The space between words

Updated: Jul 18, 2019, 07:32 IST | Dalreen Ramos

With Urdu poetry gaining traction, the community is carving a niche with smaller, intimate venues in the city. Ahead of an open mic-cum-mehfil, organisers and poets discuss the gaining interest

The space between words
Devroop Sharma performs at a mushaira at Harkat Studios, Andheri

We are not okay with wrong English, but we are okay with wrong Hindi and Urdu," says Devroop Sharma, pointing out the irony when it comes to languages that have originated from the motherland. As the founder of poetry collective Irshaad, Sharma has conducted over 10 mushairas or poetic symposiums and about 28 open mic events that promote the two languages. The 31-year-old, who conducts ghazal-writing workshops as well, mentions how the events draw an audience in roughly an age range of 18 to 70 years. And with all events being free, Sharma's key challenge is to find venues that will accommodate his venture without charging an entry fee. "I don't believe that our work is so poor that people have to buy it. Besides, the crowd at Bandra's venues is largely English-speaking and might not be able to understand our work," he shares.

So, this weekend, having got lucky with funding, Sharma will organise an open mic-cum-mehfil called Arz Kiya Hai at Santacruz's Najma Heptullah Hall — a departure from the usual gigs held in Bandra cafés. "We're trying to bridge the gap between senior poets and newcomers with this one. Previously, venues were not sure about bringing in poets. Now, they've become a lot more welcoming,' he says. For two years, Irshaad's events were a regular at QTube Café, but that came to a halt since the space will shutter this month.

Twenty four-year-old poet Prathamesh Bendre, who will be performing on Saturday, says, a slew of venues hosting open mics has degradation of content. It's a classic quality-quantity conundrum. "The scenario is a lot like, 'if 10 people know me, I'll start an open mic'," he says.

Apart from the space crunch, Sharma adds that mainstream performance arts venues also face a time crunch. This Saturday's free event will be a four-hour one with participants performing ghazals and paband nazams [a poem that has beher (meter), qafiya (rhyming words) and radeef (repetition)] that would be tough to pull off at a performance club.

Although this is the first open mic being held at the Santacruz venue, such spaces, according to Santosh Singh, the founder of Hindustani Ghazal Foundation that is tying up with Irshaad, have been hosting mehfils for a while. "We have had events at Bhavan's College, Thane's Kashinath Ghanekar Natyagruha and Mangala School Hall, as well as Andheri's Mayor Hall. It's just that these spaces do not market themselves well enough. Najma Heptullah Hall can accommodate 40 to 50 people," the 34-year-old says.

Irshaad would frequently organise open mics at Bandra's QTube Cafe 

But all three maintain that it is easier to organise events around Urdu poetry than it was before. Bendre says he performs on a weekly basis. "On WhatsApp groups, I see people my age talking about Jaun Elia which is a big deal. I mean, everyone knows Mirza Ghalib because of his works," he says, adding that it's also time for people to change their perception of Urdu being synonymous with Islam. "We live in boxes. I'm a Hindu, and people always have this idea that if one speaks the language then they must be Muslim. We are no longer in the era of Harivansh Rai Bachchan or Ghalib where everything is pure. One must decide if they want to write for the classes — with heavy words that only intellectuals will be able to understand — or the masses".

Prathamesh Bendre and Santosh Singh

ON July 20, 5 pm onwards
AT Najma Heptullah Hall, Guru Narayan Road, Sen Nagar, Santacruz East.
CALL 9969814077

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