All the poets coming from these seven lands sing of the same hopes and similar woes.
By Prof Razi Abedi
A term that means nothing
The nation that boasted of Rousseau
Also massacred people
Thus spake Sheikh Ayaz, the renowned Sindhi poet from Pakistan. This is a far cry from the songs of national grandeur that reverberated throughout the globe in the last one hundred years or so. The mood is now changed.
There was a time when the world was divided into nation-states, which sneered at anything beyond their boundaries. But such chauvinism could not be sustained by the isolated power of any single nation, however great and invincible. Thus emerged power blocs. International co-operation was sought primarily for military purposes.
This became the period of identification with the phenomenon called ‘modernism’. It spread over almost six decades of the present century, stretching from the First World War to the Vietnam War.
But the people soon wearied of this jingoism. Protests were heard from new voices. From Sri Lanka emerged Dhoria K. Deep with his poem, A Dove on The Barrel Of A Gun:
May be she is thinking
That she is not on the gun’s barrel
But on a beautiful branch of the banyan tree
Or may be this harmless little bird
Under this sky reverberating with war cries
Could find no refuge
And is meditating lost in the vision of some other sky.
Later this division took a doctrinal touch with the rise of communism on one side and Fascism on the other. After the Second World War this cleavage resolved itself into a direct antagonism in the two confronting camps of NATO and Warsaw Pact. CENTO, SEATO etc. followed. But the war in Vietnam, the liberation struggle in Africa and the Middle East and the intellectual movements in the Caribbean Islands and America gave rise to the concept of the Third World. This is the world of the unprivileged, of those for whom war has no attraction. Hemanth Sarseth of Nepal defined the Third World thus:
Their world has no boundaries
No one guards their borders
They do not have to fight one another
In fact they own no land anywhere
The whole world belongs to them.
Faiz visualises this world of the peace loving people who are infused with the passion of fraternal love for all human beings in the following manner:
Now there shall be no war, nor even later at night
Will fire in the blood have to be quenched with tears.
No heart shall quiver at night, nor in any courtyard.
Shall ceaseless anxiety come like an ill–omened bird,
Shall fear come like a bloodthirsty beast of prey.
Now there shall be no war, bring wire and wine-cup.
Third world seeks international co-operation in non-militaristic terms. A new orientation is emerging in the politics of the world, one that not only abjures wars, but also is positively opposed to the institution of war. SAARC is one such organization. Whatever the motives behind its creation, it has the potential of developing into a universal brotherhood of man.
SAARC includes countries that boast of the most ancient civilizations of the world. Mohenjodaro and Harappa are the oldest habitations of man on the earth. Buddhist monasteries are scattered throughout the region, which despite its diversity, shows wondrous similarities in culture.
In the Maldives, for example, Shamim Mehmud Zaidi finds that their musical instruments are very much like the ones that we use and the woodwork of these islanders resembles the craft of our northern regions. At the same time their art carries a marked Buddhist imprint, not unlike the sculptures and inscriptions found in the hills of northern Pakistan. Ibne Batuta gives a fantastic account of these strange people in his travelogue:
Women do not cover their heads in these islands. Even their queen goes without a head cover. They comb their hair, typing them in a bunch on one side of the head. Most of them carry a loincloth, which stretches down to the feet while the upper part of the body is left uncovered. They move about in the streets and bazaars in the same dress. When I was made the Qazi there, I tried my best to make them change this sartorial custom and ordered them to dress properly. But I did not succeed. At last I ordered that no woman should appear before me in a lawsuit without being properly dressed. I could do no more.
Though the countries in the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) have ancient traditions, they have now acquired the consciousness of belonging to the present day world with which they share a common legacy and many problems. They have agreed to work together for the well being of their respective people. But what is most interesting and very reassuring is the fact that this cooperation is proposed in non-political fields. In politics they have been at loggerheads with one another.
It is too much to expect complete identification with each other among members of the Association, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, they have agreed to work together on the cultural front. The atmosphere is largely that of reconciliation. And the poet is always an incorrigible optimist and tends to embrace even a good hopeful rumor as an article of faith, as Faiz expressed his wish for Bangladesh:
We, who have been estranged after such long associations,
How many more contacts will we need to be reconciled?
Thus SAARC in a way becomes a symbol of a welcome change overtaking international relations.
Two important legacies that the SAARC countries share are their colonial background and abject poverty. The two perhaps are the two sides of the same coin. Both point to the ruthless exploitation that these countries have been subjected to. From Bangladesh, Mehmud Jamal sums up the tragedy in The Peasant of Bengal:
My eldest son was swept away by the storm at the sea
My second son was carried away by the flood
She died at the birth of the third son
Whom they threw away pierced with bullets
He left no memento
Only the machine gun still raging across the river
Reminds of him…
From the same land Hussain Muhammad Ershad hailed the establishment of the SAARC in December, 1985:
Bound by the warm throbbing hearts
Of millions beating in unison
The dream of the seven lands is now a reality
A commitment realized through creative concord.
This is an opportunity for the miserable peoples of these unfortunate lands, the opportunity for which they have waited so long. This is echoed in Mother’s Dream by Gopal Parsad Ramal from Nepal:
Mother, will he come?
As the sweet dawn sings with the chirping sparrows
so has the hope of his coming tickled my heart,
Yes, he will come
He shall come spreading light
Like the morning sun.
But in this optimism the cries of anguish are never drowned. Hopes may be dupes, but the misery is real as presented here in W.A.B. Singhe’s The Nameless Daughter from Sri Lanka:
Since no one is your father
You need no name
I have to leave you
In the dustbin in this deserted street
But that day will definitely come
When the whole world will be your mother…
Hope and misery are intertwined and are in the texture of their lives. Telegu poet Suchida Nandan sees the pageant of tyranny in Sculpture in this way:
Through this very street once
Passed the marble statue of our beloved king
The same familiar visage in all its grandeur
Is even to-day directing the traffic on this crossing
How many kings, politicians, leaders, artists and generals
Have passed in state through this lane
Now the curtain is dropped.
All the poets coming from these seven lands sing of the same hopes and similar woes. In spite of all the political differences among them, the SAARC poets share one another’s sufferings as well as aspirations. The milk of human kindness has not been dried up after all. This is not the situation obtaining only in one region. This is the general mood of this phase of history over the entire globe.
In Europe the iron curtain is being pulled down. In Central Asia the Republics are looking for their natural cultural allies. The same is happening everywhere in the third world and the same phenomenon is reflected in the SAARC region. The world is moving towards a genuine cultural cohesion and away from the barriers created by distrust and insane antagonism.
This article was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
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