These are poetry days and I’m swimming in it. The Toto Funds the Arts (TFA) monthly poetry reading happened yesterday and Keki Daruwalla read. (For those who don’t know, TFA organises poetry readings once a month at Crossword book shop.) The other poet who was supposed to read with him, Trina Nileena Banerjee, couldn’t make the trip from Kolkata and had to cancel. So three of us, who are participating in Keki’s writing workshop, read some poetry instead. More about the workshop later but first, the reading.
Keki read a range of his poems — environmental, political, personal. What strikes me most about Keki’s poetry is his variety of subject matter. He has tackled such diverse themes and, while doing so, varied tone and style so comfortably. He also used some interesting techniques during the reading to make his poems more accessible to a listener. (And the key word here is ‘listener’ as opposed to reader.) He started with the shorter poems and then moved on to longer poems. It makes it easier for the listener to “digest the poems”, he said. He explained context often, sometimes even interrupting himself in the middle of poems to do so. He repeated lines that he felt he hadn’t read well the first time. During the discussion session, he was firm about his beliefs without being abrasive. And he quoted extensively. Entire poems. In this rhythmic, foot-tapping way with a beatific smile on his face.
My reading went off smoothly enough. I think. Which basically means that I’m getting more used to it. There is something to be said for the more immediate experience of reading out poetry and having people respond to it there and then, as opposed to just writing it and sending it out into the void.
The other readers were Parvati Sharma and Madhulika Desai. Parvati’s a friend and it was lovely to see her read her poetry. At her last reading, she read an extract from her short story and both times, she connected with the audience in an amazing way. Her writing is clear and honest and says unexpected things without being gimmicky about it. Madhulika was very confident considering it was her first reading.
Now, the workshop. It’s being conducted by Keki and Anjum Hasan (another poet I admire a lot). It’s over three whole days and there are about twelve of us. I’m exhausted after the first day but have written three poems in a day after a long time, which is the power of writing on tap. It’s commonly said that nobody can teach you how to write and I believe that but having a space to flex your writing muscles is a terrific thing. It clarifies. It concentrates. I wish I had the luxury of doing this more often.
But also, this was not an ordinary day of workshopping. You know what happened in Bangalore today so here’s another, slightly refractional view of it.
A little after lunch, one of the participants passed a note to Anjum and almost immediately, as if on cue, our phones started ringing. The note said there had been bomb blasts in the city. Of course, there was some fluttering — phone calls (which didn’t go anywhere much because all the lines were jammed) and some discussion on what we should do. We were stuck in Centre for Social and Cultural Studies in Jayanagar, which is a fairly quiet place, and there had been no bombs blasting nearby. But the sense of general panic could not be ignored. And everyone was worried about how they would get home.
Finally, unanimously, we decided to go on until 5, which is what we had scheduled. What surprised me is how we went back to the workshop almost seamlessly. I don’t know what this says — that writers are used to isolating themselves from what’s happening around them, that they thrive on stress and tragedy, or simply that when people have no other way to respond to a crisis, they will continue with life. Later, we discussed Yehudi Amichai’s Diameter of a Bomb…
The Diameter of the Bomb
~ Yehudi Amichai
The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
a circle with no end and no God.
Outside, there was chaos for some time but by the time we came out at 5, things were calmer. At least, outwardly.