The ascent of political poetry
Spurred by social media, popularity of Hindi political poetry is growing, and publishers are taking chance with young poets like never before.Updated: Jan 19, 2020 11:32 IST
A conversation with Naveen Chourey is like witnessing a stirring poetic performance — his voice impassioned, he answers most of your questions in verses. In September last year, the 27-year old Delhi-based poet hit the headlines after his poem “Avastvik Kanoon (unreal law)” went viral. Soon, he was much sought after by publishers.
Later this month, his first book of poems, ‘Kohra Ghana’, will be published by Penguin. All 10 poems in the collection deal with subjects such as nationalism, patriotism and the state of our country and society.
“I had written Avastvik Kanoon in 2017 when several incidents of mob lynching were reported across the country, but it went viral suddenly last year. My upcoming book is a journey through emotions. I want the book to force the youth to see the naked reality of our society,” he says. “I try to live the emotions of society and translate them into verses.”
Chourey is a chemical engineering graduate from IIT Delhi. These days he can often be seen reciting his poetry at various protest sites across the capital. “I had joined IIT because my parents wanted me to. But poetry is my calling.”
One of his poems in the upcoming book, titled ‘Pinjara’ reads:
“Koi kitne din chup rah sakta hai? Kitne din aawaz gale me qaid rakhi jaa sakti hai?
Kitne din Kuch na bolein to chhaa jaati hai khamoshi?Kitne din ki khamoshi ko sannata kah skte hain.”
(For how many days speech can be avoided? For how many days voice can be trapped inside? Noiselessness of how many days can be termed as silence? Silence of how many days becomes death of expression?)
“It is about the normalisation of oppression,” he says.
While the recitation of Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem “Hum Dekhenge” recently stirred controversy, youngsters are not just reciting political and protest poetry of famed poets of the past, but also writing their own—and their political poetic expressions are no longer confined to Facebook and Instagram, but are finding publishers, who say there is a whole new market now for poetry.
“We have brought out about 20 poetry titles in January alone, many of them by first-time writers. We will be publishing about 10 more poetry books of young writers this year,” says Satyanand Nirupam, editorial director, Rajkamal Prakashan, one of the country’s well- known publishers in Hindi.
One such writer is Adnan Kafeel Darwesh, 25, whose first collection of poetry, ‘Thithurte Lamp Post’ —dealing with communal politics, the role of religion in the subjugation of women, among others—will be published by Rajkamal Prakashan in May.
“I believe poetry does not always have to be loud to achieve its objectives. Every poem has its own politics, and can aesthetically convey its message more often than not,” says Darwesh. “The world is going through turbulent times, and my poems are a critique of these events. They seek to awaken the humanity in people,” adds Darwesh, a computer science graduate from Delhi University, who is currently doing his PhD in Hindi from Jamia Millia Islamia. In 2018, he got the prestigious Bharat Bhushan Agarwal Award that is given annually to a young poet.
Social media, publishers say, has opened up a whole new market for poetry, with the sale of the poetry books seeing an annual growth of 30 per cent in the past few years.
“We have brought out about 40 poetry titles in two years. I think a passion for politics among the youth is driving this growth. Our writers of political poetry and their consumers are both young,” says Shailesh Bharatwasi, founder of Hind Yugm, a publication house that promotes young Hindi writers. “I have found most of my writers on social media”.
And his poets come from various fields.
Amit Gupta, 36, for example, is an IT professional and works with a multinational telecom company in Gurugram. He writes poetry in Hindi and Bengali. His first poetry book ‘Raat Ke Us Paar’, touching upon issues such as inequality and politics of caste and religion, was published in 2018. Its second edition was launched earlier this month. “My poems seek to provide hope in these turbulent times. Hatred has never been the answer to any problem, socio-political or otherwise,” says Gupta.
Talking of the growing number of youth taking up political poetry, he says, “The concerns of today’s youth go beyond their own life and career. They feel strongly about issues and are not afraid of calling a spade a spade, and they are doing so through poetry,” says Gupta, whose book was selected by Hindi Academy, Delhi as part of their programme to promote Hindi literature. “What matters to these young poets is the voice, and not the craft,” says Gupta.
He too acknowledges the role of technology.
“Unlike in the past when most poetry remained in people’s notebooks, now it moves from notebook to Facebook to books,” says Gupta. “Fifteen years ago, if you wanted to make a video of your poetry recitation, you had to go to a studio, which was beyond the reach of most poets. Now they can shoot a decent video on their mobile phone and upload it onto YouTube. Besides, apps allow people to write on the go,” adds Gupta, who has just finished a book on the LGBT community. And why does he prefer to write poetry in Hindi? “Poetic expressions come out best in one’s mother tongue.”
With Indian language political poetry from young upcoming poets finding a whole new audience, many well- known publishers are coming up with special imprints and programmes for them.
For example, Vani Prakashan, another well-known Hindi publisher, launched Yuva Vani, an imprint for young writers, last year. “Poetry has become a people’s genre and young poets are finding new acceptability, thanks to the social media,” says Aditi Maheshwari Goyal, executive director,Vani Prakashan.
In the last few years, several online poetry platforms –Kavishala, Poem Pajama, HaikuJAM, among others —have made it easy for budding poets to publish and read poetry, connect with each other, and gain insightful feedback.
Ankur Mishra, 28, a Gurugram-based programmer had launched Kavishala three years ago. He says political poetry on the platform doubled in the last one year.
“Besides, most poetry recited these days at our offline events across India, pertains to current events,” he says. “We are now partnering with publishers and are in the process of introducing new features that will help them find gifted poets on our platform. They will get to see which writers are most popular, which poems are most read, how much time a reader has spent on a particular poem.”
Mishra says his platform, which has over 100,000 poems in 12 Indian languages, gets most poems from UP. “Sixty-five per cent of poems on our platform are in Hindi , 10 percent in English, and the rest in other languages,” says Mishra. “The country is witnessing a poetry revolution.”
Bitan Chakraborty, founder of Kolkata-based publisher Hawakal, says that 60 per cent of the books he publishes are poetry in English and Bengali. “Poetry is currently the most happening genre of literature. Every day we get at least one query from young writers from different parts of the country. We have published over 50 titles in the past two years in Bengali and English,” says, Chakraborty, himself a short story writer.
“The young poets, who use poetry as a medium to engage with pressing contemporary issues, are breaking the perception of poetry as a lofty literary form with a limited mass appeal,” says Hind Yugm founder Bharatwasi.