Great poets need great audiences !

Squadron Leader Anil Sehgal
The year 2022 ended on a poetic note for my wife Seema Anil Sehgal and I. We both attended four poetic symposiums generally called ‘mushairas’ or ‘kavi sammelan’, in a row, in the last week of the year.
These mushairas of Dogri, Gojri, Pahari and Punjabi languages were organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages at the K L Sehgal Hall of the Writers’ Club in their cultural complex. We could not attend the Urdu mushaira since we never got the information about it.


Jammu Jottings

What a privilege that we could attend these four poetic soirees, one after the other, during my recent stay at Jammu. No, we were not invited to these mushairas. We just happened to receive the information from some good souls and ventured into the auditorium uninvited.
We realised that none of those present in the auditorium was invited, except, of course the guest poets and the chief guest !
In any case, there were hardly any audience. Whatever audience you witnessed comprised mostly of the poets invited to recite themselves. Then, there were one odd officer and the staff of the Academy. You may add a few friends the poets brought along. Independent audience like us were almost negligible !
I am glad the invited poets were not seated on the dais as is the traditional format of the mushairas. Had the Academy followed this tradition, we would have found more people on the dais than in the auditorium !
What a pity that you invite well known poets from far flung areas of the state ( presently a Union Territory), make them travel hundreds of kilometres in the thick of the cold season, and, then, force them to recite their poems to a near empty auditorium. What a shame ! What a disgrace !
Renowned American poet Walt Whitman has said : great poets need great audiences !
Let us not forget that the people of Jammu have rich traditions of attending the mushairas held in the city. Right up to the middle of the seventies mushairas were quite regularly held by the then Radio Kashmir Jammu ( now, All India Radio).
Invitation cards used to be issued by the Radio, and these invites were much sought after in the city. Who can forget the mushairas and the music concerts held in the premises of the then Radio Kashmir Jammu on a platform erected under the shade of the big peepal tree !
Add to this the Republic Day mushairas held in the Mubarak Mandi complex where renowned poets from all over India regaled the Jammuites with their poetry !
Let us return to the present times. I did not see the media personnel to cover these mushairas of the Academy. Media coverage could have brought in more listeners of poetry to the auditorium. Was the media even informed ? Were they invited ? If yes, the Academy needs to ponder why was there lack of regular coverage ?
The lone guy covering the event with his video camera shared the information that his agency did not know of the event till late evening of the previous day. “We got the information around 10 pm and only after that was I assigned to cover the mushaira”, said the man with the video camera.
A few pertinent questions need to be answered. Why this disinterest in the cultural events that are held by the Cultural Academy with the money from the public exchequer ?
What efforts, if any, were made to reach the public and inform them about the events ? Why there were no advertisements in the media ? Well, I did not see one.
If money was the consideration, at least social media like Facebook and WhatsApp could have been used to inform the people ?
Dogri Sanstha Jammu also organised a Dogri Mushaira on 23 December 2022 where the number of poets exceeded the dismal number of audience. Poets were seated on the dais, and it brought attention to the fact that there were more people to recite than to listen !
Nevertheless, the Sanstha made an effort to inform the people in advance and invite them to join. I even read a post on the Facebook about their three days programme of which Mushaira was an integral part. Besides, I also received an invitation from the President of the Sanstha, Prof Lalit Mangotra, giving complete details, through the WhatsApp.
We met many friends among invited poets and the negligible audience, at these mushairas. Everyone confirmed he was not invited. This happened in all the four mushairas we attended.
Holding a literary event after spending a few lakh rupees from the public money and not reaching the intended audience amounts to a deliberate financial drain of the public funds, besides being a gross cultural neglect.
Who will understand it better than the incumbent Secretary of the Academy ? He belongs to the Jammu and Kashmir Administrative Service cadre, and his previous appointment was in the finance department of the government.
Besides, it also amounts to hurling insult at the invited poets who are forced to read out to the empty seats and a very few members from the public.
This kind of behaviour on part of a constitutional body like the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages is unpardonable.
By and large, we saw and met the same faces in all the four mushairas. How I wish there were more people and different faces, providing us a platform to meet, greet and exchange thoughts with the culturally alive citizens. You could easily read disappointment writ large on the faces of the poets as they climbed the stage to recite.
The Academy has published a compendium of the poets, writers, singers, painters and other prominent artistes of the UT. It contains briefs about the persons included, their pictures, and the contact details.
Therefore, the essential basic data is already available. All that the Academy has to do is : ustilise this data ! It hardly takes much time, personnel and energy to sift through this data and make listings, which can be converted into the social media groups.
Just use the social media like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Telegram to reach out to the target audience and share the details of the events !
I am confident the staff of the Cultural Academy knows more about social media and the email than me. They have the requisite infrastructure, knowledge, the data and the gadgets like computers and the mobile phones.
What they need is willingness to work and earn their salaries with honour, which can come from the hard and honest working. They need an impetus to perform with dignity. They need a leader who will lead them from the front.
Thousands of literary and cultural enthusiasts like me are watching with curiosity. So are the writers, poets, painters, sculptors, singers, dancers and the intelligentsia from the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
Will Bharat Singh Manhas, the incumbent Secretary of the Cultural Academy rise to the occassion and prove his mettle ?