Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Most Unusual Reading

Two things you probably know about me: 1) That I turn up early to any place I need to go and 2) that I -- no. I can't even bring myself to say it.

So what happened was, my mother said I should probably carry copies of my book to Delhi. I laughed and said, come on! they'll have copies. They're the publishers. But just to be on the safe side (and keeping in mind that it was going into reprint) I called up the sales office. Turns out my mother was right and they didn't have any copies left, so if I had any would I bring some.

With a look of long suffering I unpacked the bag that had sat packed on my floor for the last three days to examine what I could leave out so I could accommodate 20 copies of my book. I had already decided that I was not going to read any poems from there (expect maybe one, seeing as it was a reading at the SA, and they might expect it), So I packed the Bloodaxe Anthology and a couple of printouts of poems that haven't as yet appeared anywhere (at least, they have but I haven't yet got my copy of it). Oh, and a drawing of a buffalo that my son had made for A. All important things. God knows what I left out. Another pair of shoes I suppose,


The SA wanted me to come early (4pm for a 5.30 reading). Why am I so punctual? Just once, I want to be the last person, the one who makes an entrance. Instead, I find myself in a small room with a large table and a few half-empty mugs of tea perched precariously behind me. Pay close attention to these mugs; they will have a role to play in a few minutes.

Poet number 2 (I'm talking about reading order here; naturally I anticipate. At this point I didn't know she was poet number 2 but don't let me confuse you. Go with the flow. I'm yammering. Ignore me.) was already there. As it happened, I'd recently been in touch with her so I was able to be less awkward than I normally would have with someone completely new. There was some anthology in which her poems were. i read them and we chatted.

We were reimbursed; someone got us a charger for our phones. Everything useful that needed to be done was now done. 4.30.

In a little while, Poet 2 went down to meet friends and Poet 1 came in. I'd never met her or heard of her. That doesn't mean anything, of course because clearly she had never heard of me either. She gave me a curt nod and squeezed behind my chair to get to the other empty one, knocking down in the process those half-empty mugs of tea I told you about. Tea flew and I flew out of my chair, fearing for my sari (a purple and red shot-colour, if you want to know. Don't blench like that.) Poet 1 turned around to apologise and her bag caught another mug it had missed on its previous pass. Tea now soaked an encyclopedia on the shelf. One glass of water fell to the ground and smashed. Poet 1 turned around again in consternation but luckily there was nothing left for her bag to catch. I had occupied another chair altogether, away from the line of fire as it were.

We were finally introduced and we said hello. Conversation languished. I played with a paperweight. In a moment Poet 2 came in and we were all herded out to meet the Secretary. Calls were coming in from friends. I felt reassured.

Oh, and the filmmaker who came to Hyd? I told him about the reading and he asked if he could bring his camera to shoot. Yes.


Turned out that the reading was happening not in the conference hall, but where the annual book exhibition was on. One portion of the shamiana was cordoned off for events, leaving other people free to browse.

I went and handed copies of my book to the exhibition chaps. And was very, very glad to see many friends had turned up. Old Sophia friends, RV friends (they're everywhere. What can I say?) and bloggers (Aruni, River). Also a very old friend who did theatre, whom I knew back then. Lots of wonderful surprises there.

Keki came and we climbed a rickety dais made up, I'm sure, of rough wooden benches hidden under red tent house carpeting. After brief introductions, Poet 1 started to read. I'm terribly sorry to say this, but it was very bad. Somewhere in the middle of her reading, a siren started up just to the right of the tent on the road, and kept up its wail for a full five minutes.

Poet 2's turn. I liked her stuff. Which is why I was irritated to find that apparently the Lalit Kala Akademi (which shares the premises with the SA) had apparently scheduled a performance of tribal music and the Sahitya Akademi appeared to be unaware of it. So from somewhere behind the tent, the music started up then lots of people singing heartily together. Poet 2 is a soft-spoken girl. I can only hope that the audience heard enough of her work.

My turn. For the first time, I didn't have a list of what I was going to read or in what order. I thought I'd do what I felt like once I was up there. What I felt like doing was reading three or four poems. Which I did. I was competing with the music, remember. But Keki said read more, so I read another couple of poems and it was over, yay!

What can I say? I had fun despite everything. I tried out a very experimental (for me) poem on an unsuspecting audience, and I think it worked. At least, it worked better read out aloud than it did on the page. So I had fun.


When I returned to Hyderabad, I called home to say I'm on my way. Apparently there was an urgent request for me to turn up at The Poetry Society of Hyderabad. Some Mauritian poet was reading and he wanted to listen to poets from Hyderabad.

The PSH is supposed to be the oldest active poetry society in the country. It has, apparently, met every month since 1922. And it seems to have taught them nothing about organisation. If I wasn't so annoyed with them, I'd find it hilarious.

So I practically go straight from the airport to the reading, dragging family with me. Things start late. I meet the poet. I am under the impression that I am the only poet from Hyderabad there. We get called up, we go sit. No one sets out the programme. The mike is already not working well.

The poor man starts to read and the mike crackles and pops. One organiser stands at the sound system behind us, twirling dials. Nothing works. He takes the two cordless mikes, moves two feet away from where the man is reading, and tests it. "Hello! Hello!" It doesn't work. He stands in front of the poet and adjusts the mike. That doesn't work either. He goes and sits down. That doesn't appear to work either. He comes back and recommends, in a loud whisper, that the poet should just not use the mike.

The poet complies. In the meanwhile, the organiser has once again moved to his spot three feet away to fiddle with the cordless mikes. Suddenly, mid-poem, his - the organiser's - voice booms out, drowning the poet's. Apparently the mike has started to work. He hands the mike to poet. Poet begins again. (He's reading in French anyway, and nobody except the Alliance Francaise people can understand him). He reads. He reads the translations. People clap politely.

My turn. I point out that since nobody has introduced me, I should say that I am there by (urgent) invitation and will read, maybe two or three poems. The President of the PSH, who happened to be passing by the table at the time, said read one. There are other people also reading.

This was news to me. I am now very annoyed, because of other people were reading, there was enough time before the reading began to introduce everyone, tell everyone what the programme was, ask for a few lines of introduction and so on. And, if more people were reading, they should also have been at the table, or nobody should have been except the visiting poet. Actually, I was livid.

I read out my poem. The others read out theirs. It all ended very quickly. Someone else suggested I read out the other poems I had mentioned. I had half a mind to be ungracious and say, No I won't, so there! But I did and it was over and I left as soon as I could.


On a happier note, loot from Delhi included: Priya Sarukkai Chabria's Not Springtime Yet which Jai gave me and Middlesex which A gave me.


Rahul Siddharthan said...

Why are all government organisations like this? And the private ones often no better.

The other peeve that I have is when people organise, say, a 1 hour public lecture by some well-known person, and precede it by another hour of speeches by five different people -- three office bearers of the organisation doing it, one gratuitous "chief guest" (if some politician or other is the chief guest, where does that leave the speaker?) and one other person just because.

Space Bar said...

Rahul: I actually felt almost fond of the SA reading. It was the other one that *really* annoyed me. Luckily, there were no speeches here.

??! said...

Oh, you poets. Do you not realise these experiences are only created by kind folks who want to give you more stuff to write about? They love you, and so they're not nice to you.

Tabula Rasa said...

thanks for the account :-) philistine that i am, i would have thought everyone would vie for the privilege of being poet three. (in motion or not.)

Falstaff said...

Is there a reason you're not telling us the names of Poet 1 and Poet 2? I mean, this was a public reading right - so why the classified information?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Falstaff: well, poet 3 is not actually named either. Though SB doesn't try extremely hard to be anonymous...

km said...

On a scale of one to ten, this post ranks two thumbs up for awesomeness.

Sirens and tribal music? Comedy gold.

Space Bar said...

??!: If the PSH hope I'll write poetry about them by not being nice to me, they've another think coming.

TR: Would they? I was only afraid my friends would all leave because they couldn't be bothered to wait for my turn!

falsie: I think I'm beginning to be wary of google searches/alerts. :D And the PSH doesn't count, since I think I once mentioned that my mere presence there as a member brought the average age down to about 60.

Rahul: there's that, of course.

km: thanks. :D It must have been a very entertaining reading for the audience, actually.

Falstaff said...

SB: I don't see why. Surely you're entitled to your opinion of other people's work. And if people are going to give readings as 'poets' they should not expect to be treated with kid gloves. So poet 1 will come here via a google search and find you think her work sucks. Good.

In any case, couldn't you at least tell us who poet 2 - the one you liked - was? What's the point of praising someone's work if you're not going to tell us her name?

Smoke Screen said...

Your poetry reading descriptions are beginning to sound rather similar. (At least) I'd have liked to read more on the poetry itself.

I think if one can ignore the irritations - both human and machine - poetry readings make for great ethnographic studies, no?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Falstaff, SB: I'd agree that google is an occupational hazard, but I would not be comfortable with anonymous criticism (or anonymous praise for that matter). Sometimes it's needed, but not now, it seems to me. SB could write a careful critique with their real names under her real name, or she could leave them as poets 1 and 2 -- either route seems fine to me.

Also -- first impressions can be misleading and influenced by extraneous thigs, so going by the description of the atmosphere and things like the tea+bag incident, SB may not have been in the best frame of mind to appreciate poet 1's stuff: it may be better to absorb it in a better setting before writing that serious criticism.

(Also, p.s. - in this case there isn't even safety -- the usual, if usually unmerited, excuse -- in anonymity. If you google SB's real name, this blog is the #3 hit -- I just checked. So if she used their real names but not hers, it would look anonymous but would not really be: people in the know could guess it was her, and quite easily confirm it.)

Space Bar said...

falsie: you're right, of course, but it's hard to see how i can be fair without actually talking about the poetry itself, of which i have only the most sketchy impressions after one monotone reading. under the circs, i think i'd prefer to keep them anonymous. i can mail you if you really want to know, but i don't think that's the point you're making.

smoke screen: you are also right, but see above.

ok, here's a brief recap of the poetry: poet 1 was all riots and gujarat and nearly every poem had an 'I' in it. Nearly every poem could also have also been edited hard. She used the phrase 'avoid like the plague' in one poem.

poet 2's poem on the small town person returning from doing a PhD abroad received maximum attention. While it was ok as a list poem, there were other better ones. A couple of poems on Pataliputra, the Buddha; and the sense that without the words themselves the poem itself is absent in the memory.

rahul: no no, i was that upset by the tea incident to let it colour my impressions of her poetry! :D

Space Bar said...

rahul: gah. *wasn't* that upset.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

"Avoid like the plague"? Name and shame, I say.

(Just kidding. But it's a close call.)

Tabula Rasa said...

i thought the whole point of the plague was that it *doesn't* avoid.

km said...

Wait a sec, Space Bar is BATMAN!

fiercepothead said...

hi!this is Abhimanyu from the Hindu. i have uploaded an unedited version of my review of the the above-mentioned poetry reading in Hyderabad which includes comments on your poems(i hope you don't mind a bit of criticism;personally,i liked them)
my blog is called