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.
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."
On a blue-skied, moonlit, summer evening
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
You are Daryaganj,
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.
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,
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.