Staging words to make them come alive

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In a strange way, that’s probably why poetry is slowly regaining popularity.

It’s no secret that people are reading less. Actually that’s not true.

People, if anything, are reading more — on their phones, on tablets, on their laptops, etc.

They are just reading books and novels less. The relationship with the written word has changed dramatically. Non-fiction has taken precedence over fiction. And thanks to Trump and his ilk, the non-fiction is just as fantastical. But we now live in an age where it’s hard to read for long periods.

If you read an article or a novel on your electronic device, you are constantly interrupted by Facebook updates, or WhatsApp messages or cat videos.

In a strange way, that’s probably why poetry is slowly regaining popularity.

A scene from The Big Fellow.

It’s short, sweet, and conveys way more than the words on the page. It transports our mind, without the tedium of ploughing through hundreds of words. It also seems that it is has become an outlet for people to convey what they are feeling. Facebook feeds are inundated with people sharing poems they’ve written after experiencing a first rain, or a hardship, or a loss, or even an orgasm. Nobody buys poetry anymore, but since Facebook I must confess I have been reading more poems than I ever have before.

The other aspect is the human interaction. Books are inanimate objects. We live in a constantly animated world where interaction is a key component of any relationship. The era of ‘word to reader’ is gone. Everyone is looking for a ‘more special’ experience. So writers have begun to make an effort to make their works come alive. Book launches have become snazzy affairs. Authors confess about the hardship of making the book. Share anecdotes that might not actually be present in the work, but lend a greater insight into the words on the page. It’s only natural therefore that literature festivals have become so popular; with authors and audience alike. The two dimensional words on the page, are slowly becoming three.

Take for example, the latest edition of Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai International Litfest, which starts on Thursday. This year, a number of sessions seem to be more “dramatic”. Visually-impaired poet, Michael Fehr, from Switzerland is reciting his work to the accompaniment of guitar strings. The normally one man show Devdutt Pattanaik has decided to “amp” up his session on the Women of the Puranas by conscripting the piano stylings of Anil Srinivasan. American novelist Nell Leyshon’s lecture on how to find your voice as a writer has been converted into a Spoken Word performance. Even authors it seems are finding dramatic ways to make their work more exciting and accessible. Once you throw in the poetry recitations of Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Keki Daruwalla, Aruna Dhere, CP Surendran, Gabor Lanczkor and Sabika Abbas Naqvi; you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a performance festival rather than a literary one. Then there are the actual performances, all based on books and literature styles. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan brings his book Master on Masters to life, by paying a musical tribute to the legends he writes about. New sensation Kommune, feature their best story-tellers in an evening of tales, poems and music. There are also the plays; from England, Wales and Ireland based on Mathematics, novellas, and biographies.

In spite of all this, it does feel that at this edition, like at all the others, the biggest and most dramatic event will be a writer breaking free from the shackles of his/ her typewriter, and just speaking their mind. Suddenly a seemingly benign session will explode into high unscripted drama. This could be someone veering wildly off topic, or giving incredibly insight, or even someone shouting down an audience member for being racist.

A scene from X&Y.A scene from X&Y.

That’s what makes literature festivals so exciting to be part of. You never know which way the words are going to fly; the unpredictable “live-ness” of it all. I mean, after all, isn’t that what attracts us to the theatre in the first place?

Check out the full Tata Literature Live! schedule on www.tatalitlive.in.

Quasar Thakore Padamsee is a Bombay based theatre-holic. He works primarily as a theatre-director for arts management company QTP, who also manage the youth theatre movement Thespo.



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