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Circles of hope
Indian poetry in English might be dead or in the intensive care unit in other parts of the country, but in Mumbai it's as healthy as a pack of vegans. That's because a number of groups, some old and some recent, offer poets regular opportunities to meet and share their work.
The PEN All India Centre, a local arm of International PEN, regularly organises literary events. It was once run by Nissim Ezekiel, who along with Arun Kolatkar, Adil Jussawala and Dom Moraes, was one of the giants of Mumbai's poetry scene. One of its present office bearers is poet, writer and curator Ranjit Hoskote.
Then there's Poetry Circle, around since 1986. It was begun by Menka Shivdasani, Nitin Mukadam and Akil Contractor who met at Parisian restaurant in Fort to discuss how they could get an audience for Contractor's book of poems. Shivdasani says that at the time there were no formal groups apart from PEN. Yet there was a close-knit community of poets - Santan Rodrigues, Melanie Silgardo, Arun Kolatkar, Adil Jussawala - who would get together to discuss poetry and publish their work.
Edited by Rodrigues, the magazine 'Kavi' was one of the few outlets for poetry. "I had never seen very large audiences at poetry readings and I half believed the line we kept hearing - 'Nobody is interested in poetry', " Shivdasani says. "So I was a little sceptical about the response we would get. " She was soon at ease. The response was overwhelming.
In 2000, Jussawala started Loquations. After he quit, it was taken over by Jane Bhandari. The group, which is on a break till February, attracts a lot of college students, Bhandari says. Is that a sign that more people are writing poetry? "Every year I go to KC College to judge a poetry contest, " she answers. "The little auditorium is pretty full. I once asked them how many of you write and every hand went up. "
A recent indication of this interest is 'Nether', a new literary magazine started by four post-graduate students of Mumbai University disgruntled by the lack of similar publications in India. But if more youngsters are writing poetry, it's thanks in no small part to the internet. "The net is exposing a lot more people to literature, " Bhandari says. "It's easy. You're just sitting on computer and googling. "
One of the most successful poetry groups in Mumbai is Caferati, which has a prominent online presence. Members communicate through a blog and occasional meetings in the offline world. "The net has made it easy to find your audience, " says Caferati's Peter Griffin. "If you are one of 50 people in the world who likes poetry on motorbikes, you can find your community. Not everybody writes to be a big poet. "
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