Surfeit of riches
The irrepressible spirit of poetry permeated the Sahitya Akademi's Kavyabharati festival of poetry. RONITA TORCATO reports.
PERHAPS fast entertainment in the form of TV soaps and pulp fiction are a sign of the times, but the media came in for a severe drubbing from Sahitya Akademi President Gopichand Narang.
The occasion was Kavyabharati, the three-day festival of poetry organised at Mumbai's Ravindra Natya Mandir, by the Akademi to celebrate its golden jubilee and, as the Akademi's Secretary Prof. Satchidanandan eloquently summed it, "the irrepressible spirit of poetry continues to sing from the mouth of death, address human dilemmas and thrill the fraternity of the lovers of this ancient magic."
From the heart
But the media! Ah, the media, lamented Mr. Narang, is responsible for the decline in tastes; for pandering to the lowest common denominator and encouraging popular pastimes, low culture; anything, but poetry. Chief guest Rafiq Zakaria reeled off lines from a Bollywood super-hit film song "Aati kya khandala", asked "Is this poetry?" and did not wait for an answer. Returning to his seat, he apologised sotto voce to poet and lyricist, Javed Akthar who shared their sawal jawab with the audience: "I told Zakaria saheb, there was no need for an apology. I myself criticise politicians continuously, but I don't see the need to apologise to him." The poet then read some of his nazms.
K.S. Satchidanand's fond remembrance of Nissim Ezekiel, Dom Moraes, Arun Kolhatkar, and Mulk Raj Anand mirrored the feelings of many present. Ah, but the three day fest had a surfeit of riches as poets and poetry lovers listened to poets from across the country. Some poets may have inflated egos; true, many of them liked hearing the sounds of their own voices, but each poet read from the heart.
They were all there from Marathi poets like Narayan Surve who moderated a session reminding the readers to confine themselves to 10 minutes each and then read for 20 minutes himself; the inimitable 87-year-young Vinda Karandikar who made everyone chortle with his reminiscences of his youthful days; Sunil Gangopadhyay, the Assamese Nilmani Phookan, the Kashmiri Shafi Shariq, Manipuri poet, S.Thiyam, and the Goan freedom fighter and trade unionist poet Nagesh Karmali to Indo-Anglian torchbearers Eunice de Souza and Ranjit Hoskote who has been bestowed with the Akademi's Young Writer's Award in New Delhi. (A Russian litterateur and five eminent Indian writers have been conferred the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, on the occasion of its golden jubilee celebrations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conferred the fellowships on writers U.R. Anantha Murthy (Kannada), Bhadriraju Krishnamurti (Telugu), Vijay Dan Detha (Hindi), Sankha Ghosh (Bengali) and Amrita Pritam (Punjabi), besides Russian Professor Evgeni Petrovich Chelyshev for his contribution to Indian literature. Chelyshev, 83, has authored Modern Indian Literature and Indian Literature: Yesterday and Today.)
At the Mumbai Festival, one was thrilled to see a host of Sahitya Akademi winners like Ashok Vajpeyi, J.B. Moraes, Namdev Dhasal. The young set was represented by emerging voices like the Gujarati poet Sanskritirani Desai and Ancy Paladka, a recipient of the Karnataka Konkani Sahitya Akademi's Best Book award.
Prof. Satchidanandan made an inspiring address in which he reminded us that despite its discontinuities and unevenness of quality, Indian poetry is easily one of the longest and the greatest poetic traditions in the world. Its roots go back to the oral tribal poems of our ancients. The dream of a casteless, classless society has been cherished by poets of the Freedom Movement from Bharati to Tagore and Nirala to Kaifi Azmi and Ali Sardar Jafri. All the major poetic voices of our time continue to echo their concern for a new, just, pluralistic social order.
On its part, the Sahitya Akademi has been doing yeoman service in the cause of poetry. It publishes low-priced editions of poetry, stories and non-fiction among other writings. While it is decidedly not true that books aren't bought or read, one central cause for concern the future of poetry itself. The poet must discover a new language to articulate the agony of our times. If poetry has survived, noted Prof. Satchidanandan, it is thanks to the enduring relevance of the art itself and the sincerity of genuine poets.
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