Poetry is not something you associate with a civil servant toughened by the vagaries of bureaucracy. But when he’s not signing files, Anthony De Sa, an IAS officer, lets his alter ego Tino De Sa comment on the sublime beauty in the bloom of pretty flowers, or the mythological significance of the prehistoric Bhimbetka cave-paintings.
The poet in De Sa will get a chance for some peer group appreciation when he and around 50 other contemporary New Delhi poets come together for a poetry recitation at the India Habitat Centre on 24 July.
The event has been organized by Delhi Poetree, started by host-poet 53-year-old Amit Dahiyabadshah in 2005. On that evening, Dahiyabadshah promises a feast of at least 50 poems in English, Urdu, Hindustani and Punjabi, read in the poets’ own distinct styles. As the microphone passes from one bard to another, other hands will pass along a small lamp in the manner of traditional Urdu mushairas (poet gatherings).
“It is a stage for both English and Hindustani poets to interact with each other. This will help them enrich their work,” says De Sa about the event.
Most of these poets have been published, but there are some surprises in store for the audience. For example, the youngest poet on the dais will be 10-year-old Tirthankar Guha Majumdar, who writes mostly on nature and emotions. The group also includes established names such as Keki N. Daruwalla (Collected Poems, 1970-2005, Penguin, 2006) and Urdu poet-writer Tarannum Riyaz (Purani Kitabon ki Khusboo, Educational Publishing House, 2005). Riyaz, who is better-known for her prose, writes on a wide variety of themes ranging from mountains to longing in relationships, and is yet undecided as to which of her poems she will recite at the event. “It will definitely not be a love poem. Probably, something sensitive, decided on the spur of the moment,” she says.
The selection of participants was made by Dahiyabadshah along with a group of other poets, including Manjul Bajaj, Lakshmi Shankar Vajpayee and De Sa. “The only criteria for selection is that you must have been featured in at least one of the poetry readings at Delhi Poetree,” says Dahiyabadshah. Bajaj, who is also an economist, environmental consultant and freelance writer, is one of the poets featured at the event. She writes in English with a strong Indian sensibility, using common motifs and themes ranging from “mango panna to Haridwar”. “This event is extremely important since it is an attempt to reclaim poetry as an essential part of everyday life, rather than something taught in literature courses in schools and colleges,” she says.
This initiative will later be taken a step forward with the publication of two anthologies, one called Poetry at the Habitat, to be published by the end of the year, and the other, a collection of works of 50 poets from South Delhi, to be published in three months. “The idea is to build a strong sense of community and neighbourhood through poetry,” says Dahiyabadshah.
Delhi Poetree already hosts up to 18 nights of poetry every month at various venues across the city, where anyone with even half an ear for poetry can come up to the stage and read their works. There is no formal membership or screening process and this accessibility has lent it some regular patrons, who travel all the way from Gurgaon or Sonepat to attend meetings.
Dahiyabadshah, incidentally, was a Haryana-based farmer before a move to New Delhi bought poetry into his life. The results are seven published volumes of poetry, which feature a host of themes, including environmental issues, terror and love. “When I wanted to start this, people told me that nobody has time for poetry in India,” he says. Dahiyabadshah believes that the planned reading will also go a long way in honouring the “last honest witnesses that the city is left with”.
He does not, however, stop at words. Each participant at this month’s event will be offered free accident insurance which, according to Dahiyabadshah, will emphasize the importance of these “living treasures”.
The Poetry Society of India, New Delhi:The Society meets around twice a month at the India International Centre or the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus. Membership is open only to people with published work. Lifetime membership is Rs1,500.
Call: H.K. Kaul at 9891016667
The Poetry Club of India, New Delhi:
The group meets once in two months at the India Habitat Centre. Anyone can attend meetings.
Call: 011 25522836
In the Company of Poets, New Delhi:
Also known as the Saturday Poets, this group of enthusiasts meets every Friday at India Coffee House, Mohan Singh Place, or the Press Club of India.
Call: Inder Batra Sahil at 011 41727032
Ghalib Academy, New Delhi:
Urdu poetry readings and discussions are held on the second Saturday of every month at 6pm, at the academy in Hazrat Nizamuddin.
Call: 011 24351908
An interactive forum which meets once a month at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Nariman Point.
Call: 022 66223737 for more details
Poetry Circle, Mumbai:
A platform for readings and criticism, open to everyone. It meets on every second Friday at Kitab Mahal, Flora Fountain.
The poetry reading by 50 contemporary New Delhi poets will be held on 24 July at 6.45pm at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. The session is open to all listeners.