An affable poet who confesses to his fear of microphones. An audience comprising students who have their impending English examination at the back of their minds. Not quite the ideal start to a poetry-reading session that ambitiously aims to delve into uncharted territory — the imagination of children.

But once poet, teacher, and folklorist Randhir Khare, insisted that close to 50 students of DAV Public School, Velachery, repeat after him the jaunty chorus, ‘Boom raka boom raka, boom chak boom’ from a song of the Bhil community, it gave them an outlet, to react to both the immediate and the uncertain.

Here to perform as part of the annual Poetry for Prakriti festival, Mr. Khare reiterates that poetry began as songs, and is deeply rooted in an oral tradition.

“A poem comes alive when you hear it. Though it is a written word, the resonance of the voice, the cadence, the emotions add a new dimension,” he said.

His booming voice filled the room with highs, lows and empty silences, only for the children to immediately gush in with a mighty chorus. He performed traditional song-poems of communities such as the Bhil, which have survived for generations because their continuance did not always depend on an audience.

“These are songs which the mother sings to the daughter and lovers to each other. They have a song for every occasion,” he said.

As the reading gained momentum, from ‘Boom Raka Boom’, they visited the courtyard of a Bhil mother, who was inviting the ‘matas’ to come and celebrate the birth of her child. Together, they invoked Kalka Mata from Pawangarh and Madhuri Mata from Galiacot, to weave strings of fireflies into swirls of light, and dance in the courtyard in the evening air.

Poetry, said, the poet, is uninspiring, when read on a piece of paper. Mr. Khare who has worked extensively with communities such as the Kota, Toda, Nari Kurava, and Katkari among others to document and translate their poetry, read from two of his works, ‘My son’, which was his response to his son, when he was asked to ‘sit down and teach him’, and ‘I remember’, which talks of his house by the river, which was gradually swallowed by the river Hooghly. Reading for children, said the poet was enjoyable, because their reaction is primal and spontaneous, and not analytical like adults.

The reading suitably ended with a spirited question by one of the students. “Is it necessary that your poems should be understood,” he asked, seated in a corner.

The room was soon rumbling with responses. “Of, course a poem must have a message, a meaning,” affirmed Navonil Banerjee, a student who wants to be a revolutionary, a communist.

“I love Tagore,” said Sagnik Ghosh. “How do you make words rhyme,” asked another zealous student.

However, the chatter had to subside, and ideas had to wait for later to be rekindled, as they all queued up, and headed to the examination hall.

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