Archive for January, 2007

The mirror and the lamp…

posted by pooja das sarkar 

Picture this. A winter evening with the sun just about to set, a cool breeze making the warm clothes a pleasure to wear in the usually sweltering city of Kolkata, a mike, a custom-made chair for the poet, an orange paper lamp hanging from the ceiling above the makeshift stage and rows of people sitting on the luxuriously spread out mats on the rooftop of Kalam’s office. What does it sound like? A perfect setting for a poetry adda. Poetry and adda – two things Bengalis are famous (and a little infamous) for!

avijit2.jpg

Providing a stage for the two passions of the average kolkatabashi was Kalam’s initiative of monthly poetry readings which we call ‘Second Sundays’. Held on the second Sunday of every month, these poetry addas are meant to be a platform for anyone (read: of any age, class, gender) to come and read their original poems. Not only is it a platform for reading, but as envisioned (and as it turned out), it is also an open and organic forum for discussions and critique of poetry.

 This ( 14 january) was the second month of the poetry adda but this one was special because invited for the adda were the contributors of the soon-to-be-launched magazine – Khola Baksho.The rooftop was brimming with bright young faces excited to share their poems created in the isolation of their homes with a roof full of strangers eager to listen to the unheard voices. About ten odd poets whose poems have been selected were present and shared their poetry as the audience listened intently while cups of steaming tea and samosas did the rounds.

audience.jpg

Reshma (a.k.a Bobby), one of the Kalam youth staff and a poet herself, made an excellent MC for the evening. Among the poems read, Rahul Goswami’s ‘Aami je Dishahara’ touched a chord with all the writers in the audience as it spoke about the pains of experiencing writer’s block as well as a general sense of directionlessness (which was the feeling he said he had experienced during the writing the poem). Shikha Roy’s ‘Chokh’ brought up the issue of using real names of the people one writes about in a poem. Some among the audience were not as cofortable with revealing the names of people they were writing about but shikha stood by her poem.

Abhijit Lodh’s ‘Ekti Meye’ was the dark horse which won everybody’s hearts. Reading his long and difficult poem with much emotion and voice-modulation, his poem sounded remarkably better read-out-loud than when the review team had selected the poem. Both Bobby and I expressed our pleasant surprise at the results of the well-read poem. This also led to much post-reading brainstorming and discussion.

Mounik Lahiri, a second-time audience and critic at the poetry-reading, made the crucial point of reading as performance. He expressed his awe at the quality of the poems read by the youth (indistinguishable from established poets he said) but also pointed out the necessity of reading one’s work with clarity while reading to reach an audience. He came up with suggestion of training the Khola Baksho poets for the public reading during the launch on 18th February. Kalam thanks Mounik for the brilliant idea and for promising to do the needful himsef.

Shreya Ghosh, another keen observer, commented on the interesting repetition of the theme of death/life in a number of poems and wondered why this was. Commenting on Bobby Makal’s ‘Jibon Ki?’ she wished the poets would see life as a positive thing rather than as a negative and always as a binary to death – thus making death more important that life itself. Bishan pointed out the human and maybe poetic tendency to see and understand things in binaries. Samrat, a poet and critic present at the reading raised the point that peraps it was just a poet’s concern with existence.

bobby.jpg

As the pleasant cool breeze was gradually becoming a chilly one, Bobby read the last poem of the evening. Sitting under the soft lights of the orange paper lamp, the dark blue sky behind her and mike in hand, Bobby looked like the quintessential poet. Her poem suited the mood of the late evening – she spoke courageously about the moment of physical intimacy between lovers. Short and powerful – just like the rest of the evening.

Advertisements

The Telegraph: Creativity without Chains

posted by sahar romani

THE TELEGRAPH
Metro Section, Kolkata Edition

Creativity without Chains

By Romila Saha

Kolkata, January 25, 2007

asu_kalam_story_telegraph_250107.jpg

Talking stories, that’s what students of Arizona State University (ASU) and the English department of Jadavpur University were busy doing on January 11. In India, as a part of the Kalam initiative of Daywalka Foundation, Melissa Pritchard and her students from the creative writing department at ASU delved into the stumbling blocks of fiction writing in India and the world over. The foundation has been working with underprivileged children associated with city NGOs to provide them with a platform to express their creativity.

Rimi B. Chatterjee, who is the coordinator of the Writing in Practice course at the Department of English, JU, spoke of the sense of violation in putting one’s writing for judgment before a readership that is quick to criticise. Pritchard referred to the scenario in the US where political forces often silence stories. Deemed as one of the many ways in which the creative voice is being muted, students also spoke on the traditional marginalisation of women writers. Bollywood came under discussion as an arena where melodrama is considered a valid expression of creativity.

The financial hurdles before people who take up fiction writing as career was brought to the fore by Subhadeep Paul, a final-year MPhil student of JU. He spoke on the difficulty of balancing the dual roles of academic and writer. Rimi B. Chatterjee, a published author herself, agreed, saying “writers have to survive in India by hiding deep under the cover of an academic”.

Responding to a student’s comment about being unable to write after reading Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Pritchard stressed the need to find one’s voice: “The best way to read is to unpack the writer’s work to find out what you like about him — read like a taxonomist! You can’t let yourself silence yourself.”

Many from the morning session came together that afternoon again at Caffeine on Elgin Road to read out their works.

On January 12, Pritchard’s crew participated in another creative writing workshop with youngsters from Kalam. A magazine, Khola Baksho, put together by them will be released in February with contributions from underprivileged children of NGOs Sanlaap, Diksha and Development Action Society.

During the workshop youngsters Nargis and Reshma Khatun asked how identities of characters from real-life incidents can be protected in narratives and how best to handle sexuality in fiction. Michael Green, an ASU student responded: “Poets have to be courageous. They are the ones meant to break the barriers of complacency. If you want to talk about sexuality, go ahead and talk about it.”

India Today: Bangla Edition

posted by pooja das sarkar

INDIA TODAY: BANGLA EDITION

(a summary translated in english)

The Poet’s Pen: The Language of Protest

By Madhuja Bhattacharya

Kolkata, 22 January 2007

kalam_india_today00012.jpg

Bapi, Shiuli, Krishna, Gopal, Bijoy – all of them are poets. They are all very young and they all dream big. Next month they are coming up with an annual magazine called Khola Baksho. Writing in this magazine are

those youth living at the socio-economic margins of society. Their

writings will be edited by other marginalized youth. Those youth whom we label so easily; whose personal details interest us more than their survived life’s struggles, are revealing their new identities to that collective “us” through the magazine as poets. And goading them on in this endeavour is Kalam.

But why poetry alone? Why not the form of an essay or a story? ” These young boys and girls have seen the hardcore realities of life up-close. Residing in red-light areas, railway platforms or slums, they are not in the habit of reading and writing in their day-to-day struggles. In such a situation, their inner-most feelings find expression most lucidly in the language of poetry”, says Bishan Samaddar on behalf of Kalam.

These youth study in local schools and they were introduced to poetry through their syllabus, although it was through Kalam that they came to know that poetry exists outside the syllabus too! Kalam conducts regular poetry workshops. Modern Bengali poetry of contemporary poets is also read out in these workshops. It was after Kalam’s Nargis Khatun had read Joy Goswami’s ‘Ghumiyecho Jhaupata’ that she began to find the courage to translate isolated moments into the language of poetry. There are many such youth who have been inspired to write through the workshops that Kalam has organized.And Kalam is planning many more such ways to give vent to the creativity of these youth. One such endeavor is the Khola Baksho which is being brought out by the youth next month, which has their stories, penned by them.

Readings over Coffee: ASU and JU writers share their works at Caffeine

posted by bishan samaddar and pooja das sarkar 

Following the interaction between JU and ASU folk about possibilities of collaboration between the two universities, it was time to showcase some creativity. Later in the same day, at Caffeine, a popular coffee shop at Elgin Road, the ASU folk gathered with some spirited young writers and writing enthusiasts, mostly from JU, and shared their recent works.

10.JPG

Shubhodeep read three of his poems, and fellow poets felt that although some of them were a little academic, they were brilliant expressions of emotions nonetheless. Samrat’s poems also reflected the gritty yet romantic existence of young minds in urban
India. The poems of the immaculately dressed Inam Hussain (who read them out of his iPod) were very passionate, and very emotively recited. Melissa said they reminded her of Neruda, and Inam agreed that his poetry has been deeply influenced by the Latin American poet’s work. Darcy’s short creative non-fictional piece on ‘Banana the Goat’, written as a letter, was especially poignant. I thought the piece was very photographically visualized, and this brought us into the realm of discussing how poems and photographs work in similar ways. The reading was rounded up by Pooja’s story ‘The Relic’. Max said he liked the use of conflicting voices in the story, and everyone congratulated her on reading it so wonderfully. Discussions on Bangla poetry went on for a while, but it was evident that our friends from ASU were not always able to connect with this very specific conversation. But everyone pitched in with their general views on poetry and writing.

Writer’s Dialogue: ASU Writers’ Share Poetry Tips with Young Poets

posted by pooja das sarkar and bishan samaddar

From January 11th to 13th, our literary friends and allies from Arizona State University’s Graduate Creative Writing program came for a visit to Kolkata to converse, dialogue and work on poetry with Kalam. Here’s what happened:

On January 12 at the Kalam workshop studio, writers and mentors from ASU (Professor Melissa Pritchard and her group of graduate students – which included Darcy Courteau, Aimee Baker, Max Doty, Tina Hammerton and Michael Green) engaged in a casual dialogue with youth poets who are active in Kalam. Of course this was a bilingual conversation – with ASU folks speaking in English, Youth Poets in Bangla, and Bishan and me mediating between both linguistic worlds.

18.JPG

There were about six youth from the youth staff at Kalam who attended the informal interaction. This included Bina, Saraswati, Nargis, Bobby, Chandra and Rina. Among them Bobby and Nargis had queries about the craft of revision and the use of sexual content whereas Rina and Chandra were more interested about the protection of identities of a particular person in a poem.The organic dialogue thematically revolved around the Craft of Poetry. Prominent themes of the conversation were: 1) Revision 2) Protection of Identities in Poetryand 3) Sexual Content.

Interested? Take a look at our conversations:

Q. What does one do to revise poetry?

Tina had a lot to say regarding this point since she was a poet herself and had conducted workshops of poetry earlier. Some of the points she made were:

i) The first thing one can do is to take out the extra articles that one tends to use in a poem. According to her, the poem is a condense package of images which is diffused by the extra use of articles like a, an and the. She also resists the excessive use of “I” in the poems. In this way the images are more compressed and hence more effective.

ii) Second is being cautious about the line breaks – is there a reason why you chose to go to the next line – is the choice based on meaning or is it based on visuals. It should not be only because it looks good.

iii) The third point she made was to also check whether the poet has written past the poem or has written a pre-poem. This meant to be aware of the actual content of the poem as opposed to the extraneous matters that one writes to either start or end the poem.

Darcy: after some days of writing a poem I go back to it to check the truth content of the poem. I check the core emotions and the truth that the poem is meant to convey and also am conscious of not falling in love with my own language while writing. Maintaining a distance from one’s style to filter the truth of the poem is also very important.

Melissa: Another way of revising your poem is simply reading it aloud to yourself a number of times – that way you will know what sounds good and which words are extraneous.

Q. How does one come out from the rut of using the same words in almost every poem

Aimee – take something you’ve never described before and try describing it.

Melissa – Try to develop a new vocabulary by reading a lot of poets – poetry by peers is very much required as well as reading poetry of those whose sensibility matches with yours. Immerse yourself in poets and read everything! I read everything from the cookbooks to the sports pages. Newspapers also provide new and interesting words/situations.

Q. How does one use material from one’s life and yet not reveal identities of the people involved?

Tina: Try to use the qualities of the person but in a totally different of imaginary setting; stay away from the narrative format and use images instead. It is the essence of the person that you want to write about – so what you can do is to maintain the emotional integrity of the person/relationship that you want to portray and leave out the particulars involved.

17.JPG

Melissa: You could also try to disguise the outer self of the person you want to write about. The outer self could be the exact opposite of the person to throw the readers off track but the inner details could remain nonetheless.

Q. How do we handle the sexual content of a poem that we see renowned authors do so openly? Sometimes we are vulnerable to ridicule by our peers when we read it in public.

Michael: there’s no easy way around it. We are still struggling and trying to find a way to do it right. But if it is a question of being ridiculed, one should just go ahead and write what they want to. Poets have to be courageous! They are the one to break the barriers of complacency so if you want to talk about sexuality, you should go ahead and talk about it. This will not only be a liberating process but also be a beginning of others’ being able to talk about things more openly once they see one doing it.

Bishan’s Impressions

Although all the ASU students and Melissa were a little tired by this time (second half of 12th Jan), and for good reason (most of them had been indisposed at various stages during the trip and yet they had taken a couple of trips to the mind-numbing lanes of Kalighat), it was surely not felt as sparks of ideas flew when they met Kalam’s youth for a writing workshop.

Some of the Kalam writers, Nargis foremost among them, had already expressed a wish to talk about revision of composed poetry. And that is how the workshop began. Although everyone pitched in, Tina’s tips seemed very helpful for the youth. Tina is not only a devoted poet (whereas the others are more into fiction or creative non-fiction) but she has also had extensive experience of working with marginalized youth. So, here too she connected with the youth immediately. Kalam’s young folks were very forthcoming with their questions: especially Rina, Bobby and Nargis. And their queries raised questions central to creative writing: ‘How do you write about some specific person, and yet not reveal that to him/her?’, ‘If you write about a person and use methods to hide his/her personality, then is that a true portrait?’ ‘Can writing about sex become a gimmick?’

14.JPG

The youth said the workshop was very valuable for them. Rina said she has been really inspired to write after many days, and promised that she would start working on a poem right away. Bobby and Nargis were also quite excited. Nargis said that she now had the courage to be more open and frank in her poems on ‘controversial’ subjects like physical love. Bobby said she would revise her half-written poems with new vigour. Bina stressed on the importance of such workshops every now and then. She also pointed out that local Bengali poets are not as helpful in guiding young writers like the Creative Writing graduates are. This, I feel, is a very important point made. Local poets and writers, since they have mostly not been trained in writing, are not aware of the methods and strategies of writing which are crucial tools for guiding young writers. This is why Kalam needs more help from the grad students or trained writers who are also into teaching writing to young people. [Direct results of the workshop were palpable in the next day’s Rooftop Poetry reading, where Bobby read a poem in which she had added overnight a few lines describing poetically an intense physical courtship between herself and her imagined lover. It was widely accepted as a very well-written poem].

The workshop went well, but there is one concern I would like to share. As the ASU folk were speaking in English, Pooja and I were translating their words into Bangla. But there were times when there were too many things being said in English and I could see the young Kalam writers getting a little zapped and feeling somewhat left out. Not everything was also being translated, and there were moments when it seemed we, Pooja and Bishan, as facilitators/translators, were too engaged in our own learning process, jumping from one subject to another without much explication to the Kalam youth. This should be worked upon (on the part of the facilitators/translators) and be eliminated in the future.

Creative minds meet: ASU-JU students of creative writing brainstorm!

posted by pooja das sarkar and bishan samaddar 

Pooja’s Impressions

The audio-visual room of the Jadavpur University English department had a buzz of creative energy around it on the 11th of this month. The reason? Well it was a day that creative writers across two countries were meeting and sharing their innermost self-doubts and queries about the art, craft, poetics and politics of taking up the pen (or the keyboard as in most cases these days) for creative purposes. At this rare collection of creative minds were present the well-known American novelist and professor of creative writing – Melissa Pritchard – along with five of her MFA students from Arizona State University, and a room-full of eager JU students of English all aspiring to greater creative output. Moderating for the event was Rimi B. Chatterjee – a young lecturer of the English Department and a published author of creative fiction in her own right. Kalam: Margins Write was the point of connection between the two.

7.JPG

Although the interaction began with usual nervousness of such first meetings, the sheer warmth of both parties involved broke the ice. The students of ASU introduced themselves with humour and candor. There was the rather reticent Darcy who was honest about her own doubts as an aspiring writer in the initial stages of coming to understand one’s creativity at one’s own pace as well as her discomfort with the mushrooming of writing workshops which in her opinion are not always the best thing to participate in. Such workshops could be harmful in two ways – one was that since such workshops involve extensive reading of works just produced so they are open to scathing criticism which could destroy the fragile confidence of the writer who is starting out with her raw, unedited work.

The second danger, which all the ASU writers and Melissa pointed out in unison, was that of “getting addicted” to these ubiquitous workshops resulting in the loss of one’s own individual voice in the mélange of voices. Although the workshops helped the author with useful critique by a selected peer group, Melissa also brought to attention that “at some time you have to face the page alone”. For this it is essential to find one’s own voice – for which it is imperative to spend a lot of time on your own, maybe traveling or just thinking while looking through the windows of a café. Melissa was emphatic in her stress on finding one’s voice. The anxiety of influence of the writers we admire and feel inadequate to has a solution to it. While answering a student’s question on feeling that she could not write because after reading Wuthering Heights she felt that she could never write in that way – so what was the use of writing, Melissa made a useful suggestion that the best way to read authors that you admire is that “learn from them, try to unpack the writer’s work so as to find out what it is exactly you like about the author – read like a taxonomist! You can’t let yourself silence yourself.”

Michael, another perceptive student of ASU also reiterated the point by saying that maybe one cannot write exactly like the writer one admires so much but one can find out the reason for that admiration and put it to good use. It’s actually the spirit with which the author represents her times in Wuthering Heights that one admires, so maybe one day the aspiring author could engage with her times in a similar spirited way instead of getting intimidated by the author.

pix.jpg

Subhodeep Paul, a final-year MPhil student of Jadavpur University and an aspiring poet and novelist, raised some interesting questions. He spoke about the dual roles of the academic and writer that writers in India usually have to face (this reaffirmed by Rimi B.Chatterjee’s hilarious comment that “writers have to survive in India hiding deep under the cover of an academic!”). He expressed his dilemma about the time and financial constraint at pursuing a three-year MFA program and queried the possibility of an exchange programme between the students and faculty of JU and ASU. His query met with an enthusiastic response by Melissa Pritchard who expressed the distinct possibility of such partnerships in the future. She said that her university was very eager for such global partnerships – “global interaction is enrichment on both sides.” Michael was helpful in his advice that there were more than 400 such MFA programs all over the USA that could offer a lot of choice in terms of the cost and the number of course years. Max pointed out the possibility of self-financing through the attainment of teaching assistantships.

Next came the dreaded subject of finding a publisher. There was a simultaneous sense of despair among all the authors with Michael coming up with “we still haven’t figured that out yet!” resulting in the room being in splits with laughter. Michael pointed to Melissa as being the only one who was qualified enough to answer that question, having published six or seven novels to her credit. Melissa was forthcoming about her stories of starting up as a writer. Melissa was a housewife to begin with, who nurtured her love of fiction through writing stories and sending it to various magazines.
At around 30 she realized that she still hadn’t started to work on her lifelong dream of being a writer but after the revelation she worked hard to teach herself the art of writing a novel or story. After many rejections – at the rate of one every afternoon, Melissa started to become depressed and decided that she was not writing for the sake of publication – she was writing for herself only. Once she was at peace with this realization, the acceptance letters started to pour in and one day (while busy at the mundane task of doing laundry at the basement) she received a phone call saying that she had won an award for her story. Melissa believes that a writer has to have two things – first to focus on the work itself and reach the perfection that it can and secondly be stubborn enough to carry on despite loads of rejection letters piling up. Ultimately writing should come from an ego-less state where it doesn’t matter who is reading the work. It is important to balance the humility with the desire to publish. Another way of dealing with the issue of publishing is to find a champion for your work – not everyone will like what you write – so it is important to have a champion with similar sensibilities. In a similar vein, a writer could also observe the publishers of her/his favourite authors. That way, publishers with similar sensibilities could publish similar work.

The students of Pritchard like Aimee and Michael also suggested publishing on the Internet. Michael has been regularly sending his stories to English magazines on the Internet and it is a done and an “in” thing these days to do that. The other valid question, which found many heads nodding to it at the same time, was the question of constructive revision of the creative work, which usually comes out in a steady flow of emotion or passion. A first-year student of JU was concerned about his inability to go back to his work once he had finished it in one flow. The ASU writers had quite a few helpful pointers regarding this particular problem.

Tina: It is different for poetry. When you go back you have to see it with a critical eye. With time when you go back to it a month later, then you should be able to edit while you’re writing.

Melissa: You should develop a support community instead of a teardown community – it is very important to do that. Also it is about being honest. You are your own laboratory for characters. There are different motives and mixed emotions that you have felt and they become the material for your characters as well. So your characters can be really complex. The writer is often thrown into challenges – “am I being honest?” is a question you are constantly asking yourself. Sometimes you also grow out of your previous writing.

 

Darcy, Aimee and Melissa at the JU meet

 

Aimee: I am very attached to my writing so it usually takes a very long time for me to come back for revising and editing it

Darcy: I’m very self-critical – everyone has a different way to go about it. The more I write, the less time I need to set it aside. It is important to try and find out what was most truthful about it – the essence of the piece. An MFA is not the only way to start writing and revising your work – try to find two or three readers that you trust and ask them to read your work.

Max: Earlier when I used to write, it was more important for me to get on to the next piece, but as I’m revising my novel now, I see how important it is to go back to your earlier writing and go into the depth of it.

Talking of voices, Melissa suddenly came up with a surprising query – are stories still important? This led to a discussion on how stories are universal and can cut across cultures. It allows everyone to have a voice. The power to tell stories of our contemporary times is the enduring power of artists. And Rimi B. Chatterjee added that sometimes the age at which one begins to actually pen down what one has inside could also be an important thing. For example it was only after she turned 30 that she could finally pull a gear on all that she had been meaning to write since her early twenties. Everyone has their own pace at which they write – a lot of it is a process, which includes thinking and could take a long time to find final expression.

The interaction ended with the distribution of the published magazine of original stories by the first batch of Rimi’s Writing In Practice (WIP) course at Jadavpur University’s English Department. The magazine was interestingly titled WIPlash!

The power to tell stories is a unique and universal power at the same time. This is what Kalam: margins write has always believed in and through more of such cross-cultural literary interactions we hope to continue executing our beliefs into action.

 

Bishan’s Impressions

It was inspiring to see so many JU students gathered in the AV room for the occasion. Honestly, both Pooja and I were a little nervous about how many would actually be interested. But the turn-out proved to be rich and heartening.

And the presence of the JU students was not a silent presence. There were people who really had pertinent questions about writing in general and, more importantly, on possibilities of how to collaborate with ASU so as to enrich creative writing programs in Indian universities. A genuine interest in exchange of students was expressed. These are obviously very early days of talks on those lines. So nothing concrete came out of it. Rimi shared what she felt were problems with the semester system followed by JU, and how it does not perfectly overlap with US universities. Rimi also shared that exchange of students has recently become possible between University of Sheffield and JU. And she is trying her best to push for reforms in JU so that more exchange programs can be facilitated. There was genuine optimism expressed in working towards something real and tangible.

6.JPG

People present shared a concern about the lack of English language literary periodicals or publications in which new young writers’ works are accepted. But the ASU folks pointed out that there were lots of American publications which would accept works of Indians, and especially so because is now a focus of attention for the whole literary world. For that, writers in will have to be do extensive research on the net, or take some cues from the ASU students themselves. The bottomline is, if you want to get published, searching for a publisher is as much work as writing itself.

ASU students, along with Melissa, pledged to enhance the JU library with books on writing and literature that are not easily available , and this is another very concrete help that we can get out of this interaction.

Kalam must thank Rimi for being an anchor to the whole interaction. She even bunked her class to be present for the meet, and had valuable things to add to the discussion. She made the Indian scenario of writing and publishing come alive, which added perspective to the whole conversation and idea of exchange. Although, as writers and thinkers there were not too many barriers between the ASU folk and JU guys, yet a lot of challenging realities remain inbetween. Our work in future will be to eliminate them as far as possible.

‘The Indian Express’ catches up with Kalam

posted by sahar romani 

In May 2006, 10 young writers from Kalam transformed into Kalam’s Magazine Youth Staff to create an annual literary magazine called Khola Baksho/Khula Baksa/Open Box. This 100%-youth-run, multi-lingual publication features literature and writing from teenagers living along Kolkata’s social and economic margins. Khola Baksho’s premier launch is on Febuary 18th at the Madhusudan Mancha open space (Dakshinapan Complex, Dhakuria, Kolkata).

Today’s edition of The Indian Express covers the story of Khola Baksho.

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

Verses from the Margins

By Pragaya Paramita

KOLKATA, January 18, 2007Verses from the Margins

Bohudin pore likhte boshechi/ janina ki likhbo/ janina ki likhbo
Tobu mone bhabi aamar lekha to shesh hoyeni/ kintu ki likhbo
Lekhar chondo ekhun aar posh manena/ lekhar shey goti amar sathi hoyena
Lekhar shey posh aaj amay matiye tolena/ aaj amay pagol kore tole na.

(A poem about the dilemma faced by a writer troubled by a loss of words and a sense of loss)

Whenever words don’t fail eighteen-year-old Rahul Goswami, he knows he has a platform for his thoughts — a magazine for the marginalised. Goswami is just one of those from the under-equipped quarters of the city whose verses have found place in a magazine that contains not just thoughts and poetic expression but also provides a peep into the world often left ignored and neglected at the roadside. From the fringes emerge Goswami’s poems. “The idea of Open Box took shape after we participated in a series of workshops. We realised that the workshops brought out the best in each one of us,” says Mritunjoy, a member of Kalam, which is a project initiated by the non-government organisation Daywalka . Teenagers like Goswami fitted the profile of the kind of people —all from an underprivileged background — who could possibly bring out the magazine. And so Open Box was created — a magazine where the marginalised youth found its voice, the first issue of which will be launched this month.

“We wanted to provide a platform where the youth can come out and give vent to their feelings via writing, be it prose or poetry. These youngsters feel there are not too many people interested in listening to their voices. We wanted to change that,” says Bishan Samaddar of Daywalka, who is in charge of the project. While many would consider it to be an ambitious project, the youth members are planning Open Box as an annual magazine which will have writings of 15 to 18 year olds in four languages: English, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu. “We plan to circulate the magazine everywhere from big bookstores, to small road-side tea-stalls. We want everyone to hear their voices,” says Mritunjoy.

It has certainly come a long way since the time the members approached Kolkata-based NGOs working with underprivileged children like Praajak, Don Bosco, Diksha and Sanlaap, and a few schools, to hold creative writing workshops with them. Teaching the children the nuances of poetry writing was not easy as the group soon found out. While quite a few of the children were unlettered, many suffered from Attention Deficit Syndrome. But that did not deter the ten young members of Kalam who took the initiative of launching the magazine from going to places far of as Malda to hold the workshops.

“We realised most of the children were writing about love and about things they felt but could not express. Most are in fact seeking love,” says Bina, another youth member. Most of the youth members have already had a few poems published in poetry books brought out by the NGO, poems that give an insight into their thoughts, agonies and hopes. For the children, attest the youth members, it was a surprise when they realised that people would be interested enough in their poems to want to publish them.

Once the early confusions were taken care of, the poems came in a torrent. Says Shiuli, a member: “Maybe Rahul had a bad affair that leads him to pen poignant verses, or maybe there are other reasons. But poetry has become his only outlet.”