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These Hip, New ‘Poetry Cafes’ are Having the Last Word in Pune

Says one spoken word poet: “It’s very powerful to see that vulnerability on stage in front of you. It changes you.”

Published
Life
5 min read
A Bullock Cart Poetry reading in session.
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A young girl stands in front of a packed audience and reads poetry. No, not reads. She 'performs' poetry. Her notes rise and fall – her words are sometimes incisive and she uses her expressions and gestures to convey a thousand words. She is Priyam Redican, the co-founder of Bullock Cart Poetry in Pune. When you search for Bullock Cart Poetry on YouTube, chances are fair that Priyam’s hard hitting poem, titled “Miscarriage confessions”, will most certainly show up.

Priyam is a practising psychologist. She was introduced to the form when she watched a show by the popular word poets Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye in Pune. Her brother, Chandrakant Redican, is also a spoken word performer, and the co-founder of Bullock Cart Poetry.

Chandrakant Redican is a spoken word performer.
Chandrakant Redican is a spoken word performer.
(Photo Courtesy: Chandrakant Redican)
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The duo organises several open mic sessions as well as poetry meet ups in Pune, giving budding poets an opportunity to share their words with other poets. “Each participant has to come up with a poem and a feedback session follows,” says Chandrakant.

In their open mic sessions, slams and gigs are lined up where people can be a part of the audience. The common themes at these poetry slams are issues that the youth grapples with today: heartbreak, politics, rape, fighting for gender equality, etc.

The Spoken Poetry Movement

The spoken word poetry scene in Pune goes back to almost 10 years ago, when a group of youngsters came together over a common passion – poetry. KC Vlaine, a spoken word poet from the city says,

The movement began with Apphia Kumar, a friend of mine, who conducted workshops and open mics way back in 2008. She even brought Sarah Kay to Pune in 2010.

Apphia held these workshops to enable more poets to find their voices and encourage them to share their experiences with the world.

A photo of Ashwath Narayanan’s poetry group.
A photo of Ashwath Narayanan’s poetry group.
(Photo Courtesy: Ashwath Narayanan)

The next wave came when Manasi Nene, Shantanu Anand and Nandini Varma started organising slams in Pune, a few years ago, after forming Pune Poetry Slam (PPS). It was a monthly competition where the audience chose the best poetry performer. Elaborates Vlaine –

It was around the same time that spoken word started gaining momentum in and around the country. The most unique thing about this art form is that the poet is in front of you, sharing real life experiences and thoughts in person. It’s very powerful to see that level of vulnerability and honesty on stage in front of you. It changes you forever.

Birth of Different Poetry Clubs

In 2016, Chandrakant and Priyam started Bullock Cart Poetry in Pune.
In 2016, Chandrakant and Priyam started Bullock Cart Poetry in Pune.
(Photo Courtesy: Chandrakant Redican)

In 2016, Chandrakant and Priyam started Bullock Cart Poetry while in September 2017, Rohit Tharwani and Ajinkya Bhalerao started Illusion. Similarly, Ashwath Narayanan started ‘A Writer’s Haven’, another poetry group, a year and a half ago.

For Ashwath Narayanan, it all started when he needed a platform to express himself and decided to create a space where people could perform, write and be comfortable.

We feature written content on our Instagram and our blog. We also feature spoken word poetry through our open mics, poetry slams and our YouTube channel Teen Talks.

Sample a few lines from his poetry:

You must learn to read people like you do your books,
your smartphones, tablets, looks,
you must learn to read people.
learn to read the silent gestures and the loud ones,
the tresses – the faults – the words peppered over the body –
some kisses, some gunshots.

The audience at Illusion.
The audience at Illusion.
(Photo Courtesy: Rohit Tharwani)

Rohit Tharwani and Ajinkya Bhalerao of Illusion were keen to launch an initiative that would give budding artists a platform. Rohit has created a friendly place for artists where they can present their art work. He says,

We do open mics in which we try to provide a platform – not just for poets, but for all performing arts. It could be poetry, story telling, standup comedy, singing, mono acts, beat boxing, etc. We’ve also come up with ‘poetry meet-ups’ where poets of different languages come together and build a poet community. We meet every third Sunday of the month.

In fact, Rohit insists that it isn’t just budding poets, but also artists, who frequent the open mic sessions at Illusion.

Talha Ansari is a fine example of someone who comes for our open mics and regales the audience with his shayaris, performed in Hindi, Urdu and Marathi.
“Talha Ansari (pictured above) regales the audience with his shayaris, performed in Hindi, Urdu and Marathi,” says Rohit.
“Talha Ansari (pictured above) regales the audience with his shayaris, performed in Hindi, Urdu and Marathi,” says Rohit.
(Photo Courtesy: Rohit Tharwani)

Vlaine has taken a step further, hosting poetry events at his house – where he tries to blend the idea of a house party and an open mic.

Most other formats have some broader cause. My house parties are really more about the poets interacting with each other than the just the poetry. The setting is very informal; it’s held in my living room after all!
Ashwath Narayanan, during one of his performances.
Ashwath Narayanan, during one of his performances.
(Photo Courtesy: Ashwath Narayanan)
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But How do These Poetry Clubs Gauge Their Success?

For Ashwath, it is the positive feedback he receives from people who attend the open mics:

People come and tell me they like the group because it comprises a younger audience.

For Rohit and Ajinkya, it is the huge crowds they receive at every open mic session – crowds that include a healthy number of senior citizens. Rohit remembers how during one of the open mic sessions, a 65-year-old Mrs Pandey had turned up who told them eagerly that she’d wanted to attend this after hearing about it on one of her trips to Pune.

A participant performing at Illsuion.
A participant performing at Illsuion.
(Photo Courtesy: Rohit Tharwani)

What is the Way Forward?

Open Mics, Slam Nights, gigs – while all of these formats have been around for a while, Chandrakant at Bullock Cart wants to try something different going forward. He is steering his club towards content creation. “We will be doing curated line-ups, video logs, podcasts and collaborations with musicians and theatre artists,” explains Chandrakant.

Pune doesn’t look like it’s stopping anytime soon!

(A freelance food and fashion blogger, Pranjali Bhonde Pethe aims at getting people and their favourite food and style closer through her blog moipalate. Email her at pranjali.bhonde@gmail.com and follow her on @moipalate.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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