Poetic soirees: then and now

Amidst the joyous applause from the audience, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, the chief guest at the Hindi Kavi Sammelan, announced that starting this year, a national poetic soiree shall also be held in Dogri language, along with Hindi Kavi Sammelan and Urdu Mushaira, as part of the Republic Day celebrations.
Accordingly, Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages ( Academy ) successfully organised a Dogri kavi sammelan on 30 January.
I recall the republic day celebrations from the sixties and the seventies when these celebratory events brought much needed cheer to the people of Jammu. I have attended a few of the Urdu mushairas and listened to some of the finest poets recite their poems to Jammuites.
Those days, I recall, only one composite mushaira used to be held wherein you could listen to Hindi and Urdu poets from the same platform. Even Punjabi, or other languages, were sometimes included in the fare. So, you could hear Majrooh Sultanpuri, Gopaldas Neeraj and Shiv Kumar Batalvi recite from the same platform.
The lovers of literature, music and the arts looked forward to these occasions to sharpen their intellect and gather enough fuel for their creative minds. We, the students, used to look around to lay our hands on the invitation cards, those days issued by the information department These printed invites ( hard copies in the modern parlance ) were the passports to these poetic events. Hardly a few hundred lucky souls were admitted to the event. Rest of us who could not secure the entry visas, had to rely upon those who attended the mushaira to get the much sought after nuggets from the actual proceedings. You may call it an eye-witness account !
For the next few days, proceedings of the mushaira were the points of intellectual discussions amongst the students in the colleges. Those days we wanted to attend these events for two reasons : one reason was to hear the poets recite their poems in person.
I used to carry a pen and a small pocket diary or few sheets of paper with me while going to attend the event. With great dexterity and speed I would note a couplet or two that I fancied. This would be my physical takeaway from the mushaira. Many a time, I missed to catch and note down one or the other line of a couplet ( called a “misra” or a ” misra-e-saani’ ). So, the friends would exchange the notes later and complete the couplet. We had no access to portable tape recorders and the smart phones had not been invented as yet !
If you failed to secure an entry, what could be the other ways to hear the poets ? You had to catch it from the radio broadcast by Radio Kashmir Jammu. It used to record the entire proceedings and broadcast the edited capsules periodically. There were thousands of listeners awaiting such broadcasts in the city, and around the city, wherever the broadcast could be tuned in.
The other reason to go to these mushairas was to see the poets in flesh and bone. How would you see your favourite poet otherwise ? Of course, you could hear them from the studios of Radio Kashmir Jammu, but seeing them in person was a unique experience altogether. If you missed the event, you may not get another chance for years, maybe.
We had no televisions in those days and the newspapers and the glossy magazines were primarily full of the Hindi film actors’ pictures, gossip and the details of the parties, rivalries and happenings of the film world.
Filmfare & Madhuri ( Times of India group ), Star & Style ( Eve’s Weekly group ), Screen ( Indian Express group ), and Baburao Patel’s Film Post were not only bought and read, but also discussed in social gatherings and friends in the educational institutions. Such was the impact of films on our lives, whether intellectual or otherwise. These glossy magazines were not covering literary persons or events. Only those poets were seen, that too only sometime, who wrote songs for the films as well.
I vividly recall an interesting encounter of the year 1976. I was already a young officer of the Indian Air Force, posted at Air Force Station, Hindon. Our base was only about 25 kilometres from the famous Connaught place area of New Delhi. Whenever I could manage, I would reach New Delhi to watch a play in the NSD ( National School of Drama ) repertory or listen to some live classical music concert.
One afternoon, I was sipping my coffee in the well known Volga restaurant of the Connaught place. Suddenly, the door opened and a charming middle aged person entered the restaurant. He was wearing a white, well starched kurta-pyjama. He was sporting long flowing salt and pepper silky hairs that he weaved back with a typical style brushing them with his fine fingers.
The gentleman selected a seat in front of me, some 15 feet away. I somehow felt I had seen him before, but, could not recollect where. I was staring at him with as much discretion as I could manage. He must have noticed it. We exchanged smiling glances. And, lo and behold, it dawned upon me that I had seen him in Srinagar, Kashmir ! I could decipher his Identity from the child-like smile he was wearing and the way he brushed back his hair.
I ventured to move up to him and introduced myself to one of the shining stars of the progressive writers’ movement, renowned Urdu poet Ali Sardar Jafri who later earned the highest literary decoration in literature, a Jnanpith Award. I need explain to my younger readers that those days literary personalities were seldom seen in the newspapers and magazines and we could hardly recognise a literary stalwart when we faced one in real life.
It is, no doubt, difficult to understand such dilemma when today we have hundreds of television channels showing all kinds of well known faces 24 x 7 and when even literary faces are seen a number of times on the tv screens.Those days, such a chance meeting for a Jammuite was a dream-come-true situation. Today, even the driver of Javed Akhtar or, for that matter, the bouncers of actor Salman Khan are well recognised faces in India.
Let us get back to Republic Day 2024. No invites are printed anymore. You don’t have to seek an invite to attend the event. Mere information about place, date and time is enough ; you don’t need an invite to attend a kavi sammelans or the mushaira. You just walk through the security check at the entry point to the auditorium and occupy a seat of your choice. Many times, the organisers are looking for the audience to fill the auditoriums. There is no clamour for the seats even. Everything seems lackluster and sedate.
Attendees appear to be zombies ; I don’t see enthusiasm on their persona that used to be the hallmark of the days gone by. They come as if they are doing a favour to the organisers. They leave the auditorium at will and fancy, even when a poet is in the midst of his recitation. Sometimes, a complete row of attendees leaves en masse. They go out at times just to savour a cup of tea and sandwiches that the government has arranged through the good offices of the cultural Academy. And, then, they return also in a flock. That is, if they ever return.
Many a poet acts like an entertainer, fishing out for cheering, beseeching the audience to clap. The announcer also is heard many times asking the people to cheer up the poets by clapping. The audience must register their presence through cheering and give the auditoria a feeling of mushaira like warmth, the “nazim” or the “sanchalak” is obliged to remind the attendees. The process of clapping is good for health as it improves the blood circulation, they repeatedly tell the audience. Could you ever witness such poor and tasteless conduct of a poetic soiree in that golden period of literary gatherings ?
Even in your dreams, could you ever imagine a Sahir Ludhianvi, a Shiv Batalvi or a Sumitra Nandan Pant conduct himself in such a manner ? The poets commanded love and respect that the cheering audience was willing to concede. Even the unknown or little known poets were enthusiastically cheered if their words were worth it.
You will consider me outdated and out of sync with the times, eh ? I know times have changed ; they always do. That, in any case, is the law of nature. But, why should the times change for the worse alone ? Why can’t we better ourselves in public conduct ? Certainly, there is an expected mode of conduct by the poets and the audience, in the public domain ?
I must congratulate the poets who strived hard to reach the audience with their fares. Somehow, the modern audience generally remains nonchalant to poetic thoughts, idioms and expressions. We are living in these prosaic and rather unimaginative times.
Showcasing his deep interest in poetry and literature, the newly appointed Principal Secretary Culture, not only sat through all the three poetic events, he even recited his compositions in Hindi, Urdu and Dogri ! This is something the youth should emulate. Read well and, then, try to pen down your thoughts. That is the way, friends. Reading is the key.
I recall a couplet by Shujaa Khawar, an IPS officer who quit the service at the peak of his career :
Tameezein mit gayi hain, shehar mein ab sub barabar hai /
Kisi ka qad kisi se ab hamein ooncha nahin lagta //
Gone are the days observing etiquette, manner /
In the cities today, it is all the same, familiar /
I don’t find anyone better than the other ! /
They all look the same & similar //