Asha tai, a 78-year-old poetess from Nagpur, runs an amazing literary organization in the city and is encouraging upcoming poets express themselves.
“I pray thee, not for gold, nor for silver, but for a heart…brighter ever…brighter ever…” — Asha Pande, ‘My Prayers’ from Resounding Bells, 2012.
Tai, Aamchi tai (our sister, in Marathi) or simply Asha tai — this is how Asha Pande, a celebrated poetess living in Dharampeth, Nagpur, is known among friends and well-wishers.
Tai is also the President of Sahitya Vihar, a reputed literary organization in Nagpur.
Born and brought up in Madhya Pradesh, Asha tai was the headmistress of Kasturba Kanya Vidhyalaya in Tumsar for eight years. Before moving to Nagpur, she was also posted as the Principal of N.H. Girls’ High School in Brahmapuri. Then she joined Navyug Vidhyalaya in Nagpur as a language teacher — a post that she held for 30 years until she retired in 1999.
“Sahitya Vihar began in 1971 as a small organization known by the name of Mitra Mandal (a committee of friends),” she says. With about 15 members at the time, the organization used to conduct informal meetings at their houses. Asha tai took the first step of initiating a programme on a large scale at the Rajaram Dixit Library Hall in the year 2005. Following the success of the event, similar programmes took place in the Scientific Hall of Nagpur in 2007 and 2009. In 2011, Asha tai felt the need to get the organization registered and this is how Sahitya Vihar was officially born on November 9, 2011.
She started by publishing monthly magazines of Sahitya Vihar. “It was basically a booklet of 16 pages, sold at a reasonable prize of Rs. 5. In the very first year, we sold out 1,000 copies of the magazine,” she recalls.
She no longer publishes those monthly magazines because of increasing expenses, but the organization takes out special issues during Shravan (rainy season), Diwali and Vasant (spring season).
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The motto of her orgainsation is “Sarva Bhasha Sama Bhava” meaning “All languages must be treated equally”. With this aim in mind, Sahitya Vihar organizes multi-lingual poetry competitions every month. “A fee of Rs. 50 is collected from all participants and the same is distributed to all winners,” she says. Then a grand multi-lingual competition is organized on the last Sunday of December every year. “This helps in bringing people belonging to different cultures together.”
Asha Tai herself is a multi-lingual poetess and has published 19 books of poetry in Marathi, Hindi, English, Sanskrit, and Urdu.
Her anthology of poems in Hindi — Bhule Bisre Geet (The Forgotten Songs) was published by Sahitya Vihar this year.
Sahitya Vihar also publishes books by upcoming poets to encourage them. The organization has 110 members now –all distinguished fellows in their own fields with a common interest in poetry. Dr. Pankaj Chande (Founder and Vice Chancellor of Kavikulaguru Kalidas Sanskrit University, Ramtek), Dr. Vinayak Deshpande (Head, Department of Management studies of Nagpur University), Dr. Leena Rastogi (renowned Sanskrit scholar), and Shri Shyam Kant Kulkarni (children’s author) are some of the reputed members.
Asha tai has been the backbone of Sahitya Vihar. Even at the age of 78, she handles all the paper work from home.
She also composes poetry besides lending a helping hand to upcoming poets who come to learn at her residence. Her poems have been aired by the All India Radio several times and her first book Archana, written in 1998, has been converted into a CD by T Series, New Delhi.
She was conferred with the title of ‘Sahityalankar’ by Mahanubhav Vishwa Bharati –an organisation in Amravati, Maharashtra, for her Ghazals.
Sahitya Vihar is now planning to launch a book-fair. “All the literature lovers are invited to attend the same.” she says. The book-fair is scheduled for November 27, 2016 and will be held at Sarveshvara Devalaya, Ram Nagar, Nagpur.