I’ll never forget the rainy December of 2007. I learned then, that the 'break' I thought I was taking in India was to become a permanent move, and that I would not be able to return to the country I considered home.
It was a bleak time somehow made less bewildering because—beached as I was in Chennai—I felt surrounded by artistry. The Prakriti Foundation’s first edition of 'Poetry with Prakriti Festival' was taking place. Every day, I met poets, many of whose names I had known and work I had read, and formed friendships. Every day, I listened to their voices, reading aloud their poems. All this gave me, what I realised not long later, a false sense of Chennai being a literary hub. Every December since, this false sense has been made to become true. The Poetry with Prakriti festival makes it possible.
I read during the first edition of the festival, and on that side of the stage it was frustrating because Chennai audiences were not used to the concept. I saw clearly how people were alarmed at the sight of me, a young woman in a dress and heels (then considered to be a highly inappropriate attire), standing up at the mic. It brought to my mind how a few years earlier, I had tried to organise a poetry reading to raise funds for an NGO—only to have the NGO itself spread rumours that I was out to self-promote. Simply put: the very idea that art is not just deeply entangled with life, but is life-giving in itself was not accepted at the time. Art was still suspect, unless it came in sanctioned packages. Poetry had no place except in textbooks. It was disheartening.
But year after year, the Prakriti Foundation fought this stigma. It brought poets together every December and gave them spaces, tying up with colleges in order to reach wider audiences, and with bars, cafes and boutiques to normalise the idea that art and the quotidian are commingled.
A decade since its inception, the Poetry with Prakriti festival is internationally well-regarded and continues to pave the path for the most misunderstood, and often maltreated, art form. Just on one night, this year, I heard poems in Mizo, German, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Bangla and English. The small auditorium was at full capacity. What a polyphony. And as some of us in the audience knew well, what a long journey.