All aboard the poetry express

The intermittent buzzer sounds and train announcements stemmed the poetic flow somewhat, but that was the whole point. For the small crowd of poetry lovers that had settled down for an hour or so at the lobby of Shenoy Nagar metro station, after a short train ride, the subject was ambient. The pieces chosen to read out loud were based on the human experience in trains, and where better to recreate them, than on one?

“While I was on the train, and I was reading the words ‘lurching and leafing’, that’s exactly what I was doing,” recalls poet and writer Sampurna Chattarji, gleefully, “I was lurching with the movement of the train, and leafing through my papers at the same time.”

Chattarji, and French-Indian dance producer and poet Karthika Nair, are co-writers of Metro Lands, an upcoming curation of poetic memoirs or observations, of sorts, built along the duo’s experiences on the Mumbai local train and the Paris metro respectively. It has descriptions, interactions and snippets of overworked conversations, each painting a separate picture of the varied human experience, as observed during train rides.

“I had begun writing about trains years ago, but had to set it aside for other projects,” says Nair, “This seemed a perfect time to get back to it, and it also seemed perfect for a collaboration.”

All aboard the poetry express

There is a lot that is common in the two sets of writings, as is evident from the snippets the duo reads out. There is the rhythm of motion, and the interplay of human emotion, an inkling of humour in the everyday, that runs as a common thread. Perhaps in an attempt to emphasise this connection, the writings in the two cities alternate in sequence: Mumbai picking up where Paris lets off.

The book is still under production, and is being illustrated by noted Gond artist Roshni Vyam and illustrator Joelle Jolivet. Vyam and Jolivet were both present on the train ride and the gathering later, turning the event into more than just a reading, with their live, simultaneous illustrations of the pieces being read out by Chattarji and Nair.

A common journey

“However different the topography or the models of the trains, people are people,” states Nair, “There’s so much you learn in a journey, whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour... in a common, confined, urban space.”

As the small gathering realises that the recitations are over, and begins to trickle away, some stay behind to talk to the authors and the artists. A few of these are people who had ridden the train with them, from Ashok Nagar metro station to Shenoy Nagar, and had an earlier inkling of what all the fuss was about. Others — like the policemen who had stopped by to check their permissions — had simply liked what they saw and heard, and stayed on.

All aboard the poetry express

“There is always the possibility of someone’s attention being snagged by something unusual going on in a familiar, overused and routine path. If there is something interesting happening, people do stop, even if it’s for half a second. Maybe, we are making a demand on a person’s attention; maybe they would rather be left alone to dream, or read, or talk to his girlfriend... so it is, in one sense, an imposition. But it could also be a welcome interruption or an intervention. A lot of the ways in which public art works is to make you stop and look at something outside the grid of your life,” explains Chattarji.

Having said that, the imposition is not just on the audience, but on the subjects of the poems as well. Nair admits as much, observing that much of what they overheard and later shaped into the book were extremely personal situations, albeit having played out in public spaces. Which is why changes have been made to the content, she says, adding that these poems, though chronicles, should be treated as fiction. “Do not take poetry as autobiographical,” she says, “It is a distilling of human experience, in search of what I call the emotional truth.”

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Printable version | Sep 15, 2021 10:18:21 PM |

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