Poetry and the Brahmaputra: Flowing Back to Nature

Tess Joyce, England

Tess Joyce is a British poet and environmentalist, now based in Indonesia.

(Submitted by the author)

Three-fourths of philosophy and literature is the talk of people trying to convince themselves that they really like the cage they were tricked into entering. - Gary Snyder

I met Arnab Jan Deka in the wet monsoon months of 2009. In the beginning of our journey together in India, Arnab showed me around Guwahati and I learned more about his background – he had worked as a lawyer, engineer, government researcher, actor, project co-ordinator for an NGO and in his free time had written books, television scripts and directed films. I was inspired by his independent and proactive spirit; he was William Blake’s tiger - unwilling to be caged by an increasingly materialistic and unsustainable, global society. Driven by an acute awareness of social injustice and poverty, he was also alarmed about the destruction of his home – the natural world of Assam.

Through Arnab I learnt more about Indian philosophies including the Namaste greeting - in India, this gesture (of hands clasped together at the palms) recognises and respects the universe (Brahman) in the other being. I was now seeing the world and its people in a different light – Indian society seemed far less egocentric and was bonded by notions of respect. In India, (where people sat on each others’ laps in crowded buses) there was no such thing as ‘personal space’ or privacy because space wasn’t something you could own – you shared space in India. I soon realised that ‘privacy’ wasn’t a reality, but a concept instilled in me by my own society.

Experiencing another culture is one of many ways to become a more open-minded person – to pull the self out of the box and free the mind of concepts and judgements. Travelling in India and learning more about its ancient philosophies enabled me to become more ‘self-aware’ - I developed a greater respect for the universe within myself and within the other. Arnab was a great role-model, who showed me that we all have the potential to actualise our goals and dreams.

Every night, I would return to my dormitory and sketch details about my adventures in Assam before composing my poems. It was the only way I could capture how I felt in this new and mysterious land where everything – from the sights, smells, sounds and clothing to the food – felt new. One morning, Arnab asked whether I would like to translate his Assamese poetry into English and I mentioned that I had secretly composed my own poetry throughout my stay in India. This coincidence was completely unexpected and from that day forth we worked non-stop on the translations. On the 31st July 2009, our poetry book, A Stanza of Sunlight on the Banks of Brahmaputra was published by Spectrum Publications with all sale proceeds going to our awareness campaign: ‘Save the Brahmaputra River’.

At the time, we hoped that the poems might ignite our readers’ passions by showing exactly how we fell in love with the water. In one of my poems – Cherrapunji Zen, I described the process of jumping from a mountainside edge - the leap was of course metaphorical – a plunge into the great wilderness from the ledge of the ego. This state of mind – of complete trust in nature - began in India.

Written during his high school years, Arnab’s poems plunged the reader into further depths – into the midst of the universe itself and the riverine landscapes only served to increase the levels of complexity the narrator saw; we are left to realise that no-one is big enough to hold the universe and so:

Yet with no empty space left on the boat
the Universe sat quietly beside the reeds.

Imbibed with a sense of awe, the narrator’s desires for explanations disappeared – it was the poetry that satisfied him, hence:

On the bald head of the dusty earth
Ashwaklanta bestowed a stanza of sunlight.

But aside from the Brahmaputra’s poetic nature, in 2009 at the time of our campaign, the river was facing various threats including dumped waste, pollution, soil erosion at the banks and flooding, as well as threats to wildlife, including the endangered Gangetic river dolphins. These were big concerns and using our poetry book to gain publicity for the cause, we aimed to raise awareness about the river in India and the UK by attending environmental and cultural events, book fairs and holding stalls in order to impart information about this degraded ecosystem.

Every person and every action matters – we all weave within this giant fabric we call reality and I am a great believer in the ripple effect. If all of us are able to examine what products we consume and how we consume the earth’s natural resources, then we can begin to make big differences. How are we disposing of our waste? Can we volunteer, donate or support conservation work? Are we protecting biodiversity in our own gardens? It begins with us. We all count. We will decide what is consumed and what is supported. It is all in our hands.

The full article can be read in Issue 15 of Luit to Thames magazine: http://luittothames.com/index.html

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