Sahitya Akademi award-winning poet-playwright Sitanshu Yashaschandra and leading author-poet Kanji Patel are the two poets from Gujarat set to participate in the country’s first biennale of poetry, a gathering of 45 poets working across 15 Indian languages, beginning here on April 7.
Vak: The Raza Biennale of Indian Poetry is conceived as an “ambitious project” of the Raza Foundation set up by the late illustrious artist Sayed Haider Raza and spearheaded by senior Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi, who is also the Foundation’s Managing Trustee.
“We want to bring to the attention of the people of Delhi, the magic of poetry, not just in Hindi, English and Urdu, but also languages like Kashmiri, Gujarati, Assamese, Manipuri and others. For this inaugural festival, we are bringing in poets, both well-known and those upcoming ones who have been recommended by stalwart poets,” says Vajpeyi.
Spread out from April 7-9, the Biennale will see each invited poet getting 15 minutes for reading a selected poem, including translations in Hindi and English.
Five invited poets – Salma (Tamil), Haraprasad Das (Oriya), Nilim Kumar (Assamese), Ratan Thiyam (Manipuri) and Majrooh Rashid (Kashmiri) – will inaugurate the Biennale and launch the publication Vak at the Triveni Kala Sangam on Friday. The anthology, edited by Ashok Vajpeyi and art writer, Shruthi Issac, explores diverse social and political concerns of the country’s poets like freedom of expression, violence, language, love, exile, hope, nature and of the human condition.
Other notable names participating in the Biennale are K. Satchidanandan (Malayalam), Sharmila Ray (English) H.S. Sivaprakash (Kannada) and Mangalesh Dabral (Hindi).
“We would through this poetry feel, see and hear an India which is on the move, which is changing and inventing new imagination, which is accommodative and inclusive, which lives and celebrates plurality. An India which is plural and, by the same taken, timeless and enduring,” says Vajpeyi.
Besides readings, there will be three panel discussions with writers and intellectuals: ‘Poetry as Freedom’, ‘Poetry as Memory’ and ‘Poetry as Conscience’. Keki N. Daruwalla, Yashaschandra, Shiv Visvanathan, Udayan Vajpeyi, Ashis Nandy, Ramin Jahanbegloo, Shamim Hanfi, Ananya Vajpeyi, Krishna Kumar, Apoorvanand and Satchidanandan are among those participating in the seminars.
All poetry loving academics and students from a number of universities and colleges are being invited to attend the Biennale, which is being entirely funded by Raza’s personal financial resources. The Foundation has sought no state or corporate assistance for the event, organisers say.
Yashaschandra, who received the Sahitya Akademi award in Gujarati in 1987 for his poetry collection Jatayu, was awarded the Padma Shri in 2006. His works have been translated into Hindi and other languages. Some of his important works are Odysseum Halesum and Simankan Ane Simallanghan, Ramaniyatano Vagvikalpa, A Manas Madrasi Lage Chhe, Kem Mahanji Kyan Chalya?.
Kanji Patel writes extensively on the adivasi way of life and oral traditions with particular emphasis on the Bhili language spoken in the region of Gujarat from which he hails.
S.H. Raza, a widely acknowledged master of Modern Indian Art, was deeply interested in other art forms – in particular, poetry. He inscribed many lines of poetry onto his canvases, referencing a convention of miniature painting. The lines came from the Vedas, the Upanishads, Sanskrit, Hindi and Urdu Poetry and included Kabir, Tulsidas, Surdas, Ghalib, Mahadevi, Agyeya, Muktibodh and Faiz, among others.
In his diary, Raza used to note down lines of poetry that he liked in Hindi, English, Sanskrit and French. The diary, which ran several volumes long, was appropriately named Dhai Aakhar (Two and A Half Letters) – a phrase Kabir used to describe love.
Vak is conceived as a three-edition event. While the upcoming first run is centered on Indian Poetry, the second in 2019 will feature Asian Poetry and the third in 2021 (the birth centenary year of Raza)
will be devoted to World Poetry.
“The triptych, as it were, will bring forth the rich plurality of voices, visions, resonances, memories, styles, languages, rhythms, innovations, structures and furious innovative verve in sharp focus. Hopefully, the first Biennale will affirm the vibrancy and vitality of contemporary poetic imagination as it manifests itself through different generations of poets,” Vajpeyi says.
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