Watch: These poetry reading sessions took literature into locked down lives via Instagram
The events were organised by Kitab Khana bookshop and the Indian Novels Collective, both based in Mumbai.
A bookstore and a collective focused on translating Indian literary classics into English has formed a partnership to bring Indian poets together. The bookstore, Kitab Khana if Mumbai, a regular venue for readings by poets and writers is now hosting Poetry Live – poetry readings and discussions – on its Instagram account.
Poet and writer Arundhathi Subramaniam launched Poetry Live on March 31, saying, “There is something about poetry, I think, particularly in times of uncertainty. It’s a role that is quite irreplaceable, and has to do with the fact that poetry responds spiritedly to uncertainty, but without ever resorting to the language of certainty. That’s what makes it so irreplaceable.” Subramaniam opened the readings with Rumi’s The Tent, a poem she has been revisiting in recent times.
“Outside, the freezing desert night.
This other night inside grows warm, kindling.
Let the landscape be covered with thorny crust.
We have a soft garden in here.
The continents blasted,
cities and little towns, everything
become a scorched, blackened ball.
The news we hear is full of grief for that future,
but the real news inside here
is there’s no news at all.”
Poetry Live now includes sone 70 poets from all over India, from various literary and linguistic landscapes. Ashwani Kumar, co-founder of Indian Novels Collective, brought these poets together during the lockdown. “Poets are notorious for coping with crises and renewing hope for survival,” he said. “At least, more than non-poets.”
All the performances were live and not pre-recorded, using Instagram’s live video feature. Poet Sampurna Chattarji began by trying to get used to the virtual atmosphere – engaging with her invisible listeners, waving back at the wobbling cartoon hands, hearts and smileys floating up the screen. She began her reading with a poem that she wrote on the last day of 2019.
Priya Sarukkai Chabria read from her latest book Calling Over Water which was to have been launched on April 3. She dedicated her reading to the migrants who were still walking to their homes thousands of miles away. “Let’s see what we can do for them, because it’s really a horrific story,” she said. The desperation of the current times, the pandemic and the uncertainty inadvertently became the theme for most poets.
Sonnet Mondal opened his set with a poem he wrote a couple of weeks ago, titled Lockdown.
“Where roads do not unfurl
the need for limits
breathes through dry tears.
Where Solitude takes wing
for the falling Sun
amnesia shrouds a generation.
Caged, wingless, a bird waits
for the last dusk
as a forsaken boatman
rows for food in the twilight.”
In her opening address, Subramaniam called Poetry Live a virtual, collective campfire. “A chance to warm our hands,” she said. Many more poets gave readings, including K Satchidanandan, Mangalesh Dabral, Savita Singh, Hemant Divate, Salma Rajathi, Robin Ngangom, Mamang Dai, Melvyn Rodrigues, Salil Tripathi, Prabodh Parikh, Nilim Kumar, and radical Dalit voices like Jayant Parmar and Basudev Sunani.
Kumar is planning to curate an anthology of poems read during Poetry Live.
Preksha Sharma is assistant editor, The Indian Quarterly magazine.