I'm not 'ambaran di queen' or 'kudi namkin': The spoken word

  • Simar Bhasin, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 10, 2015 14:17 IST

Touted as 'one of the most vital and energetic movements in poetry during the 1990's', 'the spoken word' is gaining ground in India, not just as a form of expression but as a movement of resistance.

Resistance to patriarchy, resistance to oppression of any kind, resistance to suppression of freedom of speech but most importantly a voice for change.

Many groups dedicated to the art form such as Bring Back The Poets, Mildly Offensive Content and Delhi Poetry Slam based in Delhi and the Airplane Poetry Movement in Mumbai and Pune, are upholders of the 'spoken word' movement in India.

Most recently, a performance where a girl had read out 'An open letter to Honey Singh' had become an instant hit on social media in which she had spoken against the popular rap artist's sexist lyrics. The video has garnered more than 1,600,000 views on Youtube.

A little known fact that few acknowledged was that hers was a spoken word performance and the video was officially uploaded by Delhi poetry Slam.

Another example-

Kya yeh natural nahin, balki koi rog hota hai? Jiska ilaaj 377 yaa use bhi battar hota hai.
Satrang toh sirf indradhanush hota hai, jo hota hai jab neela aasman rota hai.

(Is it not natural but a disease? Whose cure is 377 or worse?
7 colours just indicates the rainbow which occurs when the blue skies cry)
- excerpt from Slam poet Shankar Gupta’s piece ‘Satrangi kya hota hai?’

'Modern' poets like TS Eliot changed the way in which the world viewed poetry. The ornate, sometimes flowery, language that had come to be associated with the art by 'Romantics' like William Wordsworth and John Keats was replaced by colloquial words and phrases that depicted the change that the world was going through in the backdrop of the world wars.

The members of such spoken word groups often participate in what has come to be known as 'Slam poetry' sessions.These are basically open platforms where spoken word artists come together and compete.

Riya Ray, a spoken word artist based in Delhi explains "When spoken word poets take part in competitions the competitions are called Slams and the performers Slam Poets."

These sessions have become extremely popular in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Pune and are fast spreading to other parts of the country.

Many cafes host 'Slam poetry' sessions where artists have the freedom and the liberty to perform their spoken word pieces amongst fellow enthusiasts.

According to Shantanu Anand, the co founder of the Airplane poetry Movement, "The reception in India has been good so far There's a growing interest in Spoken Word Poetry, and I think that it's going to explode pretty soon!"

Although this comparatively new art form is gaining ground among the youth, not everyone is happy with its progress and with good reason too.

Saikat Ghosh, a professor of Literature at Delhi University is of the opinion that - "Slam poetry became a trend in the US in the Eighties. One sees more subtly interactive forms like the Mushaira dying due to ignorance and lack of interest. They could be creatively revived in other languages like English too. But nobody cares. Now slam is American and anything that's American and easy to copy is a hit with

While Riya Ray, speaking of the new found mode of resistance, says, "Spoken Word gives a voice to the stories that are generally unheard, narratives that are generally overlooked due to social stigma and other reasons."

One such example from Ray's repertoire -

"My poems are not supposed to make you feel good… or make your date with your girlfriend beautiful because I know love as revolt not fantasized romance, I am ugly and poems that I give birth to I hope are monsters enough to torment you."

Some videos that went viral across the world -

"Spoken Word is a way to express yourself. It gives you a chance to talk about things in a way that nothing else does." he says.

In the 'spoken words' of Shantanu - "In the books without pages and the zoos without cages…poetry lives".

It seems the spoken word is the new form in which poetry in our day and age is living on whether it is "discarded junk" from the west that is being given undue importance or a much needed fresh tool of resistance is up for debate.

(The author tweets as simarb_92)

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