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Posted at: Apr 23, 2017, 12:31 AM; last updated: Apr 23, 2017, 12:31 AM (IST)

Poetry as catalyst for change

THE first ever poetry biennale of India, Vak, organized by Raza Foundation was curated by noted Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi. It gave Indian poets the much-awaited platform to voice their concerns. The three-day-long biennale held in Delhi, with 48 invited poets from 15 languages, had the potential to change the literary landscape of India.

Poets earn popularity either with Bollywood association or sarkari patronage through akademies. Lack of sarkari patronage could not disparage the power of verse for poets like Dushyant Kumar, Vinod Kumar Shukla, Paash or Bashir Badr. Only a strong poetic conviction could pen, I toss a bunch of keys/ In the air/And the sky opens (Shukla). Not so anymore, poets rarely find publishers, or audience. 

Besides Bollywood shayars, it’s hard to recall verses of a popular contemporary poet. Therefore it was heartening to observe packed auditorium all through -- in the poetry reading sessions as well as through a few panel discussions that involved well-known names such as Shamim Hanfi, Shiv Viswanathan, Ashish Nandy and many more. 

The idea behind Vak is to “bring forth the live pressure of poetry through poets to an audience” to make them feel magic and meaning of poetry, says Vajpeyi, who felt inspired by the famous painter S H Raza’s love for poetry. “He was perhaps the only modern painter who inscribed lines of poetry on paintings of his. These lines were culled by him from Vedas, Upnishads, Buddha’s utterances, Kabir, Tulsidas, Ghalib, Agyeya, Muktibodh and Faiz.”

Even though, he says, poetry is not losing audience in many Indian languages such as Malayalam, Urdu, Manipuri, in many other languages it no more enjoys popularity. Yet, poets like Manushya Puthiran (Tamil) reposed the audience’ trust in the voice of poetic conscience when he vent his unbridled anger through verse “My Dinner with Gandhi,” the Father of the Nation sits opposite the poet and “beholds the sight of/ humans skinned/for consuming meat”. And then, the Mahatma “bites a piece of meat” but “doesn’t bother asking/about the animal behind the meat”.  Manushya Puthiran is unapologetically political and believes in social activism through poetry. 

Not all poets were political-- redeeming freedom from its receding spaces-- the dulcet notes of love and beauty were heard from Oriya poet. Arundhathi Subramaniam read out her poem, I Speak for Those with Orange Lunch Boxes, addressed to the nondescript, minor, and overlooked schoolchildren, everyone could relate to in the audience. Poets often come from that class. In a poetic gathering of 15 diverse languages, Hindi, Urdu and English poetry received maximum audience response. Even though the textured sounds of powerful verses in Marathi, Malayalam and Kannada received applause, the audience wanted the translations to be read out too. Punjabi poet Madan Veera, insisted on reading in his language, was urged to read at least one poem in Hindi by the audience. 

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