- Poetry connects us as humans, sometimes moving us to action, and other times to releases the joy or tears within.
Growing up in Delhi, at the Convent school I attended, I heard a beautiful uplifting Hindi song ‘hum honge kaamyaab, ek din, man me hai vishwas, pura hai vishwas, hum honge kaamyaab, ek din’. In 1986, as a new immigrant, living on the East Coast of America, I was visiting a friend in Atlanta. On our day out as tourists exploring the city, we came across a public event where I heard the same tune from my school years in India. A bunch of young adults was singing “We shall overcome, someday, deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome.” I was moved by the way music has the power to move us.
I remember thinking to myself, “These Americans have done a very good job of translating that Hindi song from my childhood.” It would take several more years for me to learn the history of this anthem of the civil rights movement. Even more years would be needed for my ignorance to be removed about the way Mahatma Gandhi has played a role in inspiring Martin Luther King, Jr., who visited India to pay tribute to Gandhi.
In 2019, on Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, I heard this same song again, sung in both Hindi and English, at Stanford University, in the Memorial Church. I was seated in a pew just behind Gandhi’s grandson Dr. Rajmohan Gandhi, and his wife. The occasion was part of the closing ceremonies for the Gandhi King Global Initiative Conference of change-makers from around the world. Amongst the attendees, the special guests included the descendants of Gandhi, King and Ceaser Chavez. For some unknown reason, hearing it performed there, at the end of an inspiring conference, gave me goosebumps and my tears flowed freely.
Finding justice with nonviolent means, like nation-building, takes multiple generations. Prof. Clayborne Carson, the host of the conference, had gathered an eclectic group of global change-makers, with high school students and three generations of Gandhi, King and Chavez family members, all of who have bravely dedicated their lives to nonviolent ways to confront injustice. Their stories were difficult to hear, as they spoke of suffering. Their courage and endurance to confront unjust systems and build peace, showcased how it is not a passive activity.
It is often thankless labor of love with great personal risk. They are such a threat to those who hold power through violent means is evident in the fact that both Gandhi and King were assassinated. At the conference, Ela Gandhi, who lives and works in South Africa and Yolanda Renee King, then just ten years old, spoke with the same gentle passion of being committed to values and work that simply must be done. It is best done in small circles, in your own or neighbor’s living rooms, through building deeply committed connections.
This year, 2022, the nonviolent power of love is evident as we mourn the loss of India’s nightingale Lata Mangeshkar and the inimitable Bappi Lahiri. Multiple generations of Indians have been touched by their songs. Every year, on India’s Republic Day, all who come from around the world to watch the parade on Raj Path in New Delhi are reminded by Lata’s voice with the song ‘jo shaeed hue hain unki, zara yaad karo qurbani’ (remember the sacrifices of those who have been martyred).
Art, be it song, music or poem, has the power to unite people across the world. It conveys something all cultures get in a very embodied way, beyond the mind, beyond the words or even reason. It connects us as humans, sometimes moving us to action, and other times to releases the joy or tears within. It consoles us like an old friend. May we each find the magic of song, music, dance, poems, visual arts and learn to unite as humans. A few of us who have been gathering as a circle of poetry lovers who read poems out loud to each other, as the Poetry of Diaspora of Silicon Valley, have members who are hosting a poetry slam in San Jose to celebrate Black History Month. Register to attend here.
Dr. Jyoti Bachani is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is the founder of the group Poetry of Diaspora of Silicon Valley. She translates Hindi poems and edited a poetry anthology called “The Memory Book of the Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley.” She is a former Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, with degrees from London Business School, UK, Stanford, USA, and St. Stephen’s College, India. She is the founder of the U.S. and India chapters of the International Humanistic Management Association.