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Let’s make a Haiku: Big ideas in three lines

The old Japanese poetry form is getting a technological makeover and finding new patrons in faraway shores.

brunch Updated: Jan 24, 2016 13:49 IST
Satarupa Paul
Satarupa Paul
Hindustan Times
Haiku,Japanese art form,How to make a Haiku
Haiku is a minimalist art form where you express a big idea in as few words as possible. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Old pond…

A frog jumps in

The sound of water

It’s been a long, long time since the 1600s when master haiku poet Matsuo Basho wrote the simple lines above. It is now the most famous example of the beautiful Japanese three-line poetry form of haiku. Much has changed since: haiku has been lovingly adopted by the English world, the traditional framework of 5-7-5 syllables in three lines has been played around with – much to the chagrin of purists – and since last year, it has found a new benefactor in technology and newer enthusiasts in young Indians.

Devil wept when I took him

What I did

The two lines flashed across my smartphone screen as I clicked on the ‘Jam with world’ option on the new app I had just downloaded. Two other users of the app from somewhere in this world had already added the first two lines of this haiku called Punishment. I thought the words out aloud to feel the sound of them before typing in the third line of what I thought would complete it: Broke even the hardest of souls.

HaikuJam was conceived a couple of years ago over cups of tea in a London teashop by Dhrupad Karwa. A British Indian, he was an Economics student at the time at University College London. But he always harboured a strong interest in literature, poetry and writing. So at the teashop, he wrote a line of haiku on a piece of paper and passed it to his friend, who added the second line, before passing it back to Karwa for the third. “I felt inspired in that moment and I thought that what if I could connect with a school teacher in Korea and a banker in San Francisco,” says Karwa. “But as opposed to another static passive connection online, the context of this association would be poetry.”

Karwa launched HaikuJam officially last March along with two batchmates from college. Since then, the app has gathered over 15,000 dedicated users, of which, Karwa says, almost 40 per cent are Indians. Engineering graduate Akash Ravindran, 22, writes poetry as a hobby. When he first started using HaikuJam, he had little idea of what haiku is. “Initially, I would randomly write some lines. It was only after hundred or so haikus, that I began to understand it better,” he says. Ravindran now creates haikus or reads the ones written by others on the app as a means of relaxation after a hectic day. “It has helped polish my vocabulary and connected me to poetry lovers from across the world with whom I can collaborate on haikus.” Like this one:

If you were the kite

I’d be the string that takes you

Away to the other side


What is a Haiku

“Haiku is a minimalist art form where you express a big idea in as few words as possible,” says Dhrupad Karwa, founder of HaikuJam. It originated in Japan but it isn’t clear when, although one of the first proponents of haiku was Matsuo Basho who lived from 1644 to 1694.

Traditionally, Japanese haiku had three lines with five syllables in the first, seven in the second and five again in the third lines. Modern writers tend to break free from this structure, but everyone still strictly adheres to the three line rule. “If it’s more than three lines, it isn’t haiku,” Karwa points out.

HaikuJam is available for free on Android and iOS.

Follow @satarupapaul on Twitter

From HT Brunch, January 24, 2016

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First Published: Jan 23, 2016 21:32 IST