Mumbai Tea Party festival takes poetry to city’s tea houses

The festival was initiated in October 2014 and aimed to create a platform for South Asian and German poets to translate each other’s works.

Written by Anushree Majumdar | Mumbai | Published:November 26, 2016 1:32 am
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If there’s one thing a good Mumbaikar makes time for in their busy schedule, it is chai — cutting, if one is in a rush, or full, if the clock can rest a while. On Friday morning, a host of poets, from India and other countries, took over five tea venues for a day-long ‘tea party’. The Mumbai Tea Party (MTP) has kickstarted “Poets Translating Poets”, a three-day poetry festival, organised by the Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, Mumbai. The festival has been in the making for two years: it was initiated by the Goethe-Institut Mumbai along with the Goethe-Institutes in South Asia in October 2014, in collaboration with the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin / Haus für Poesie, and aimed to create a platform for South Asian and German poets to translate each other’s works.

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The idea behind the tea party theme was by Christian Filips (35), a Berlin-based poet and dramaturge, who was in a workshop in Gangtok, Sikkim, earlier this year, when he was struck by how different cultures think about tea. “I was translating and working with poets writing in Nepali and Mizo. I have written a love poem about a guy waiting for his beloved, trying to make tea to pass the time. The hours pass by, from verse to verse, the lover is getting younger and younger (like a child waiting for his parents), the beloved does not come, the tea water boils and ends up in smoke,” says Filips.

However, the Nepali translation of the poem made his audience laugh. “A German audience would never laugh, they would just wait like the lover in the poem. When I asked people what they were laughing about, they said, ‘This is a very funny poem about British tea culture, a poem against colonialists’. Then a tea company from Gangtok wanted to use the poem for an advertisement. This was when I thought we should found the Mumbai Tea Party: a party for hidden meanings that come to light in other countries,” says Filips.

Last morning, about 11 am, he was joined by poets Abdul Rasheed, Annie Zaidi, Dr Sumedh Kulkarni, Janhavi Acharekar, Jameela Nishat, Neerav Patel, Orsolya Kalasz, Sampurna Chattarji, Shafi Shauq, Veerankutty and Quaiser Khalid, among others, who travelled to five venues and performed their work — by creating a poetry installation of sorts. Through the MTP, Filips hopes to break away from set formats in which art, especially poetry, is performed for the public. “In most cases, you go to an event and you already know what you can expect, what questions will be asked, what answers will be given,” he says.

The poets visited the following tea houses — Kiran Nivrati Bhonsale Tea Stall on Ganapatrao Kadam Marg, Lower Parel; Sundara Sai Ganesh Tea Stall on Dr E Moses Marg, Mahalaxmi; Cannon Pavbhaji, at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mahapalika Marg; Tea Stall, Dalal Street; and Army Restaurant, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, Fort. The festival is free and the weekend will see 51 poets from five countries share their work in 20 languages through readings, discussions, open mic performances, sound installations, workshops and musical performances.