A Malaysian Celebration of Diversity on World Poetry Day, by Dipika Mukherjee

March 21st, 2019 was World Poetry Day. For those of us lucky enough to be at
Lit Books that night in Malaysia, it was a feast of poetry at The Noise of Time - Readings on World Poetry Day.

Pusaka organized fourteen poets to read poetry in 11 languages (Malay, English, Mandarin, Bengali, Arabic, Persian, German, French, Spanish, Malayalam and Russian...with translations into English). Led by organizer and emcee Pauline Tan, the room resonated with the words of Omar Khayyam, Wang Wei, Paul Eluard, Cesar Vallejo, Else Lasker-Schüler, Bei Dao, Mallika Sengupta, Goenawan Mohamad and many other voices, both ancient and contemporary.

I chose to read a Bengali poem by Mallika Sengupta, translated brilliantly by Amit Mukerjee titled Prithibir Ma (Mother of the Universe):

Unbound, my hair spread over the sky
created dark stormclouds.
My green dhanekhali sari
became the lush fabric of forests.
Stealing the melody from my throat
birds chirped into morning song,
the babble of my words became
mother-tongues of vast populations.
My sweat mingling with menstrual blood
is the aroma of rain on the parched ground.
Nurtured by my hunger
tendrils of rice and wheat burst through the ground,
to bathe me were the rivers born
to dry me spreads the sunshine.
My anger made flintstones
flash the first flicker of fire.
My fierce need for love created man,
and into my body he burst his seed,
then, in my womb, was born this universe.

Amit Mukerjee is my brother, and this translation appears in his book, The Unsevered Tongue (Nandimukh Samsad; Calcutta, 2005). This is a book of Bengali women's poetry translated into English, and I am glad I was able to read this poem on World Poetry Day. This reading was especially bittersweet as the brilliant Amit Mukerjee -- Writer, Translator, Professor of Computer Science -- now lies in a vegetative state in New Delhi after an accident and cannot speak at all.

Dipika Mukherjee holds a PhD in English (Sociolinguistics) and is the author of the novels Shambala Junction, which won the UK Virginia Prize for Fiction, and Ode to Broken Things, which was longlisted for the Man Asia Literary Prize. She lives in Chicago and is affiliated to the Buffett Institute for Global Studies at Northwestern University and is Core Faculty at Story Studio Chicago.


Sandra Horn said…
Beautiful poem! Thank you for sharing it, Dipika!
Umberto Tosi said…
Would that I could have been there to hear you read this exquisite, lush, meaningful poem.
Ann Turnbull said…
What a beautiful poem - wonderful, strong images. And Dipika, I'm so very sorry to hear about what has happened to your brother.
Thank you Ann and Umberto and Sandra, for appreciating this poem. I absolutely love the strength and conviction in the words.

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