dated 14September 2010
Finally a wave of fresh air. Our HOD announced with the utmost of strictness that if we did not attend this seminar, she will stop arranging seminars once and for all. Now seminars happen all throughout the month in the Dept. Of Comparative Literature but few of us ever attend them. When I joined this department, I had the good intention of attending almost every seminar that took place. However over the weeks, months, years, a lethargy (JUites refer to this as "lyadh khawa") grew and the seminars did not do anything to help. I mean while some of them were pretty good, most of them constituted of boring university professors who did nothing more than read from their typed papers.
Sometimes they were not even audible or clear enough! And they expected us to attend those seminars! In the midst of these event-less and dry seminars, we had a sudden wisp of fresh air when a certain poet from Malta came to lecture. His name is Cassar, Antoine Cassar. And I know, I make it sound like Bond, James Bond. But you guys should know that this post is going to be about this awesome man with a flair for the dramatic (at least that's how it seemed when he recited his multilingual poems).
He began by saying that his seminar was to promote his book, Passport which was a compilation of multilingual poems. Multilingual poems are poems written in more than one language. As a student of CL, I have always been intrigued by , how to say it, "joint ventures". So naturally this intrigued me. He began by saying he will not give us a series of boring lectures but simply read out some of his poems. His first poem was "Rabbit". He told us that we wouldn't understand all the languages employed to write this poem but we should simply go with the flow.
And it was... beautiful. The way he used different words (of different languages) to describe the sprinting, hopping and graceful jumping of the rabbit astounded us all. Who would have thought that so many different languages could have such similarity-- and that too in merely describing the sprint or hop of a little rodent?
And then he went to a poem from his book, Passport. It dealt with the tragic life of an illegal immigrant, who is speaking to a guest. The poem begins in the words of this immigrant who welcomes this guest. The word 'Welcome' alone was written in more than seven languages. Then this immigrant begins telling his story to the guest. He explains how they were a happy family with his wife and thirteen children. But one day they found their younger son lying on the field, his leg beside his hand. This sudden description of violence jolted us all. The room was full of students as well as eminent professors and all of us got a big shock.
The fact that this meek hospitable immigrant could speak of the violence meted out to his family so naturally astounded us all. But violence was a part of his life and so it was natural to him. The poet goes on with the poem where he talks of the other children in this immigrant's life. The poem concludes with the immigrant saying that he has been living in that piece of land for so many years, and then suddenly one morning, armed officials came to inform him that this land,was no longer his. "What am I supposed to do?" he asks regrettably. Reminds one of the days of Partition. People living in a place for years were suddenly asked to leave their homes as that place was no longer "their country" and all because the heads sitting in New Delhi drew borders with sketch pen on a paper map!
Mr.Cassar also went on to talk of the violence he had seen immigrants face. In his own words, he was form Malta which is a small country in Europe. But during his lifetime he had had to move a lot between England and Spain. This had also led to his interested fascination for multilingual poems. He spoke of the thousands of African immigrants who cross the hottest Sahara Desert every year, sometimes by jeep but most often by foot, so that they can enter Europe via Malta.
Sometimes, these immigrants are captured by the Maltese border force. They have to spend a year in judicial custody after which the government decides whether to send them back or allow them to stay. Most are allowed to stay. But sometimes they are sent back. Once they were sent back to their African nation and the government of that African country ordered the killing of all those civilians. Their fault: They had fled the country because they did not want to join the military, against the government's wishes. All 100 were killed.
Mr. Cassar also went on to speak about the harassments he had to face because he was from a small nation. With his light hearted touch of humor, he enacted two Bolivian guards who deliberately delayed his permit to the country because they had never heard of his country before. With a deep-set pain somewhere in his voice, he talked of the plight of belonging to a "small" nation; something that Indians will probably never have to deal with. His book Passport, was an attempt in this respect to envision an world, where people would matter more than sketch pens and paper maps; a place where people could travel and communicate freely to each other without any fear of getting shot. Which is precisely why Passport is a book of multilingual poems.
I realized that multilingual poetry was the next step of Comparative Literature. In a world where single literature disciplines have been deemed grossly inefficient of studying cross culture contact, may be literature written in more than one language was the only way we could finally develop a more harmonious way of looking at cultures. Keeping the multilingual and multicultural context of India in mind, multilingual literature becomes all the more important. The seminar left us a lot of food for thought and made us smile long after it had ended...