Protest is at the core of poetry- THE HINDU- OP-ED- 14-01-2020


IIT-Kanpur was recently at the centre of a controversy over “Hum Dekhenge”, a popular Urdu nazm, or poem, written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The poem was recited by a group of students on campus during an agitation. This enraged many others, including a faculty member, who found the nazm offending their religious sentiments. Few cared to understand Faiz’s poem in context.

In the ongoing protests surrounding the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens, there have been several occasions when protesters have chanted the poems of Gorakh Pandey, Vaidyanath Mishra , Dushyant Kumar and Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, to name a few. Renowned Bengali poet Joy Goswami wrote a poem in support of JNU students who were brutally beaten up on campus. It went viral on social media. Goswami ends his poem with a lament that silence is akin to mass slaughter.

Recently, an installation with Miya poetry from Assam was removed from an art festival in Goa. Martin Niemöller’s “First they came” is another poem that has gained wide currency in these protests. There are many names that could join the list including Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and Adrienne Rich. The ongoing protests perhaps endeared many more people to poetry, who discovered its subversive character.

Understanding poetry:

Reflecting upon this narrative about poetry in my childhood, I am filled with outrage. Only later, when I began to read and understand poetry on my own terms, did I realise that dissent or protest is at the core of poetry. Poetry has always been anti-hegemonic. Dissent, however, must be broadly understood in this context.

It could surely mean raising your voice against oppressive powers or ills that prevail in the social structure. Poetry has always done that. Filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak used to say, “Poetry is the art of all arts. ” Art doesn’t adhere to set standards.

Is there any other way of reading Kabir?.

Giving rise to future poets:

Namdeo Dhasal showed us the underbelly of Mumbai and exposed us to Dalit life in the city. Narayan Surve did something similar by tracing the history of his father’s arrival in Mumbai and the life of perennial humiliation that followed till his last day. Dilip Chitre once said that all poetry is protest. Perhaps future poets will emerge from the ongoing protests and their verse will bear witness to our treacherous times.

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