Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kitaabnama: Books and Beyond on Indian television completes 30 episodes


New Delhi: "Kitaabnama: Books and Beyond" on Indian television completes 30 episodes  Literature as prime time entertainment is finding new audiences beyond bookshops and book reading sessions.  

The Doordarshan, India’s national broadcaster, has completed 30 episodes of “Kitaabnama: Books and Beyond” on April 13, 2014 —showing that literature commands eyeballs on the television at a time when soaps and cinema are calling the shots in the popular cultural, arts, intellectual and entertainment space. It is yet another avatar of the literature festival — a term of engagement with live literature that Indians have been reveling in across metropolitan centres and cities across the country for more than a decade. Call it the new fine print revolution in the country.            
Conceived by writer and literary activist Namita Gokhale, the programme has a participatory and inclusive format that showcases the “multilingual diversity of Indian literature”.  Addressing literary issues of contemporary interest through dialogue and conversation, “Kitaabnama: Books and Beyond” has featured discussions, readings and encounters with writers, academics, journalists, filmmakers, publishers and intellectuals showcasing the multilingual diversity of India.

The show includes speakers from the spheres of Hindi, English, and various Indian languages including Bangla, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Khasi, Rajasthani, Gujarati and Asura amongst others. It brings international names and voices as well

Founder of the capsule, Namita Gokhale said the “prime time positioning and the extraordinary outreach of the national broadcaster Doordarshan has made the programme easily accessible to viewers across the nation. “I feel it is consistently high quality of the programming, which we have scrupulously maintained through the last 30 episodes, has led to audience appreciation and loyalty for our book show,” Gokhale said.    
She said the response to the programme has been overwhelming. The awareness about literature has been growing in smaller towns — as mainstream cultural consciousness shifts from the metropolitan centres to the tier 2 and tier 3 cities because of the growing spread of education. Doordrashan still retains the widest beam-print in a country, where 40 per cent of the population lives in the villages with connectivity to probably one community television.

Official estimates suggest that Doordrashan is the most widely watched channel in heartland regions of the country.     

“Every now and then, I get enthusiastic emails and messages from across the country from book lovers, who enjoy the diversity and multilingual insights into the many languages and literatures of India. In my experience from the Jaipur literature festival, and other such events, audiences respond to the challenge of intelligent and thought provoking programming on television and outside at interactive venues,” Gokhale said.  She said to encounter the voice of the author and the insights into the creative processes is a fascinating privilege. "I have always tried to bridge the gaps in communications between literature in English and Indian languages. While I respect intellect, I don't value elitism. These things reflect in the show. Apart from that, the effort is to create a platform for diverse literary voices from India, south Asia and indeed the world,' she said.     

The show has featured a “diverse range of celebrated names like Ashok Vajpeyi, Amish Tripathi, Geetanjali Shree, Mahesh Dattani, Mahmood Farooqui, Uday Prakash, Mamta Kalia, Keki Daruwalla, Bhanu Bharati, Urvashi Butalia, Ramchandra Guha,  and Lord Meghnad Desai”.

Recalling two of the memorable shows, a spokesperson for Kitaabnama said “a conversation with writer, historian and commentator Ramachandra Guha moderated by Namita Bhandare had drawn wide response from the audience, who found Guha’s postulations on Gandhi “enlightening and educating”.         

The writer of the book, “Gandhi Before India” had addressed the “multifaceted, complex personality of Gandhi” and had tried to posit how “his book was different from the vast public documentation already available on Gandhi”.
Another interesting programme included readings by Viky Arya from her book(s) of poems  “Nomadic Dreams’and its translation ‘Banjare Khwab” and “Dhoop ke Rang”.

“Celebrating Habib Tanvir’—‘Yaadnama Habib Tanvir’ featuring Mahmood Farooqui, Javed Malick and Rupleena Bose last year had set the quality benchmark for the programme to live up to.

 -Staff Writer 

Culture shifts to New Delhi's fringe neighbourhood- prime space beyond art frat's wallets


New Delhi

The urban landscape of the national capital is witnessing a transformation around an ancient historic site — the Mehrauli Archaeological Complex — dating back to the pre-Islamic Delhi, when Delhi was ruled by the Hindu kings and later by the Muslim slaves or “mamluk” sultans of north African, Turkish and Afghan origin. Culture is flowing out from the soul of Mughal Delhi to find new homes in the “low brow” historic suburbia.

Mehrauli, located on the south-western edge of Lutyen’s Delhi (the political capital complex of New Delhi), is close to Gurgaon, one of the capital’s new satellite township in state of Haryana and the Vasant Kunj residential neighbourhood on the Delhi-Haryana border.

The complex that spreads out like a wide fan covering more than 500 acres of the Qutab Minar, the Meherauli Archeological Park and adjacent neighbourhoods, was said to have been founded by king Mihir Bhoja of the Gujjar-Pratihara dynasty. 

The name Mehrauli derives from Mihirauli or the home of the Mihir kings.The villages that once made up the old township of Mehrauli — one of the seven ancient cities of Delhi — with their heritage skyline of mosques, tombs, step-wells, community baths, landscaped gardens and smaller monuments — have made way to high-end fashion, design and art boutiques breathing new life to history. The old has moved on in sync with the time to accommodate the contemporary— and regenerate the capital’s heritage in new sustainable ways.

In the heart of this historical catharsis is the Lado Sarai Arts Village, barely 2 km from the archeological complex of Mehrauli. An ancient village ruled by a Hindu Tomar king and subsequently by an Afghan chieftain, Lado Sarai, which spills into Mehrauli’s core of cultural commerce, is home to at least 20 art galleries, design vends and artifacts stores that promote contemporary Indian arts with a global slant— drawing the world into its essential drift of Indo-Islamic historical syncretism and arts.

This kilometer-long stretch of dusty mixed-used urban heritage zone hosting old buildings, remains of historical sites, grocery and hardware stores have opened their “closed spaces” — unexplored so far — to swish art houses in whitewashes, glass and fashionable neon billboards screaming “haute art”.It is quaint at the first glance. The pockmarked asphalt road to the village —in dire need of repairs — is nothing short of suburban. Half a kilometer into the crowded bazaar like street, the landscape begins to morph. 

The display windows and shop fronts change from the humdrum “Sharma & Sons Hardware Store” to hip spaces with names like “Exhibit 320”, “Latitude 28”, “Art District XIII”, “Art Positive”, “Wonderwall”, “Studio Art”, “Art Motif”, “Must Art Gallery:, “Threshhold Art Gallery”, “Galerie Art Eterne” and “Creativity Art Gallery’, “Anant Art Gallery”, “Art Bull”, “Art Konsult” — and several more which stand like spiffy colonial cousins of the everyday businesses that crowd the approach to Ladosarai from Qutab Minar.The boutiques often strike the intrepid visitor as children turned out in their Sunday best for a party in a street that once embarrassed them.The makeover of Ladosarai dates back to 2009 when it drew its first arts entrepreneur, Mamta Singhania, who built the “Anant Art Gallery”, paving the way for a rush. 

Twenty odd spaces have opened their doors since then. Every three months, the art lane hosts a gala, Ladosarai Art Nite, preferably on a weekend, from 6 pm to 9.30 pm, when at least six of the 20 galleries open new shows simultaneously in a wine-and–cheese hopping itinerary. The idea is to celebrate the spirit of beauty, life and new business on the street that has rendered an alternative twist to history — almost like the Paris and the Madrid Art Walks that meander across museums, souks and boutique art houses. The initiative has linked tourism to arts and related business of design and fashion that thrives in the neighbouring Qutab Crescent shopping district, Qila- One Style Mile ( a style and entertainment destination) and the Ambavatta mall — in an ancient heritage site, where the mainstay has been historical tourism traditionally.

Visitors move from one gallery to another to check out the fare on offer — and in the process raise the awareness bar about art with discussions, curated viewings, criticisms and sundry conversations around aesthetics. The Art Nite — modeled on similar events in Mumbai and Bengaluru — is the brainchild of gallerist Bhavna Kakar, who manages Latitude 28, together with a handful of other gallery owners on the street.

“The presence of nearly 20 galleries on one street was raising the competition between the art houses. We got together one day and decided to start an art night — a common opening night. The street has a life of its own and we wanted to add a touch of glamour to it by setting aside a day to toast the spirit of the street,” Bhavna Kakar told this writer. The Art Nite began on a modest scale in 2011.

The common opening night has changed the environment of cut-throat competition among the gallerists to foster mutual respect— and new friendships, the gallery owner explained.On April 12, 2014, Lado Sarai hosted a special Art Nite to mark the opening of a new gallery, “Art District XIII”— an upscale display house set up by art mentor Kapil. Six of the galleries opened their spaces to draw visitors to the village; but not all the shows were new. The highlight of the Art Nite on April 12 was “Art District” which threw its door open to people with an exhibition, “Built in Translation II” by Australian artist Paul Davies. The studio gallery, however, pushed Anish Kapoor, as a bait to draw visitors to the space.The eye-catching piece that attracted several lay visitors to the new gallery was Anish Kapoor’s art work, “Absolut Anish”, a sculptural multi-dimensional installation that Kapoor has made for the Absolut Vodka brand.Gallery mentor Kapil described the space as yet another “platform” for artists to display their work. “The whole idea was to create infrastructure. This country needs more arts infrastructure because it has none to show off,” Kapil told this writer.Davies’ exhibition reflected the inclusive spirit of arts that India has been revelling in for the last decade. 

The artist, who used stencil, photographs and acrylic colours to plot contours of “plush western homes” inspired by architectural designs around the world in impressionistic imprints – that resembled photographic images — did not locate his architecture in specific geography.“My homes straddle the world. It is like translating living spaces around the globe on the canvas. Some of the homes are from Los Angeles and Paris, the swimming pools are from Palm Springs and the trees from South Africa. There are no people and no human forms. They are designed to generate their own responses with recognizable images, but are ambiguous enough to make the viewer wonder what is about to happen. It triggers a sense of mystery,” Davies explained his art.Lado Sarai's response to global art and utilisation of space found an echo in Wonderwall, the street’s lone photography salon. 

An exhibition, “Tale of Three Cities”, at Wonderwall hosted a selection of photo-essays from New York, London and Paris shot by Ajay Rajgharia, Amit Mehra, Dinesh Khanna, Leena Kejriwal, Prarthana Modi and Saadiya Kocher.“I chose photographs from these three cities (New York, London and Paris) because they are most memorable on travellers’ consciousness— in public memory. London has a different charm, New York has a different appeal and Paris is different from London and New York. But all travellers, especially people like us and those who visit art galleries, swear by these three cities when they go abroad,” Rajgharia, who manages Wonderwall, said.

“The destinations are easy to relate to,” he said. Rajgharia’s collection is priced between Rs 12,500 and Rs. 150,000. Rajgharia says the Art Nite has translated into footfall but “business comes from those on the mailing list”. “Most people drop into Lado Sarai in the evening on their way to dinner over weekends,” he said. Consequently, the viewership is not always geared to commerce or buying. A boutique row of eateries at the Qutab Enclave led by the Olive Mehrauli is a draw for the exploding tribe of gourmands in Delhi who have long discovered the joy of fine dining and savouring international fares. Art is the perfect apertif for the swish crowd that flocks to the Qutab complex for lazy dinners.      

The Lado Sarai Art Nite on April 12, 2014 was a resonance of the movements in global contemporary art, depicting the diversity of content, concepts, the wide range of material, places and cultures from which the artists assimilated. The colourful photographs at Wonderwall were in tune with Davies “international homescapes at Art District Gallery which tried to show the synergy between built and natural environments. Art Positive looked at geometry and the relevance of architectural iconography in art with “Homing”— a curated show by Deeksha Nath, which explored man’s desire to “live” in their fantasy homes. It commented on the construction, transformation and conflicts surrounding the animate living quarters inhabited by man.

“Latitude 28” connected to the international theme with “Contested Spaces II”— a daylong video screening by a cast of international artists like Claudia Joskowicz, Kartik Sood, Morgan Wong, Rodrigo Braga, Sebastian Diaz Morales and Tintin Wulia, who played with space, images and their abstract connections. “Exhibit 320” brought a group of artists from central-south Asia and Africa to interpret traditional art motifs from the heritage turfs within the purview of the contemporary in a curated exhibition, “Past Traditions”.

One of the perks of the Art Nite for the lay art lover is the presence of artists, celebrities, connoisseurs and intellectuals— in a kind of star “dekko” exercise. Curator, critic, theorist and noted poet Ranjit Hoskote observed over sips of wine and bites of “kebabs” that “events such as these (Art Nite) reinvigorated neighbourhoods”.“In a neighbourhood like Lado Sarai, it stands out as a positive signal that the art scene is back in action. It is a sign of renewed vibrancy,” Hoskote said. The curator, a native of Mumbai, said the arts quarters of South Mumbai (around the Kala Ghoda art district) with nearly 10 galleries opened together “on one Thursday a month in a ‘Long Night’” like the Art Nite at Lado Sarai.

The expensive real estate is the biggest problem that the fashion, design and the art world faces, Sunil Sethi, president of the Fashion Design Council of India and the vice-president of Li & Fung Group, told this writer.“Prices of real estate in commercial segments of Lado Sarai and Qutab Cresent – off the business pulse of Delhi’s main commercial districts  like Connaught Place, South Extension and the Khan Market  — were still affordable in comparison…This is a space where art, fashion and design are gradually coming together,” he said.

Sethi pointed to a change in the traditional landscape of Delhi. The focus was shifting from the Haus Khas village in south Delhi — once pampered as the swanky and ethnic arts souk of New Delhi in the 1980s-1990s to “the relatively back-of-beyond areas like Lado Sarai and Mehrauli because the capital was expanding beyond New Delhi. “Haus Khas is more of an eating and entertainment area now,” Sethi regretted.

“The Art District XIII Gallery (which has built as asphalt road inside the studio space for visitors to walk on) could be anywhere in the world – even in UK. How does location (Lado Sarai and UK) matter?” Sethi said.

Sethi’s “optimism” was echoed by ace fashion designer-turned art photographer JJ.Valaya, who is represented by gallerist Peter Nagi of Nature Morte Gallery. “We have been culturally more advance. This whole movement of arts to the fringe areas like Lado Sarai is wonderful. What would life be without arts?” Valaya said. The designer-photographer, who is working on a new collection of photographs— which he describes as an attempt at scaling up — will not mind displaying at Lado Sarai.Lado Sarai certainly gets its celebrity endorsement as “Delhi’s emerging arts hub”. “It is the hottest zone to watch out for,” Sunil Sethi summed up.

-Madhusree Chatterjee

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Poetry is conversation between eclectic forces, cultures and encounters for Ranjit Hoskote

India –Literature/Books

“Call it providence if the day should turn
upon its hinges, letting light colonise
this empire of jars and shutters, this room.
A telegram in the rack spells hands that burn
because you did not reply, did not realise
that some words are too proud to remind you they came.
Blue is the colour of air letters, of conquerors’ eyes.
Blue, leaking from your pen, triggers this enterprise.
Never journey far from me; and, if you must,
find towpaths, trails; follow the portents fugitives trust
to guide them out and back. And at some fork,
pause; and climbing in twilight through you may be,
somewhere, address this heart’s unease,
this heart’s unanswered wilderness”- writes young contemporary poet Ranjit Hoskote
in “Effects of Distance (for Nancy)”.
It is one of the poems that the poet recalls having cherished writing because “it was a love poem”. It is tender, poignant and delicately drawn echoing his other calling— the arts which he had been responsive to early on. Hoskote’s expertise as a curator, flair
for imagery and the knowledge of visual arts flow into his poetry in waves; painting landscapes with words that are powerful and cinematic at the same time.
“I was responsive to the visual arts and the literary arts early on…I don’t have a kind of territorial approach to arts. It is equally important that I can respond to a painting, sculpture and poem —to how time is structured in literary texts, or how you receive a brushstroke of a certain kind as a bodily experience,” Hoskote told this writer on the sidelines of the “World Poetry Festival- Sabad” (March 21-24) in the national capital.
As a child, Hoskote painted and wrote. “My parents thought that visual arts was my calling and I would go to the arts school. I wanted to do architecture, but I moved to social sciences,” Hoskote said. However, his parental dream that he would procure an arts school degree became a lifelong vocation, drawing him back to arts from “social sciences”. “Art became a part of my life,” the poet said. Art and poetry that the poet describes as two parallel streams of consciousness in

life – often spilling into each other – makes poetry, for him, a “much more visceral practice.” “To relate sensations, energies and essentially bearing witness to an encounter dealing with the visual arts — you are pushing this space of sensation— releasing into language things that can’t be put into words,” Hoskote said.
The Mumbai-based poet looks at ancient mythology through the lens of modernism— that is coloured by his journeys to numerous rare and interesting places. At the festival Hoskote presented poems from a wide vista of geography and experience — from post war artist Francis Bacon, to Bombay (Mumbai) – the city of his personal theatre —Kashmir and Sri Lanka, where he is piqued into poetic surprise by the “Giant Malabar Squirrel” at Anuradhapura. The city of Bombay is referred to as “an album of proverbs that hides the parrot with red eyes”.
Mythology for Hoskote is a corridor. “It is a detour through which I go there…Mythology and historical poems are not about mythology or historical situations. They are tools for exploring the mystery of the language, the enigmas we inherit, the consciousness that we work with even while not fully grasping its capacities. A lot of these poems that work with mythology have to do with a sense of shaping, in different cadences, the perennial experiences of quest, love, war, exile and journeying — mythology is a detour,” the poet explained — when questioned about his “affinity to mythology in poetry”. Hoskote’s anthology of the translation of Kashmiri poet Lal Ded’s poetry — an effort

of 20 years — is rooted in Hindu Saivite mythology emanating from the icy climes of Kashmir where the 14th Kashmir where 14th century Saivite mendicant lived and wrote her poetry in praise of the Lord Shiva and about the socio-religious cultural rituals that evolved around the Saivite cult— including the occult underground. The poems explore the “nuances” of the language that reflect the syncretism of Yogachara Buddhism, Hinduism and Sufism which crafted the then spiritual environs of the multi-religious Valley.
A poet, a cultural theorist and a curator, Hoskote’s poetry anthology, “Vanishing  Acts: New Selected Poems” carries his eclectic poetic sensibilities to readers. The range of poetic muses is wide, the inspirations global and the language strangely esoteric— but with a fecund creativity that sparkles with intelligent word play.Hoskote had reasons to cheer at the World Poetry Festival presented by the Sahitya
Akademi last week — his collection of poems, “I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded” won the Sahitya Akademi’s translation award for 2013. Hoskote finds nothing wrong with the breed of Anglophone poets— who inhabit the literary landscape of post-colonial India. Language does not matter so long as the exposition meets the bar.
“There is only good poetry and bad poetry, no matter what language you write in. What language you write in is your business. You can find very inspiring, illuminating poetry in a whole range of languages, including Hindi and Marathi, Gujarati and Maithili. On the other hand, the ideological opposition to Anglophone writing in India grows less and less meaningful,” Hoskote said.

The poet rejects archetypes. When asked about the influence of Tagore on his own work, he said, “Tagore is one of my heroes as an educator, thinker, anarchist and painter. As a poet, while I appreciate his work, I do not respond to it instinctively. His poetry was the product of a specific lifeworld, historical moment, and cultural preoccupations, as well as a language of images and associations that I perhaps do not share..” Hoskote said. The 45-year-old poet resonates with the “cadences of poets like Charles Simic and Dom Moraes, Keki Daruwalla and Jorie Graham”. About his mentor, Nissim Ezekiel, Hoskote says, “We never agreed on our poetics, and had lively, always cordial debates on so many issues. Nissim’s aim was ‘saral bhasa’ (simple language), so to speak. His poetic utterance partakes more of texture and everyday speech.” Hoskote’s association with Ezekiel dates back to 1986. Ezekiel was his “father’s senior in college (Wilson College in Mumbai)”. “At some point my father realized I was serious about poetry and said ‘let’s take you to Nissim and see what he has to say,” Hoskote recounted.
However, the mentoring was more of an “assimilation process” for the young Hoskote. “My concern is also to play with different kind of textures. We don’t speak one language. You make your own poems of fragments of different kinds – like a collage,” the poet explained.
Hoskote listed four among the most “creative” of Anglophone poets as his favourites — Dom Moraes, Keki Daruwalla, Arvind Mehrotra and Adil Jussawalla. The radical western voices influenced his early years – “especially Ted Hughes for a long time”, he said.
Hoskote has a new project on his board. He is translating three Sanskrit poets including Bhatrihari, Bilhana and Amaru.

“Translation is a continuous process. Entire cultures have been nourished by translations. P. Lal, the poet, editor and translator, called it transcreation, an additive and engaged process of producing an equivalent of the original in another language, with a related but distinct richness,” Hoskote said.
As a translator, the poet straddles two worlds – that of the vernacular as a hunting ground for material “much of which still is underground” and English as the medium of expression, which undergoes transformation in the act of translation. Of his 1992 translation of Vasant Dahake’s poetry, he said “Translating from the Marathi, exploring the nuances of the language, was a good way to engage with the language and linguistic culture of the region where I lived. The Sanskrit texts I am now working on mean something else to me. They embody a vigorous secular Sanskrit culture, a different kind of cultural past to the sacred-oriented, religion-overlaid visions of the past that we are taught about or enjoined to imagine. There is a vibrant body of secular tradition that is hardly known,” he said. At a recent solo exhibition of artist Atul Dodiya that Hoskote curated, “poetry in translation from Gujarati compositions” was close to the core of the curatorial exercise. The poems were co-translated by Hoskote and the Gujarati theatreperson Naushil Mehta.
Poetry for Hoskote is both a “pilgrimage and a metropolitan flaneur’s journey”- a conversation with forces that inspire him- “whichever place, time or domain they may come from, archaeology or science fiction or myth or the intensities of the city”.

-Madhusree Chatterjee

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Poetry is cultural transfer, a shared experience in arts. A conversation with port George Szirtes


New Delhi
Contemporary poetry, says noted Hungarian-British poet and award-winning translator George Szirtes, is the expression of unconscious cultural transfers like the “chicken balti masala and the vindaloo” on the British lunch menu —  watered by assimilation from global diversity.

“Transfer is a very good thing. When we came to England from Hungary  (the poet as an eight-year old after the 1956 Budapest uprising with his parents, who were survivors of Nazi concentration and labour camps), I did not speak any English,” the poet, who teaches literature at the Univerity of East Anglia in UK, told this writer at the World Poetry Festival in the Indian national capital.      

“But with mutual respect, the cultural (and literary) transfers worked well,” the poet said. The socio-cultural milieu of Britain and the poet’s engagement with the society, education and life of his adopted homeland (spent in English boarding schools) opened the door to linguistic transfers. But in a strange way, it also  consolidated his connection with his Hungarian roots, a language whose rich literary expositions Szirtes brought to Britain’s mainstream through several prize-winning translations.    

“This imposition (of another language) was an act of transfer. It was a situation brought on by conformity to a new life — by acts like let us go to the school, cinema and sing,” the poet said.  At times, when Szirtes speaks Hungarian, English feels like a second language to him, but the “sense of language as a material body is useful for any writer, especially for a poet,” he observes in an interview to The Oxonian Review.

The sense of wonder of being able to express in English is palpable in Szirtes’ childlike pre-occupation with the language, which he speaks with fluid erudition.    

Szirtes, considered one of the leading authorities on contemporary European and new world poetry, studied painting at the Harrow School of Art and Leeds College of Art and Design before putting together his first book of poetry, “The Slant Door” in 1979. In 2005, he won the T.S. Eliot prize for his collection “Reel”. He is a member of the Royal Society of Literature.       

The poet, who chaired key sessions on translations, cross-currents between poetry and other arts in New Delhi at the poetry festival presented by the Sahitya Akademi (the nodal Indian body of literature), pointed out that the aim of the new poetry movement was to include as many different shades of voices as possible — to testify to this process of cultural transfer which has become more vigorous in the era of globalization.

“In one of the important anthologies of new poetry published in 1996, the editors (George Szirtes was one of the co-editors) made a point to include voices from different cultures such as India and Africa because poetry cannot be described as British, American or Asian any longer in this century,” he said. Poetic sensibilities have blurred borders.
Szirtes does not aver with the “perception of Commonwealth poetry” or literature that critics say “is developing as a distinct language flavoured by the local vernacular in the former colonies”. “London is fully multi-cultural. The assimilation is natural despite the fact that the cultural practices are different,” he said.

The integrated voice of poetry across cultures, loaded with echoes of differences in one linguistic strand (English), has become more pronounced in the age of Internet — and by the fact that poetry draws from all other forms of art like visual imagery, theatre and cinema, the poet explained.

“The development of the Internet has changed the way poetry is reaching out to readers and the voices it is reflecting. There is constant change in the voices. Anyone can post their poetry on the Internet and look professional. There are different poetry forums,” the poet said, comparing “poetry in his generation and now”.

“Growing up in my generation… there were certain schools of poetry. But now there is great explosion of information and knowledge on the Internet. Poetry can be read across greater spaces. There are a number of very good young poets at the University of East Anglia where I teach. They are not afraid to move between different kinds of voices; they are conscious of the voices and constantly change their voices… In a way the voices save future of books. More people are literate about poetry,” Szirtes said.

The poet is one of those pragmatists who advocates poetry as an “acquired art”— a literary genre that needs to be honed by tutelage. “It may be a spontaneous in man but the oeuvre has to be grounded in grammar like meters and rhythms. The crafts overlap geography like the sonnets have to be mastered from the Italians, the gothic poetry from Germany and the ballads from France. All these make up contemporary poetry,” Szirtes pointed out.

Personally, “American and French poetry” move Szirtes. “One of most exciting periods in 20th century English poetry is between the two wars — my favourite poets are located in that period,” Szirtes said.
He is fond of Baudelaire and Rilke, which he has read in translations from French and German respectively. On his part, Szirtes has translated works of Hungarian poets like Imre Madach  (The Tragedy of Man) and Zsuzsa Rakovsky (New Life) to award-winning volumes.   

The poet refers to cinema as a “creative learning tool” to mature poetic imagery. “Understanding movies is important.  I often tell my students to do a close-up or a zoom — like on a theatre stage. I was speaking to the Indian filmmaker Mani Kaul, who explained to me how raga (classical Indian music notations) works on the five elements of existence. He was speaking about Bollywood – and its genres like gangster, comedy and musical cinema. There has been cross-fertilisation across traditions and oeuvres. Poets now perform their poetry and combine it with other arts like photography and painting,” he said. It is a thread.

Cinema is like poetry as are other arts, Szirtes summed up.
His approach to poetry as a shared experience in arts is perhaps best established by the following excerpts from one of his clusters of short poems in response to a painting by John Latham’s painting, “The Observer  IV (1960)” based on the novel The Brothers Karamazov. The poems were published by Tate Modern in 2010.

Leading A Charred Life: Seven Short Songs

by George Szirtes

1. I had thought to have been charmed  Not framed: Had thought to be disarmed Not blamed. But life hangs fire as if suspended As if it had been slyly ended.

2. We cannot altogether escape the fact. The facts are something that can’t be quite escaped. But something is wrong in both thought and act: The act is thought, and act and thought are shaped.

3. Had I behaved better than I did… Had sky been lighter, detail more compact… Had escape ever been possible… Had I but thought, were it still feasible to act…

4. Someone is raising a hand at a bus stop. Someone is waving to someone on the other side. We watch the smile light briefly on a face. We watch our loved ones make their way through space, Then space rolling in like a tide, Entering a bus, a house, a shop.

5. Sometimes the beauty of wood is overwhelming. We love that which seems warm yet indifferent. So things burn down, so wood turns to coal, So coal begins where trees are rife. So we survive. We lead a (haha) charred life.

6. There is the terrible vehicle of darkness That runs over us in hope. There is my hand, there are your fingers. We hang by our fingertips. We cope.

7. If poetry were just a matter of the air Playing around the heart We’d feel a powerful gust beneath our lungs And call it art - And art would do, or be, at least, a start.
- Madhusree Chatterjee


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Bhutan decks for yet another world literature gala – solidarity deepens

India-South Asia/Literature 

New Delhi
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is gearing up to roll out a royal welcome to more than 50 well-known writers, thinkers, artists and scholars in Thimpu — the capital city — from May 22-24 (2014) to celebrate world and south Asian literature, and taking in the process a decisive leap in terms of status and number of participants at the festival.

The literary gala will pack back-to-back intellectual discourses over three days to understand the literary, cultural and social forces shaping the South Asian region as a regional soft power bloc to make an impact on Asia and the rest of the world.

The festival that began on a modest scale five years ago to foster regional cultural understanding as an initiative of the India-Bhutan Foundation and a non-profit organization Siyahi under the patronage of the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck — with the support of Taj Tashi — has expanded its literary canvas to include personalities not only from Bhutan and India, but from around the world as well. However, the focus of the festival remains Bhutanese literature and exchanges between Bhutan and India.

The festival this year will be sponsored by Usha International for the second time in a row.    

The fifth edition of the festival will cast the spotlight on the easily relatable aspects of literature like popular fiction, democracy and civil society — a topic that assumes significance in the country given the fact that its democracy is still not a decade old — travel, cities, human-animal conflict, animist beliefs, crime and thriller writing.

Democracy in Bhutan, which is still a country in transition, is an overarching occupation at every stratum of the civil society, being discoursed in rural and urban segments alike by the commoners, intellectuals, the government machinery and the royalty. It has led to a new inclusivity in arts and culture with literature mirroring the issues of Bhutan at the cusp of change — poised on the crossroad between democracy, a facilitating monarchy and freedom. The country, however, strives to maintain a pragmatic balance between its traditional Buddhist society and modernism.     

The first democratic elections in Bhutan were held in 2007 and by 2011, every level of the government had been democratically elected.    

If literature is the mainstay of the festival, culture will form its usual scaffolding like in all the previous years. The festival will include an elaborate cultural package of movies like “Bhutan Women Forward” by Kesang Chuki Dorjee, “The Red Door” by Tashi Gyetlsen, “Finding Happiness” by Ted Nicolaou and the “The Yak Herder’s Son” by Tshering Tempa.

Art, an integral part of the festival, will move from core conventions of traditional visuals to crafts based traditions of the nation to display showcases of “Bhutanese Textiles in High Fashion Tahgzo”, the “Textile Weaves of Bhutan” and “Contemporary Bhutanese and Japanese art”.

The live performances will present snapshots of the emerging popular young culture of Bhutan — with performances by bands like The Baby Boomers, The Daydream Farmers, Poisoned Apple and Zhaw. The collateral events will include workshops on alternative creative arts like crime writing, high-end cuisine, leadership and dream interpretation, the festival directors said.

Live music and dance, observers said, are the new mascots of liberal expression in Bhutan. In 2013, the fourth edition of Mountain Echoes coincided with “marathon western dance and music carnivals” in the capital in a stimulating mix of high literature and mass culture- echoing across the misty mountain peaks and Buddhist shrines that cling to the slopes flanking the Thimpu river. 

The festival which makes it to the tourism calendar of the mountain state is gradually visitors from across the world. Summers are usually the bustle time of Bhutan’s tourism itinerary.                 

The festival, for the first time, is being steered by a joint panel of directors from India and Bhutan, including Namita Gokhale, Pramode Kumar KG, Kunzang Choden and Siok Sian Dorji— a commitment that the founding members of the festival had made to Bhutan the year it was inaugurated.

“Mountain Echoes is for the people of Bhutan. We just helped set it up — played the big brother in the region with more resources than the neighbours,” an Indian observer at the 2013 edition of the festival had told this writer.                                                        

Over the last five years, Bhutan had been riding on its nascent wave of democracy and pushing its cultural frontiers to forge strategic soft partnerships with neighours. India’s bilateral goodwill and “free cultural spirit” have encouraged the country to spread its wings. The festival’s chief sponsor, Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, a writer of repute, shares “deep” roots with India — a country where she went to school as a young woman in Darjeeling.

At the festival in 2013, she had said, “the elected government would take the government to new development and cultural heights”. It was endorsed by Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay.  The roster of the 2014 edition of the Mountain Echoes is a testimony to the change and the “wider scope” — held out as a promise last year.  

The speakers list  
Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck
Advaita Kala
Alka Pandey
Ani Kinley
Anuja Chauhan
Arshia Sattar
Ashok Vajpeyi
Christopher C Doyle
Dago Tshering
Damchu Llendup
Dasho Kinley Dorji
Dipankar Gupta
Dolma C Roder
Dorji Gyeltshen Shejun
Dr. Lopen Karma Phuntsho
Florence Noiville
Gavin Francis
Ira Pande
Karma Choden
Karma Tenzin 'Yongba'
Kesang Chuki Dorjee
Kjell Ola Dahl
Kunzang Choden
Lily Wangchuk
Lopen Lungtaen Gyatso
Malvika Singh
Manju Wakhley
Marie Venø Thesbjerg
Namgay Zam
Namita Gokhale
Navtej Sarna
Passang Passu Tshering
Pavan K Varma
Pramod Kumar KG
Rashna Imhasly Gandhy
Rebecca Pradhan
Robert Yeo
Sangay Wangchuk
Siddharth Shriram
Siok Sian Dorji
Somnath Batabyal
Sonam Jatso
Sonam Kinga
Sonam Wangchuk
Sonia Khurana
Sujeev Shakya
Tang Gup Thinley Namgyel
Tashi Chewang
Tashi Gyeltshen
Umesh Anand
Yeshey Dorji
Yoko Ishigami

-Madhusree Chatterjee

Saturday, March 29, 2014

An ‘Earth Anthem’ in poetry – Abhay K’s poetic journey across different geographies


New Delhi: The earth is in dire need of an anthem to protect itself as the degeneration of the planet’s fragile life-chain picks speed, says diplomat-poet-painter Abhay K, who has moved the United Nations with an “idea for an Earth Anthem” to save the planet.

Inspired by the “Earth Day and Earth Hour” — a day (March 29) dedicated to the conservation of the planet Earth and its depleting “energy sources”— the anthem, however, goes beyond the immediate relevance of the day. “You have national anthems and anthems to mark different occasion, but not one for the planet that hosts us,” Abhay K told this writer at the World Poetry Festival in the capital sponsored by Sahitya Akademi March 21-24.  

The poet wrote and published his first earth anthem in 2009 and made several revisions over the years. The revised Earth Anthem was published in his collection of poems, “Remains” in June 2012 and set to music by Sapan Ghimire.        

The “Earth Anthem” is a soulful ditty — simple and touching in its childlike appeal for unity: "Our cosmic oasis, cosmic blue pearl/the most beautiful planet in the universe/our cosmic oasis, cosmic blue pearl/all the continents and the oceans of the world/united we stand as flora and fauna/united we stand as species of one earth/black, brown, white, different colours/we are humans, the earth is our home.
Our cosmic oasis, cosmic blue pearl/the most beautiful planet in the universe/our cosmic oasis, cosmic blue pearl/all the people and the nations of the world/all for one and one for all,/united we unfurl the blue marble flag/black, brown, white, different colours/we are humans, the earth is our home”.

In a memoir article about the making of the song, Abhay K. recalls, “One summer evening in Delhi, a motley group of people gathered at Azad Bhavan, the headquarters of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), as well as Mandi House on Copernicus Road. It is near ITO, a little far from the comfort zone of Delhi’s cultural elite. The summer evening was made special by the presence of two erudite Union ministers — Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor. They had gathered to listen to the anthem for our home planet, Earth, sung by Shreya Sotang, singer from Nepal, with music composed by Sapan Ghimire and written by your’s truly.”

The first draft of the lyrics of this song was written while Abhay was posted in St Petersburg in Russia at the Consulate General of India. “I don’t remember exactly what inspired me to write an anthem for our planet but in those days, I had just started painting. One of my first paintings was of our planet earth — shining like a blue pearl surrounded by dark space.”

The idea of an Earth Anthem was received with “enthusiasm” by UNESCO. “We find the idea of having an Earth Anthem a creative and inspiring thought which could contribute to bringing the world together,” the United Nations said in response of the poet’s submission.    

The poet, a winner of SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) prize for literature in 2013, has been striving to espouse regional solidarity with cultural interventions for the last few years— since his return to the sub-continent from Russia. Last year, Abhay penned an SAARC anthem in nine regional languages that includes Nepali, Bangla, Pashtu, Urdu, Hindustani, Dzongkha, Sinhala and English.

The anthem explores the idea of a greater geographical and cultural one-ness despite the borders — physical, cultural diplomatic and sovereign — which divide the sub-continent.

The song runs such: Himalaya theke Hinda Sagor,Naga Hills theke Hindukush (Bangla)
Mahaweli inn Ganga, Sindhu inn Brahmputra 
Lakshadweep, Andaman, Everest, Adam's Peak 
Kabul Lay Thimphu Tsuen, Male Lay Kathmandu 
Dilli sita Dhaka, Colombin, Islamabad                     
Harek paila saath-saath,Harek paila saath-saath  
Dzongkha, Hindi, Nepali,Bangla, Pashto, Sinhala 
Urdu, English, Dhivehi,Har kadam saath-saath,
Har kadam saath-saath
Apni-apni pehchan, apne-apne arman                    
Shanti ki baat-baat, Har kadam saath-saath         
Har kadam SAARC saath, Har kadam saath-SAARC
Har kadam SAARC saath,Har kadam saath-SAARC.

“It is played across all the radio stations and television channels in Nepal,” Abhay K. said.    

Art and poetry are interwoven in the romance of Abhay K. poetry that “addresses history, society and transformation of the world — tempered with personal observations about life”.  His poetry traces its beginning to painting — a vocation he took to with seriousness during his tenure in Moscow.

A new collection of his poetry, “Seductions of Delhi: Poems from the Seven Cities of Delhi”, searches the soul of the ancient capital — journeying across the layers of civilization built around seven historical settlements dating back to the era of Mahabharata — with 20 poems and 20 corresponding paintings of the historical landmarks of the capital. The volume, a collaboration between Abhay K.and an India-based Italian artist Tarshito, is “history told in poems and its impressionistic visual interpretation”, the poet explained.

“I have come across several tomes about the history of the capital; but none has ever tried to chronicle the odyssey of Delhi in poetry and paintings. The history of the capital has always been narrated in prose. I felt that a poetic document of the capital’s history and its cosmopolitan sensitivities as the political power centre would appeal to readers as an innovative literary alternative,” Abhay K. explained.      

Abhay, a native of Bihar, has experienced “different phases” as a poet to colour his poetry in emotional diversities touching upon the soulful, spiritual, lyrical, passionate and the philosophical.  
Poets go through different phases of poetry writing, usually starting with love poems, evolving continuously thereafter. My first poem 'The Soul Song' was spiritual though-
"I was always here as blowing wind or falling leaves, as the shining sun or flowing streams...I was never born, I didn't die,’” Abhay K. said.  

His “Moscow-St. Petersburg poems were a mix of poems on love, nature, relationships, life, death, immortality which were published one after another as four poetry collections- ‘Enigmatic Love’, ‘Fallen Leaves of Autumn’, ‘Candling the Light and Remains”, the poet said. After returning from Russia to India, Abhay K “felt that the places, people and the monuments of Delhi wanted to speak to through me, so he became their voice and wrote what they whispered to him”.

“My forthcoming collection of poems ‘Seduction of Delhi’ is a tribute to my beloved Delhi, its seven cities. My poem Delhi attempts to capture the essence of Delhi over millennia-
"My smell, my nakedness entices hordes of human flesh, traders, emperors, marauders. I pose nude up on the hill, below the feast of eagles, possessed, intoxicated,’" the poet said, explaining the nuances of his Delhi inspirations and its word manifest.    

Abhay’s writing in Nepal has further evolved because of his travels in the Himalayas. “My poems have become minimalist like my art works bringing unfamiliar entities together and synthesizing new relationships, giving new meanings. Here is a new poem Triptych that I wrote in Nepal-
"Quark of a poet, blossoming in the sub-atomic space, writing the uni-verse.
 A robot dreamt that it was fast asleep and dreaming.
Story of the man written in acidic double helix, where the soul hides?"

Poetry has redefined itself, Abhay said. “Poetry earlier used to mean verses written in rhyme, metre and forms. Poetry now can be written without all these, just like prose but with a higher degree and level of intensity. However, one thing that has not changed is the use of figures of speech-metaphors, images that gives poetry its uniqueness, its own identity which is distinct from prose,” he pointed out.

Post the World War II, “Poetry also gained freedom from the tyranny of rhyme, metre and form. It does not mean that contemporary poets should not know about these, as those who break the rules, should know the rules even better,” he said.

-Madhusree Chatterjee