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A monthly poetry meet in Guwahati is attended by rickshaw-pullers, government officials as well as well-known poets.

February 23, 2014 12:38:52 am

A monthly poetry meet in Guwahati is attended by rickshaw-pullers, government officials as well as well-known poets.

On a usual day, Kamala Kanta Deka is just a newspaper-seller on the streets of Guwahati, But, on the first of every month, the unobtrusive 46-year-old turns host of a unique poetry meet. The venue: his newspaper stall in front of Akashvani Kendra in Chanmari.

Deka recognised the power of the streets years ago, when he saw Jayanta Hazarika, the younger brother of singer Bhupen Hazarika, and his group Sur Vahini collect funds for flood-affected people by singing songs on the streets of Guwahati. Stripped of the opportunity of education after high school, Deka resolved to follow his literary interests by taking the idea forward and bringing poetry to the streets, literally. In December 1999, he told Suryya Das, an AIR broadcaster then and the assistant station director now, who was Deka’s regular customer, about his idea and developed it with his help. ‘Pada-Pathat Abelir Kavita’ (Afternoon poems on the footpath) started thus and has been continuing ever since.

The first meet, which took place on January 17, 2000, began with just about 15 participants, a few of them from AIR. “Kamal Rana Sarma (a reputed artist, who is no more) recited a long poem. Suryyada too recited one. I also tried to read out one that I had scribbled between selling newspapers,” says Deka, who shifted the date to the first of every month, “an easy date to remember”. The meet continues for three hours and starts at 3 pm.

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The informal group started bringing out an annual collection of poems in 2010; the latest was released on New Year’s day. “In the beginning. not too many people came. But gradually news spread, mostly through word of mouth. On average, about 30 ‘core members’ assemble each month and the overall number sometimes goes up to 70,” says Das, the group’s working president.

Among regular participants of the conference are rickshaw-pullers, government officials, schoolteachers, lawyers, postmen and housewives. Even well-known names such as contemporary Assamese poet Sameer Tanti, whose works have been translated into several languages, Asam Kavi Sammelan president Meera Thakur, Sahitya Akademi Yuva Purashkar winner Bijoy Sankar Barman, and linguist Pramod Chandra Bhattacharyya join the meet occasionally. “For ordinary people, who are shy or scared, or do not get proper opportunities, it is almost unthinkable to attend a proper poets’ meet or become a member of a literary organisation. This group provides a platform to them,” says Das.

“This is definitely something unique. What strikes me is that there are people from all walks of life, and they are all poets, seeking to celebrate life amid a struggle for survival in the chaotic concrete jungle of an unplanned city,” says Tanti.

Jyotish Chandra Malakar, a retired AAI officer, travels 30 km from Borjhar to Chanmari once every month just to read his poems and listen to others’. “There are several who have never missed even one meet,” says Kishori Mohan Pathak, a retired government employee, and president of the group. There is no membership fee, and no formal invitations are sent out for the monthly event.

The poetry read out at these meets covers a wide range of subjects. Balobhadra Das, a rickshaw-puller, writes about the daily struggles of hard-working daily wage-earners like himself. In a poem, titled Anamika, Das describes rows of dustbins in the city where numerous anamikas (nameless girls) share discarded food. “The government announces scheme after scheme/Anamika’s eyes brighten up beside a dustbin/ Yes, this is Guwahati….” A poem by Churaman Rajbangshi, a local shopkeeper, describes how starving children quarrel with crows and dogs over a piece of bread. Pikumoni Bhuyan, a postal department employee, on the other hand, has a poem about betrayal in love.

“I don’t write poems, but I come here to listen to them,” says Dipak Chakravarty, a railway employee. So does Rajiv Bordoloi, who runs a tea stall nearby.

Some members of this group have now published collections of poems, though at their own cost. Golap Dihingia, a retired government employee, has a collection called Kavi tumi kot powa enebor shabd? (Poet, where do you get such beautiful words?). Seventy-seven-year-old Achyutananda Sarma, a literary pensioner and retired headmaster, has been bringing out a collection of his poems called Prabah, once a year for the past 10 years. Deka himself has two collections, Kamal subash (Fragrance of the lotus) and Lohit Kamalar papori (Petals of the red lotus). “The buyers are mostly friends and acquaintances, while some small bookstalls, like the one run by Deka help us,” says Roman Sarma, a lawyer, whose poems have been published in several literary journals.

What do they find in reading poems like this? “Life. We come face to face with life. Even the loudest honking of a city bus passing by cannot drown our poetry,” says Polly Banikya, a housewife.

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