University of Calcutta to confer a posthumous doctorate on anthropologist Antanas Poska

Written By kom nampultig on Jumat, 18 Juli 2014 | 08.20

VILNIUS (Lithuania): In a rare honour, the University of Calcutta has decided to confer a posthumous doctorate on one of the world's greatest explorers - Lithuanian traveller anthropologist AntanasPoska.

In an exclusive interview to TOI, Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius said that Poska - the man who undertook an incredible journey to India on a motor bike all the way from Vilnius in 1929 will be conferred the doctorate during the University's next convocation ceremony around September.

Confirming this to TOI from Kolkata, the University vice chancellor Suranjan Das said Poska "symbolised an eastern European's inquisitiveness about India" and was being conferred the doctorate "for his contribution in making India known to the outside world through his extensive writings".

Das told TOI "Poska's feat is unparalleled when it comes to popularising India in Europe. Poska also studied in the University of Calcutta. Developing a close relationship with Lithuania is a priority for the new Indian government and conferring the doctorate will help seal the friendship".

Das said "We have formally confirmed the University's plans to confer the doctorate on Poska. However, it has to be given by the governor of West Bengal who presides over our convocation. Since the earlier governor resigned recently and we are waiting for the chair to be filled, the date of the convocation is yet to be finalised. It could take place around September-October".

Lithuania's ambassador to India Laimonas Talat Kelpsa has plans to bring Poska's daughter Laimute Kiseliene to Kolkata to receive the doctorate.

It was TOI who had unveiled the extraordinary tale of Poska and a never before known facet of his work - the first ever translations of Rabindranath Tagore's works into the Lithuanian language.

TOI had dug out Laimute who is now professor of choreography and dance methodology at Lithuanian University of Education. She for the first time ever unveiled to TOI a set of three binded books with "Tagore" written on them and a small palm sized journal made from birch tree barks.

She had received it from a frail old woman who had showed up at her door one day with these manuscripts.

The handwriting on them was familiar - it was that of her father who had written them during his exile.

Post 1929, when Poska returned to Lithuania from an eight year long journey across the world, the Soviet government packed him off on an 18-year-long exile to Siberia "without any formal reason".

The frail lady then told Laimute that her father had returned from India as one of the biggest admirers of Rabindranath Tagore.

He then translated some of the poet's works into Lithuanian - the first ever for any Indian literature to be done in that country.

Lack of paper during the exile forced him to use birch tree barks to write on. He also wrote poetry during his exiled years, copying Tagore's style.

He had then given the documents to the lady in confidence who then worked in a Soviet controlled publishing house.

He wanted them published but the government destroyed most of his works.

Poska also gave her a note that read "These translations are a small bit of light for all those in despair".

The lady instantly realised that they were "great cultural heritage" and hence hid them from the Soviets.

After knowing Poska is now survived by a daughter, the old lady had landed up at Laimute's door many years later to hand over the manuscripts.

In an exclusive interview to TOI, Laimute had said "I was amazed when I received these manuscripts. He was a great fan of India and I grew up listening to stories of Tagore and Gandhi. My father never told anyone about these translations. Tagore's works made a great impact on my father and hence took great pains to translate them thinking it would help those under Soviet oppression to see hope. These are real treasures of cultural heritage".

"I would gladly give them to any publisher who would publish the translations now. There is nobody in Lithuania to validate the translation," Laimute who has never shown these manuscripts to anyone before, said.

She added "The dream of his life was to translate the Vedas to Lithuanian".

One of the translated works "dated 1932 at Shantiniketan" that TOI saw read in the introduction "While being a guest of a great Indian poet. With his personal help, I have prepared a small present for Lithuanians. This is a pearl of Tagore's work called Fruit Gathering".

Laimute revealed that Poska and Tagore met twice during his stay in Kolkata.

Laimute said "While in Shantiniketan, he waited for three days to meet Tagore. My father later revealed that the first meeting between him and Tagore wasn't warm. Only when Tagore learnt of his interest in India, his travels, he became interested in Poska. Poska had expressed interest to Tagore of translating his works - an offer Tagore didn't like. Tagore supposedly told him he looked down upon foreign translators who he felt 'made it a business to make money from his works'".

Poska in his journals also had nice things to say about the people of Bengal.

"During his next visit to Bengal. Poska found the people to be as warm, kind and creative as Tagore's stories," Laimute said.

Poska met Laimute's mother Maria while on exile.

Laimute was born in Petro Pavlovsk in Kazakystan in 1950. She was nine years old when the family finally returned to Lithuania from their exile.

"Poska was never told why he was being exiled by the Soviets. So when he was ever asked the question, he would jokingly say it is because he stole Stalin's pipe. One of Poska's close friends and linguists from Bengal professor Suniti Kumar Chatterji gifted him a photo of Tagore which he always carried with him," Laimute who took to being a professor of dance after hearing her father's stories on Indian dances, said.

Poska and his co-traveller Matas Šalcius set out for an incredible journey to India on a motorbike in 1929. Their ways parted in Iran and each of them reached India separately in

1930. While Šalcius traversed India and continued his journey east up to the Philippines, Poska stayed on in India for five years, studying at Bombay University, later at Calcutta University and working at the Anthropology Laboratory of the Indian Museum in Kolkata.

He devoted these years to the study of commonalities between Lithuanian language and Sanskrit, Indian Vedas and Lithuanian folklore, making friends among Indian intelligentsia and expressing his passionate support for Indian independence.

He was a passionate advocate of the Esperanto language - international language of peace that was created by Ludwik Zamenhoff of Lithuanian Jewish origin in the end of the 19th Colonial India.

During the Soviet occupation, Poska was arrested for being well travelled and knowledgeable about the world beyond the Iron Wall.

He was first sentenced to hard labour in Siberian gulags, later transferred to Central Asia.

In Osh (Kyrgyzstan), he discovered and described an unknown Palaeolithic settlement and rare fossils.

Laimute finally revealed "Matas Salcius didn't know how to ride a book. So it was father who drove all the way through so many years of travel". of Calcutta,Lithuanian traveller anthropologist,Antanas Poska

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