An initiative by a Fulbright scholar attempts to surprise autorickshaw passengers with poetry

When you walk into a library, you expect to find a book. When you walk into a gallery, you know you are sure to sight a painting. But what about those of us who hardly make galleries and libraries our regular hangouts? There’s still hope for us if poetry and art were to find us in the most unusual of places! Well, what about inside the next autorickshaw you flag down?

Fulbright-Nehru research scholar Carolyn Supinka’s project is to send poetry, art, fiction and photography into the public space, using a popular mode of transport — autorickshaws. Why? “I like to surprise people,” she smiles. “Just think about it — you pick up a book and you find a poem, a photograph or a short story during an autorickshaw ride.” The ride becomes more meaningful that you may have intended it to be.

Supinka, a Carnegie Mellon graduate, won the research grant for a project to explore the cultural relations between the East and the West through spiritual journeys. “What makes people from the West travel to the East for spiritual enlightenment and how do such journeys impact local communities are the questions I ask,” says Supinka. The visual artist and writer has been seeking answers through a series of conversations in Puducherry. With the Ashram, Auroville and its famed spiritual aura, the coastal town was the right place, she decided.

The journal titled Auto Didact, while incorporating the mode that would take poetry and fiction around, also means self-teaching. The first edition is themed on travel and Supinka has been collecting poems, fiction and black and white photographs. Keeping with Puducherry’s multicultural blend, Supinka has decided to keep the journal multilingual. “I am accepting submissions in English, Tamil, French, Hindi and any other language people want to write in.”

The project is fully funded by her research grant and Supinka hopes to put out the journal in 50 autos, for a start. “It is an experiment. I am excited to find out how it is received.” Though she is here till May, she hopes if the initiative is successful, the journal would continue to be published by a group of students of the English Department headed by Gingo Joseph, at the Pondicherry University, which is her home base in India.

The Pittsburgh-based visual artist had never seen an auto before. “I think it is a unique mode of transport. It is like a car, but there are no walls. So, you are right there, in the city, in the middle of everything.”

Interested contributors can send their works to autopondy@gmail.com by February 28. The literary and arts journal would be published in March.

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