Language was not a barrier at Sahitya Akademi's North-Eastern and Southern Poetry Festival. The poets spoke through their verses. Akila Kannadasan reports

Poet Pattanam Palanichaami thrusts some print-outs of his poems into my hands. “I'm a retired government school teacher,” he says. “I also write. I've brought out four poetry compilations.” He rummages in his cloth bag and shows me a copy. Dressed in a startling white dhoti, the 80-year-old has come to attend Sahitya Akademi's North-Eastern and Southern Poetry Festival at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Auditorium.

Palanichaami is not going to be reading poetry. Nor is he here to deliver a lecture about it. He, like everyone else in the audience, is here to enjoy some good poetry. Poets from various parts of the country are going to read a selection of their works at the festival, conducted for the first time in Tamil Nadu. They read out their poems with translations in English, and there are lectures and discussions on poetry.

For a lot of litterateurs from the North-East, it's their first visit to Coimbatore. As for the audience, it is a rare opportunity to listen to Assamese and Manipuri poetry from the poets themselves. They listen with rapt attention as the first poet from the North-East, Saurav Saikia, reads out one of his Assamese poems. He speaks softly, with a short pause after each word. It's a delight to listen to him, even though one doesn't understand the language. Manipuri poet Birendrajit Naorem delivers his verses with a lilt that makes them sound almost song-like.

The articulate and deep-voiced Malayalam poet Desamangalam Ramakrishnan sings his verses too.

Evocative

An ode to the rains, a conversation with a cicada, a poet's pen…the audience is treated to some of the most poignant verses in Assamese, Manipuri, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam and Tamil.

Then there are the wits. There's a collective “Aha!” from the audience for Tamil poet Tenarasu's poem on love between a pragmatic young woman and her romantic lover. His poem on a leashed pet dog that yearns to make merry also wins hearts. So does Malayalam poet Veeran Kutty's poem ‘Verandah'.

Poet K. Panjangam speaks of Tamil literature and the Vaanambaadi movement, started by a collective of writers in the Kongu region in the 1970s. Panjangam traces the history of Tamil poetry through the ages. He recites a poem by writer Living Smile, a transgender based in Chennai. “The third gender's demands for equal rights and their constant struggle in society have found their way into Tamil poetry,” he says.

The festival also gives one an opportunity to learn about the traditions of people in other parts of the country. At every home in Assam, at least one member of the family will know the Bihu dance.

Children learn it just as they learn to eat or walk. “After a good harvest, the entire village gathers in the fields to sing and dance through the night,” explains a Bihu dancer from Assam who performs at the end of the first day.

Two women from the audience rush backstage to meet the dancers after the performance. One of them, an elderly woman, asks, “Can you please teach me a step from the dance?” The dancer obliges.

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