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Delhiwale: Poetry from the Underground

Hindustan Times | ByMayank Austen Soofi
Nov 20, 2017 09:45 AM IST

Each step of this quiet stairway in British Council is laced with verses by contemporary India’s best-loved poets, accompanied by beautiful illustrations

Finding poetry in a smoggy chaotic city like ours can be a challenge. The other day, however, we were delighted to discover a barely visited stairway that is paved by some really good poems — literally.

An almost-hidden passage in the British Council is decked with the poetry of contemporary India’s finest.(Mayank Austen Soofi / HT Photo)
An almost-hidden passage in the British Council is decked with the poetry of contemporary India’s finest.(Mayank Austen Soofi / HT Photo)

This almost-hidden passage is in the British Council, the modernist building in central Delhi designed by architect Charles Correa. The staircase goes down from the building’s ground floor to a basement and is accessible to visitors (you just have to show your I-card at the gate).

The staircase is used by students taking English language tests at the centre. Each step is like flipping through pages of a poetry anthology. The walls are decked with the poetry of contemporary India’s finest. These poems are displayed within elegant black frames accompanied by beautiful illustrations.

The Aga Shahid Ali of Kashmir is mourning ‘The moon did not become the sun.’ Allahabad’s Arvind Krishna Mehrotra is looking at himself in the poem “Approaching Fifty”. Pune-born Eunice D Souza, who passed away this July, is asking “Where does the heart find rest?” We also sighted Mumbai’s Arjun Kolatkar’s famous poem “The Butterfly”.

These were selected by the British Council from Poems on the Underground, an enterprise from the tube in London which aimed to connect passengers with poetry via underground coaches. The poems were exhibited in the London Underground as part of India’s 70th Independence Day celebrations.

Until our own Delhi Metro takes a cue from London, we have at least one place in this smoggy city to find iambic solace.

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