The Chaska Community Center was alive with activity Saturday afternoon and evening, with a packed indoor water park and meeting rooms overflowing with people of all colors and concerns. Inside the theater, a group of about 100 poets, artists, and writers that make up Mehfil-ae-Minneapolis took to the stage to, as the event’s program notes had it, “promote and advance the rich Indian and Pakistani traditions of kavi sammelans and mushairas (poems). It is our sincere hope that the presentations you see today will inspire you to awaken the hidden poet/writer within you.”
Moreover, the event came with a “Poetry Against Hate” theme that was inspired by India’s ancient poetic traditions, as was the program’s original poetry, all read in the languages of Hindi (spoken by over 490 million people on earth) and Urdu (104 million). MinnPost took in the Mehfil-ae-Minneapolis event, in photos and interviews:
Event organizer Santosh Sharma: “This is basically an Indian literature festival of the Indian subcontinent promoting two different languages, Hindi and Urdu. The people who write poetry in these two languages are getting this platform as an avenue to express their best poetic work. Forty-nine poets auditioned, and 18 will present today.
“The significance of this is unity and humanity, and the theme for today is love. Forget your religions, forget your differences, and join together. If you look at the tensions between Hindus and Muslims and Muslims and Christians, and all of the religions, that divide is growing day by day. So the attempt of this is to bring us together. Today we have Muslims and Hindus coming together for this day, joining hands, while the Hindus and Muslims might be battling in India, or Kashmir, or Pakistan.
“The poets and the artists are the only ones who can promote this message, because the pen is mightier than the sword. We all know this. The poets are the best people to send very strong messages that we are together, we are not going to get divided. This is beautiful ancient work, and these are epics that have been written, and there’s a wealth of knowledge in these literary works, but for some reasons we are getting more and more away from our literature, our roots, our culture. So this event attempts to get all of that addressed.”
Sheetal Kulkarni: “I am reading something special that I wrote for a very special person. She is in India, and she has been through a lot of ups and downs in her life, life has been very brutal to her, and it’s just an expression of what all she has gone through and what she should do now. She plays all these roles: She’s a daughter, sister, mom, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, and at some point she forgets who she is as a person, so the message in that is, ‘Yes, I have done my part. But for just a few moments let me be human.’ That’s how my poem ends.”
Preeti Mathur: “I’m the author of ‘From Seven Rivers to Ten Thousand Lakes: Minnesota’s Indian American Community.’
Basically I would like people to know that there is a very vibrant, very diverse, and very accomplished Indian community that has contributed to the state of Minnesota. Especially today in these very divisive times where there is this anti-immigrant rhetoric and all that, I would like people to know that here is a community that is contributing a lot.”
Atul Mishra: “I live in Spring Lake Park, came to Minnesota 40 years ago. I am a sultan, and I am presenting a poem today that in English goes, ‘A red rose is the symbol of love.’ That’s what life is all about — love and living every day.”
Ansh Sarkari: “My poem is a folk piece from India. The language is Hindi. The poem is about the idea of letting go. Something that you hold very dear to your heart, but you have to let it go because of one situation or another. Sometimes things are not under control, and you have to let it go. Will you be sulky about the loss, or grateful and have a big heart and be graceful about letting it go? Be a man about it.”
Co-emcee Gauri Shah read one of her poems: “The poems I am reading today are all about love.”
Priyanka Mundhra: “Originally I’m from India, and we are here in Minneapolis since 2013. This is a traditional dress I bought in India. I’m performing a poem today by a very famous Indian poet, and the poem is a very romantic poem that [translates to] ‘I will meet you — when, where, I don’t know, but I will meet you.’”
Author Cyril Mukalel signed a copy of his book “Life in a Faceless World” for an event attendee. “My book is about building bridges and removing fences,” he said. “I bring the East to the West, and [the book captures] the mindset of the immigrant. The first generation of immigrants is different than the second generation, so when people read this book they will look through their eyes and see a different world and that hesitation, that animosity about immigrants will go away because the fences are removed and we begin to build bridges. People have issues with immigrants because there is a lot of immigration happening now, but when people get to know more about other cultures, they’ll find out that we all want the same thing. We work hard, we come together, and make this country great again. That’s the goal. I want everyone who reads the book to be the face of the faceless.”
Jigar Modi: “I’m part of the organizing committee. This day is about bringing peace, harmony, and cultural-crossing the boundaries between Indian and Pakistan minorities all the way, and it’s a platform to bridge everything together. Poetry has a deep sense of meaning, and laughter that can bring all of that together, and make harmony for all the nations.”
Meena Chettiar, author of “Immigration Success”: “I want people to realize that no matter which country you come from, each one of us are given a unique gift by God, so let’s bring it out. No matter where you live, people are all the same, good nice people, and you bring out the best in you and contribute to the country that has adopted you. I interviewed 20 people from 20 different countries. When a country has given you everything like the United States has given me — a very good system, good education, good opportunities — I have to give back to the country, too. So the main message is, ‘Do your best and give back.’”