Beginning 22 June, Firstpost embarks on a 10 week-long journey of poetry. Featuring poets who write in English and Hindi, this project is meant to both showcase their art as well as their individual creative processes. These poets write for the page and for the stage, and the themes of their works range from love and friendships to how power-hungry human society can be. Their verses, expressed in the 'spoken word' format, are brought to life by visuals and supported by music.

Presenting — The Firstpost Poetry Project.

This is the fourth poet featured in this series.

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Ankita Shah | 25

"What according to you is the mark of a good poem?"

"Absolute, absolute honesty."

Ankita Shah is one of the most significant young voices of Mumbai's poetry scene. She co-founded The Poetry Club in 2013 with Trupthi Shetty, but she began taking an interest in poetry many years before this. "My school teacher, who inculcated in me empathy for people and the environment, would nudge us to express ourselves through art. She made me write my first ever poem about endangered Olive Ridley turtles when I was 12 years old."

Ankita and Trupthi began The Poetry Club while they were studying to become chartered accountants. They realised they both wrote poetry and wanted to find others who shared their interests. "So there could be an exchange of ideas and stories, and we could nurture a sense of community and belonging, all along making sure we were creating a space for more direct and honest criticism and learning," Ankita explains.

Setting up the club and running it gave her the chance to interact with people who wrote in several languages, to discover stories, narratives and styles different from her own, and to have conversations that shaped both her thinking and craft. "Everyone who has ever attended our sessions led us into a wild, untouched forest, where creatures we’d never seen before existed. Of course, I mean poems when I say 'creatures'. To write better, you need to read better, allow yourself to wander in this wild forest."

Ankita says that the collective is made of so many distinct people and works, that eventually, the conversations transcended the collective to become something more. "I’d say communities like The Poetry Club are initiators of new ideas. But they also have an important role to play in creating a safe space. Because of the power they hold, it’s their responsibility to also represent the voice of the individuals that make them, in every way possible," she says.

Ankita believes that performing a poem adds a different dimension to it. "As a craft, poetry has so much to do with sound — the sounds of the words you choose to write or choose to make a part of your poem, the metre, the rhythm that your poem carries, and of course, the whole tone of your poem... The very act of writing the poem is a very personal exercise that the poet engages in. To take that whole process and show it to an audience in the way it was supposed to be is extremely crucial. It adds a lot of value to how poetry is valued and experienced."

With every poem, Ankita hopes that she can make the reader feel the way she did when she was putting her pen to the paper. "If someone reads or hears my poems, I want them to like the process of unlayering it. What the process of writing evokes in me, is what I want it to evoke in the reader. I cannot exactly point out what those emotions are; it involves a quiver, that’s all I can say."

A(f)fair Warning

I

On a blue-skied, moonlit, summer evening

of Delhi,

inside a warm, multi-hued shop

down the road of Paharganj,

I set my heart on a peacock-colored shawl.

I bargained too little

and beamed too much,

I was sold a pashmina

that wasn't.

II

You are Daryaganj,

in camaraderie,

with Wilde and Manto,

Kafka and Premchand.

You are Ghalib’s final wager

at Ballimaran - which he has so since won

each time Urdu slips into verses of another tongue.

You are Agrasen's baoli

burning bare and empty

quenching its thirst

off conversations of lovers

it knows will leave.

You, the plebeian Indian Coffee House

atop the princely expanse of Connaught Place

that makes delectable omelette toast

and debates on politics.

You are the pashmina and the momos

of Paharganj’s firangi galli -

overpriced and untrue to their promise,

yet warm with familiarity.

You are the Dilli

of weekend vanishing acts

from wintry literature festivals

and summer training

The Dilli, I’ve been warned

I won’t love as much

if I started

to live in it.

Vulture

Do you remember the poem

where house was a metaphor to mean you

and I, was determined to burn it?

That poem, when it set out, was a sunbird,

yellow-bellied, purple-rumped,

upside down on a flower, hung

with a mouth that yearned to swallow the sky.

But on the page, when it perched, it preyed

for a cold and bitter July.

It wanted words thinned out

to the last layer of their skin, holding within

a meaning fermented to putrid perfection.

vulture scrolling

Do you remember that poem?

The anatomy of our past,

dismembered by a bird

with a taste for decay?

That poem is not over.

That vulture still shows up on the page.

When I set out to draw spring

I spill outside the circles and shapes

of who we are,

into what we’ve been.

The words I know are always becoming

and the poems,

they come from history.

The sunbird does not set on the page yet.

I’ve heard,

we learn words long after

we’ve felt what they mean.

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Read about the first, second and third poet featured in this series

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