VAK: First Biennale of Indian Poetry opens Friday

Line-up includes readings by 45 poets in 15 languages, discussions on poetry


New Delhi, April 5: Rhyme and reason will take centre-stage as 45 poets working across 15 Indian languages assemble in the national capital for a celebration of verse at the country’s first ever biennale of poetry beginning on Friday.


The three-day biennale, titled VAK: The Raza Biennale of Indian Poetry, has been conceived and organised by the Raza Foundation – set up by the late master artist Sayed Haider Raza in 2001 and helmed by eminent Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi, the 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, Assamese, Manipuri, etc. For this inaugural festival, we are bringing in poets, both well-known and upcoming ones who have been recommended by stalwart poets,” Vajpeyi said.


Over 11 poetry sessions spread across April 7-9, the festival will see each invited poet regale audiences at Triveni Kala Sangam with 15-minute readings of selected poems from his or her collection, rendering the original as well as translations in Hindi and English.


The first session Friday evening will feature five participating poets - Salma (Tamil), Haraprasad Das (Odia), Nilim Kumar (Assamese), Ratan Thiyam (Manipuri) and Majrooh Rashid (Kashmiri). They will take the stage after inaugurating the Biennale and launching the poetry anthology Vak, which contains contributions by all 45 participating poets.


The publication, edited by 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.


Prior to the readings, noted Hindustani classical singer Bhuvanesh Komkali will vocalise a set of Bhakti sonnets and compositions inspired by the unique stylings of his grandfather Pandit Kumar Gandharva and father Pandit Mukul Shivputra.


Among the notable poets participating in the Biennale are K. Satchidanandan (Malayalam), Sharmila Ray (English), Kanji Patel (Gujarati), H.S. Sivaprakash (Kannada), Mangalesh Dabral (Hindi), Pratim Baruah (Assamese), Arundhathi Subramaniam (English), and Subodh Sarkar (Bengali).


“It is hoped that the Biennale will bring forth the vibrant and furious creativity; the dynamic imagination; the plurality of visions, styles and idioms; the surprising resonances and disturbing memories; the darings and aesthetic risks; the merging of time with the timeless; the immediacy and urgency; the socio-cultural and political reach of contemporary poetry of India in its full range and complexity,” Vajpeyi said.


Besides the readings, there will be three panel discussions featuring prominent writers and public intellectuals: ‘Poetry as Freedom’, ‘Poetry as Memory’ and ‘Poetry as Conscience’. Keki N. Daruwalla, Sitanshu 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.


The Biennale, entirely funded by S.H Raza’s personal financial resources with no state or corporate assistance sought, reflects the late Modern Indian Art master’s well-documented love for poetry. He inscribed lines of poetry – from the Vedas, the Upanishads, Sanskrit, Hindi and Urdu Poetry, Kabir, Tulsidas, Surdas, Ghalib, Mahadevi, Agyeya, Muktibodh, Faiz among others – onto his canvases, reviving a convention of miniature painting in so doing.


In his diary, Raza used to note down many lines of poetry that he liked in Hindi, English, Sanskrit, French etc. The diary, which ran into several volumes, was appropriately named ‘Dhai Aakhar’ (Two and A Half Letters) a phrase Kabir used to describe ‘love’.


Vak, from the Sanskrit word for speech, is envisioned as a three edition “triptych” event. While the upcoming Biennale focuses on Indian Poetry, the second in 2019 will feature Asian Poetry and the third in 2021 -- marking Raza’s birth centenary year – would be devoted to World Poetry.


Over that time, Vajpeyi said, “We shall witness and hear the many voices of poetry full of dreams and nightmares, mystery and wonder of being, innovative zeal and creative courage, interrogative spirit and affirmation. A new assertion that poetry matters; poetry enacts and explores freedom when there are constant attempts to limit and curb freedom; in the times of massive amnesia poetry rehabilitates memory and reminds us; poetry remains a strong invisible rampart of conscience.”





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