Poems on the Road by Walking BookFairs

Poetry readings by Akhil Katyal, Sohini Basak, R. Cheran, and Ulrike Almut Sandig, introduced by Akshaya Bahibala and Satabdi Mishra

Imagine an open sky, imagine vast, open earth below, and imagine the air between them, visibly shaking with a plethora of ideas and emotions!

If you were at Poems on the Road by Walking BookFairs, the concluding session of Day 1 of Jaipur BookMark, it wouldn’t be left to the imagination.

Satabdi Mishra, one of the minds behind the Walking BookFairs initiative, kick-started the event with an introduction to their work so far. The project has covered about 6000 kilometres (and counting) in a trip that concludes at Bhubaneswar on the 14th of February.

Speaking of February the 14th, this session was a celebration of the love of verse and saw recitations in Hindi and English across a wide range of topics. A recitation of Apocalypse, a poem written by R. Cheran in 1999, caught the attention of all present, especially when he spoke about how he had “not expected a similar kind of apocalypse to happen to Tamil people in Sri Lanka”.

The session progressed with Sohini Basak reading excerpts from her anthology titled Future Library Poems. The young poet explained how she drew inspiration from a project where 100 writers were invited to work on their manuscripts in an emerging forest in Norway, where an artist has been planting spruce trees since 2014. Bringing a nuanced look at the current global state of affairs, Basak expressed how “Stories will be coerced, stopped at the borders, or photoshopped to look like someone else”. Reading from the second part of her anthology, Future Library: An Alternative Ending,Barak predicted, “stories in your neighbourhood will make a comeback,” adding that “stories will give up on miracles and take matters into their own hands. Stories will never figure how they end”.

In keeping with the spirit of JBM and perhaps inspired by the scenic Diggi Palace, German artist UlrikeAlmutSandigshared songs together with English recitation:. “Let there be wind in the tree, games in the shade,” Sandig declared, as the singing of peacocks echoed in the background.

Celebrated poet Akhil Katyal invited delightful gasps as he exclaimed, “Tum yaadaate ho jaise night duty par neend aati hai – hamesha”. He continued to enthrall the audience with his wit, quipping “Ishq kiya hai doosri baar. Dheere se chadtahai, jab doosri bar hotahai. Doosre ishq ka pajama choodi daar hota hai”!

The poetry concluded with Katyal reciting Mai Tainu Phir Milangi by the widely-loved Amrita Pritam, in Punjabi and English.

Under the open, blue sky, an apt symbol for Walking BookFairs’ initiative of breaking free of institutional barriers and expanding horizons, co-founder Akshaya Bahibala urged young people to carry the spirit of freedom forward. Stressing the importance of grassroots support, Bahibala observed that empowering local book-sellers, street poets, and everyday readers is crucial to the continued flowering of literature in India.

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