The city of Chandigarh has played the muse to many a talent since its young existence of a little over six decades. Now, 60 years is a long time in human life signifying that two-thirds or more of the journey is over but in the life of a city, it is a short period. Nevertheless, the city of dreams has nurtured its poets almost from the very beginning in different ways.
When I woke up to literary impulses around me in the mid-seventies, the poet was indeed the hero and Chandigarh had its share of plenty.
There was Kumar Vikal, the towering poet of Hindi; Manjit Tiwana with her distinct feminine voice; Amitoj with his very creative contemporary metaphor; Amarjit Chandan with his subtle nuances;
Tripta Sarin with her sensitive melancholy; and many others. The legends of the Urdu poet Prem Warbartoni and the magical Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi were still very much alive.
The Urdu mushairas were still on the scene and drew animated audiences. In fact, it may surprise the young today, but poets and poetry were to be found in unexpected places. There was the satirical Bhushan penning mocking verses on babudom in the grey building of the secretariat or Surendra Pandit Soz penning pity ghazals as the librarian of a newspaper office. I recall a couplet which used the image of an old newspaper as a metaphor: Akhbar purane le jao jo maal mile ghar le aao, Ghar aaye mehman ke liye atta to akhir laana hai (sell the old newspapers to arrange for flour to feed the visiting guest). In changed conditions, it seems so quaint because there is no such dearth in an average home and neither the cult of an un-announced visitor.
Those days, the university and colleges had many who took pleasure in being introduced as poets and not professors. In fact, one of the first poems in Urdu in the city came from Satyapal Anand, otherwise a lecturer of English at Panjab University in which, he decried the city of bricks and concrete and added that even the hearts here were made of such substance.
The theme of alienation in a city planned and built by the foreign vision of Le Corbusier was oft-repeated with Amitoj crying out that he “had no name but a roll number, no home but a room number”. With time, the city was owned and Vikal celebrated it in several poems. In one, he said that “sometimes this city is all his own when snow shines on the Kasauli hills like the smile of a Santhal girl and he pens the first verse of his poetry year!” Tiwana immortalised the search for love and companionship of university girls in the metaphor of window shopping.
The popular poets of the sixties and seventies aged, mellowed and many died early with Bacchus at their service to keep the intensity of experience.
Poetry too was lost in the din of popular music, business management and investment banking.
However, in the new century, we have been surprised by many a Chandigarh youth who has kept alive the poetic impulse in the heart and song. Munna is one such poet and of course Irshad Kamil of the Rockstar and Jab We Met fame. The form changes but the muse is alive.
(The writer is a prominent art and culture critic.)