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Thursday, 24 May 2012
Page: 5571


Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (16:35): I rise to acknowledge an event that took place earlier this month. I was not able to celebrate it because I was on my way to Canberra, but it is an event that means a great deal to Australians of Indian and Bengali descent. It was celebrated at the Riverside Theatre of Parramatta on 6 May and was organised jointly by the Ministry of Culture of India, the High Commissioner of Bangladesh and on the ground by one of my constituents and good friends, Prabir Maitra. It was the 150th anniversary of the birth of a poet, Rabindranath Tagore. He is an extremely well known poet in India and Bangladesh. He is generally regarded as one of the outstanding creative artists of modern India and he was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1913. He wrote the most beautiful poetry at a time when his country was experiencing quite a bit of strife. He was a humanist, a universal internationalist and a strident antinationalist. He denounced the Raj and advocated for the independence of India from Britain.

Anybody who has been to Indian-Australian functions will already know some of his music because he wrote the national anthem of India, Jana Gana Mana, and he also wrote Bangladesh's national anthem, Amar Shonar Bangla. I was not aware that he was the author, but I have sung along with the Indian national anthem on a number of occasions and heard some extraordinary versions of it, and it is indeed a quite beautiful piece of music.

The anniversary event for me highlighted one of the great things about my community. In Australia many of us have lived in our little silos of English language, but we now have in our midst people who are aware of the extraordinary creative contributions made by people in other languages. Now, in my world, I get to look through these little windows and be introduced to some extraordinary artists.

I want to share one of Rabindranath Tagore's poems today, a Bengali poem. It is not in Bangla, unfortunately; I would love to be able to do it in Bangla, because I am sure it is even more beautiful in that language. This is his translation into English. It was written before India's independence and it represents Tagore's dream of how the new and awakened India could be. It is called Where the Mind Is Without Fear. My friend Prabir Maitra keeps a copy of it on his desk—that is how I know it. It reads:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action—

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

It is a beautiful piece of writing by an extraordinary artist that, thanks to my friend and colleague Prabir Maitra, is now part of my life and now part of the parliamentary record.

I would like to particularly thank my Indian and Bangladesh community for organising such an event. I am told by those that were there that it was quite extraordinary. It was actually held in two locations—first in the Tom Mann Theatre and then in Parramatta. During the day they showed documentaries, they read poems and they had an artist come in from Bangladesh to sing some of the songs of Tagore. So it was quite an event and took a great deal of planning. It again shows the quite wonderful commitment to the recognition of culture.

When I attend Bengali functions particularly, it is rare that there is not a poet on my table that they introduce me to as a person of great note. That is another of the highlights for me. I have attended a number of events that acknowledge the work of poets of this culture, whose members of course literally died for the right to speak their language back in the 1940s. It was a great event and I wanted to acknowledge it. I am pleased to have introduced to the House the words of an extraordinary poet whose poems are now part of my life and my community: Rabindranath Tagore.