“The best and the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” – Helen KellerThe internet and the social media hold the key to building the future that great thinkers like Buddha, Russell, Tagore, Marx and Lennon dreamed of. It has made it possible for thinkers, writers, musicians and artists to share their thoughts and art easily, quickly and widely. The subsequent emergence of regional language interfaces for computers and browsers has been an important breakthrough that allows people across the planet to transcend boundaries without losing their identities. One of the most amazing phenomenons in this sphere has been the evolution of Hindi poetry blogging.
I do believe that there is a line that separates creativity and populism, and at the cost of being branded a snooty conservative, I stick to my belief.
I chanced across Hindi poetry blogging through the Indiblogger network, and it was not out of my personal attraction toward Hindi poetry. I looked up the people who were reading and commenting on my work, and to my surprise, I found several of them were Hindi poets blogging in the Devnagri script. In spite of having learned my Ara, Balia, Chhapra, Darbhangas on the playgrounds of what was then Bihar and growing up with Lot Pot, I still struggle to read Devnagri, and a lot of the lyrical and syntactical devices of Hindi-Urdu poetry are totally lost on me. Yet as I read their work, often sporadically, since much of the time, I would not understand (or even be able to read through) what they were writing, I realized that some of it was at the level of the Prasoon-Joshi-Vishal-Dadlani kind of stuff that no Indian can escape any more. Not surprisingly, much of it was better.
As I got familiar with these blogs, I began to recognize an important trend, and that was how the idea for this post began to form in my mind. I decided to find out more about these bloggers and their fierce determination to change their world, one poem at a time. As our dialog evolved, I came out enriched not only by these poets’ incredible work, but also by their commitment to their craft. Join me as they share their journeys.
Amit Agarwal who blogs at Safarnama was born at Meerut to college lecturers. His poetry is simple yet intense. While he blogs in Hindi as well as English, his love and pride in his language is obvious in his writing. From Haiku to couplets, he enjoys experimenting with form and meter in the most refreshingly post-modern way imaginable. He uses his poetry to express the mysticism of life, celebrate the feminine, and to exalt the commonplace. He also is a master of layering his writing, where you find new contexts every time you read his poems. He identifies the major challenge of blogging in Hindi as being that of manuscript conversion. He says, “In spite of the availability of some good, user friendly software(s) I find lots of typos in Hindi posts which mars the flow and beauty of a verse. I wish all the Hindi writers be more patient and careful with the convertor and try to present their verses absolutely free of typos.”
Amit has also tried to address the language barrier by translating his own work into English and publishing it along with the original. He says, “I have lots of non-Hindi speaking friends who wish to comprehend and appreciate my poems. I provide translated versions for them, but sometimes fail to do so. Lately many of my valued readers have acknowledged that they were able to understand the verse in original Hindi, which really delighted me.”
Interestingly, many of these poets write both in English and in Hindi. Some of the interesting experiments that they have been involved in include writing poems based on prompts, poetry contests, collaborative writing, collective publishing and translating each others work. A recent “accident” comes to mind, that of Words, Silence and You, an English poem by Amit being translated into Hindi by Anu of My Dreams and Expressions, which was then translated back into English by Vivek of Musings Of Vivaldi, resulting in three distinct works based on a single creative idea.
Shashiprakash Saini of Shashi Ki Kavitayen was born at Jaunpur, and moved to Panvel in 1990 where his father was posted with ONGC. His father used to write poetry and Shashi believes he was born with poetry in his blood. Most of our interactions have been with him replying to me in Hindi verse, often cobbled together as we were speaking.
Presently pursuing his MBA from Banaras University, Shashi’s poetry is simultaneously earthy and contemporary, with topics ranging from dowry to child labor in addition to the usual love and longing that most poets hone their craft on. An absolute romantic at heart, his coming to write poetry at an early age has a funny story behind it. When he was in class 6, his friends told him that he could earn a lot of money from poetry and that if he wrote a hundred poems he would be granted a doctorate. It took him many years to realize that it was not so, but by then he had fallen in love with the magic of expressing himself through poetry.
Jasmeet Kukreja, born and brought up in Kanpur, resident of Delhi, is an engineer and blogs both in English and Hindi, her Hindi poetry blog being Kavitayen Jashn. She started writing poetry in class 7 and her first poem was about Mother Teresa. She is a relative newbie in the field of Hindi poetry blogging and acknowledges the need to learn from the work of other poets as a first priority. One of the driving forces behind her going online with her poetry was her concern at the declining popularity of Hindi poetry among the modern youth. She says, “I don’t want the interest in Hindi poetry to fade away among the urban educated youth, and I thought in this age of Facebook and Indiblogger, I can publish my Hindi writing as my contribution.”
Jasmeet balances her professional and personal lives, but pines for the day when her identity as a poet will surpass her identity as an Engineer.
To a very great extent, the bustling online Hindi poetry scenario was not imaginable even a few years back. In 2006, there were only about 300 blogs in Hindi, with only 10 of them being updated regularly. For a long time, Hindi poetry online was an effort orchestrated largely by the non-resident population using English fonts. As Saru Singhal of Words, a wildly popular bi-lingual poetess, explains in her interview to the ITV Gold TV Channel, much of the present “boom” has been made possible by the large scale adoption of the social media by both the Hindi poetry reading population and Indian bloggers and poets themselves. Behind this lies another “small step for man,” the emergence of regional language interfaces for computers and browsers.
Computer interfaces need a standard or universal code to understand and represent scripts and characters. The industry standard for this is Unicode. Serious research in Unicode for Indian languages began almost three decades back, but it was three different thrust areas, all of which date back to the mid-noughties that enabled the present boom in regional language blogging. The first was of course, the research being done by IT giants to make their applications, browsers and operating systems more universally usable, especially by the huge non-English-speaking populations of Asia and other regions. The second was the open source movement which has been the greatest contributor to making software and information available in Indian languages. The third was the explosion of the mobile device market in China which was largely empowered by the availability of regional language interfaces. This triggered renewed investment in Indian language interface development. One must also not forget the Government of India, which has an entire Ministry dedicated to Information Technology and an official official language policy page written in English. Along with these three developments, there was the immensely important work being done by people in the individual capacity in making literature written in Devnagri available digitally.
The contribution of Ravishankar Shrivastava (a.k.a. RaviRatlami after his one-time residence at Ratlam, MP) in encouraging and promoting blogging in Hindi is acknowledged by most veteran Hindi poetry bloggers, though his name might not be familiar to those who have come into blogging after most of the regional language blogging hurdles have been overcome. His biggest contribution lies in bringing Hindi and Chhattisgarhi operating systems and translating Linux and Windows apps into those languages. Apart from his own writing, he also has created one of the most popular platforms for budding Hindi poets and writers at the seminal Rachnakar.
Another major catalyst in bringing maturity and exposure to Hindi poetry blogging is the role played by blogger networks like Indiblogger. In a field dominated by technology, vanity and opinion, Indiblogger enabled Hindi poetry bloggers to connect to each other and share their poetry and of course, their readership. As the language barrier has been overcome, more and more people have taken to the social media space to share their Hindi poetry. While this brings with it the age-old argument of high art versus popular art, it also increases manifold the sphere of influence that Hindi poetry now has.
One of the challenges that a rapidly evolving civilization has to face is the obliteration of traditional values and dated thinking. The danger in this is that more often than not, the baby gets thrown out with the bath water. What we see today is the growing realization that we have gone wrong somewhere. It isn’t as if we don’t know what has gone wrong, but the dilemma is more about what to do about it. The creative arts are one of the ways that we can help restore a connection to the wisdom that can repair this damage. As Robert Pinsky says, "Poetry connects us with our deep roots, our evolution as an animal that evolved rhythmic language as a means of transmitting vital information across the generations. We need the comfort and stimulation that this vital part of us gets from the ancient art."
Subho’s Jejune Diet is my humble effort to restore that connection that we seem to have lost in the whirlwind of consumerism and materialistic lifestyles. These Hindi poetry bloggers are a reminder that there is still hope. I wish everyone who chooses to awaken the poet in themselves all happiness and success.
I am extremely grateful for the inputs received from fellow bloggers in building this post. Poetry is a deeply subjective experience. So is this post. Neither is it post meant to be a comprehensive overview of Hindi poetry blogging, nor does it claim to pass any judgment on poets or poetry. If you have thoughts to share on the history and development of Hindi poetry blogging that this post has overlooked, please do so in the comments section.
Update - I found this post after publishing mine and I feel that anyone wanting to understand Hindi poetry in the contemporary setting that I have written about should read this post by Lalit Chowdhary.