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New rhyme in an old bottle

In Mumbai
At Terahvi Ka Chand, a poetry session organised by architect Jhankar Goel, the moon has to make a compulsory appearance. She says the feel is that of a backyard reading where friends come together to exchange ideas and creatively encourage each other. The club that came into being seven months ago meets on the 13th of every month and has close to 15 poets reciting their works in Hindi and Marathi. The charm is that they are neither poets, nor do they have a creative background. Terahvi Ka Chand sees regular Joes and Janes like architects, doctors, engineers, MBAs and CAs who are taking time out from their schedules to indulge their passion for poetry.


Jhankar Goel looks on as a participant reads out her piece at Terahvi Ka Chand in Goregaon last week. Pic/ Sunil Tiwari

That’s more than what the founder, Jhankar Goel, expected when she started the group. Inspired by Caferati, an open mic platform at Prithvi that began in August 2004, and is today one of the city’s most well-known poetry clubs, Teravhi Ka Chaand conducts sessions at restaurants across the city. Goel gives participants themes to work on, and on other days, invites established poets to read their works to help budding poets understand the craft better.

Today, the numbers have grown from 25 to 100 and they often have to shift locations in search of larger venues. “I am surprised at the response we got. Three years ago, before I started writing, I did not know that this world existed. There are so many other forms of entertainment in the city — movies, television, theatre — but the fact that people attend poetry readings says a lot about the art.” She’s in good company. Across the city, poetry is seeing a revival among people.

Poems and music
The participants at Prithak Poetry Reading Session at Vile Parle would attest to that. Thirty two year-old painter and photographer Shrikant Puranik has been organising the two hour-long sessions since August 2010. Today, the initiative that introduces attendees to the works of poets like Harivansh Rai Bachchan, while also giving nascent talent a chance to recite their poetry, plays host to kids as young as 15. Puranik says, “Many groups in the city provide a platform to established or budding poets. But here, we pay tribute to a certain poet in every session, because we believe it’s important to first know the masters well. We also discuss themes and post modern concepts and then write. It’s more about having a discussion, experimenting and then showing your work.”

Puranik says they also teach poets to recite their works. Some choose the unconventional route, taking help from musicians and singers and putting up a performance of their poetry. His theatre group, Pritha, even performed a 90-minute poetry piece. Clearly, people are loving it. From five poets a year and a half ago, the group now has almost thirty poets attending the sessions that take place on the last Saturday of every month.

Underground verse
Author Manisha Lakhe, who is one of the people behind Caferati, however, believes the interest in poetry never really died down, it just went
underground. She says, “We started with 20 people and grew to 5,000 in India. We also have a Singapore chapter. People who were following good poetry were very unforgiving of the emotional nonsense that was being written. We wanted to give them a chance to express their work and also have it critiqued.”


A Prithak poetry session in progress

Author and poet Sampurna Chattarjim an executive committee member of PEN All-India Centre, says that those interested in poetry were always part of the community, so, “The assumption that poetry is dead is incorrect. If that were true I’ve yet to be invited to the funeral,” she says. Yet, it can’t be denied that poetry is no longer an elitist indulgence.

Appreciation matters
Why is the art form now being embraced by one and all? “It’s contagious,” says 29 year-old marketing manager and poet Vineet Garg. He first read his work at Caferati two years ago and has since been a regular fixture at various poetry readings, enthralling the crowd with his satirical take on political and economic issues.

“Poetry groups get you quality audience. These are people who value poetry. You get to listen to fellow poets and it’s a great way to stay updated on the others’ writing. There’s also a chance that someone might spot you as a lyricist and writer. Moreover poetry groups offer appreciation that everyone
craves.” He also sees these readings as an escape for many working professionals from their daily routine and high-stress lives. Hence you’ll find doctors, MBAs and architects in plenty at these sessions.

Garg pegs the rising number of poetry groups on our need to express opinions. He says, “Blogs, social networking sites and the media have made us want to voice our views confidently. This is another such platform.”  Freelance writer and creative writing teacher Patricia Chandrashekhar who runs the Writestuff writers’ club, a six year-old writing club with 20 members who meet twice a month on Sundays at her husband’s office near Regal Cinema, agrees, “Poetry opens your mind and imagination. It helps your thinking process and also aids in describing prose better.” Writing, she feels, is a lonely profession, and when you meet fellow writers through such groups, you see different perspectives, different views and are exposed to a different lifestyle.

Bending the rules
Things are certainly changing. The baggage of rigid rules that poets were perceived to be bound by no longer apply. Garg says that he is blissfully unaware of any rules. “After my readings many people come up to me and say that my works are in meter. In Hindi poetry there has to be a certain number of matras but I’m not sure how many. Today, if in a Hindi poem, I feel an English word will convey the message better, I use it.”

Rhyme scheme too has taken a back seat, and even the actual number of lines that must be written to qualify as a poem has become irrelevant. Poets are getting more experimental even in terms of their subjects. Says Goel, “Poems about bhakti, nature or a woman’s beauty have given way to works about emotions and loneliness.” 

In Delhi
Humne maana ki dakkan mein hai bahut qadre sukhan/ Kaun jaaye zauq par Dilli ki galiyan chhod kar (We concur poetry is deeply cherished in the Deccan but, Zauq can’t stomach leaving behind the alleyways of Delhi). Muhammad Ibrahim Zauq, the son of a humble soldier, who was christened the poet laureate in the Mughal Court, lies buried by the grimy lanes of Paharganj, born and laid to rest in a city he deeply loved.


Abhay K at Safdarjung Tomb in New Delhi. Pic/ Rajeev Tyagi

Many a tomb of different poets adorn Delhi. While Mirza Ghalib is lucky enough to find a well-maintained resting place in Nizamuddin complex his rival Momin sleeps by a parking lot close to a medical college. Nevertheless, each one stands testimony to the fact that as long as there’ll be men who inhaled experience and exhaled poetry, Delhi stands wooed.

In 2012, the courtship continues. A new breed of poet warriors in the capital are on a mission to bring back the glorious days of Indian poetry in a business-like fashion. With a twinkle in their eye and technology in their pockets, they are out to declare Delhi the poetry capital of the world.

Monuments and meter
Thirty two year-old Abhay K is one such man. Dressed in crisp formals and flaunting a Blackberry when we meet, he hardly seems to fit the stereotype of a world-weary writer who rages against humanity. But the diplomat with the Indian Foreign Service has orchestrated one of the city’s most exciting new poetry initiatives. Last month, the Chanakyapuri resident gathered 12 poets by Humayun’s Tomb, and Poetry on Monuments was born.

“Our initiative works in two ways; first, we try and create awareness about the Delhi’s historical spots; secondly, we bring poets and fans together in a public domain,” says Abhay of the initiative that will hold monthly sessions concluding on December 27 this year, on the last great poet of the Mughal era, Mirza Ghalib’s birth anniversary.


A Delhi Poetree session in progress at Geoffreys’ in Saket District Centre, New Delhi

The first two-and-half-hour long meet saw a mix of professionals like academicians and young professionals. They read out their poems in English, Hindi and Urdu. The second concluded at Lodhi Garden on the 10th of this month. The sessions are kept open and are not theme bound, which means you can read out anything in any language as long as you translate it to the audience. The readers or poets are expected to research about the monuments where the sessions take place. The third session is to be held on July 8, at Sher Mandal in Purana Qila and is expected to see a gathering of 15 readers and an audience of 35 to 40.

It was when he was posted in Moscow two years ago that the germ of the idea of a poetry group was born. “I was overwhelmed by the beauty around Moscow. I used to travel in the Moscow Metro and write poems on my phone,” says Abhay. Sadly, he found a void when he returned / to Delhi. “Poetry by Monuments is just a small effort to fill that empty space,” says Abhay.

Technological tools like Facebook, Twitter and smartphones have changed how poets connect and interact, he claims. “It’s the juxtaposing of these modern tools with ancient monuments which gives Delhi it’s rich, multi-dimensional identity. It is a myth that language is a barrier. Emotions have no barriers. Language is simply a currency to help things run smoothly,” he says.

The initiative has hosted participants like Markand Paranjape, Sukrita Paul Kumar and Tarannum Riyaz, among others. “Interestingly, I noticed that it is not necessary that you will be able to recite your poem well just because you are a writer. Reading sessions help even established writers brush up their reading skills,” he feels.

Poets of the pavement
Every other poet you meet in Delhi is a professor, engineer or a housewife who also runs a boutique. Until you meet Amit Dahiyabadshah. The founder of Delhi Poetree, a nine year-old endeavour which aims to enable 100 poets to earn a taxable income from poetry alone by 2015, he has been a working poet for the last 11 years.

“Blame it on the Victorian influence which made poetry a very elitist affair and confined poems to text books in this country,” says Dahiyabadshah. “This movement, which we started almost nine years ago, strives to bring poetry back to the masses. We want the government, society at large and immediate neighbourhoods to acknowledge contemporary poets as living treasures of Delhi.”

Besides giving the surrounding National Capital Region 30 days of poetry a month, Delhi Poetree has organised 3,060 events including the 100 poets reading in Sirifort in 2008. Dahiyabadshah stresses that the modern-day poet has to be in perfect rhythm with the changing times. “We live in a consumerist world and the poet has to accept that he has to deliver a product like anybody else.”

So Delhi Poetree supports poetry books that fit pockets both figuratively and literally. “Some of them cost only Rs 100 and if the book doesn’t fit the breast pocket of your shirt you get a discount,” he informs. “Besides, we also dwell in times where one can’t endure the first four lines of a sonnet. Cut to the bone haikus will do just fine but outstretched odes have been deemed geriatric. Today, the average attention span for a poem is 24 lines or a minute. Beyond that youngsters get fidgety,” he says.

What sets Delhi Poetree apart from other poetry societies is not only its pledge to liberate bards from patronage but also their practical approach to achieve their goal. The group is trying to reach a point where it can pay the author 40 per cent of sales instead of the eight per cent publishing houses usually offer. So far, 203 poets have been published with the help of Delhi Poetree.

“We also conduct paid reading sessions at weddings, engagements, anniversaries and other occasions. We have had people who are ready to shell out Rs 15,000 or more for a reading session,” says Dahiyabadshah. Delhi Poetree also runs a 24-hour helpline for poets. He informs, “Call us even in the middle of the night during emergencies — ranging from writer’s block to medical help, accident, loss of shelter or life.” No matter how diverse their approaches, Delhi will never be short of her suitors. Zauq couldn’t leave her, and neither will his successors.

Delhi
Where every twisting turning winding lane tells growing tales of mystery
Where every other piece of fallen stone
could be a piece of broken history
Where empires forged in blood and steel
have stayed as saffron scent on kitchen air
Where the paradox is everywhere
of an imperial city with the flavors of a village
Where a pavement dweller pretends to tell you what life holds
and his caged parrot picks your chances
Where a street urchin steals only the tune from your car stereo
and his sufi heart dances where there is shade enough for shadeful glances
And where a true love may still be found
with just two lines of good poetry, .... Delhi

By Amit Dahiyabadshah

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