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In the mood for ‘shayari’

In Delhi, young and upcoming poets celebrate the spoken word

A gathering at Hamin Ast’o. Photo Courtesy: Delhi Shayari Club
A gathering at Hamin Ast’o. Photo Courtesy: Delhi Shayari Club

Kuch aise do jahaan se raabta rakkha gaya hai

Ke in khaabeeda aankhon ko khula rakkha gaya hai,

Pas-e-parda gale milkar wo shaayad ro padenge,

Jinhein puri kahaani mein juda rakkha gaya hai

Adeep voice, reciting this couplet, can be heard from within Hameen Ast’o, a cosy little café specializing in Kashmiri cuisine, near the Garden of Five Senses in Delhi. As one walks into the room, aglow with dainty fairy lights and dangling bulbs, it’s hard to believe that this sher has been penned by a young mass communications student.

At 20 years of age, Pallav Mishra is already a seasoned Urdu shayar. With poets like Jaun Eliya and Irfan Siddiqui for inspiration, his interests veer towards the more romantic genre of ghazals. “Kuch der toh khoobsurat baatein kar lein (let’s neutralize all the negativity in the world for a few moments)," he says. His recitation is punctuated with appreciative sounds from the gathering, which is made up of 50 members of the Delhi Shayari Club. Around 10-12 of them have come from as far as Kanpur, Muzaffarnagar and Abohar to hear other like-minded poets and to share their own verse.

For the past one year, this unique poets’ society, featuring students, corporate professionals, film lyricists, and more, has been organizing regular informal meetings, or baithaks, such as this one to celebrate Urdu poetry. Founded in early 2017 by public relations professional Anchal Ghosh as a creative outlet for corporate professionals, this club now boasts of 4,251 members, from across the world, on its Facebook page. “While growing up in Muzaffarnagar, I was exposed to Urdu, through Abida Parveen’s Sufi songs and Farida Khanum’s ghazals, at a very young age. To me, listening to poetry is a deeply satisfying experience. While working in Delhi, I realized that working professionals have very little scope for creative expression. So, I thought of creating a fulfilling environment for them through Urdu poetry," says Ghosh, sitting down after introducing the next poet at the baithak. Mishra is followed by Aqib Sabir, a 23-year-old student of English literature at Delhi University. His take on metaphysical poetry is a contrast to Mishra’s softer line of thought.

In the past couple of years, one has seen poets such as Mishra and Sabir emerge as the contemporary face of Urdu sher-o-shayari. They break away from the conventional image of shayars, as elderly poets in their 60s and 70s meeting in a formal mushaira. Using social media, they are creating a new community of poets in Delhi—the city of Mirza Ghalib and Mir Taqi Mir—and a legacy of Urdu poetry. “In one corner of a poet’s mind, sher are always being written. But poetry needs the company of other poets," says Mishra. No wonder then that the Delhi Shayari Club has blossomed into a big clan. “If we can’t go to our hometowns for festivals, the entire group meets here in Delhi. One doesn’t feel homesick," she says.

Another such programme is the Shaam-e-Rekhta by the Rekhta Foundation, which was started to provide young and upcoming poets a platform to showcase their compositions. Videos are uploaded on YouTube, Rekhta’s website and Facebook page, allowing people from India, Pakistan, Canada and other countries to engage. “Nearly four years back, when we first did an event at the India International Centre, we thought maybe 2,000-odd people might turn up, but we got a crowd of 15,000 people, the majority of them youngsters, from non-Urdu backgrounds. Since then, there has certainly been a resurgence in Urdu shayari," says Aparna Pande, one of the core members of Rekhta. Today, the organization hosts many informal events and publishes content on its website, using social media engagement to reach out to the young crowd.

And the change is there for all to see.

Cafés and pubs, which used to play only rock and pop earlier, are now organizing poetry nights. In fact, in the past one month, Rekhta has done three such events at various outlets of Social, and has got requests from other cafés as well. The focus, both at the Delhi Shayari Club and Rekhta, is on original creations, with participants encouraged to experiment with themes and formats. “There is this group called Sukhan, of 13-14 people from Pune, all from non-Urdu backgrounds, who have combined ghazals and nazms with dastangoi. We invited them to our annual event, Jashn-e-Rekhta, last year. They became so popular (even outside Pune) that we had to call them again this year," says Pande.

At the baithak in Hamin Ast’o too, there are some who present their own take on age-old themes and formats. They take heart from the fact that poets, such as Gulzar, too have experimented with forms in the past—for instance, his innovative use of the triveni, in which the first two lines are complete by themselves, but a new dimension is added with the third line. For these new-generation shayars, their idols hail from more recent times, such as Farhat Ehsas, Abhishek Shukla and Vipul Kumar—whose poetry has a modern context.

Empowered by these constant meet-ups, poets have also started turning potential roadblocks into opportunities. For instance, a lot of them didn’t know the Urdu script before joining the club. So, other members such as Mishra and Subhan Asad came to their rescue by offering tutorials. And now, when poets from Kuwait and Karachi send in their poetry, Delhi Shayari Club members translate it from Urdu to Hindi or English for a wider audience with ease. “Also, just like sonnets and haiku, sher also follows a certain metre called beher. Earlier, people would have great ideas but could not write in beher. Now, we have 16- to 17-year-olds asking for help, and instantly members handhold them through the technicalities," says Ghosh. “We are hoping the club serves a larger purpose—that of spreading smiles across the border."

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