The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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For Holi, unholy digs and wry rhymes
- With Festival of Colours ahead, humour sessions are the flavour of the season

With Holi around the corner, it’s fun time in the city. And the menu comprises thandai sessions in the evening, nightlong soirees and, to top it all, Hasya Kavi Sammelans. From March 9 to 19, the city is hosting over 30 such Sammelans.

And a host of Hindi poets, from various parts of the country, have descended on Calcutta to hold the hilarious rhyme sessions. From the dingy lanes of Burrabazar to the sprawling lawns in Alipore — kavi sammelan is the flavour of the season.

The list of poets includes names like Arun Gemini, Aash Karan Atal, Om Prakash Aditya, Hari Om Pawar, Sailesh Lodha, Surendra Dube and Manik Verma.

“It’s a tradition that can be traced back to the 50s. It has become a ritual and the number of sessions has increased by the day. Even people like Harivansh Rai Bachchan had come to Calcutta to read out his classics. Today, the poetry sessions have become an integral part of the Holi festivities. They start after Sivaratri and continue till the Festival of Colours is over,” says Nawal Joshi of Gangaur.

Be it clubs or cultural outfits like Sanskriti Sagar or Sangit Kala Mandir, these ‘fun unlimited’ sessions figure in the annual roster of events in almost all the clubs. Typically, the sessions — with around five to six poets on the panel and a moderator — stretch to around three hours. And the packed house laps up the humorous commentary and jokes on issues ranging from politics and cricket to films and family. Serious stuff is also read out, but only to give audience a breather.

“Earlier, the topic of sarcasm revolved around wives and in-laws. These days, we look at various social issues. Political personalities and filmstars figure high on the list to be ridiculed and laughed at,” admits Arun Gemini, a poet from Delhi.

Aash Karan Atal is known for his remarks on his namesake-poet and Prime Minister. The audience always wants Atal to speak on the other Atal.

“And I do that to please the audience. First I draw parallels with Atalji because we share the name. Then, I refer to various problems that I have faced for sharing the name. And finally, I conclude with the message — that I am better off as a poet reading out poems in front of a decent audience than running a coalition government with unruly partners.”

Sundeep Bhutoria, president of the youth wing of International Marwari Federation, says that “contemporary” and “smart” issues picked up by the poets have helped in attracting GeneratioNext to the shows. “Irrespective of the venue — be it in a club or a hall — the sessions draw in the crowds. People come with their families for a good laugh,” he adds.

And the response from the crowd is the reason that draws the who’s-who of Hindi literature to Calcutta year after year. For the past 12 years, Gemini has been a regular in the city for the poetry sessions during Holi.

“It is the biggest festival in north India and you can imagine how difficult it is for us to stay away from home during this time of the year. But no one wants to miss the opportunity of coming to Calcutta and being part of the congregation here,” he adds.

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