Who is better : you or I?

Who is the best painter ; S H Raza, F N Souza, M F Husain or V S Gaitonde ? Who is the best singer ; Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar or Mukesh ? And, who will you rate best amidst Sachin Tendulkar, Gary Sobers and Marnus Labuschagne?
My rating may differ from yours. Obviously, no harm is done and no offences are meant ; each one of us in entitled to his views, likes and dislikes. That is the hallmark of an educated society. It is difficult to compare when it comes to arts and the artists. Therefore, it is almost impossible to agree on anything that is not science.
Similar difficulty is faced when you attempt making a selection of poets who should be reading at a mushaira or kavi sammelan. Your list may differ from mine or hers. This is what exactly happened when the selections were made for poetic soirees conducted recently for mushairas of Hindi, Urdu and Dogri, respectively by an organisation.
It is alleged by some who were not invited that the selections were anything but fair. So, they spoke to the media that is ever keen to embrace the controversies. All of this seems like a threatening attitude : if you invite me to recite at the national mushaira, I will agree with your selections, otherwise, I shall go all out against you and call you names.
In my humble view, and as a general rule, it is the quality of the poetry you write that should matter, while making selections at a particular point of time. Who cares how long you have been writing or the number of books you have published ? What should matter is the quality of the literature you produce. By the way, famed Urdu poet and film lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi published only one book in his entire career, spanning four decades ! He wrote ” Talkilhiyaan” before he earned his enviable fame by writing some of the most endearing songs for Hindi films
Dogri poet Kunwar Viyogi published his first book of poems titled “Ghar” when he was 39 years old and the very next year he was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award. Was seniority a criteria ? Or, did anyone bother how many books the poet had previously published ? The jury did not hesitate in selecting the very first publication of a poet for the award. At that time, there must have been other poets who had several books of poetry to their credits. Did they stake their claims just on the basis of number of books published or on the basis of seniority ?
In 1967 when Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi was decorated with a Sahitya Akademi Award, he was just 31 years old ! Thereby, he became the youngest winner of the coveted Award. Amrita Pritam got the same Award when she was 36 years of age. Surjit Patar, presently a leading poet of Punjabi language was given the same award when he was 48. So, it is the quality of your work that wins you awards and accolades. These selections were made on basis of the quality of their works and not on their seniority in the profession. When Arundhati Roy won a Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel ” The God of Small Things”, it was her first attempt at writing a novel.
I give these examples to bring home the point that seniority of any kind is not the criteria ; it is the quality of our works that matters. Once the poet has been decorated with a Sahitya Akademi Award, we should concede his works are of the desired quality. But, what before that ?
Now, comes the all important question : how do we assess the quality of poetry we write ? Who is the authority to certify that our poems are worthy of recitations, publication or be considered for an award ?
Well, there is no standard or universally accepted norm or criteria to call someone a poet of substance. Each jury may differ and give a divergent verdict. You may select certain poets as worthy of participation in a kavi sammelan and I may have a different list. Chances are that, amongst themselves, even these two dissatisfied poets of Jammu may differ when making selections of the poets !
Is this alright to call other poets below standard if your name does not appear in the panel of poets drawn by the organisers ? How sure are you that the other “substandard” poets would consider you worthy of receiving an invitation for a particular kavi sammelan ? They may call you “substandard” and unworthy. There is no end to such situations.
It is a tough task when it comes to make the selection in literature or the arts. Selections are likely to be under the influence of personal likes, dislikes, self orientations and preferences. Every year, the government of India gives the Padma Awards to over 100 persons from all across the nation. Every list of awardees drawn by the government is subjected to strict scrutiny at different levels by different committees. Still, so many amongst us don’t see eye-to-eye with the selections made. Many of these awards create controversies ; political, social and personal.
The Filmfare awards were instituted in 1954 to recognise artistic and technical excellence in the film industry. There have been several occasions when the awards attracted public attention for the controversial selections made. Perhaps the most controversial selections were made in the year 2020 when the awards given to Hindi film “Gully Boy” disappointed large number of filmgoers who accused the awards were unfair. In their opinion, films like “Chhichhore”, ” Kesari” and “Uri” were deliberately and unfairly sidelined by the selectors so that “Gully Boy” could be sent for the Oscar nominations.
In all the foregoing examples, many amongst us differ on various points ; juries and jurors are called the names too. That is exactly what these two disgruntled Hindi poets from Jammu have precisely done. They have gone on record to say that a the particular person ( or team ) at the Academy is not qualified enough to make the selections. This is a debatable point. No matter what selection the Academy makes, anyone not selected can make such claims that the Academy is unfair and not qualified. So, where does this all end ?
One solution that comes to mind is to appoint advisory committees of citizens, poets and writers for all the languages. Recommendations made by the committees should be considered whilst making the final selections. This will alleviate the sickness of politics in culture to certain extent. But, be aware, there is no foolproof solution. There will always be a disgruntled lot if their personal interests are not met. They may, then, accuse these selection committees of partisan predilections.
Ashwani Vaishnavi is a former IAS officer, Nirmala Sitaraman is not an economist and Rajnath Singh has had nothing to do with the defence services. Still, they are discharging their duties as the cabinet ministers for railways, finance and defence respectively. Would you call them unqualified to hold these portfolios ? Well, you may, whilst the others may not.
The fact is that, presently, that is the way we work until a better system is devised. It is like democracy. We all know of all the problems of a democratic system of governance. But, we continue with it until the mankind finds a better system.
The ministers, incidentally, are ably assisted by those who are experts and experienced in the respective fields and the final decision making still rests with the ministers themselves. The entire bureaucracy is run in the same fashion and on the similar principles. This includes the Academy as well.
The entire scenario of art, culture and languages is dotted with fragmented groups who have their own ways to achieve a similar goal. Otherwise, why should we have several literary bodies for the propagation of the same language ?
It is all a long debate that continues since times immemorial. It will always be a moot point. Shall we say : more the merrier ?! For present, suffice it to recall a couplet by poet Sarshar Sailani :
chaman mein i?htilat-e-rang-o-boo se baat banti hai /
ham hi ham hain to kya ham hain, tum hi tum ho to kya tum ho //
( It is a mixture of different colours and fragrances that makes a garden beautiful /
It will be uninteresting if all flowers wore same colour ; all fragrances were similar )