Poetry as a haven – A monthly column in which poets from the Poetry of Diaspora of Silicon Valley write down their South Asian experiences.
Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley hosted a memorable poetry night called Irshad: Echoes of Our Souls. The evening featured fourteen poets who bared their hearts and their work to allow their audience a magical escape. The pieces were recited in English, Urdu, Hindi, Sanskrit and Kannada and gave voice to many languages. It was a love work by a group of poets whose “day jobs” include science, engineering, yoga, business, and music, which makes the poetic enterprise even more praiseworthy. It was no surprise to hear that many of the poets had previously written books, hosted YouTube recitations, and ran poetry blogs.
Each poet took turns reciting his pieces in front of a beautiful backdrop to make the evening seem like a seamless stage performance. (And yes, in the zoom world, it’s technical challenges that make the performance perfect, because that makes the endeavor human and so absolutely real.) The poets also introduced each other, which gives them a particularly lovable touch of camaraderie and mutuality The attitude gave respect.
Sundeep Kohli, one of the main organizers, opened the evening and reminded us how the world of poets and poetry lovers managed to share a common passion and interest in this unique way. Vidur Sahdev, who believes that poetry must be expressed when it is felt, recited how “words … like incessant rain fall” when the clouds of emotion are adequately weighed down. Pragalbha Doshi, who uses poetry to heal with words, showed us that loneliness can also be rich in experience, a time to ponder the sweet “symphony” of life – an apt reminder in times of isolation.
The subjects of the poems were varied. Jai Polapalli’s contemplative piece contrasted the lives of the haves and the dispossessed in any American or global city: the homelessness in public parks and the wealth of the city’s happy residents. He focused on a subordinate’s request that it “must be a full moon night”. somewhere in America”. Moitreyee Chowdhary delivered a lively piece on Assétou Xango’s identity and belonging: Give difficult names to your daughters. The audience was treated to a spiritual and introspective piece by Anuradha Gajaraj-Lopez. Saswati Das, in a soft voice, contrasted the pain of loss and death in peacetime with the added burden of senseless loss in times of violence. Scholar Kamala Tyagarajan shared some original punchlines about life in the fast lane and added scientific humor to her short but hugely powerful pieces. An evening of poetry must have the theme of romance, appropriately by Jai and Sundeep, in the perfectly chosen Urdu language.
I loved that poems were read in different languages. Jyoti Bachani read a touching piece in Hindi, originally written by Vinod Kumar Shukla, along with her equally elegant English translation on the power of togetherness in difficult times. Lalit Kumar shared with great fervor and an enviable pace his original pieces on Accepting Pain and Suffering and another poem that offered hope and strength in adversity. Navaneet Galagali recited a breathtaking piece in Sanskrit about stage fright and kindly offered a translation for the less learned. Shashank Dabriwal related an extraordinary excerpt from Rashmi Rathi, written by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar in chaste Hindi and tells us a story of the brave Mahabharata Warrior Karna and his high principles of warfare even had an unprincipled option available. Sundeep Kohli uses the traditional one Tarannum Style for his Urdu Ghazal.
Such an enriching experience would have been enough for one evening, especially for a first try. However, Sujata Tibrewala took us to further heights when she used multimedia by bravely combining her original art, poetry and accompanied by Lakshmi Rao’s sweet and gentle singing in the background. Sujata’s writing focused on the idealized feminism and unrealized strength of women in a patriarchal world, a fitting subject for the ambitious presentation.
Lakshmi Rao ended the evening with an original composition of the poetry by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, emotionally implemented as the perfect climax of a magical evening. Your well-chosen piece was a classic: “Bol ke lab azaad hain tere“(Speak, your lips are free for this) – whether this should be used for reciting poems, for singing texts or just for free speech was up to the listener.
The evening ended on this beautiful note that only needed a word: Irshad (instructions).
Aarti Johri has a long relationship with poetry and has found it both moving and empowering. She recently published her first plays in Stanford’s Tangents magazine. She blogs about Indian history at https://industria.org/ and is currently President of SACHI, Society for Art & Cultural Heritage of India.