Indiestani Project: Bringing two worlds together through poetry

This duo has brought together ‘Searching for the Sun’, a poetographic exhibition, a new artform at the crossing of words and images from their work the Indiestani Project.

Written by Tarishi Verma | New Delhi | Updated: October 19, 2016 7:26 pm
slam-poetry_759 Shubhodeep Pal (left), a stage performance, and Akriti Sondhi.

“Ya khuda, kya malum nahi tha tujhe,
Ki jo chale gaye woh mere the.
Woh lafz, jo chale gaye,
Woh saath, jo chhoot gaya,
Woh lamha, jo beet gaya,
Woh mera tha.”

“Sullen statue,
Warped and stunted,
Creaks in pain.

It’s frozen between
Two forgotten nights
Of last year’s rain.”

Poetry often adorns our bookshelves, with Robert Browning and Harivansh Rai Bachchan titles. Of late, however, poetry has come to the masses in the form of open mic performances and poetry slams, as they are called. What this has allowed is the coexistence of two very different kinds of writing on the same platform, the juxtaposition bringing out the importance of the need to hear varying voices and words.

WATCH VIDEO: Slam Out Loud: Changing World Through Poetry


Akriti Sondhi and Shubhodeep Pal have brought together ‘Searching for the Sun’, a poetographic exhibition, a new artform at the crossing of words and images from their work the Indiestani Project. While sondhi remains fascinated by the language of visuals, Pal translates it into words.

“Independent + hindustani,” Pal says. “It struck me one day, and I decided to adopt it without thinking twice. Akriti was a willing co-conspirator.”

The project, three years old, grew online first and made its first public appearance at Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda Festival earlier in February, where it received a tremendous response, encouraging the duo to bring it to more platforms. The masterful photographic images catch one’s attention attention immediately and Pal’s words bring to it a meaning unimagined, like an extended caption. “It’s my interpretation of the image,” he says, “But not the only one. I leave it to the audience to bring as many interpretations as they can.”

In the world of privilege, the inauguration of the exhibition saw performances of children under the Slam Out Loud poetry group. A poetry group of kids aged 11-12 years from marginalised communities, one only has to be in their vicinity to be completely captivated by their infectious energy. Oozing with confidence, they stepped on the stage to recite lines one would think are straight out of a polished poet’s book.

The organisers have been working with the children for over a year, taking them to various poetry functions including India’s biggest poetry festival, New Youth Poetry Slam, with the likes of Sarah Kay and Kalki Koechlin. Jigyasa Labroo, a Teach For India fellow one of the organisers of the group, has been actively involved with the kids and helped bring their talent on-stage.

“At Slam Out Loud, we believe poetry can create a space for expression and give children a platform where they receive unconditional positive regard. The purpose behind this idea is the need to bring the art of poetry as a tool to classrooms with the larger intention of creating a joyful space where children can engage in dialogue,” she says.

Suraj, who lives with his father, an electrician, and homemaker mother, believes his poetry reflects his resolve to inform the world about everything that is going on. At the same time, his poetry is his expression of his personal feelings too. “My favourite poem is on Pain. A friend once punched me and then asked me if it really hurt. That inspired me to write,” he says.

His first poem, ‘Dharti and Oxygen’, is a conversation between the Earth and Oxygen bhaiyya, as the Earth cries for a safe haven for herself and oxygen. “I was inspired by my surroundings,” Suraj says. “Everything was very dirty around me. So I thought, to change the mindset of the community, I should write the poem on earth and oxygen.”

Nitish, resident of Adarsh Nagar, likes to write about religion, caste, community. “I want to write about what I feel about these things that are happening around us,” he says. How is able to write such in-depth poems? “I just use my brain,” he quips as everyone laughs.

Bringing in a theme of loss with her moving and poignant poem ‘Jo Chale Gaye, Woh Mere The’, Chanda gives a new definition to being a child. Through her poem, she explores the loss of love, shelter, and protection. “The idea came to me when I read about a farmer losing all his hard work, his dedication, his hopes because of something that led to losing his crops and food,” she explains. “It was also after my dadaji died. I was so attached to him and then suddenly, one day he’s gone – toot gaya dil.”

Jigyasa explains that the poetry writing process has been enhanced over the year with some training and workshops and has helped the children grow better than they could have imagined. “Our first workshop, which is the belief workshop, took all children through a structure that made many of them write their first poems. After that they started trying to write more every single day and since the past one year we have been doing workshops with them on building their skills as spoken word poets; and they’ve grown beyond expectations,” she says.

The presence of the children in a place that is the very exemplification of higher class and elitist tastes makes their poetry stand out and proves that there is no one owner of art. Art is only beautiful when it covers everyone, from the low to the high, bring them on the equal pedestal of feelings, beauty and expression.

‘Searching for the Sun’ is on during October 8-16 at the Art Gallery, India International Centre, Annexe, Lodhi Road, New Delhi.