I've been writing poetry for almost 12 years now and reading for much longer than that. Over the time, I've read Hindi and Urdu poetry a lot and a bit of English poetry lately. I attended a lot of poetic events, recited form stage quite a few times, and recently, got published as well. However, I have never been so disappointed with the state of poetry and the audience response like this time.
Within the past two weeks, I got to attend two poetic events - one, the poetry workshop and recitation in Jaipur; and two, the Kavi Sammelan during Chaos, the cultural fest of IIMA. The first one was undoubtedly high in standards with Gulzar, Sheen Kaf Nizam, and Nand Kishore Acharya like luminaries on the dais. That was the event where I and RC got a fatherly scolding from Gulzar for speaking in Hinglish and we got lessons from Nizam on linguistic purity. The event was a literary treat, with sophistication of highest degree.
However, the source of my chagrin lies with the one in Chaos. The event was christened as Kavi Sammelan, yet the only thing I couldn't find was 'Kavita'. Yes, I was a part of it and the very first one to recite but I was not a part of the five on stage - a fact that I, in retrospect, appreciate. There were five, supposedly, poets of Hindi; yet only two of them reached anywhere near what can be called as the domain of poetry. Otherwise, it was all full of jokes, mostly cheap, despicable, and so old that they would be treated with MBMST on Jokes NB (the virtual notice board in IIMA for posting jokes, with MBMST meaning Maine Bachpan Mein Suna Tha).
Even more embarrassing was the immediate response of audience and ensuing discussions on different forums. People seemed to like three hours of cheap humor and literary torture. I understand that I can not demand poetic sophistication from people in general but at IIMA? And more importantly, why name it 'Kavi Sammelan' then and why not something more apt for its status, like stand-up comedy or laughter show?
Sadly, it is not one event only that compelled me to blurt it out. Reading literary Hindi magazines (like - Hans, Vagarth, Kadambini etc.) gives another sort of torture. The prose is stuck with concerns and vows of 1980s and all the poetry seems to follow Agyeya's Prayogvaad and Dharmveer Bharti's Pragativaad, without understanding an iota of either, leave apart reaching their literary standards. In this sense, Urdu poetry seems to be in a much better state of affairs; although the problem there is not of jokes but of same age old ways of romancing the Hijr, Mai, and Zeest (separation, wine, and life).
Despite all this, I hope to read on and write on like I have done in past. Some crusaders never die - be it relationships, politics, or poetry!
P.S. - I must thank the Chaos team for putting up their best efforts in inviting the 'famous' names and more emphatically, for giving me a chance to recite in my own campus, in front of my own people.