A Poem for CRY is a collection of the favorite poems of famous Indians from around the globe. The sweep of contributors-politicians, writers, sportspersons, actors, industrialists and musicians-and the range of poems they have selected, some perennial favorites, others not so well known, most in English, a few from Indian languages make this an eclectic and stimulating collection. The poems are also a reflection of the 'commitments and priorities' of the people who have chosen them.
CRY (Child Rights and You) has always championed the cause of disadvantaged children in India. Avanti Maluste and Sudeep Doshi, inspired by their love for poetry and the need to make a positive difference in the lives of these children, worked for over two years to put this book together. Buying it, for yourself or to gift, allows you to support CRY and its important work for the underprivileged children of India.
In 1979, Rippan Kapur , a young airline purser, along with six of his friends decided they has to do something for the countless disadvantaged children whose lives they could no longer ignore. Starting with a mere Rs 50, they laid the foundation for CRY (Child Right and You), which has today become the largest movement for child rights in India.
CRY believes that every child has the right to be educated, to be healthy, and to be free from neglect or abuse, to revel in the joy of Childhood. In Twenty-Seven years CRY with the support of more than 100,000 individuals and organizations has restored the rights of 1.37 million Indian children. To join this movement log on to www.cry.org
Avanti Maluste, who attended the Cathedral and John Connon School in Mumbai, is currently at Columbai University , New York
Sudeep Doshi was at St Paul’s School in Landon and is now an undergraduate at Princeton University, New Jersey
'All a poet can do today is warn,' wrote Wilfred Owen, who captured so very well the sadness of human lives amidst violence and war. The tragedy of violence is made even more unbearable by its glorification, which is used so effectively by the architects of violence, particularly in recruiting foot-soldiers for savagery. Since we encounter exaltation of brutality more or less continuously in the turbulent world in which we-and our children-live, it is good to see among the poems selected for this anthology for CRY, Owen's bitter but visionary poem, 'Dulce et Decorum est' (selected by
My friend, you will not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro Patria Mori.
Horace's rousing endorsement of the honour of death for (or allegedly for) one's country translates easily into similar celebrations of the imagined honour of dying-and killing others-tor one's religion or community and other mesmerizing causes. The evocative appeal of such sentiment is devastatingly used today, as in the past, to entrap the young in a modernized magnification of the nasty ways of the old. Owen's warning has as much contemporary relevance right now as it had when he himself was facing the horrors of the First World War which would ultimately take his own life.
This is a wonderful collection of poems, and I must take the opportunity to express my appreciation of the imaginative initiative taken by Avanti Maluste and Sudeep Doshi-and their collaborators -in producing this collection, through involving people in active selection. The poems are of interest not only for the merits of the poems themselves, but also for telling us something about the commitments and priorities of the selectors that are reflected in their choices. We live not only by our own thoughts formulated in isolation, but also by the ideas and phrases of others that resonate and move us.
Wilfred Owen's mother, Susan, wrote to Rabindranath Tagore in 1920, describing her son's final departure for the war that would eventually cost him his life. Through the nastiness of the desolation of war, young Wilfred could still see the beauty of nature and civilization. He went to war 'looking towards the sun-glorified sea- looking towards France'. Susan Owen told Rabindranath that Wilfred said good-bye with 'those wonderful words of yours-beginning at "When I go from hence, let this be my parting word".' When the pocket book of her dead son, recovered in the battlefield, was sent to
Susan Owen, she found (she wrote to Tagore) 'these words written in his dear writing - with your name beneath’.
If one can find the right poems, quoting someone else can be as much an expression of one's deeper self as anything one can write oneself. This is a remarkable collection not only for the beauty and reach of the poems themselves, but also for what it tells us about many people who have been active in one walk of life or another, since the selections allow us to have a quick peek into their minds. When, to take one example, Shyam Benegal quotes W.H. Auden's description of sycophancy and blindness that underpin tyranny ('When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,! And when he cried the little children died in the streets '), he tells us not only about the political dejection of the once rhapsodic Auden, nor only about the violence and repression in which the world has been caught for so long, he gives us also a glimpse of the dedication that can move a creative artist like Benegal to portray predicaments and defiance with such skill and vision.
The poems selected have other interests as well, and some can arouse rather extensive reflection. Consider, for example, Pandit Ravi Shankar's choice of a Bengali poem-uncompromisingly presented without translation-by Rabindranath Tagore, summoning 'inner development' that makes us awake ('jagroto '), uplifted (,uddoto') and fearless (,nirbhoy'). This, in fact, has an aesthetic reach that is worth noting, since Tagore's innovative use of the Bengali language is a subject in which even those who cannot read Bengali can have general intellectual interest. Anyone familiar with the spectacular battle scenes in the Mahabharata (in Sanskrit or in translation) would, of course, know how often various weapons-arrows, spears, maces-are 'uplifted' ('udyata' in Sanskrit, reduced to 'uddoto' in Bengali) in readiness for use. But Rabindranath's transfer of that epithet to describe the need for human beings to uplift themselves-and to be ready-had not been, I believe, common in Bengali earlier. It is, to be sure, common enough now, and Ravi Shankar's selection gives us the occasion to remember how often Tagore not only presented new ideas, but also helped develop the language for their expression. That Shakespeare did this often enough in English is well recognised, but there is some scope for a fuller understanding of how Rabindranath did this too. It may also help to explain a little the aesthetic as well as intellectual loyalties that Tagore evokes in Bangladesh and east India (something that readers elsewhere often find so mystifying).
The power of Rabindranath's ideas is indeed well celebrated outside as well as inside his Bengali habitat, but in terms of language and literature, the reception of Rabindranath in the English media has been persistently problematic, largely because of the fact that subtleties of language are so hard to preserve in translating poetry. It is, therefore, nice to find what can be seen as a balancing act in Ravi Shankar's choice of a Bengali poem without the compromise of translation: there is also some delicious irony in finding such a marvelous example of graceful parochialism by the most universalist of our great musicians.
Tagore's poems, quoted in English, do of course frequent these pages, because of the force and relevance of his ideas. I was happy and also amused to see that one of my favorite poems of all time (Tagore's invocation of freedom and openness 'Where the Mind Is Without Fear') was selected by no less than a dozen contributors: Tariq Ansari, Rahul Bajaj, Nana Chudasma, Aamir Khan, Anand Patwardhan, Aruna Roy, Prannoy Roy, Mallika Sarabhai, Viren Shah, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Kavita Krishnamurthy Subramaniam, and Shannila Tagore. When I quoted the same poem in the remarks I had to make at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm in 1998, I was aware that Subramanyan Chandrasekhar, the magnificent astrophysicist, had quoted it already in his own Nobel Banquet speech in 1983. Bowing to his precedence (not to mention his overwhelming intellectual superiority), I ended up, in fact, quoting Chandrasekhar's quoting of Tagore.
The poems have evocative appeals of other kinds as well. Since I have read Kaifi Azmi only in translation, it is nice to have the opportunity of reading one of his poems in Devnagari script, selected by his daughter Shabana. But equally importantly, the occasion of the poem, the funeral procession of Jawaharlal Nehru, reminds us of a piercing moment in Indian history. Personally, it took me back to that day in the summer of 1964 in Bangkok, where I was then giving some lectures, when an Egyptian doctor who was in the same hotel came and gave me the news, in a voice drowned in misery. It took me back to that political world of the beginning of an alliance of the poor and the non-aligned in the world, in which India was acting together with Egypt and Ghana (an implausible combination, except in this one respect), where Nehru's leadership was widely celebrated.
It is fashionable now to see Nehru as the author of many blunders that have occurred in India. Even if there are some elements of plausibility in those admonishments, it is quite absurd not to see the power of Nehru 's large vision for India, combined with his global commitment, which informed Nehru's understanding of the future of India (something that had moved my Egyptian acquaintance so much). Not least of that commitment was to try to bring modem science and technology to the young of poor countries like India, of which the early Indian Institutes of Technology, which were very much the results of Nehru's initiative, were a part. To celebrate India's current success in globalized technology without looking into the imaginative developments that have made this success possible is to miss out a critically important link. Kaifi Azmi's message about children holding 'the future in their hands' is a huge vision, of which some parts are easily seen (like internet cafes right across the country), while other parts have remained obscure and neglected, in great need of a fuller understanding and cultivation (like transforming our 'country of first boys' into a nation where every child receives a decent education).
I must not go on, evocative as this collection of poems is. It is a privilege for me to be associated with this wonderful joint effort on behalf of a great organization which does so much to help precarious and vulnerable children. So I end by expressing my appreciation of the two editors and, of course, of CRY itself, but also by thanking all those who have participated in this engaging collaborative effort to put poems together. As the beautiful poem of Pablo Neruda (chosen by Shobhaa De) says, 'being alive requests a much bigger effort than the simple fact of breathing. 'That effort, for us and for others, not only needs support, but also some enthusiastic celebration.
The motivating antecedent for this book was Lifelines, a bestseller during the 1980s. Lifelines was the brainchild of a group of students from Wesley College in Dublin who, over several years, collected poems from global celebrities for the benefit of charities around the world.
CRY-Child Rights and You-has for over twenty-five years championed the cause of underprivileged children in India. We grew up supporting this cause, and wanted to make a positive difference that could not merely be written off as a paycheck. With the success of Lifelines to guide us, a similar venture evolved, involving prominent Indians and the objective of donating the royalties from the sale of the book to CRY.
CRY especially then chief executive Pervin Varma and her successor Ingrid Srinath, were enthusiastic about making the book a reality. After Penguin India graciously agreed to play publisher, we had a firm foundation for the project. Next, came the sometimes daunting task of tracking down and requesting India's prominent citizens for their poems.
We began at the very apex; with the president of India, Dr A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, who promptly responded with one of his own poems. This was just the impetus we needed: spurred, we wrote, e-mailed, phoned, and even met more than three hundred Indians around the globe with the help and support of CRY, our families and friends.
The project gained momentum over the next two years, and persistence saw the manuscript materialize. The eclectic collection of poetry reflects the sweep and diversity of contributors: politicians, authors, sportsmen, entrepreneurs, industrialists, musicians and artists. Each donated a touching, often profound response dedicated to a common cause. Unfortunately, some notable names are missing from this roster, some because they were inaccessible, and others simply said that they did not have a favorite poem. To those who did contribute, however, we are sincerely grateful. Perhaps most notably, we would like to thank Amartya Sen, who, while traversing continents fielded an endless stream of e-mails and found the time to pen the moving forward that captured the heart of this project and even (we dare say) validated it.
This anthology that you hold is the result of the hard work of dozens of people. Ultimately, we hope it conveys the richness of the art of poetry and a fleeting glimpse into the minds of some of the people that make India proud, because, as W. H. Auden said in In Memory ofWB. Yeats (1940):
'F or poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth. '
By buying this book, for your bookshelf or as a gift, you support CRY and the future of India's children. We are privileged to put it into your hands, and hope you enjoy reading this collection as much as we enjoyed compiling it.
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