutations to display the dancers virtuosity in pure dance movements.

UA: The relationship between nattuvangam and beats in classical Telugu, Tamil and Sanskrit poetry?

VS: When a poem is set to music, its inherent meter (determined by the poet) is interpreted in the structure of the Carnatic music tala structure. This Tala is elaborated in the nattuvangam, providing opportunity to the dancer to explore various ways of presenting it. The basic tala measure is combined in various permutations and combinations to provide a rich diversity of pure dance movements and footwork. 

UA: What are some of the more modern poetic expressions to which you composed your own choreography successfully (that are not strictly laid out in meter, yet were transferred beautifully)?

VS: The rigidity is only in the time measure of each avartana of the tala (8 beats, 11 beats etc.) in which each line of the song /poem fits.  By calculating the number of beats in one avartana or combining the avartanas or splitting them we are able to derive infinite combinations of footwork arrangement. The same song with the same rhythm (drum) can be arranged very differently by different choreographers using the hand gestures (hastas and Nrtta hastas) and adavus (choreographed steps) to provide a refreshing look at the inherent meter of the poem every time. Hence every song can be renewed each time it is performed.  

We have set Bharatanatyam movements to songs from various faiths, composed in different languages, even English/western music or Tejano music. When there is no meter but just a song or chorus without beat, Bharatanatyam allows its expression in graceful twirls and striking poses. 


Usha Akella, Austin-based poet has authored eight books. She is the founder of the Matwaala collective and festival and co- host of www.the-pov.com, an interview site.

Making Space For the Unknown: Desi Poetry Reading

Join India Currents and Matwaala, once again, in our Desi Poetry Reading Series. This time we bring you six poets addressing the ever-present uncertainty and change. The South Asian diaspora is perpetually evolving, breaking new boundaries and forging new connections in every sphere. India Currents presents its third Desi Poetry Reading to discuss how South Asian communities interacting with a year of inconsistencies, trauma, growth, and change.

To join the FREE poetry reading on Thursday, December 3, 2020 at 6pm PST and 9 pm EST, register here:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/desi-poetry-reading-uncertainty-and-change-tickets-130829912791

Or check to find our Facebook Live Stream at the time of the event here:

https://www.facebook.com/IndiaCurrents/videos

This poetry reading will feature notable writers from various pockets of the South Asian community, including Indran Amirthanayagam, Varsha Saraiya-Shah, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis, R. Cheran, Saleem Peeradina, and youth poet, Sara Garg. India Currents staff, Srishti Prabha and Kanchan Naik will moderate the event, facilitating questions from the audience on Zoom or Facebook Live.

This is effort is in collaboration with Matwaala, a South-Asian poetry collaborative designed to provide immigrant and POC writers with a literary platform. In their own words, Matwaala represents “voices that dare to say the unsaid and hear the unheard…voices that break down barriers…voices that dare to be South Asian, American, and simply human.” Since their formation, they have hosted a number of poetry festivals and writing workshops. Most notably, they recently spearheaded Smithsonian’s Beyond Bollywood Project, where they created a Poetry Wall in honor of South Asian writers at the Irving Museum and Archives.

We hope to see you there!


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Eat in Peace…or in Pieces?

Eat in Peace…or in Pieces?

Pass the butter, hand the bread

Don’t be dramatic — nobody is dead

Carve the turkey, open the booze

But switch the channel if it’s news.

 

Sprinkle the pepper, pour the sauce 

Dried by the smoke of a burning cross

Just because the flames have been smothered for years

Does not mean we don’t feel the soot in our tears

A man on a pedestal flaunts his crown

Reduces an empire to a ghost town.

We apparently love him — it’s been reported

A toast to that, before we get deported

Close the curtains, God, what a racket

That officer’s gun is not in his jacket.

Just another man screaming for his life

Grab the remote, mute his strife

 

 So what if that burger is dipped in car grease?

Can’t someone let us just eat in peace?

When it’ll be us, just like everyone said,

Someone else shall pass the butter, hand the bread

 

I know that it’s difficult, that this will be hard

When the cranberries are sour and the turkey is charred

But to untangle the noose from this country of rope

Change the menu, bring out the hope


Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin and the Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. When she’s not doodling or writing poetry, she is most likely untangling her earphones or looking for something that happens to be — much like herself — lost.

Originally Published on November 25, 2019.

Our Land Remains Green in Our Souls

Poetry as Sanctuary – A column where we explore poetry as a means of expression for voices of the South Asian Diaspora.

Like everyone else who loves poetry, I too see it as an art. An art of saying everything without saying much. A means of conveying the felt, without needing to justify the said. A formation of words which read like a garland, or convey the fragrance of a delicate rose, or sometimes the anguish of the pain caused by its thorns.

 But I am no poet, for I lack that art.  

 I seek a voice

which is free

from the burdens

of the identity

of the face,

 

a voice 

that can reach you deep,

irrespective of the distances

we seem to have created

based on 

unfounded

ungrounded

unwarranted

egoistical states,

 

hear me 

from where I hide,

and you’ll see me 

with a knowing clarity

far beyond

the simplistic visions,

mechanically reflected

by your 

curious eyes.

For me, my writings remain a liberating one-way communication.  A release, a vent, an outpouring emanating from the palette of emotions that simmer within. Sometimes for identifiable reasons, and often, just out of a longing for an elusive, imagined, or wishful state of being. 

Sunrise image, taken by the Author.

Divinity enters life
in many ways,

 

not all can be seen
or held in tangible forms,

 

to feel the invisible deeply
is often an insane job,

 

and I’ve never felt any remorse
for letting my sanity go.

Words help me find myself and sometimes lead me to discover and identify parts of others which over the years have become an intrinsic part of me. Till it lasts it is a fun game of hide-n-seek, in which thankfully, there are never any losers. 

A fellow blogger friend invited me to join a poetry group, the Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley, which instead of their routine physical meet-ups had started connecting virtually due to the COVID restrictions. And I found myself virtually amongst a group of strangers,  strangers who slowly began to seem more my own than them that I often see around. 

Was I diaspora where I sat, or were they it? Them who carry their roots with them even when far away from a land which still remains green in their souls. 

It is a thought which renders me somewhat eligible to be a valid part of this group, for in those hours once a week that we meet online, I too am ‘diaspora’ connecting with my own. 

Personally, this space has been a journey of discovering my words in my own voice (a first for me). Listening to the many other voices which can write, recite, and even sing poetry in different languages. A sharing of worded sentiments emanating from different cultures, regions, poets, writers, and time periods. An interaction which invariably touches and tingles various chords of emotions within. I remain grateful to each one of them for this very unique experience and for giving me an opportunity to share some of my own.

Gentle souls,
past
their own
painful
transformations,

 

flit around
like angelic
butterflies,
uplifting
falling spirits,

 

by their
thoughtful,
cheerful
presences
alone,

 

and in those
moments
of soulful
gratitude
within,

 

I bridge
the distance,
between
earth
and sky.


Vidur Sahdev is a 50-year-old guy who lives in Delhi, India, and writes on his blog titled VerseInEmotion. In its essence, his blog is a collection of some thoughts, some words, some memories, some moments, some dreams, some fiction… inspired by the elements of nature, the people who came and those that went away, some remembered, none forgotten, a few bits of his journey over the lived years. The rest ‘about him’ keeps changing faster than he has ever been able to pen it down.

Unconventional

Unconventional

disquieting dreams,

and marooned behind inadequate screens

await former days

and absent glitching in say.

eyes stained: debilitated red

with dilly- dally chained to bed. 

and what to find?

obliterated time!

how can one comprehend?

when inhibited voices send.

this institution is rapid pace 

we aren’t tying lace

but how can they care about dreams…

After all, vision is by screen.

*****


Rashmika Manu is a 10th grader attending High School. She enjoys using poetry as a form of expression. She is passionate about travel and hopes to fight poverty when she is older. 

Rhyme and Reason

Poetry as Sanctuary – A column where we explore poetry as a means of expression for voices of the South Asian Diaspora.

A lizard in a blizzard

Got a snowflake in his gizzard

And nothing else much happened, I’m afraid.

But lizard rhymed with blizzard

And blizzard rhymed with gizzard

And that, my dear, is why most poems are made.[1]

When I was young, I used to get a kick out of seeing words rhyme. Reading Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein, I would enunciate the rhyming bits out loud for fun. Later in high school, I marveled at Shakespeare and his dexterous lines which stoked the imagination and inspired lofty notions.

Not marble nor the gilded monuments

Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme[2]

Poetry, in contrast to everyday speech, has an eye for beauty. She has a penchant for the pretty phrase, a fancy for things well said. With her, language is revered and words are caressed and carefully ensconced in a metrical mold which lends rhythm and musicality. 

While I was in college, I listened to a recitation of a narrative poem my grandfather had written in Kannada (my mother tongue). The tune was captivating, the story was beautiful, and it made an unforgettable impression. Never before had I experienced (or given much heed to) sound and sense so intimately connected in my mother tongue. As Alexander Pope describes poetry: 

‘Tis not enough no harshness gives offense,

The sound must seem an echo to the sense[3] 

Poet, Navaneet Galagali

Thereafter I began to realize – like the proverbial frog in the well – that other languages contained profound treasures of literature and poetry that my anglophone worldview wasn’t privy to. Unable to resist the siren call, I set out to learn my mother tongue.

A few years down the rabbit hole, I acquired Kannada and Sanskrit and delved into the literature with zest. When I moved to the bay area, I was fortunate to come across a poetry meetup group where I met some birds of the same feather. We started meeting weekly to partake in virtual poetry gatherings using the Facebook group Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley, where I found encouragement and an outlet to share the poems and translations that follow.

The best romance poems employ a subtle art of suggestion; without being coarse, they indicate rather than explicate. In this Sanskrit verse from the 7th century, we see a poet’s tasteful portrayal of conjugal matters:

(The sweet-talk of newlyweds)

दम्पत्योर्निशि जल्पतोर्गृहशुकेनाकर्णितं यद्वचः तत्प्रातर्गुरुसंनिधौ निगदतस्तस्यातिमात्रं वधूः । 

कर्णालम्बितपद्मरागशकलं विन्यस्य चञ्चूपुटे व्रीडार्ता प्रकरोति दाडिमफलव्याजेन वाग्बन्धनम् ||[4] 

As the newlywed couple whispered through the night, their pet parrot overheard the words exchanged. The following morning, in the presence of elders, it began repeating what it had learned. Hearing this, the wife was mortified and she grabbed her ruby earring (which resembled a pomegranate seed) and thrust it into the parrot’s beak to silence it.

Here’s another verse in Sanskrit which makes a delightfully wry observation:

(A courtesan and her lipstick)

उपभुक्तखदिरवीटकजनिताधररागभङ्गभयात्।

पितरि मृतेऽपि हि वेश्या रोदिति हा तात तातेति॥[5]

A red color is left lingering on her lips from chewing betel leaves. When her father dies, that courtesan, not wanting to smear the red from her lips, cries “Taata, taata!” instead of “Pita, pita!” (both words mean father). i.e., Even while mourning the death of her father, she is mindful of her lipstick.

Brevity is the soul of wit” runs the common adage. Taking it to heart, this nifty triplet in Kannada claims to encapsulate all love stories:

(A summary of all love stories)

ನಾನು ಅವಳನ್ನು ನೋಡಿದೆ

ಅವಳು ನೋಡಿ ನಕ್ಕಳು

ನಮಗೀಗ ಎರಡು ಮಕ್ಕಳು[6]

 

I looked at her,

She smiled at me.

Now we have two kids. 

Poetry – and by extension, Art – seeks to elevate the connoisseur from the clutches of the mundane. In the process, ordinary emotions are rarefied and become things of beauty. Love, compassion, anger, sorrow, or any of the palate of emotions when expressed through the medium of art achieve a sublime dimension and unequivocally yield aesthetic joy. The joy of course, is an end in itself and needs no further recourse.


Navaneet Galagali is a software engineer in the California bay area who slyly siphons away time for his excursions with literature and music. His present obsessions include Sanskrit and Kannada literature. He is also learning Hindustani classical vocal music and Tabla.

A Teen’s Writing Contest is a Much Needed Distraction

NYC, New York – I saw how devastating COVID-19 was for so many people in NYC, particularly teenagers who had to adapt their lifestyles. From switching to remote learning to finding ways to stay active and engaged, there have been a lot of changes.  The one thing in common for many of the city’s teens was that boredom set in.  With all conversations and all the news focusing on the coronavirus, many people were also feeling depressed. Vishnu decided to take action and find a way to help other high schoolers cope – through creative writing.  

I decided to organize the Scribe Writing Contest, in the midst of COVID-19, to help provide a pleasant distraction from the current state of events and encourage teens to use their imaginations.  It did not hurt that prizes were also awarded to the winners.

Nobody could have expected or prepared for the devastating effects that the coronavirus would bring this year. Many of us have been isolated at home. Schools went remote. A lot of stores and businesses are closed. Aside from the security concerns caused by this illness, a lot of teens are just bored.  Creative writing provides an avenue for people to express their thoughts and their creativity and a space to imagine something different into being.

The Scribe Writing Contest is a free, online high school creative writing contest open to students all over the world. Students were given a 48-hour window in which to start their essay and had to submit either a poem or short story, within two hours, in response to specific prompts that were given immediately prior to beginning the contest.

For the poetry submissions, entrants were asked to: 

  1. Write a poem that evokes a sense of longing, whatever that might mean to you. 
  2. Write a poem that uses all the following words: “whisper,” “moonlight,” and “tomorrow.” 
  3. Write a poem that centers around nature and the natural world. 

For the Fiction portion of the contest, participants were given the following prompts:

  1. Write a story about two or more people whose pasts are connected. 
  2. Tell the story of a scar – physical or emotional. 
  3.  Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time begins with the line: “For a long time, I went to bed early.” Write a story starting with that line. 

I personally reached out to distinguished English and creative writing professors from across the country and selected seven of them to serve as judges for the contest. In addition, six nonprofit literary publishing companies, whose titles have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, sponsored the contest with cash prizes and books for the winners.  They awarded $2,750 in cash prizes to three winners in the Poetry and Fiction Essays.

Creative writing offers many benefits that are often overlooked and undervalued.  They include confidence building, stimulating the imagination, artistic self-expression, thought clarification, empathy and communication skills, a better understanding of the mechanics of reading and writing, and improved mental, emotional, and physical health. Studies have shown that creative writing alleviates stress levels, and can ward off severe illnesses, among other things.

The contest received an overwhelming response, with almost 900 submissions from teens in 17 countries, spanning six continents.

The winners of the contest were: 

Poetry Winners:

First place: Isabelle Lu, South Side High School (Rockville Centre, NY); Second place: Janet Li, Columbus Academy (Columbus, OH); Third place: Anne Kwok, Milton Academy (Milton, MA)

Fiction Winners:

First place: Frances McKittrick, Saint Ann’s School (Brooklyn, NY); Second place: Alexis Kihm, “I AM” School (Mount Shasta, CA); Third place: Asa Khalid, Berkeley Carroll School (Brooklyn, NY)

The participants expressed their appreciation for providing a brief distraction from some of the stress they had been dealing with in their day-to-day lives, and in a changing environment, due to COVID-19.  There will be another contest next May to provide a creative outlet for more teens.

Creative writing has such an extraordinary capacity to uplift and inspire. If the Scribe Writing Contest enabled students to realize that capacity, even for a moment, then in my eyes it was all worthwhile.


Vishnu Bharathram is a passionate writer and a senior at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx.

America in 1975

AMERICA – 1978

America

And your trillion-dollar Economy

And your FM stereo

And your serpentine highways of lonely people

Slanting westwards into the setting sun

 

Leave me alone

 

I am one of the starving millions of India 

Who you’re mommy asked you to sacrifice

Your Candy for

 

I came because 

This was the land of Greatness and Charisma

Of James Dean and John Kennedy

And my brother who listened to Glen Miller and found his Soul

I came to breathe your air

Eat the salt of your earth

And build great buildings in praise of all you were to me

 

But you have presented me with your soul-less landscape

Your form-letters your form-experiences and your form-civilization

You have presented me only with people 

Whose hearts are lost on your highways

And your abysmal wheels of progress

You have forgotten the helplessness of burning children

In your flash-fire experiences

Of Opulence, TV Westerns and Dow Jones

 

You only serve to numb me now, America

Till I will also begin to chant 

Like a new being whose father is forgotten

‘Think of the starving millions of India

 My act of contrition will put another man on the Moon’

 

One day I will unknowingly be speaking in this strange idiom

And somewhere in the dimming recesses of my memories

A flickering fire will finally die

And I who was so close to starvation and death

Will think only with revulsion and fear

And not sorrow

Of dirt, flies and men

Lying dead from thirst in parched fields

 

And stop eating candy to save my soul


Sahadev Chirayath wrote this poem in May of 1978 and lives in Buffalo, New York now. He is a Structural Engineer and has spent time with Engineers without Borders in Andhra Pradesh. 

Who Am I?

Who Am I?

I am brown; 

I am different 

from the white and the black.  

I am Dravidian, a word as 

mysterious as the origin  

of the universe. 

Now I am a hyphenated American;  

I speak English 

with a discernible accent, but my  

students loved it. 

It’s not Southern Utah accent; 

It’s not South Indian Brahmin accent, either. Oh!  South Indian accent 

is perhaps rooted in Telugu, Tamil,  

Kannada, or Malayalam. Or, is it a  

composite one; 

The composite one that is further  

nurtured by your school, teachers,  

and peers? 

While I was growing up in South India, I was  still a minority: 

Because I was a Brahmin; 

because I was not rich like Reddys or Kammas.  While I was in New Delhi, 

I was still a minority. 

I sharply felt it so then. 

 

First, my name gave out; 

second, my Hindi was tinged 

with a distinct South Indian accent; 

third, I was a shade darker than the fair Punjabi;

fourth, I was brighter than the others in  my mixed Indian circle;

fifth, I was able to speak their tongue, while  they couldn’t my language; 

it was exotic and foreign to them; 

 

sixth, for that matter, 

they couldn’t even pronounce my  

mouthful Godly name; seventh, I was  

cultured and knew Gita and  

Shakespeare; watched popular  

Bollywood movies and attended  

Krishnamurti’s 

discourses on metaphysics and theology; 

missed no major classical concerts 

or dance performances–eastern or western.  Yet, I was different for being poor. 

 

I am what I am. 

Why should I be like someone else?  

Even my brothers are different. 

We share the same parents. 

 

I am brown 

I am different 

from the white and the black.  

The Upanishads say 

“Tat Tvum asi.” 

“That thou art. 

I am an immigrant 

And I am conspicuous 

by being brown and  

different from occidental  

and oriental 

 

And I am now scared of being in a bar 

though I am an American

******

Notes 

Dravidian: of South India different from North India; considered the original natives of India. 

Brahmin: The highest caste in the hierarchy of the traditional Hindu caste system.    

South India: Essentially of Dravidian culture with four major languages- Telugu, Tamil,  Kannada, and Malayalam, each with its own script and linguistic origins. 

Hindi: The national language of independent India; also, one of the major languages of North India. 

Punjabi: of North India in the state of Punjab. 

Gita: Short form for Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Blessed Lord), the great devotional classic of Hinduism; renowned as the jewel of India’s spiritual wisdom; represents the essence of Hinduism, much as the Sermon on the  Mount presents the essence of Christianity.

Krishnamurti: considered one of the greatest thinkers of our age who influenced millions throughout the twentieth century.

Upanishads: a series of mystical and philosophic prose works in a dialogue form constituting the chief theological documents of ancient Hinduism – a total of 108 discourses that can be dated to about 600 BC. 

Tat Tvum Asi: translated from the Sanskrit language, the ancient classical  language of India, similar to Latin, means “that thou art.” Taken from  Chandogya Upanishad, this famous expression identifies the relationship between the individual and the Absolute.


Satyam Sikha Moorty is a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and taught for 31 years at Southern Utah University. He has two chapbooks ready: “Who Am I? and other poems”  and “Poems of Fear and Songs of Hope.”  His book “Passage from India: Poems, Short Stories, and Essays” has recently been published.

City of Hibiscus Eyes: Poetry and Piano

A collaboration between tpet, Zilka Joseph and pianist, Veena Kulkarni lends itself to a unique experience for the Rasa Festival. The poetry section of the festival will also feature a reading by Sumita Chakraborty.

Poet, Zilka Joseph

Zilka Joseph was born in Mumbai and grew up in Kolkata, India. She came to the US in 1997. She is the author of two chapbooks, Lands I Live In and What Dread, and a collection titled Sharp Blue Search of Flame. Her new chapbook Sparrows and Dust will be published this fall. Her work reflects the complexities of life as an immigrant, issues of displacement, racism, women’s issues, death and loss. She has a deep love for and knowledge of Nature and wildlife, which are also recurrent themes in her poems. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she teaches creative writing and poetry, edits manuscripts, and mentors writers in the community. She is dedicated to lifting up every writer/student she works with and aims to create a unique and generous community wherever she lives and teaches.

Poet, Sumita Chakraborty

 Sumita Chakraborty is a poet, essayist, and scholar. She is Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Poetry at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, where she teaches in literary studies and creative writing. Previously, she was a Visiting Assistant Professor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, as well as Lecturer in English and Creative Writing, at Emory University. Her first scholarly book, tentatively titled Grave Danger: Death, Ethics, and Poetics in the Anthropocene, is in progress. Her debut collection of poetry, Arrow, was released in September 2020 with Alice James Books in the United States and Carcanet Press in the United Kingdom.

Pianist, Veena Kulkarni

Also based in Ann Arbor, Veena Kulkarni-Rankin was born and raised in the US Midwest and began her piano studies at the age of 5. A western classical pianist, she won many youth competitions, studied at Indiana University, and then earned a doctorate in Piano Pedagogy & Performance at the University of Michigan. Finding great fulfillment in teaching, she is currently the Lead Instructor at Faber Piano Institute Over the years as a lover of all types of music, Veena has branched off into other styles of playing, many that fuse improvisation with composed-out music. Most notable is her partnership with baritone Jean Bernard as Duo 1717, whose concerts feature folk and art music, storytelling, and social justice issues from the United States, Haiti, South America, the Philippines, India, European cultures, and beyond. A second-generation American, Veena loves connecting with and learning more about her Filipino and Indian roots. And if you are a fellow musician, she wants to sit down with you, start playing, and see what happens!

Upcoming Events:

City of Hibiscus Eyes

Event date: Saturday, October 3,2020  USA: 11 am EST / India: 8:30 pm IST

When Veena first read Zilka’s book Sharp Blue Search of Flame she was inspired by poems that were musical or rhythmic in nature and after a discussion, they decided that the poem “City of Hibiscus Eyes” would be perfect for their experiment. The poem is a pantoum, a form that originated in Malaysia, and it has a repetitive structure. Moreover, there is a haunting and lyrical quality to this particular poem that attracted Veena. Her subsequent improvisation is a stunning combination of eastern and western classical music, which is inspired by Raag Malkauns.  Veena quotes a classic Hindi film song, Jaane Bahaar Husn Tera Bemisaal Hai (1963), and Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise.

We present a reading of the poem by Zilka with Veena’s composition playing in the background, and then Veena performing her piece.

A Reading  by Sumita Chakraborty 

Event date: Sunday, October 18,2020  USA: 11 am EST / India: 8:30 pm IST

A reading from her book, Arrow.

A Reading by Zilka Joseph 

Event date: Saturday, October 24,2020  USA: 11 am EST / India: 8:30 pm IST

Zilka will read from her book of poems, Sharp Blue Search of Flame (Wayne State University Press), where she will read particular poems dedicated to her late mother.


 

Penning of the 8th Month

The 8th Month

 

lifting myself up repeatedly 

deadweight took over me

lost in days.

nothing to aspire towards 

an eternal cycle and ample grey skies

lost in uncertainty.

a barrier of contact made illness

even time was drunk and we were stuck 

lost in obstacles.

 

dreams were our only transportation 

took us to a remote time before 

lost in our minds.

*****


Rashmika Manu is a 10th grader attending High School. She enjoys using poetry as a form of expression. She is passionate about travel and hopes to fight poverty when she is older. 

A Poet Born Through Healing

Poetry as Sanctuary – A column where we explore poetry as a means of expression for voices of the South Asian Diaspora.

Poetry was never something I imagined to become this significant to me, it was not even a sliver of a dream of an unimagined future.

I spent the first 3 decades of my life trying to fit into the mold of a perfect, normal life. I moved to the US from India at a young age, always striving to keep a smile, raise 2 sons, and remain optimistic. Something still felt missing. I was drawn to the teachings of yoga & philosophy. That seemed to satisfy my need for continual answers to the meaning of life.

All of that came crashing down when I got afflicted with a brutal skin disease that attacked me in every single way – physical, familial, emotional – I was isolated from society for the next few years. Modern medicine did not have any remedy for me, so I chose holistic methodologies from ancient times to find my way back to life. My new normalcy turned out to be as brilliant, as painful it was to go through dismantling my existing reality.

With very few humans around to know and really understand the drastic choices I made about my healing, I was unaware there would be a subsequent spiritual awakening. The world did not make sense to me anymore. There was this ocean revealed within and I needed to learn to swim.

It took a while to befriend poetry as a gift. It brought alive my relationship with the Universe. I remember the exact moment and setting when the first surge of inspiration began and I started rhyming in my mind. I had to drop everything and type. It was a very strange yet powerful feeling. Even stranger was to look at my writing and think it was poetry. 

I thought each one that came was the last. I couldn’t own it or name the place it came from. I started sharing them on my blog and Facebook. I had people message me that these poems were helping them get through the day, giving them hope, peace, courage, guidance. As I stepped into the fourth decade of my life, poetry had become a living, breathing part of me.

People asked me how did you start writing. My reply to them came through this following poem:

Just how did the writer in me get born?

When drippings from a touched soul find their way in writing
A poet is born
When the beauty is undying and the joy so fulfilling
A poem is born
When feelings are heart wrenching and clarity is killing
A poem is born
When a surge comes as discomfort and words pour out
A writer is born
When the harmony felt is such that there is no choice but rhyme
A poem is born
When made-up words bring meaning and no-rhyme verse feels musical
A poetry is born
When living alive to feelings, words come to life
A writer is born
When clarity becomes more intense than the pain that afforded it
A writer is born
When no human around can suffice to contain the expression
A poetry is born
When a release is looking to flow out at an unearthly hour
A writer is born
When words choose the person as if a channel
A writer is born
When none can be planned to rhyme or reason
A poet is born
When human spirit gets broken to million-times-ten pieces, yet finds beauty
A poet is born
When Life decides to peel back layers of truth down to the core
A writer is born
When each level of façade is stripped down to bare soul
A writer is born
When all the suffering was a gift, lived through or let through
A writer is born
When there is no knowing if there is more from where it came from
A writer is reborn
When it comes from a place that is hard to own
A writer is born
When the essence of being is wrung out in best expression
A poetry is born
When it feels like a soft glove over the brutal thing
A poetry is born
When the loneliness in truthfulness is more than can enjoy yet
A writer is born
When inspirations come out of nowhere as if universal cues
A poet is born

So if you can just rest
In the drippings of the writer’s soul
Momentarily let go of the sufferings you insist on
A poet would feel content for being born.

– Pragalbha Doshi

After 4 years of this amazing adventure, I had felt a lot of grief when I thought poetry was leaving me. I did write some more after that, and the flow trickled to a stop. It was time for me to visit life in a different way. I trusted Poetry to know that – in time, it will come back to me.

My poetry found a voice and new life within a year when, at the beginning of the pandemic, I joined a local group called Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley. Poetry is that gift and sanctuary that leaves out all supposed normalcy and brings us closer to who we truly are. 


Pragalbha Doshi lives with her husband and 2 teenage boys in San Jose, CA. As a yoga teacher, she facilitates therapy & change for people who struggle with chronic symptoms of stress, physical & emotional, and who want a productive & fulfilling life www.yogasaar.com