Saturday, March 29, 2014

An ‘Earth Anthem’ in poetry – Abhay K’s poetic journey across different geographies


New Delhi: The earth is in dire need of an anthem to protect itself as the degeneration of the planet’s fragile life-chain picks speed, says diplomat-poet-painter Abhay K, who has moved the United Nations with an “idea for an Earth Anthem” to save the planet.

Inspired by the “Earth Day and Earth Hour” — a day (March 29) dedicated to the conservation of the planet Earth and its depleting “energy sources”— the anthem, however, goes beyond the immediate relevance of the day. “You have national anthems and anthems to mark different occasion, but not one for the planet that hosts us,” Abhay K told this writer at the World Poetry Festival in the capital sponsored by Sahitya Akademi March 21-24.  

The poet wrote and published his first earth anthem in 2009 and made several revisions over the years. The revised Earth Anthem was published in his collection of poems, “Remains” in June 2012 and set to music by Sapan Ghimire.        

The “Earth Anthem” is a soulful ditty — simple and touching in its childlike appeal for unity: "Our cosmic oasis, cosmic blue pearl/the most beautiful planet in the universe/our cosmic oasis, cosmic blue pearl/all the continents and the oceans of the world/united we stand as flora and fauna/united we stand as species of one earth/black, brown, white, different colours/we are humans, the earth is our home.
Our cosmic oasis, cosmic blue pearl/the most beautiful planet in the universe/our cosmic oasis, cosmic blue pearl/all the people and the nations of the world/all for one and one for all,/united we unfurl the blue marble flag/black, brown, white, different colours/we are humans, the earth is our home”.

In a memoir article about the making of the song, Abhay K. recalls, “One summer evening in Delhi, a motley group of people gathered at Azad Bhavan, the headquarters of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), as well as Mandi House on Copernicus Road. It is near ITO, a little far from the comfort zone of Delhi’s cultural elite. The summer evening was made special by the presence of two erudite Union ministers — Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor. They had gathered to listen to the anthem for our home planet, Earth, sung by Shreya Sotang, singer from Nepal, with music composed by Sapan Ghimire and written by your’s truly.”

The first draft of the lyrics of this song was written while Abhay was posted in St Petersburg in Russia at the Consulate General of India. “I don’t remember exactly what inspired me to write an anthem for our planet but in those days, I had just started painting. One of my first paintings was of our planet earth — shining like a blue pearl surrounded by dark space.”

The idea of an Earth Anthem was received with “enthusiasm” by UNESCO. “We find the idea of having an Earth Anthem a creative and inspiring thought which could contribute to bringing the world together,” the United Nations said in response of the poet’s submission.    

The poet, a winner of SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) prize for literature in 2013, has been striving to espouse regional solidarity with cultural interventions for the last few years— since his return to the sub-continent from Russia. Last year, Abhay penned an SAARC anthem in nine regional languages that includes Nepali, Bangla, Pashtu, Urdu, Hindustani, Dzongkha, Sinhala and English.

The anthem explores the idea of a greater geographical and cultural one-ness despite the borders — physical, cultural diplomatic and sovereign — which divide the sub-continent.

The song runs such: Himalaya theke Hinda Sagor,Naga Hills theke Hindukush (Bangla)
Mahaweli inn Ganga, Sindhu inn Brahmputra 
Lakshadweep, Andaman, Everest, Adam's Peak 
Kabul Lay Thimphu Tsuen, Male Lay Kathmandu 
Dilli sita Dhaka, Colombin, Islamabad                     
Harek paila saath-saath,Harek paila saath-saath  
Dzongkha, Hindi, Nepali,Bangla, Pashto, Sinhala 
Urdu, English, Dhivehi,Har kadam saath-saath,
Har kadam saath-saath
Apni-apni pehchan, apne-apne arman                    
Shanti ki baat-baat, Har kadam saath-saath         
Har kadam SAARC saath, Har kadam saath-SAARC
Har kadam SAARC saath,Har kadam saath-SAARC.

“It is played across all the radio stations and television channels in Nepal,” Abhay K. said.    

Art and poetry are interwoven in the romance of Abhay K. poetry that “addresses history, society and transformation of the world — tempered with personal observations about life”.  His poetry traces its beginning to painting — a vocation he took to with seriousness during his tenure in Moscow.

A new collection of his poetry, “Seductions of Delhi: Poems from the Seven Cities of Delhi”, searches the soul of the ancient capital — journeying across the layers of civilization built around seven historical settlements dating back to the era of Mahabharata — with 20 poems and 20 corresponding paintings of the historical landmarks of the capital. The volume, a collaboration between Abhay K.and an India-based Italian artist Tarshito, is “history told in poems and its impressionistic visual interpretation”, the poet explained.

“I have come across several tomes about the history of the capital; but none has ever tried to chronicle the odyssey of Delhi in poetry and paintings. The history of the capital has always been narrated in prose. I felt that a poetic document of the capital’s history and its cosmopolitan sensitivities as the political power centre would appeal to readers as an innovative literary alternative,” Abhay K. explained.      

Abhay, a native of Bihar, has experienced “different phases” as a poet to colour his poetry in emotional diversities touching upon the soulful, spiritual, lyrical, passionate and the philosophical.  
Poets go through different phases of poetry writing, usually starting with love poems, evolving continuously thereafter. My first poem 'The Soul Song' was spiritual though-
"I was always here as blowing wind or falling leaves, as the shining sun or flowing streams...I was never born, I didn't die,’” Abhay K. said.  

His “Moscow-St. Petersburg poems were a mix of poems on love, nature, relationships, life, death, immortality which were published one after another as four poetry collections- ‘Enigmatic Love’, ‘Fallen Leaves of Autumn’, ‘Candling the Light and Remains”, the poet said. After returning from Russia to India, Abhay K “felt that the places, people and the monuments of Delhi wanted to speak to through me, so he became their voice and wrote what they whispered to him”.

“My forthcoming collection of poems ‘Seduction of Delhi’ is a tribute to my beloved Delhi, its seven cities. My poem Delhi attempts to capture the essence of Delhi over millennia-
"My smell, my nakedness entices hordes of human flesh, traders, emperors, marauders. I pose nude up on the hill, below the feast of eagles, possessed, intoxicated,’" the poet said, explaining the nuances of his Delhi inspirations and its word manifest.    

Abhay’s writing in Nepal has further evolved because of his travels in the Himalayas. “My poems have become minimalist like my art works bringing unfamiliar entities together and synthesizing new relationships, giving new meanings. Here is a new poem Triptych that I wrote in Nepal-
"Quark of a poet, blossoming in the sub-atomic space, writing the uni-verse.
 A robot dreamt that it was fast asleep and dreaming.
Story of the man written in acidic double helix, where the soul hides?"

Poetry has redefined itself, Abhay said. “Poetry earlier used to mean verses written in rhyme, metre and forms. Poetry now can be written without all these, just like prose but with a higher degree and level of intensity. However, one thing that has not changed is the use of figures of speech-metaphors, images that gives poetry its uniqueness, its own identity which is distinct from prose,” he pointed out.

Post the World War II, “Poetry also gained freedom from the tyranny of rhyme, metre and form. It does not mean that contemporary poets should not know about these, as those who break the rules, should know the rules even better,” he said.

-Madhusree Chatterjee

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