A Poet's Guide To Delhi

A Poet's Guide To Delhi
Shiraz Husain via Khwaab Tanha Collective

“Ik roz apni rooh se poocha, ki dilli kya hai, toh yun jawab main keh gaye, yeh duniya mano jism hai aur dilli uski jaan.” – Mirza Ghalib

(I asked my soul, ‘What is Delhi?’ It replied, ‘The world is the body, Delhi its soul.”)

Just like that, with the flick of his pen Ghalib, one of the greatest poets the world has ever known, immortalised Dilli with his words. Such was the magic of Ghalib and such was the effect of Delhi’s poetic charm on him. Back in the 19th century, Delhi was home, mistress and muse to many stalwarts of Urdu literature including Mirza Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir, Bahadur Shah Zafar (the last emperor of the Mughal Empire), renowned Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya amongst many more. Their verse which shrouds their tombs now lie silent in various parts of the city, making it impossible to envision Delhi without its tremendous poetic legacy.

Even if you are not one for the nostalgia of a bygone age, street art in Delhi has assimilated this rich cultural heritage in public space over the last two years. Project #MyDilliStory by Delhi, I Love You (DILY) have given the streets an artistic makeover by painting it with poems and couplets in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi. Like poetry, these murals have the power to spark moments of poetic inspiration and even connect strangers who might happen to be reading the painted words at the same time.

Image Credit: Shiraz Husain via Khwaab Tanha Collective

The Present Poetry Clubs And Collectives

However, if you are not one of the lonesome poets wandering the city, and rather seek solace and inspiration amongst your own tribe, Delhi won’t disappoint. Its numerous cafes-turned-performance venues are where you will find many poetry clubs– a mix of the traditional and contemporary.

Bring Back The Poets, an initiative to bring the art of spoken word to the public spaces, is for those that believe that poetry is not just an indulgent art but has far-reaching powers that can impact the social fabric of a nation. Through their open mic events and workshops, they encourage verse that is informed by politics, sexuality and activism. With particular workshops like Broken Writers and Warm Like Salt, they feel that poetry is therapeutic with the ability to heal with broken readings, broken writing prompts exercises and broken discussions.

If you are a poet who lives for poetry but your labour of love makes you constantly broke, then Delhi Poetree collective might just be your messiah. One of the more established groups in the city with a sizeable roster of poets, the group intends to make poetry popular but at the same time also financially viable. Apart from organising poetry reading sessions, they have also published the works of more than 100 poets in Hindi and English. A similar initiative that works with unpublished poets–giving them both performance, recital and a print platform is Poet’s Corner. Along with poetry readings, which also often features Hindi, Urdu and Sufi prose, this group has also cultivated two other remarkable cultural offshoots. The first is The NewLeaf Poets Club, which works with school children and helps them get their works published while the second is the Delhi Poetry Festival which will take place between the 23rd and 24th of this month.

Image Credit: India Today

If poetry isn’t a professional passion but a form of mindful recreation for you, an evening with Poetry Couture will suit you better. A non-profit literary initiative with the objective of reviving the poetry reading culture and fostering poetry as performance art they gather once every month to celebrate the art. While the options to engage with poetry might be plenty we understand that being a young poet isn’t easy. Uncertainty with the self and scrutiny of the critics is bound to follow. Here is where Mildly Offensive Content which thrives in an environment of intimacy, warmth and spontaneity with performances in spoken word poetry, will become your artistic sanctuary.

While for a more immersive poetry experience, keep an eye on The OddBird’s cultural calendar. A collaborative performance space in a refurbished go-down, they bring an eclectic array of experiences in performance arts that are bound to spellbind you. In the past, they have featured Pranav Kirti Mishra’s Hindi poetry that draws on the flow of Jaun Elia’s Urdu verse as much as Bukowski’s raw English prose which Mishra, weaved to share a tapestry of passionate wordplay. If you want to widen your poetry horizon while at the comfort of your home visit Delhi Poetry Slam one of the largest online poetry group in India. They offer a wide range of performance videos and books and e-magazine with works of talented poets across the country.

The Charm Of Old World Poetry

“Woh kare baat toh har lafz se khushboo aaye, Aisi boli wohi bole jise Urdu aaye”-Ahmed Wasi

(When he talks, each word has a fragrance, such is possible only with those who know the language of Urdu.)

If you fancy being seduced by the country’s indigenous tongue of poetry- Urdu (now mostly alive through Hindustani) then gatherings by Rekhta Foundation is where you should seek your mehfils. A non-profit organisation, it is the world’s largest website for the promotion of Urdu language, literature and culture. With various performances including recitations, musical renditions, and mushairas hosted by their in-house festival Jashn-e-Rekhta, you can acquaint yourself with the verse of the masters of the old world. Other such gatherings in Delhi include Jashn-e-Bahar and DCM Indo-Pak Mushaira.

Personally, for me, poetry resides in forgotten crevices, where nostalgia sleeps by day and dances by night. Such is an experience of the qawwali at the Nizammudin Dargah, without which many would agree that the taste of Dilli is incomplete. The area has a legacy of Sufi poetry and music established by Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya—specifically of qawwali which was pioneered by his favourite disciple, Amir Khusrau. Nearly 700 years after they died, they still keep Delhi mesmerised. While qawwali performances happen there every night, it’s Thursday night or ‘Jummeraat’, that’s special and draws massive crowds. The evening session begins at around 9 PM and you can settle yourself on the marble floor of the courtyard in a dargah for the performance. As the night progresses you will hear the soulful voices of the resident qawwals, singing much-loved classical and modern qawwalis –including favourites like Kun Faya Kun, Allah Hu, Khwaja Ka Aastana, Bhar Do Jholi Meri and Chhaap Tilak Sab Chheeni Re.

Image Credit: The Better India
Image Credit: Wiki Media Commons

After the music has ceased one is likely to still stay entranced by the experience. So gradually walk through the narrow lanes of the maze-like noisy Nizammudin basti, taking in the all-pervading aromas of incense and flowers in the air till you reach the mazaar (tomb) of Ghalib. A small marble structure located in the deserted but pretty courtyard of red sandstone, here is where you can have a moment of quiet poetic thought beside the city’s most celebrated poet.

Featured image courtesy of Shiraz Husain | Khwaab Tanha Collective

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