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Posted at: Dec 10, 2017, 2:06 AM; last updated: Dec 10, 2017, 2:06 AM (IST)

Indian metre, Brazilian echoes

The literary connection between the two countries has a much-celebrated history... and a vibrant present with Indian and Brazilian poets raising a toast to each other’s verses

Shelly Bhoil

Have you ever sipped words? Seems like an implausible idea until you hold a cup of tea and listen to poetry. You won’t even realise when words do a sugar in your cup. You keep refilling it wherever you go with poetry. Poet-diplomat Abhay K, this time, poured some for himself and a few others in Brazil.

After Poetry at Monuments in Delhi and Poemandu in Kathmandu, Abhay has founded yet another literary space Cha com Letras (Tea with Words) in Brazil where he is currently posted as India’s Deputy Chief of Mission.

The 19th edition of Cha com Letras had renditions by three Indian poets who were invited to Brazil as a part of the Festival of India recently. It was a befitting arrangement after the recent revival of the poetry link between India and Brazil through the homage paid to Cecilia Meireles by the Indian Embassy. The poetry of Meireles, a Brazilian with an Indian soul, is replete with references to Indian cities, culture and philosophies of Gandhi and Tagore. In her Elegy for Gandhi, she wrote: ‘You were, in fact, the only without guns, without pockets, without lies/ unarmed up to the veins, free from the eve and the next day.’ Meireles has to her credit one of the finest translations of Tagore’s poetry into Portuguese.

Rabindranath Tagore is the first known poetry connection between India and Brazil. He had travelled in Latin America in 1924 on the behest of the Peruvian government. While he could never make it to Lima on account of ill health, he had an eventful rendezvous in Argentina with his host, Victoria Ocampo. She became his long distant muse. He gave her the name Vijaya and dedicated to her his collection Purabi. As a Noble laureate, Tagore had become a non-European model to the literati in Latin America who were emerging from the cultural dominance of Europe. He, along with Gandhi, had a significant bearing on several Latin writers including Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, and Octave Paz. There is even a school named after Tagore in Rio de Janerio.

It was no coincidence during the Festival of India that the Telugu poet Shiva Reddy opened his speech with a recitation of Tagore’s poem, Where The Mind is Without Fear. Besides Reddy from Andhra Pradesh, Sahitya Akademi had also handpicked Monalisa Jenna from Odisha, and Shafi Shauq from Kashmir to represent the rich linguistic and regional diversity of India in Brazil. Jenna, who read out several legend-based poems, reflected on the importance of regional languages in sustaining the spirit of Indian literature. Shauq, giving an overview of Indian literature in past and present, harped on the importance of inter-lingual translations in connecting the subcontinent. And Reddy spoke from his first-hand experience of the concomitant rise of literary and political movements in India in its recent history.

Organised by the Embassy of India in association with the Ministry of Culture of India to commemorate 70 years of Indian independence, the Festival of India was a ‘travelling festival.’ The invited poets and artists presented their works in three cities of Brazil — Brasilia, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. 

In Brazil, where Indian immigrants are just a few hundred, it is difficult to come across an Indian writer.The only possible exceptions are Nimmi Ramanathan, who is the author of The Name Game: A Romantic Comedy, and Joana Julia Mascarenhas, one of the earliest Indian immigrants in Brazil, who wrote a collection of short stories titled Arco Iris. R Venugopal, the head of Chancery, considers the gathering of Indian poets during the Festival of India in Brazil a historic moment, which must propel a vibrant exchange between the two countries in the literary field. 

Significant steps have been initiated in promoting Indian literature by Regiane Ramosfrom BRINDARC (the Brazilian Association of Indian Studies) and Hélder Garmes’s from Thinking Goa, an archival research project that is dedicated to Indian literature in Portuguese, English, Konkani, and Marathi. A glimpse at the inventory of Goa’s literary heritage of Indo-Portuguese origin can be seen in the forthcoming anthology, A House of Many Mansions, edited by Paul Melo E Castro and Cielo G Festino. 

Contemporary Indian poets like Manglesh Dabral have been made known in Brazil through translations by Prof Dilip Loundo.The forthcoming Portuguese edition of 100 Great Indian Poems, edited by Abha., and translated by prolific writers and academics in Brazil such as John Milton, Virna Teixeira and Luci Collins would act as a historic continuum to the momentum of Indian literary spirit that was first brought to Brazil through the poems of Tagore.


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