The Asia New Zealand Foundation kindly supported my travel to India this year, where Catalyst 16, Wireless Compassion, was first launched. The Foundation’s Arts Practitioners Fund gives support for experiential opportunities for New Zealand-based arts practitioners to deepen artistic and professional connections with Asia, including residencies, work placements, research tours and exchanges. I am very grateful to have the support of the foundation to enable me to have such and amazing experience.
It was an honour for me to be invited to represent New Zealand at the XXXIX World Congress of Poets (WCP), based on the theme “Compassion through Poetry” that was held from the 2nd to 6th of October 2019, at Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology and Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KIIT & KISS) in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India.
My invitation letter described the event as follows:
Based on the theme, “Compassion through Poetry”, World Congress of Poets in its XXXIX edition shall celebrate the power of poetry to create a more compassionate world. We are only as strong as is our compassion for those who are weak. For in strength must come the power of understanding and the wisdom to act with gentleness and kind concern for those who are not able to help themselves. Come, share your powerful thoughts and mighty words wrapped in an enigma, swathed in intimacy and gift yourself an “Ah-ha” experience, insight and revelation.
By assembling together at the spiritual land of India, historical state of Odisha, and path breaking educational institutions called KIIT and KISS, poets of the world will unite forming a single heart that beats for the love in our Universe and compassion for all.
Lectures from Nobel Laureates and book presentations will enrich us in this ever evolving genre. A perfect break from the academia of poetry, we shall dance and sing by the ocean and relive the history in the sun temple of Konark. The event will also be graced with the presence of authors, academicians and eminent personalities from all across the globe an amalgamation of literature, art, culture and tradition under one umbrella.
The Congress delivered all of this and more, with over 1,300 poets, and 700 youth poets participating, with representatives from 82 different countries.
The President of the XXXIX World Congress of Poets, Prof. Achyuta Samanta, is a Member of Parliament, India (Upper House), and the Founder of Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) and Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), Bhubaneswar – the fully free and fully residential tribal institute. He is known as an iconic educationist, an emblem of service to humanity, and a beacon of light for social transformation.
With huge contributions in the field of education, health, art, culture, literature, rural development, social service and spiritualism, his journey in life is awe-inspiring. His hobby is to give happiness and a smiling face to the millions of poor, and he has been working relentlessly for Zero Poverty, Zero Hunger, and Zero Illiteracy.
Professor Samanta started this initiative with just 5,000 rupees. Now 30,000 children are being fed three times a day, receiving free education and are housed on the campus. The Congress coincided with the 150th Birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, known in India as “the father of the nation,” who was born on October 2, 1869. His birthday is a major national holiday called Gandhi Jayanti, and it is marked with a prayer for peace, ceremonies and events throughout the country. The spirit of Gandhi was alive and well at the KIIT and KISS campuses, and the work being done is an inspiration. Professor Samanta is the embodiment of one of Gandhi’s famous quotes: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
We were graced to have the presence of The Honourable Vice President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu at the closing ceremony of the 39 World Congress of Poets. In his speech he made reference to the to the famous Mark Twain quote “This is indeed India”, when he described India as: the country of hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of traditions…
The highlight for me when participating in any conference, festival or congress such as this, is always the people. For the poets I have had the privilege to call my friends, this event felt like a family gathering, with our fellow poets being more like our brothers, and sisters. For the people of India, they treated me with such kindness and grace, and we were all blessed by their hospitality, with a blend of gentleness and respect.
The same quote by Mark Twain begins: “The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags.” For me India is a remarkable land of contrasts, which inspired me to write over 250 haiku and many longer poems during my two week visit.
Thank you to the Asia New Zealand Foundation for making this possible.
Kolkata, The City of Joy
Before and after the congress, I visited Kolkata, and managed to see a great deal in a short amount of time. I enjoyed seeing the sights such as the Howrah Bridge, Victoria Memorial, Indian Museum, Dakshineswar Kali Temple, Belur Math, Marble Palace Mansion, and it was fascinating to see the Kumartuli Potter’s Town at the start of my trip, as the idols of Durga and Demons were being crafted for Durga Puja. Durga Puja is an annual Hindu festival originating in the Indian subcontinent which reveres and pays homage to the Hindu goddess, Durga.
Highlights of my Kolkata tour included: Mother House, where the Tomb of Mother Teresa is present, and maintained by her missionaries and followers who have continued to promote her legacy; and Jorasanko Thakur Bari, the house in which the first non-European Nobel laureate and poet, Rabindranath Tagore was born.
I went further afield and visited the Sundarbans, a National Park, tiger reserve, and biosphere reserve in West Bengal, India. It is part of the Sundarbans on the Ganges Delta, and adjacent to the Sundarban Reserve Forest in Bangladesh. The delta is densely covered by mangrove forests, and is one of the largest reserves for the Bengal tiger. It is also home to a variety of bird, reptile and invertebrate species, including the salt-water crocodile. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site inscribed in 1987.
Jorasanko Thakur Bari, the house
in which the first non-European Nobel laureate and poet, Rabindranath Tagore was born.
During my stay in Kolkata, I met with a group of Bengali poets, some of whom were published in Catalyst 16. We had a performance together on 30 September at Debovhasa, an Art Gallery, Bookshop and Publishing House. It was wonderful to hear the poets read their work, and I was delighted to sing waiata in Te Reo Maori, and perform my poetry as well.
The event was hosted by Barnali Roy, a prominent editor, and translator of Bengali Literature. This event also marked the first in a series of launch events for Catalyst 16, including the 39 WCP, and a launch after my trip to India, at the monthly Catalyst Poetry Nights at the Space Academy in Christchurch.
Catalyst Volume 16 features the following seven poets from India:
Trina Chakraborti a Bengali writer, and an associate editor for a leading Bengali literary magazine, Yapanchitra.
Prabal Kumar Basu a prominent Bengali poet and editor, who was invited to the Writers in Residency program by The President of India to stay at Raisina Hills for two weeks as the President’s guest.
Dr. Santosh Kumar a poet, short-story writer, and editor from India. Editor of Taj Mahal Review, and Harvests of New Millennium Journals.
Philipose Michael, a Malayalam poet, and Film Song Writer from Kerala, who has won numerous awards for his poetry.
Jacob Isaac an award-winning and internationally acclaimed English poet. He is the founder, owner and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Good Shepherd Model High School in Marble Hall, South Africa.
Dr. Ramakanta Das, who received his Honorary Doctorate of Literature, and was named Poet Laureate at the 39 World Congress of Poets in Odisha.
P.L.Sreedharan Parokode who has published numerous books of poetry and has penned songs and poems for telefilm, professional dramas for the All India Radio.
After the Congress, I met with Prabal Kumar Basu, Trina Chakraborti and Barnali Roy, and we discussed further projects and opportunities to collaborate and publish Bengali Poets and New Zealand Poets together.
We then enjoyed a drive around Kolkata to see the pandals, stage and structural decorations, and temporary temples for Durga Puja. The festival is observed in the months of September-October and is a ten-day festival, of which the last five are of significance. The festival is also marked by scripture recitations, performance arts, revelry, gift giving, family visits, feasting, and public processions.
As per mythology, the festival marks the victory of goddess Durga in her battle against the shape-shifting demon, Mahishasura. Thus, the festival epitomises the victory of good over evil. Though the primary goddess revered during Durga puja is Durga, the celebrations also include other major deities of Hinduism such as Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha , and Kartikeya. In Bengali traditions, these deities are considered to be Durga’s children and Durga puja is believed to commemorate Durga’s visit to her natal home with her children.
The festival ends on the tenth day, when devotees embark on a procession, of rhythmic drumming, and music, carrying the worshipped clay sculpture-idols to a river, or other water body, and immerse them, symbolic of her return to the divine cosmos and her marital home with Shiva.
Kolkata is called the City of Joy, and I was certainly elated to witness this extraordinary festival, while enjoying the company of my fellow poets and friends, during a celebration I was privileged to enjoy.
Poet and Editor of Catalyst