Tata Literature Live! 2020 announces Javed Akhtar as Poet Laureate: 'All art tries to bring your heart in the right place'
The virtual presentation also included a citation by Ashutosh Gowariker, reading of Akhtar's poems where he was accompanied by Tisca Chopra, and a conversation with Anil Dharker.
On 20 November, poet and screenwriter Javed Akhtar was honoured with the Tata Literature Live! Poet Laureate award 2020 for his sustained and outstanding contribution to poetry in India.
Akhtar spoke about how such literary festivals have "never been as important as they are today," discussing the increased importance placed on monetary concerns in people's lives over the past three decades. "Anything which cannot be deposited in the bank or removed from the bank is not of much significance." He added that, caught up in monetary pursuits, we have ignored subjects like "culture, literature, folk art, language, [and] poetry."
But literature and art, he added, make people worthy of the gains of technology, business, and so on. "Society might get materially more affluent. But 'society' is a group of people, individuals. Is that individual trained enough to respect these privileges and use all these facilities rightly? Because for that, the individual has to be rooted, should have empathy and sympathy for others, the individual should have the heart in the right place.
And I think all art ultimately does this. It tries to bring your heart in the right place."
Earlier this year, he was also awarded the Richard Dawkins Award for endorsing "values of secularism, rationalism, [and] upholding scientific truth."
Filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker read out the citation for the award: "I'm now in the glare of a mammoth persona, like a fledgling bird looking at the sun... I was mesmerised by the broadness of his canvas, as his lyrics spanned various themes and emotions, be it nationalism, patriotism, women empowerment, religious intolerance, casteism, environmental hazards, illiteracy, Krishna's mischief, lullabies, gender equality, LGBTQ issues, terrorism, and many, many more... Javed sir's name will no doubt survive for centuries to come. He's our very own Leonardo da Vinci, who has had the vision, courage, and commitment to march ahead of each of these different paths and excel at every single one of them."
Following the speeches, Akhtar recited a few of his poems, with English translations read out by actress Tisca Chopra. Among the poems they read were Yeh Khel Kya Hai? (What Is This Game?), Aansu (Teardrop), Waqt (Time), and Andhere Ka Samundar (A Sea of Darkness).
This was followed by a conversation between Akhtar and Tata Lit Live! founder and festival director Anil Dharker. Among the things they discussed were the definition of poetry, which Akhtar described as being produced in "the no man's land between your conscious mind and the rest of your mind".
They looked at how the ancient roots of the poetry form lie in religious hymns for most languages, except in Urdu. "Urdu poetry started as agnostic, if not atheistic," said Akhtar. The duo considered the particular suitability of Urdu as a language for poetry. "It [Urdu] is an indigenous Indian language because the dialect is Indian Khariboli, written in some other script. But the script is not as important. It's the language," explained Akhtar. Dharker then brought up the "performative" aspect of Urdu poetry. And Akhtar spoke about the "soft-spoken" quality of Indian poetry, the essence and delicacy of which cannot be accurately translated into a European language like English which is direct and precise; and visa versa.
Akhtar also spoke about how his writing language hasn't changed much over the years. "We come from a tradition where the language was simple," said Akhtar about his Lucknow background. He also spoke about the importance of being a poet with an accessible language. "It is important for me to communicate. I don't write poetry like I'm a giant intellectual that people don't understand. I care [about being understood by people]. I'm writing and I'm reciting for them. So I better communicate. That's why my language is simple."
K Satchidanandan was presented with the Tata Literature Live! Poet Laureate award in 2019.
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