A ‘spoken word’ event in the city offers proof that Hyderabadis, young and old, have a lot to say

The vibe at Mocha coffee shop at Banjara Hills on Saturday evening is nothing short of electric. Two girls, Natha Wahlang and Greeshma Rai, have just finished performing their poem or ‘slam’, ‘The good Indian girl’ - raw, provocative and brutally honest about what it’s like for a girl to grow up in India. For the uninitiated, ‘slam poetry’ or ‘spoken word’, is the art of performing one’s original poems to an audience.

Although originally a competitive event, slam poetry has found a place in youth activism on account of the powerful nature of craft. Organised by the US Consulate General, Hyderabad in honour of International Women’s History Month, and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the participants were invited to take the stage to perform works that “touch on what it is to be, know, love, or observe a woman in modern, evolving India” - and perform they did. Set to the soft notes of the guitar, participants — some of whom had prepared poems for the event and others who were inspired to pull out long-forgotten verses, took the stage to share their works. Natalie Danko’s slam asserted her right to look and act as she wanted, while a Hindi poem by Minakshi Choudhary talked about her experiences as a daughter first and then as a mother. Her daughter Anusha Choudhary shared her bit as well. While this was the first slam poetry event in the city, the turnout, both of audience and performers, suggested that the concept is not new to the city.

David Sawang, who performed a piece titled ‘Tunes of a hollow soul’ that touched upon the Nirbhaya Case has been dabbling in the art for almost two years now. “I first came across it through a video of spoken word artist Jefferson Bethke on Youtube. Following that, I did some research and began to write some myself but tonight’s was my first onstage performance,” says David, whose own performance can be viewed on Youtube, which is one of the reasons for the popularity of the performing art. “It is a bit like rap but while rap involves alignment of sentences to a beat, spoken word is freer flowing and the focus is on emotions and expressions.”

Lawyer Greeshma Rai and PhD. student Natha Wahlang, both members of Hyderabad for Feminism have long been watching and loving spoken word artists online. “When we heard that an event is being organised, we decided that we have to perform a piece,” says Greeshma.

To Natalie Danko, who has moved to Hyderabad from Toronto, spoken word is special because “unlike other interactions, it gives one person the space to talk about the issues they face, be it social, political or personal.” This space was provided generously by the audience and Public Affairs Officer April Wells whose encouragement brought a lot of people onto the stage.

“When you have a conversation, there is room for confrontation and besides, most times, people just want to have a light hearted chat,” she says. Back in Toronto, the spoken word is a channel through which minority groups often voice their issues and uplift each other. “It’s a stage where you can express the depth of your soul and do it with a bit of attitude,” adds Natalie whose own piece, which made full use of the music provided by Richard Benjamin Lazarus and Sunny Daniel.

The event ended with a couple of readings by noted poet Iqbal Patni who urged the young audience to keep writing and creating because the “freedom to express is the biggest gift one can get.” “It is a fantastic start,” says Patni who has been performing his poetry across India for a few years now. “I have found that many people want to listen to poetry read by its creator so this is a great platform. The city could really use a platform where writers and poets can come together and share their work,” says the veteran, adding that the average age of the Hyderabad Poets Society is about 75. With that in mind, it was refreshing to see the room in Mocha was flooded with people of all ages.