New social networks for budding poets

Updated on Nov 18, 2018 04:15 PM IST

Young programmers-cum-poets have launched platforms for people to write and connect with each other.

Dhrupad Karwa (C), Andy Leung (R) and Neer Sharma (L), co-founders of HaikuJAM, in Mumbai.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)
Dhrupad Karwa (C), Andy Leung (R) and Neer Sharma (L), co-founders of HaikuJAM, in Mumbai.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

Ankur Mishra, a programmer with a passion for poetry, always felt that there were thousands of young talented poets in Indian languages, especially in Hindi, who were not getting a platform to showcase their talent to a discerning audience. So, two years ago, the 26-year-old techie hailing from Hamirpur in UP set up Kavishala —‘a school of poets’ — with a website and app where young poets can publish their work and interact with each other. Today, Kavishala has over 60,000 poems of hundreds of ‘budding poets’ from Bareilly to Bangalore.

“The idea was to make it easy for budding poets to publish their poetry, read poetry, connect with others, and gain insightful feedback on their work. We get the maximum number of poems from UP, especially from cities such as Lucknow,” says Mishra, who now lives in Gurgaon where the office of Kavishala is located. “Youngsters are writing poetry like never before. What we are witnessing is nothing sort of a poetry revolution.”

Mishra is not the only one to have started a poetry enterprise for the ‘benefit’ of hundreds of thousands of people who otherwise pen their lines on Facebook and Instagram. There are many young entrepreneurs, all with avowed love for poetry, who have set up poetry ventures such as Kavishala, Ryhmly, Poem Pajama, HaikuJAM. Their apps and websites help users to read, write, learn and share poetry in many Indian languages and network with each other.

Most of these poetry enterprises are into diversified activities — they organise offline poetry events such as open mics across India in vernacular languages through local ‘chapters’ , offer online courses in poetry, conduct workshops and poetry contests with prize money running into lakhs; sell merchandise such as notebooks, mugs, T-shirts, etc.

Ankur Mishra, founder of Kavishala. (Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)
Ankur Mishra, founder of Kavishala. (Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)

“Poetry had been suffering for long; Internet has helped revive it by giving young poets a wide audience,” says Saumya Choudhury, who last month founded Poem Pajama — which she refers to as the ‘largest online community for poets’. Choudhury is not unknown to Delhi’s poetry circles — for the past few years she has been organising poetry slams in the capital under the banner of Delhi Poetry Slam.

“Poem Pajama is a social network for poets. Now I wish to focus on online activities through this new venture. An event-based poetry organisation has its limitations; some poets get more exposure than others. Online blurs geographical boundaries and break hierarchies,” says Choudhury, who two years back also launched annual Wingword Poetry Competition, an online poetry contest which offers a total of 5 lakh in cash prizes to winners. “A large percentage of poets on our platform are from smaller towns, who otherwise do not get access to poetry events and workshops. I am currently working on Poem Pajama’s app and plan to launch it soon.”

Poem Pajama offers online classes in English poetry through its website. Students willing to pay a fee of 1,000 get access to three video tutorials, 10 daily exercises and a certificate of participation issued electronically at the end of the course. Others such as Kavishala and HaikuJAM organise workshops. “Our poetry workshop in Lucknow last year was attended by 2,000 people, a majority of them youngsters,” says Dhrupad Karwa, co-founder and CEO, HaikuJAM, which allows users to write haikus collaboratively.

Saumya Choudhury , Founder, Poem Pajama. (Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
Saumya Choudhury , Founder, Poem Pajama. (Amal KS/HT PHOTO)

Can poetry be taught? “Yes. We help budding poets develop an idea; we teach them concepts of repetitions, rhymes, free verses,” says Ratinder Singh, 27, who conducts online course for Poem Pajama. Singh, who calls himself a self-taught poet, hails from Meerut and works as a quality controller for a digital marketing company in Noida. “Many young aspiring poets are taking inspiration from Instagram poets such as Ruby Kaur, who are global stars. There is a certain glamour associated with being a poet.”

Arpan Khosla 25, an electrical engineer-turned pomedian (poet-comedian), who has quite a few shows to his credit, launched Rhymly, an online search engine in June this year ‘to help poets, lyricists and song writers find rhyming words in Devanagari script. “Ours is India’s first platform to search rhyming words in Hindi,” says Khosla. “It helps budding poets overcome the writers’ block. Anyone can rhyme with the help of our app, which also serves as a publishing and networking platform for poets.”

Is it poetry?

But many, including the founders of these poetry platforms, say that a large percentage of poems of these aspiring poets looking for instant literary stardom are nothing to write home about. Quite a substantial part of these online poetic outpourings -- mostly on love, longing and heartbreak — are a jumble of wishy-washy phrases; lines that are often contrived, formulaic, clichéd, shallow and even reductive.

“Yes, a lot of people think a few rhyming words strung together is a poem. We remove such work from our platform. The problem is a lot of people claim to write from the heart and they take any criticism to heart,” says Mishra. “We are not happy with the standards of the poetry being published online. There is a need for a better training of these young aspiring poets,” adds HK Kaul, founding member of Poetry Society of India. Set up in 1984, the organisation works to promote Indian poetry in India and abroad. The society has been organising an all-India poetry competition since 1988. Among the well-known winners are Vijay Nambisan and Ranjit Hoskote.

But Dhrupad, whose platform has over seven million collaborative haikus and where 25, 000 new haikus are published every day, disagrees. “Whenever there’s a new technology or medium that helps democratise an art form, there are always naysayers who claim the new way is either illegitimate, less pure or of poorer quality. In a sense, there is no ‘standard’ because art is constantly reinventing itself to reflect and meet the needs of our time,” he says. “Also, with HaikuJAM, our focus is on helping the world feel less alone: we do this by creating meaningful human connections through collaborative haiku. So for us, the notion of ‘quality’ is multidimensional: we think not only about the haiku but also about the connections themselves.”

HaikuJAM, which has 17 employees, moved its operation from Silicon Valley to Mumbai in 2017. “We did so because we realised that most of our users were from India.”

Khosla agrees that the definition of poetry has changed over the years and people are just looking for lines they can relate too. But the online platforms, he says, should focus on quality. “ Quantity might help to bring traffic and business but will not help the cause of poetry. People get engagement and encouraging comments on whatever they write online in the name of poetry, so they feel they are doing a good job,” says Khosla. “ But I think the online poetry platforms should differentiate between writers and readers of poetry, and they should not try to turn every reader into a poet.”

Monetising poetry

How do these poetry enterprises sustain themselves? Apart from organising ticketed poetry events, workshops, poetry competitions with entry fee, and sale of merchandise, they work with brands.

“Every day, we give topics to our readers to write haikus, sometime the topics may come from a brand. It helps brands get insights into their business; and haikus written on their topics serve as marketing material for their social media pages and advertisements,” says Dhrupad. Adds Khosla, “Right now, ours is a B2C platform, but we want it to also serve as an aggregator platform where brands can choose any of our poets for their creative writing needs. This will also help poets earn money. ”

These new poetry platforms may or may not serve the cause of poetry but budding poets are not complaining. Ajay Raj Upadhyay, 21, earlier this year won ‘Kavilshala IPL - Indian Poetry League’, which fetched him a cash prize of 50,000 for his poem on youth and love.

“This would not have been possible without new poetry organisations that are giving people like me a chance to present my work before a big audience and get rewarded. In fact, my girlfriend turned me into a poet; she appreciated my poetry a lot,” says Mathura-based Updhyay who has a degree in mechanical engineering from a private college. “She has since ditched me and married someone else, but I will continue to be a poet. It is just that now I write on heartbreak.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Manoj Sharma is Metro Features Editor at Hindustan Times. He likes to pursue stories that otherwise fall through the cracks.

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