Poet, lyricist and screenwriter Puneet Sharma was anguished beyond words to see the widespread misery unfold across the country in the wake of the second wave of COVID-19.
He chose the verse way to convey the collective sentiments of people like him and wrote — Badshah Ka Hukm and Mar Rahe Hain Sab Mujhe Badnam Karne Ke Liye — which went viral on social media platforms.
“My work is to write. That’s what I do for a living. I have used simple words in easy to comprehend language to make a scathing commentary on the current socio-political situation in the country. I have just attempted to contextualise the brewing public (of which I am a part too) angst and mainstream it,” says Sharma.
The new-age media platforms have given Hindi poetry a fillip, and many poets like Sharma are using the online space to their advantage, unleashing their creativity to the hilt. Their work gets visibility, instant feedback, and the likes, comments, reposts, retweets, and shares ensure a bigger reach.
The popular may not always be literary, though. Akash Maheshwari, the founder of Saraswati Books, says, “Over the past few years, especially during the lockdown, we saw a resurgence of Hindi poetry, both spoken and written. The younger generation is using social media platforms with popular offerings, but it is equally important to pay attention to the literary value of those poetic expressions.”
This year, on World Poetry Day, Twitter was flooded with entries for #PoetryOnPaper campaign by BIC Cello and Kavishala. To participate, one had to write poetry on paper and challenge three friends to do the same. The poem was to be a minimum of four lines, and the photo of the handwritten poem had to be uploaded on Twitter using the hashtag #PoetryOnPaper.
The campaign that concluded on April 23 saw a whopping 23,86,550 impressions and 1,94,984 engagements on the micro-blogging site alone; it was also amplified on Facebook and Instagram. The enthusiastic participation was reflective of the surge in interest in Hindi poetry among the younger generation.
“We felt reviving the importance of ‘Poetry Day’ would be an excellent way to motivate and encourage people to have individual and collective conversations around everything they feel strongly about. We received a flattering digital response, beautifully testifying how everyone can make sense of their worlds and words by using a pen to express and fuel their imagination,” says Tanveer Khan, director marketing, BIC Cello India.
Verse is best
As a student of class 8, journalist and poet Pratap Somvanshi made an earnest attempt to make his literary debut by sending a two-and-a-half-page story with a three-page letter addressed to the editor of Nandan. “My story was rejected, but the editor was thoughtful. He shared the news with a heart-warming note,” reminisces Somvanshi.
The rejection laid the foundation of his career, and today, he heads a leading national paper and writes poetry that he calls ‘bhavanuvad’ — an emotional translation of human emotions and relationships. Vani Prakashan published his first collection of poems — Itwar Chota Pad Gaya — in 2016, a culmination of his friends’ tireless efforts and his wife’s insistence. His social media handles show the reach of his work. “I love poetry and live it too. My poems and life are interdependent. They can't exist in isolation,” he says.
Ravi Kumar, who released a collection of poems titled — Kaagaz Ke Mahal — in 2019, couldn’t agree more with Somvanshi. “I had been writing poems for long but started sharing my work publicly a few years ago. It caught the attention of poetry lovers and led to a series of open mic performances. The reactions encouraged me to get my work published, and the book went on to become an Amazon bestseller.” The book is the first part of the tri-book series, and his next is titled, Khayalon Se Aage.
Somvanshi, whose work appears on many platforms, had written a couplet — Ram tumhare yug ka Ravan accha tha — that started trending on his birthday in 2017.
Since then, it is the most forwarded message on social media platforms on Dussehra. The journalist-poet says, “Social media has made crowd-sharing of emotions so easy. It wasn't possible earlier.”
The Hindi publishing industry is buoyed by this new trend and is open to exploring new opportunities. Maheshwari, who is currently finalising a poetry collection that is expected to be out soon, says, “As a publishing house, we give ample importance to the quality of work. When a writer comes up with good material, we take immense pride in publishing it.”
However, Somvanshi rues the long-standing neglect of the language and says, “There are 150 crore Hindi speakers worldwide, of which, 100 crore can read and write Hindi. But when it comes to Hindi writing, be it prose or poetry, only 1000 copies are published.”
Actor, painter and poet Pankaj Jha started a Facebook page, Beyond Words Words, during the lockdown to post his work. “Writing verses is a form of meditation for me. It soothes and calms my frayed nerves, and that’s what connects with those who read, appreciate and share my poems,” says Jha.
The trend has caught the fancy of budding poets who have found the verse as a medium to convey their message and reach a larger audience, an investment with huge returns in the form of instant recognition and fame, and often monetary rewards too.
Actor, social activist and poet Taranjit Kaur, who writes and recites her poems on UnErase Poetry, says, “Platforms like these are the need of the hour because they give a creative outlet to a poet to reach out to a larger audience in an instant and across the world. The traction is huge. I might not have been able to sell 4.5 million copies if I were to print my poems, but yes, I could grab those many eyeballs with my debut offering, I Am Not A Virgin.”
Catch them young
The platforms present content in a new avatar, making them catchy and trendy for the younger generation of poetry lovers.
As journalist and poet Ravi Kant says, “A part of the younger generation is reading the works of literary giants of yore but not the majority. Those who aren't fond of reading are exploring the works through these digital platforms and are loving the retelling.”
Kumar credits the exponential rise of social media platforms for the considerable shift in the reception of Hindi poetry. “These new-age platforms have given a stage to the contemporary writers to post their work, market it and get real-time feedback. Also, it serves as a ready reckoner to compare their work with fellow writers and take inspiration to hone their skills better,” he says.
Cashing in on Hindi poems’ rising popularity, these platforms have successfully experimented with visual retelling, celebrity recitations, and a commercially viable genre through e-books, online events, and poetry workshops.
“Today, we have several technically sound social media platforms which give uninterrupted audio-visual experiences. Now ‘popular Hindi poems’ are available in a new avatar. People can access one of their use (or taste) easily,” says Kant, who was felicitated with the Young Writers Award from Bharatiya Jnanpith in 2009 for his first book of Hindi poetry collection, Yatra.
The relationship between poetry lovers, writers/performers and the platform translates into an expanding base of followers on social media, with likes, comments, reposts, retweets and shares, which means a manifold increase in the reach of one’s work.
Since the website Kavishala was launched in May 2017, it has become a one-stop platform for literary minds. “We have 35,000 active writers who have enriched the site with 1.5 lakh original content, while the cumulative number of content is five lakh. The monthly traffic has been hovering at 30-40 lakh in the past one year, and in May 2021 alone, it was one crore,” says Ankur Mishra, the founder of Kavishala.
The website gives poetry enthusiasts and budding writers a platform to read, write, share, learn and earn. “We are working on some cool features for our users that will provide them value and recognition for their work. It will keep them motivated and happy,” adds Akash Malik, who heads the tech vertical at Kavishala.
Sense and sensibility
The widespread reach of user-generated content on digital platforms is monetarily rewarding for both parties — the host and the guest. “Earlier, a poet couldn’t eke a living writing verses. But today, it is possible, thanks to these platforms,” says Kaur, who writes in English, Hindi and Punjabi.
While the love for poetry garners traction, the demand to consume Hindi or Urdu content written in English script has increased manifold, says Kumar. “It is important to make the content relatable. A lot of poets prefer weaving topical elements and might also settle for a Hinglish version to make the ‘virality’ quotient go up,” says Kumar.
But the charm of seeing one's words come alive in print remains unmatched. “I would love to have my work published someday soon,” adds Jha.