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Jayashree Chatterjee’s Favorite Poem: Gitanjali

A New Jersey librarian reads her favorite poem in a continuing series from former Poet Laureate Robert Pinksy.

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    My name is Jayashree Chatterjee. I live in Summit, New Jersey, and I'm a librarian at the Library of the Chatham in Chatham, New Jersey.

    I first came to this country in December 1990 because I was on a quest for my own identity. Since early childhood I've lived in different cultures and in different parts of the world, from the U.K. to the different countries in the Middle East to different places in India. (Speaking foreign language)

    I first read this poem in school as a child. It was only later that I really understood its meaning, when I was going through a very difficult time of my life as an adult. This poem gave me strength and consolation.

    About 20 years ago, I used to look upon myself as an in- between person. An in-between person was a person who was brought up in different cultures and didn't belong wholly to any one culture. At the time, we lived in Saudi Arabia, and my girls were in the sixth and eighth grade. I decided to take them to India for a couple of years. I had to find an American school in India, and there was no American school in the state that my husband and I came from.

    So we had to go to the Kodhi Canal, a little hill station in the south of India, miles away from any place I had ever lived in before. We were completely on our own, because my husband couldn't come and stay with us over there. This meant the family was broken up. It also meant we saw my husband only twice a year, when we went home during school vacations.

    The first year and a half we moved practically every two to three months. So there I was, moving from place to place, wondering if I would be able to find another house, wondering if I was being supportive enough of my husband who had always been very supportive of me, and finally, agonizing over whether my girls were going to grow up to be the complete human beings that I wanted them to be.

    There were four poets whose poems gave me a lot of consolation during this time — Kipling's "If," the poet of the Desderada and a Muslim poet whose poem also offered me consolation. His poem I chanted like a prayer over and over to myself.

    From Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore

    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 ofdead habit; Where the mind is lead forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action- Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

    I used to keep repeating these words so naturally the sentiments that it evokes are much more powerful than the English evoke from "Gitanjili." From "Gitanjili." (Reading in native language)

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