Apriler Poddo Paath 2011: A poetry recitation event in Boston

Maswood Alam Khan from Maryland, USA
In his youthful days, Sunil Gangopadhyay, the legendary writer in Bangla, composed a poem—the very first in his life—with a kind of a naughty intention to win the heart of a sweet lady who was a poetess herself. One day the young poetess stopped writing poetry and then mysteriously disappeared, leaving Sunil shattered, his heart broken. But, magnetised by the poetess’s beauty and inspired by her poetry and perhaps jilted that he could not win her as his fiancée, Sunil felt an indomitable zeal for poetry. That infatuation in his adolescence for a damsel and her poetry probably catapulted Sunil Gangopadhyay on the upward trajectory in the literary world to become a prolific writer authoring more than 250 books, full of prose and poetry, in a great variety of genres. No wonder Sunil Gangopadhyay declared poetry to be his “first love”.

Badiuzzaman Khan Nasim, my friend who is a little senior to me by age, was and still is the envy of me; I envy his elegant prose whenever he describes anything. I tried in vain to mimic the syntax he uses while referring to an excerpt from a Tagore’s poem or articulating a joke that he always marinates with literary spices. He uses minimum number words to explain a mountain of ideas. By nature, he is a soft-spoken man. He is an intrinsic poet since his childhood. He is a pleasant personality of rare quality. He is always eager to help out his friends with any problem. He is a patriot, always ready to sacrifice anything for Bangladesh and Bangabandhu. A student of psychology and now working as a professional in the mental health department of a hospital in Boston, Nasim has been living in America with his family for the last 25 years.

Nasim and I were good friends when we both used to live at Gandaria in Dhaka. We would spend time mostly outside of our houses. My parents didn’t like my gossiping away with friends. So, whenever—at morning, noon or afternoon—I got a chance, I would sneak into the road near our house to chat with Nasim or other friends surreptitiously under the shade of a mango tree that grew inside my house but extended its prolific branches over the road providing shade like an umbrella. It was in the early 1970s. One day, under the mango tree, I asked him: “What is your hobby, Nasim?” Without waiting for a split second he replied: “Sleeping”.

Yes, ‘Sleeping’ is still a hobby Nasim has doggedly been pursuing. But ‘poetry’ is a passion with him. For the last five years he has been actively involved in nurturing a love of Bangla poetry in people living in America whose mother tongue is Bangla. He wants American children of Bangladesh origin to feel proud of Bangla, their ancestors’ mother tongue. He encourages his friends and neighbours to get together along with their family members, especially their children, to participate in poetry recitation programmes on different occasions like Ekushey February.

Badiuzzaman Khan Nasim, Dr. Gouri Datta, Abdullah Shibli and Dr. Mansiha Roy along with some likeminded Bangladeshi and Bangla-speaking Americans living in Boston organise an annual festival called “Apriler Poddo Paath” (APP), a poetry reciting event. Mostly Bangladeshis and Bengalis from the state of West Bengal in India, guests of varied backgrounds and different mother tongues from different parts of the USA come to Boston to participate in this springtime festival. Some invitees recite their self-composed poems while others read out poems composed by famous poets. And the rest of the guests are simply listeners; they splurge their time in a poetry environment, in a relaxed ambience of literary fragrance. “Apriler Poddo Paath” is organised jointly by Lekhoni and Bhin-Golardho, two literary societies based in Boston.

This year “Apriler Poddo Paath” was held on a Saturday, the 17th of April, in Danvers, near Boston. It was an ornate community hall room of an apartment complex where guests gathered to participate in the poetry recitation event that started after lunchtime and lasted out until when the evening was falling. Besides residents from in and around Boston, a great number of guests also travelled all the way from Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut to attend this annual festival. Sumit Nag was the main coordinator for the event. An eloquent speaker by nature, Sumit presented his scholarly introduction on poetry, delving deep into poetry’s impact on our life and its academic quality in enhancing erudition and ensuring peace and tranquility.

About 28 participants recited poetry on the occasion. Satyapro Sarkar read out a number of poems including one composed by former president of Bangladesh H. M. Ershad. Abdullah Shibli, an economist of great repute and also a prodigy in the field of computer science, and coincidentally my classmate at Dhaka College, who was another envy of mine and thousands of my classmates for his securing the first position in the combined merit list of SSC examinees of 1967 batch, also participated in reciting poems. Shibli read out poems written by Rabindranath Tagore, the pride and joy of Bangla speaking people and by Dean Young, a modern English poet. Badiuzzaman Khan Nasim read his own self-composed poem “Porajito Postman”, a poignant tale of a wanderer. Sajal Banarjee read out one of his own compositions: “Ekti Chkurir Shondhaney”. Jayanta Nag read from verses of Khan Mohammad Farabi who was a promising poet before he died an immature death. Nasreen Shibli recited “Gaahi Shammer Gaan”, the famous piece by our national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. Many others read out many more poems.

The poetry reading festivity was followed by a short music session where Nasreen Shibli, Bulbul Chakraborty, Kazi Belal, Sujata Bhattacharya, Sumit Nag, Shanta Nag and Jayanti Bandopadhaya sang a variety of songs making this year’s APP especially memorable.

April in America is National Poetry Month when poetry is celebrated in order to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry. National Poetry Month is regularly being celebrated in the United States since 1996 at the initiative of the Academy of American Poets. In the Poetry Month, books of poetry are distributed for free. Each year, important buildings are illuminated with colourful lights and a special poster is commissioned by the Academy of American Poets for National Poetry Month, with thousands of free copies distributed. During this month, publishers, booksellers, educators and literary organizations promote poetry and release their poetry titles. Teachers and librarians motivate students and readers in reading and composing poetry and developing their creative minds.

Poetry is a literary art in which the magic of language is used for aesthetic appreciation of our feelings through some inner meaning in the compositions of poems that can be fathomed out by only enlightened minds. Poetry evokes a poet in everybody. We all are basically poets, some are active and the rest are dormant; some of us can express our poetic feelings in rhymes and words and most of us can only feel the expression of those who can translate their feelings into words. That is the difference between the best known poets like Rabindranath Tagore or Sunil Gangopadhyay and we, the common readers and appreciators of their golden works.

We salute Lekhoni and Bhin-Golardho for their noble joint initiative in instilling love of poetry into Americans, especially Bangladeshi Americans, and their children. We hope, “Apriler Poddo Paath” in Boston will grow into a banyan tree-like umbrella offering shade to those who would gather in Boston each year in the month of April to satiate their minds thirsty for poetry.

E-mail: maswood@hotmail.com