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Four different worlds of poetry merge in Dadar East

BySabah Virani
Feb 22, 2024 07:44 AM IST

Sahitya Akademi organises recitations in Marathi, Gujarati, Konkani and Sindhi on International Mother Language Day

MUMBAI: On International Mother Language Day, Wednesday, the Sahitya Akademi brought together four very different worlds. A Marathi poet, Nirmohi Phadke, Gujarati poet Hiten Anandpara, Konkani poet Nery Melwyn Nazareth and Sindhi poet Hitesh Peswani gathered in front of a small audience to recite their works. While they read, for the most part, in their mother tongues, they peppered the reading with some poetry in Hindi to find common ground.

Multilingual poets meet at the Sahitya Akademi in Dadar on Wednesday. (Raju Shinde/HT Photo)

It is a testament to the multiculturalism of Mumbai that these many disparate worlds of poetry have survived. Much of the audience could understand multiple languages despite their distance from them. But even so, the common complaint of all the poets was that their individual worlds of poetry were shrinking.

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Anandpara mourned the disappearance of Gujarati mushairas, which, he said, were a dime a dozen in his college days in the 1980s and ’90s. “The mushairas were what sparked my interest in writing,” he said. “There used to be audiences of more than 300 then. Now there are barely a few Gujarati mushairas in the city, kept alive by government institutions like the Maharashtra Academy and Indian National Theatre (INT) and barely 50 people attend.” Anandpara attributed this to the younger generations’ disconnect from the language, partly due to their parents and partly due to the dominance of English-medium schools.

Nazareth echoed the same sentiments. Konkani poetry in Mumbai, he said, was on a drip feeder only thanks to parish-linked fairs in different pockets in the city that include poetry and storytelling competitions along with food and shopping. There is usually an audience of 80 for around six to eight poets. “It’s a small world,” he said. “I would say I know almost all the Konkani poets in Mumbai.”

A similar story was recounted by the youngest poet in the group, the 25-year-old Peswani. His tryst with Sindhi poetry began during the lockdown when he was put in touch by his mother, a writer, to two Sindhi kavi sammelans, one held on alternate Saturdays in Thane, the other on alternate Sundays in Ulhasnagar. “Only one or two people attend,” he said. “But there are around 15 poets on an average in every session, eager to read what they have written over the fortnight and receive feedback. These have been going on for a long time; the one in Thane has crossed 410 sessions, and the one in Ulhasnagar started in 2010. The teacher I learnt Sindhi from in summer camps runs it, and he’s the seed of my writing in Sindhi, although I dabble in other languages too.”

The anomaly in the bunch was Marathi poetry, which has a very long tradition. An audience member, however, remarked that although there was no dearth of quantity, the quality was often not up to the mark. “Everybody thinks that if they can put one line after the other, they should go ahead and publish,” said 72-year-old Suman Navalkar, a regular attendee, and herself a Marathi writer and poet, having written 42 books and received state awards for her writing for children. “People should take literature more seriously.”

Such poetry and literature readings are a common occurrence at the Sahitya Akademi auditorium in Dadar East, said Navalkar. “Sometimes you don’t get much out of these sessions,” she said. “But sometimes, unexpectedly, they turn out to be a delight. The previous Urdu poetry session was one.”

The moderator from the Sahitya Akademi at the end of the readings remarked how the stuff of poetry comes from the world around us, which we all share regardless of the language we speak.

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