Coronavirus | Poetry in Kolkata refuses to pause for the pandemic

Sonnet Mondal.  

Last week, amidst all the anxiety and anticipation — over issues ranging from a global pandemic to the American presidency — there was poetry.

An event that was being held in Kolkata for the past two Novembers was held this year as well as scheduled, only that it was held online — like most events these days — but the list of participants remained just as impressive: from Ben Okri to Keki Daruwalla to a host of well-known names representing Indian languages.

After three successive years, the international event, the Chair Poetry Evenings, has become an institution by itself, one of the very few in the country to exclusively celebrate poets and their poetry. And it is being anchored by an Indian poet, who is just 29, and grew up mostly in various villages of West Bengal. His name, quite appropriately, is Sonnet Mondal.

“I was born in the coalfield area of West Bengal and since my father had a transferable job, I never grew up in one place. But a large part of my childhood oscillated between two villages of two neighbouring districts of Bengal,” said Mr. Mondal, recalling his childhood in a rather poetic fashion.

“My fondest recollections are those of my vacations spent in my maternal grandparents’ house in a village named Jahidpur. I haven’t been there in years now but the roads, the cattle, the harvest time, the rooms of my maternal house and the village banyan tree shine like mercury in the glass tube of my nostalgia,” he said.

Mr. Mondal wrote his first poem at the age of 15 — “on a rain-soused summer afternoon in 2006 when a cool waft after a nor’wester was whispering around and I was inhaling the sounds of silence”. Since then he has travelled across the globe to read, and write, poetry.

The idea for Chair Poetry Evenings came one evening in 2017 at the home of Tushar Dhawal Singh, an Indian Revenue Service officer and also a poet, who had just moved from Mumbai to Kolkata and had organised an informal reading at his residence.

“There was this mahogany chair which had provided comfort to many an artist while it was in his Mumbai home. One by one the poets sat on this chair and recited their poems that evening and the name Chair Poetry Evenings was coined there,” Mr. Mondal said.

“Later in February 2018, Tushar and I, during a late-night stroll, decided that we should amalgamate the prodigious and diverse world of poetry by inviting poets from all across the globe to an annual festival in Kolkata. That’s how the event was born,” he said.

This year, when numerous other literary events were put on hold due to COVID-19, Mr. Mondal decided to go ahead with his. And the response, according to him, was “great and delectable”. The participants included Ben Okri, Vijay Seshadri, Keki Daruwalla, Ashok Vajpeyi, Tsead Bruinja, Amir Or, Manohar Shetty, and Prabal Kumar Basu.

“The viewer engagement was so high that even though we are hoping to return with the real festival next year, we would ascertain that all the programmes can be viewed live through our social media handles,” Mr. Mondal said.

So how different is Chair Poetry Evenings from other literary events? “Our festival utilises a metaphor in its name to describe itself and is hosted in various parts of the city, ending with our signature event, Poetry on the Cruise, over the River Hooghly. We additionally believe in restricting the number of our participating poets so that both the poets and the audience can associate well and don’t feel lost in a crowded fair,” Mr. Mondal said.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 7:39:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/poetry-in-kolkata-refuses-to-pause-for-the-pandemic/article33058776.ece

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