Tuesday, April 24, 2007
A Poem for CRY
A lovely little book and a lovely little idea. Two Indian kids taking inspiration from a Dublin project called Lifelines, went about collecting favourite poems from famous Indian people. They compiled this together into a book, the proceeds of which go to CRY. The 2 kids, Avanti Maluste and Sudeep Doshi have managed to get a lot of big names to contribute, 109 in all - and they include the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, Abdul Kalam, Vajpayee, Sonia Gandhi, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Prannoy Roy, The Dalai Lama, Azim Premji, Sachin Tendulkar, Baba Amte, Shashi Tharoor. It's a varied list, spanning different fields and their choices too end up being a pretty varied combination. Not all of them explain their choice. They are sometimes expected, sometimes surprising, but revealing just the same.
Amartya Sen has a great foreword that puts things in perspective, right at the start - "The poems are of interest not only for the merits of the poems themselves , but also for telling us something about the commitments and priorities of the selectors that are reflected in their choices. We live not only by our own thoughts formulated in isolation, but also by the ideas and phrases of others that resonate and move us." So we have an Advani choosing An Ode to the Himalayas, with a call to restore ancient Indian glories, of Rama and Krishna (how can it really be anything else!) and a Shyam Benegal choosing a chilling Auden poem that talks of the necessity of guarding against tyranny in Epitaph on a Tyrant
"When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets."
A lot of the poems are expected, stuff we learnt in English classes growing up - Wordsworth's Daffodils, Keats' Ode to a Nightingale, Kipling's If, Frost's The Road not Taken, Tagore's Where the Mind is Without Fear. But there are many that are new and exciting and surprising. Shobha De's choice was one of my favourites - an excerpt from Neruda's Dies Slowly.
"Slowly dies who doesn't turn the table upside down,
Who's unhappy at work,
Who doesn't risk the certainties for the unknown to pursue a dream,
Who doesn't allow himself to run away from wise suggestions,
At least once in a lifetime.
Slowly dies who doesn't travel, who doesn't read,
Who never listens to music, who doesn't find grace in himself,
Slowly dies who destroys his self-esteem,
Who spends every day to complain about either his bad luck or the never-ending rain.
Let's avoid death in small doses, keeping in mind that being alive always requests a much bigger effort than the simple fact of breathing."
You can almost see Shobha De's life in a different light after reading this.
Shashi Tharoor's choice is the Wilfred Owen poem Dulce et Decorum est. In describing the horrors of war mercilessly, it superbly undermines the warrior myths normally taught to a child - a fitting choice for a man who has worked a lifetime at the UN. Owen who died fighting WWI, brings a quality of graphic realism to the war scene that is unnerving.
"...If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori." (Latin for 'It is sweet and proper to die for one's country')
There are some amazing Urdu poems (thank god for the translations) - Shabana Azmi's choice is a poem of her father's as is Amitabh Bachan's; and Yash Chopra chooses a Sahir Ludhianvi one. Kaifi Azmi's poem is particularly moving. It was apparently spoken as Nehru's voice in a Hindi film, when weeping crowds thronged his funeral procession.
"Nainihaal aate hain, arthi ko kinare kar lo
Main jahan tha, inhein jaana hai vahaan se aage
Aasmaan inka, zameen inki, zamaana inka
Hain kai inke jahaan, mere jahaan se aage
Inhein kaliyan na kaho, ye hain chamansaaz, suno
Meri Aawaaz suno, pyar ka raaz suno."
It's a poem written for death, but with so much hope in it.
This is a book that inspires in many ways - through its very concept, the inspiring contributors and the inspiring poems. Buy it if you come across it. It can possibly help an underprivileged kid grow up to appreciate the beauty that mere words can bring to the world.