Bombay Showcase

Celebrating verse in all languages

While Saurabh Jain (left) writes in Hindustani, Ankita Shah writes inEnglish — Photo Special Arrangement  

Art spaces are often held accountable for reinforcing social hierarchies in subtle and insidious ways. Even non-ticketed events that are open to all come with their own set of barriers, and the most prominent among these is language. There are two common scenarios: either a dominance of English, and the associated snobbery towards ‘vernacular’ languages; or the claim that authentic creative expression is possible only in the mother tongue for it is rooted to soil and culture, as against English, which is the language of the coloniser. A mature celebration of linguistic diversity is rare to find.

This is why The Poetry Club (TPC) Mumbai, which is presenting an evening of curated poetry at Kitab Khana this evening, is an inclusionary arts forum.

In June 2013, when Ankita Shah and Trupthi Shetty co-founded it as a platform for young poets to share and discuss their work, they were clear about the fact that it would be truly open, and inclusive only if all languages got equal space and respect.

TPC Mumbai organises two kinds of events: a monthly meeting where any poet is welcome to present his/her work before fellow poets; and curated events where entries are invited and selected on the basis of thematic relevance.

These curated events have been organised in collaboration with literature festivals, art galleries, college festivals, bookstores, NGOs and media companies. Shah, who writes only in English, says, “Our aim with TPC Mumbai was to create a friendly space where people could read or perform their work, and also receive feedback on it from peers. We realised that a huge amount of comfort comes from being heard in the language that feels most natural to you.”

Both Shah and Shetty were keen to build a community of poets because they wanted to be part of one. “Every language has its own beauty,” says Shah. “And even those of us who have studied in English medium schools and colleges have grown up speaking in other languages with our parents and neighbours. There are certain nuances we are unable to express in English.”

One of TPC’s core team members is Saurabh Jain, 29, who writes in Hindustani, and will read a couple of his poems today. Jain, a data analyst from Gaya who relocated to Mumbai, says, “If we exclude a language, we exclude the culture that comes with it. I feel that listening to poetry in Marathi is also a way for me to learn more about Maharashtra as a region, and the experiences of people here.”

He has penned a few lines of verse that express beautifully how different languages can share space: “ Tum aakhri safhe pe Urdu likhna, Main Hindi likhoonga pehle panne par, Jis jagah pe aakar milenge dono, Woh hi zubaan hamaari hai (Your Urdu flowing from the last page, My Hindi coursing from the first, And where they shall merge, The fountain of our speech).”

Aditya Davane, 22, an MBA student, writes in Marathi. “I deeply appreciate the opportunity to read in Marathi. And I find that people who may not fully understand the meaning of my words are listening to the sounds of those words, for the feeling I try to evoke when I perform a poem. I have the same experience when I listen to poems in other languages.”

Six other poets — Biswadip Sen and Asrar-ul-haq in Hindustani, Pooja Dakre in Marathi, Mihir Chitre, Sejal Ghia and Ray Iyer in English — will share their works.

Both Shah and Jain speak of their desire to create an environment where poets can step in without fear of judgement or dismissal. They do not prescribe length, form, style or content. “Receiving feedback,” says Shah, “is optional. Different people have different approaches to the creative process. Some do not want feedback. That is okay too.”

Jain is wary of poetry forums that are based on competition. He feels that they lead poets to focus on the prize at the end, instead of the experience of writing, sharing and discussing. “Even when people at our sessions offer feedback,” he says, “we encourage them to be responsible in the way they communicate their feedback. The objective is to help the poet hone their work, and not to critique just for the sake of finding fault.”

Perhaps they are doing it right, at least if you ask Davane, who says, “Feedback from older poets has pushed me outside my comfort zone, and my writing has improved. They talk about what a poem did for them as readers. They don’t perform a post-mortem on it.” For young city poets, this balance of encouragement coupled with parity for poets across language groups, is an excellent recipe for an inclusive arts space.

The Poetry Club will convene this evening at Kitab Khana at 5pm today

The author is a freelance writer

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 4:30:08 PM |

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