Can poetry reconcile people of different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds to each other? Can poetry heal the wounds left behind by conflict and wipe away the tears? Can poetry build bridges and bond people together?
Professor K. Satchithanadan of Delhi University, one time secretary of the prestigious Sahitya Academy of India, had no direct answers but made it clear that poetry gave voice to the voiceless, power to challenge injustice and oppression and pricked the conscience of humanity. This message of humanity was conveyed by him and a team of Sri Lankan poets, So Pathmanathan from Jaffna, Ariyawansa Ranaweera from Colombo, and myself from Kandy. Led by him, we visited three higher institutions of learning- namely the University of Peradeniya, the Eastern University and the University of Sabaragamuwa, Belihuloya.
The three poets represented the three languages used in Sri Lanka- Sinhala, Tamil and English. Significantly, they were bilingual and bonded with each other culturally and aesthetically. Above all they shared the enthusiasm to reach out to each other and facilitate others to reach out to them and to each other. The three contexts in which this sensitizing and humanizing activity took place were well selected in terms of background, audience and response. They also formed a cross section of the Sri Lankan population Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim. At the University of Peradeniya something akin to this session had been done by Professor Rajiva Wijesinha when his book ‘Mirrored Images’ was made familiar to the academic community and the alumni there. But this session had vertical proportions in that the participant audience comprised senior academics, academics and students. The audience was participatory and as was to be expected critical. Professor Satchithanandan took them on intellectually as well as poetically. He raised awareness through his very erudite lecture, taking the audience through the ages from Ramayana to Faustus, from Neruda to modern poets who write poetry of violence. He charmed with his recital of his own poetry. He showed without doubt the power of poetry.
Prof Satchitanandan speaking at Nalliah Auditorium – Batticaloa.
Three Sri Lankan poets travelled with Prof Satchitanandan, former Chief Executive of the Indian Sahitya Academy, to three different universities for extended poetry programmes. Prof Satchitanandan, a distinguished writer and critic and translator spoke about Indian poetic traditions and also about his work, from which he read to great audience appreciation. This was followed by a discussion involving So Pathmanathan, Ariyawansa Ranaweera and Kamala Wijeratne about Sri Lankan poetry, based on their contributions to ‘Mirrored Images’, the collection of English, Sinhala and Tamil Poetry that had been published by the National Book Trust of India. Prof Amarakeerthi Liyanage who had also contributed to the book participated in the discussion at Peradeniya University, while Dr Major Ariyaratne and Mahinda Pathirana who had supplied translations took part at Sabaragamuwa University in Belihuloya.
Audience at Eastern University
In Batticaloa the meeting was held at the Fine Arts Department and was attended by local writers as well as students and staff.
Prof Satchitanandan’s visit was sponsored by the Indo-Sri Lanka Foundation, and the tour was facilitated by the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration. Many ideas about the important role literature could play in bringing people together were raised in the discussion which Prof Satchitanandan chaired, with invaluable contributions from the panellists who had wide experience through their work as teacher educators and, in the case of Mr Ranaweera, Secretary to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. The need to promote training of translators was stressed by all, and it is hoped that the Ministry will be able to take
Mirrored Images, an anthology of Sri Lankan poetry, edited by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha and published by the National book Trust of India, New Delhi, was launched at the Indian Cultural Centre, Gregory’s Road, Colombo, on 20th of September. The function was presided over by His Excellency Y.K.Sinha, High Commissioner of India for Sri Lanka. Hon. Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Minister of National Languages and Social Integration, M.A.Sikander, Director, National Book Trust of India and Mr.Claude Martinez of the Alliance Francaise de Kotte, were the Guests of Honour.
In his address, H.E. Y.K.Sinha mentioned about the cultural ties between the two countries and stressed the need for translations in order to enhance the understanding between people of different tongues. Prof.Rajiva Wijesinha, while welcoming the guests and audience said that his intention is to showcase Sri Lankan poetry in all three languages since independence. He also appreciated all those who supported him in his endeavour. The book was launched by the Hon. Minister by handing over the first copy to H.E. the High Commissioner. The speeches by Hon.Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Mr.M.A.Sikander and Mr.Martinez were followed by the recital of poems from the anthology by poets Anne Ranasinghe, Ariyawansa Ranaweera, So.Pathmanathan and Ayathurai Santhan.