Uno Dos Tres: Rajiv Narang
I remember the first time, the Delhiwallah Poetry Collective met, at a Café Coffee Day (CCD) outlet in Janpath. Back then it was just a ‘poetry club’, not a mouthful as it is called today. Four people, besides me, turned up for that meeting. Anupama Srivastava, in a beautiful sari, was the first; we learned later that the sari was her trademark dress. Sandeep Mehta, Vidit, and Manisha Verma followed her; I forget the order. But, the last was Tarun Saraswat, who had got lost because there were two CCDs next to each other, in Janpath. After lots of instructions, meaningless directions, and the ultimate advice (ask somebody, ANYBODY!), he trudged in. The lady, who was the manager for the day at CCD, was kind enough to allocate a gratis room to us – yes, the CCD in Janpath has a room it lets out for a fee. We found out about it when we wanted to meet for the second time.
All of us had a poem or two to share but I was surprised that Anupama, Vidit, and Tarun, had brought their own poems. It made me feel a bit less than adequate. I had a Pablo Neruda poem, which I am used to sharing at the drop of a hat. But, Vidit’s unruly hair and beard and his patently Indian attire made the women sigh! Tarun and I were no match for him. He finished the session with a Wisława Szymborska’s poem, which I have had the pleasure to recite many times since.
I had a fuzzy idea, in my poorly organized brain, of what the meetings were supposed to be, which has since then crystallized. This is what the Delhiwallah Poetry Collective is – first, we are a group of poetry lovers. I have said this many times but in reality, there are more poets in this group than poetry lovers and they love reciting their original poetry. Second, we give everyone a chance to recite a poem – any poem. Whether they take the chance or not, is their prerogative. Besides, we can always do with an appreciative audience. And last, we eschew politics and religion. This last part is easier said than done. Poetry, after all, is a reflection of the times we live in and therefore, political.
For our next meeting, we chose the other around-the-corner-CCD for our venue. Tarun was late, again; this time he had gone to the original CCD. You can’t blame the poets—they retain the right to change their minds! To avoid this hassle in the future, we needed a relatively unambiguous location. Finally, Manisha managed to find out that Caara, the British Council café, was open on Sundays. That it was a relatively less busy venue, in an otherwise crowded place, suited our group perfectly. The staff at Caara, once they came to know us, helped in reserving a table for our meet-ups, which was on the last weekend of every month. We held one of our meetings at a warm and cosy place called the Gypsy Café in Hauz Khas Village, given to us for an evening by our host Vinny. That was a meeting to remember–Vidit turned up for it without his signature beard. The girls smiled, but they were disappointed; the rest of us, well, we were all right with it. It levelled things up for us.
Time passed and before we knew it, we were already celebrating our uno anniversary.
To mark the occasion, the meet-up was held at my house. In addition, to poetry recitation, we decided to organize singing sessions. The singers, accompanied by amateur instrumentalists, enlivened the place with classics and new songs. Anupama was kind enough to get some coffee mugs made for the occasion and Simrat Kaur sent for us, a beautiful cake, from Amritsar. We parted that evening, with hopes of going on this journey, endlessly.
During the next year, the Delhiwallah Poetry Collective was sponsored by Manav Rachna International School Sector-46, Gurugram, to perform during their annual literature festival. We have performed on other occasions when the school has requested us. We are grateful to Mrs. Dhriti Malhotra—few teachers realize the importance of poetry, what it can do for the soul, especially a young soul.
Then the year 2020 struck. The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown forced us into existential dilemmas, restricting our movement, and limiting our imagination. In those early months, nobody believed the Collective was going to last long. But, we persevered.
Unable to meet in-person, we adapted to an online format, supporting our members by meeting twice a week. The idea was to just check-in, maybe recite a poem if we felt like it, keeping the meetings themselves, simple and short. We have learned now, once you start reading a poem, it can take you to places you have never imagined. Our online meetings last for over one and a half hours.
The merit of an online meet-up is that it is not restricted; it welcomes everyone, no matter where you are in the world. We found our friends from Kuala Lumpur joining us for the weekly meet-ups. Gina Gallyot, Swagata Sinha Roy, Ling Gan, and Azhar Ahmad have, since then become, well-known faces. With check-ins from Indira Chandra and Manisha Verma from the United States, and our long-suffering Englishman in Abu Dhabi, Robert Sheal or Rob, as he is lovingly called by his friends, we soon became global. In response, we launched a new chapter called the Poetry sans Frontiers, comprised of and dedicated to our global members.
As the year progressed, we attempted new activities on the meet-ups; one of which was an online workshop on Haiku, mentored by Gina Gallyot. The workshop led to a book on poetry Days of Corona, Moments of Haiku, a collection of short poems written during the pandemic. The book is now available for purchase on Amazon India, Kobo Inc., and can be printed on demand. We have sold more than thirty copies of this incredible book. If you haven’t bought a copy yet, you can buy it here.
Our next project, another book, is in the offing.
We are closing in on our dos anniversary at the end of this month. On 26th September 2020, we hosted a special anniversary meet-up—we sang songs, played music, recalled our favourite moments, and as always, read poetry. There were songs from the days past—Kishore Kumar’s on-demand, sung in his sorrowful voice by Praveer Joshi; Brain Damage (Pink Floyd) sung by our very own Kalyan Das; and the enigmatic Cyrus Vesuvala, sang Eric Clapton and Elton John classics, on his guitar. Ling and her husband Ghee, joined in with a duet, from Malaysia. And, Gunika Virlley, Ritika Bawa Chopra, and Mahua sang to their and our hearts’ content.
As we did, after our first anniversary, we still hope, our journey continues. We await our tres anniversary of this joyful group, now pretentiously, known as the Delhiwallah Poetry Collective.
Here’s to more poetry!
Rajiv Narang is an engineer by day and a poet by night. During his years in graduation, he took an active interest in dramatics. His love for poetry and literature led to the launch of the Delhiwallah Poetry Collective, a group promoting poetry and poets. He is also the Co-editor of Asian Extracts and the Editor (English) of the Delhiwallah Poetry Collective.