On Sunday, 20 Dec 15, the Siri Fort auditorium in New Delhi was packed to capacity on the final day of the Delhi Poetry Festival. The time was four in the evening.
Prasoon Joshi was first up on the stage, in conversation with Richa Anirudh. This much loved and respected Bollywood lyricist, who hails from the Indian state of Uttaranchal, is also a successful ad guru. ‘The Happydent Campaign’, written by him, was recently chosen by a Gunn Report poll as one of the 20 best ads of the 21st century.
But the agenda for the evening was poetry. During the course of that enthralling one hour, as he spoke freely about his life and influences, he also sang several of his poems in his extraordinary voice, about which most of us had no prior knowledge. It will be impossible to recreate the atmosphere through a post, but I thought that the points he made on some of the most difficult topics were insightful & inspiring.
On why he prefers to speak in Hindi on stage: “English is my skill, but Hindi is my language. Own language is like a mother, you can play pranks with it.”
On the increasing trend of offensive lyrics in music: “To entertain you don't have to compromise. I get disturbed and offended when I hear such vulgar songs.”
On censorship: “Why blame censorship for vulgar songs? Our collective conscience as Indian listeners should censor bad songs.”
On the need of a godfather to do well in creative fields: “Talent doesn't need recommendation. I have made it entirely on my own.”
On blaming nature for tragedies: “Nature teaches us to be tough, not manipulation, which is a human thing.”
On small town where he was raised vs big town: “In small town you are taught to trust strangers, but it is the other way round in the big cities.”
Javed Akhtar was in conversation with Shazia Ilmi soon after. An intellectual who calls himself a forever-optimist and is admired by millions for his liberal views on all subjects under the sun, Javed’s humour and sense of poetic justice was flawless. He didn’t sing, didn’t even read any of his poetry, but made poignant comments on diverse subjects during the conversation. Here’s the gist.
On identity: "Humans are collage of identities. Politicians want us to have one identity so that they can control us."
On the role of art in society: "Art is not aspirin to kill pain, it's vitamin that enhances sense of fairness."
On the tolerance of poets and artists: "Poets are liberal. You can't do poetry of hatred. Poetry is all about love tolerance & friendship."
On language: "When you kill a language, you kill a culture. Because culture is carried by the language."
On right wing rule & the growth of art: "Right wing hasn't produced a single poet in the world."
On Indians as a race: "Genetically an Indian is a farmer. And that's the reason why he's patient & tolerant."