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Mainstream, VOL L, No 25, June 9, 2012

Asia - Pacific Poetry First Festival in Vietnam

Monday 11 June 2012

by BIPLAB MAJEE

I never even thought in my dreams that I would visit Vietnam some day. In the seventies, when we were young, we organised rallies in support of Vietnam and used to chant slogans—‘Tomar nam Amar nam Vietnam Vietnam—Thy name my name is Vietnam Vietnam’. Both Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh were popular names in Bengal in those days. India being a non-aligned country supported Vietnam against the imperialist aggression of the USA.

On November 5, 2011 Gitesh Sharma, the eminent Hindi writer and Chairperson of the Indo-Vietnam Solidarity Committee, gave me an offer to attend the Asia-Pacific Poetry First Festival in Vietnam as one of the poets from India. Vietnam was my dreamland and I gladly accepted the offer.

The festival was held from February 2 to February 7, 2012 in Ha Long city. Ha Long is a tourist spot by the side of the Ha Long Bay. UNESCO declared Ha Long Bay as a world natural heritage site. Nature is abundant in Ha Long city. One cannot but be charmed by the beautiful sights of the city. We were engrossed with the beauty of Ha Long for all the four days we stayed there.

After the inauguration of the Asia-Pacific Poetry First Festival we went to attend the Viet-namese poetry Festival-X at Quoc Tu Giam—the Temple of Literature at Hanoi. We read out our poems there.

Eightyone poets from 27 countries and 40 poets from Vietnam reached Hanoi on February 1. The vehicles of the organisers brought them to Ha Long from Hanoi to attend the Asia-Pacific Poetry First Festival. They were put up in Grand Ha Long Hotel, a four-star hotel. We were five from India. Partha Raha, Arunava Ghosh and myself were from West Bengal, Ms Sukriti Paul Kumar was from Delhi, and Ms Mamta G. Sagar was from Bengaluru.

Myself and Parthada flew from Kolkata at midnight on January 31 and reached Hanoi via Bangkok on February 1. Tran Quang Quy, my poet friend and Deputy Director of the Vietnamease Writer’s Association, received us on behalf of the Organising Committee. We went straight to Ha Long city in Quang Ninh province from the airport.

The highway from Hanoi to Ha Long is like our NH-6 from Kolkata to Mumbai. The villages are spread on either side of the highway like the villages of India. The architecture of the houses is quite different. Most of the houses are two- or three-storied. The roofs are designed after the Chinese architecture.

I was watching those houses and at the same time I was thinking how Vietnam was handling their Doi Moi (Renovation) in the context of globalisation. Yes, the government faces problems in acquiring land for development there but they are very cautious in handling the problem. During our stay at Vietnam one such land dispute occurred at Haifong. I was interested to know how they were handling the problem. I found the government was quite sympathetic to the peas-ants. Ultimately, it was settled in favour of the peasants.

It took 4 hours and 30 minutes to reach Ha Long from Hanoi. Huu Thinh, the President of the Vietnam Writers’ Association, and Ms Dao Kim Hoa, Deputy Director, Commission for External Affairs, received us at the Grand Ha Long Hotel.
It started drizzling in the evening. The Vietna-mese believe that rain before any event is a good omen. The organisers were happy. They were sure that the festival would be successful.

During dinner, we met many poets from China, Russia, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea, Malayasia, Canada, the USA, Australia, Hungary, Iran, Uzbekistan, Hongkong, Israel, New Zealand and the poets of Vietnam.

ON the very next day the inaugural programme took place at Grand Ha Long Hotel. The flag was hoisted. And it was declared that the festival was open. The organisers brought us to Ha Long Mountain by three luxury buses. We in fact went there to observe the incense ceremony. It was still raining. We were all provided with umbrellas by the organisers. We assembled under a multi-coloured tent with our umbrellas open. Many rituals were performed there on the mountain to observe the incense ceremony. The priest, along with some poets from Vietnam, chanted the hymns written by some poets of 13 century Vietnam. Nha Nhac, the court music, Bac Ninh, the folk song of ancient Vietnam, Ca Trui, the traditional song of Vietnam, were sung at the ceremony. They also played the traditional Dong Son drum.

Pham Minh Chinh, Member, Central Commi-ttee of the Communist Party and Secretary of Quang Ninh Provincial Party Committee, and other distinguished members of the Party were present there at the ceremony. They also delivered lectures at the ceremony. It showed that the government and the Communist Party valued the culture of their land. The President of Vietnam made it clear while meeting us at the Palace of the President on February 5, 2012 that they value the tradition and heritage of Vietnam most. Though the process of globalisation is very much on, still there is a special niche for their ancient culture in their society. One feels the illuminating presence of Ho Chi Minh everywhere in the country. He is still the idol of many in Vietnam.

After witnessing the grand ceremony on the hilltop of Ha Long we came down to the Grand Ha Long Hotel and had our lunch. In the afternoon we gathered at the conference hall of the hotel where poets from 27 countries presented their papers on Poetry of Asia for Peace, Poetry of Asia for Friendship and Cooperation etc. Every evening the poets used to read out their own poetry.

We went to Ha Long Bay for an excursion on February 3, 2012. The Bay is a part of the Gulf of Tonkin. The Bay is very beautiful. We were over-whelmed by the enchanting beauty of Ha Long Bay. We stared and stared and thought that god has made another paradise for us. Though the weather was a little cloudy and chilly winds were blowing ceaselessly, we enjoyed every moment of the day. The organisers were as pleasing as the nature of Ha Long. They were caring and suppor-tive. I will never forget their hospitality.

On February 4 we came to Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. On our way to Hanoi we visited Bat Trang— a village which is famous for ceramic items. In Hanoi we checked in at the Ho Tay Villa. Ho Tay is a lake area.

In the evening we went to Quoc Tu Giam—the City of Literature. All the participants came on the dias with candles in their hands. The candle-light created an ambience of light and shade.

THE 10th Vietnamese Poetry Festival was inaugurated at the City of Literature on February 5. Thousands of people who love poetry gathered there to listen to the poets from 27 countries. The response of the audience made us feel we were in the land of poetry.

The President of the SRV, Truong Tan Sang, invited us in the afternoon of the same day. We went to the Palace of the President. He came to meet us dot on time. No security accompanied him. He entered the hall like an ordinary person. There was no excess of security usually accom-panying the leaders in our country and elsewhere. (I heard from Nandita, my wife who visited China recently, that the whole area was wrapped with security when the Prime Minister of China came to address the participants from India.)

He spoke how they were tackling the problems of the country. He conveyed their expectation of cooperation and support from all the corners of the world so that they can develop Vietnam. During our discussion, I asked him about his opinion about the problems of globalisation. He listened to me quite eagerly. He said globalisation was a settled fact. No one could deny it any more whether one liked it or not. His opinion was that every country should take into account the culture of that country while accepting globalisation.

In the evening after dinner we went to watch the famous Thang Long Water Puppet Show in Hanoi. We, the Bengali people, know about two types of puppetry. But it was a new kind of puppetry. The performance was excellent.

We went to Xu Doai, a Buddhist temple. Xu Doai (Son Tay) is a bit far from Hanoi city. The monk of the temple himself is a poet who also recited Zen poems with us. He prayed for the peace of the world. We saw every ethnic group of Vietnam was given its due space. There is a synchronisa-tion of the different cultures in Vietnam.
A week passed by… a sweet dream ended. The farewell banquet took place at Doewoo Hotel and it was time for us to say ‘good-bye’. The banquet was colourful with dance, song and music. Huu Thinh, the President of the Vietnam Writers’ Association, gave the valedictory speech.

From February 7 poets from 27 countries started leaving one by one. Our flight was on February 8. I requested my friend, Tran Quang Qui, to take us to a nearby marketplace for shopping. While going to the market we visited the mausoleum of Ho Chi Min. We took photographs of the mausoleum.

We went to an ATM to exchange our money. Dong is the currency of Vietnam. I purchased some souvenirs for my friends of India and a shirt for my son. I paid 3,33,000 Dongs for the shirt. It may sound funny, But the exchange value of Dong is like that. One gets 20,000 Dongs for $ 1.

We had our lunch in the Ngon Restaurant—a popular restaurant of Hanoi. Ms Dang Thi Thanh Huong, singer and journalist, and her husband hosted the lunch at the restaurant. We enjoyed the food as well as the company of the couple. Poet Tran Quang Quy presented us some valuable books on Vietnam. We then came back to our Villa and bade farewell.

At night we were invited to a dinner hosted by the Indian Embassy. They served delicious dishes. The beautiful paintings and sculpture inside the embassy drew one’s attention. The embassy is tastefully decorated.

Finally the time came to say good bye to Vietnam. Huu Thinh, the poet, and Madam Dao Kim Hoa gifted us souvenirs and warmly embraced us. See you very soon, they said.

Perhaps we will not meet again. But I will never forget them.

The author, who writes in Bengali, is a well-known poet.

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