Ek Andheri Barsaat ki Toofan Raat …. and the Poets Recite On!

The guest of honor, Palav Neeraj (left), with the organizing Committe and Board of the IHA Houston Chapter

By Jawahar Malhotra   

SUGAR LAND: A fierce storm had blown in over the afternoon, dumping sheets of rain over the whole metropolitan area and by evening time, the downpour only promised to be more severe. The wet roads glistened under the streetlights like black oiled ribbons and cars pulled into the Madras Pavilion parking lot, their wipers furiously sweeping large drops off the windshields. Guests made a mad dash under hastily unfurled umbrellas to the safety of the covered archway and sheltered front door.

This was the setting that poets yearn for, when the fury of Mother Nature unleashes the pent up creative juices of minds that take pleasure in the flow of words and the harmonizing of feelings and emotions.

The poets and performers sat to one side awaiting their turns

Though the deluge kept some people at bay in the comfort of their homes, a decent number of patrons – about 100 – of the International Hindi Association, Houston braved the elements on Friday, December 7 to hear lovers of poetry recite lines from some beloved poems and others reveal their own creations. All the nine poets, save for one – Palav Neeraj of San Francisco – were from the Metroplex.

They marked the celebration of Hindi Diwas or Hindi Day, a program produced in collaboration with the India Culture Center, which, not coincidentally, counts many of the same directors as the IHAH does, as, with good reason, they also love their Mother Tongue. The celebration began with a buffet dinner and lots of hot chai.

Eesha Dhairyawan, Saanvi Mistry, Aditri Singhal, students of Shiva Mathur’s Shivangini Academy performed the devotional Kathak dance Ganesh Vandana

Dinesh Singhal emceed the event which began with introductions from IHA National President Swapan Dhairyawan, ICC President Nisha Mirani and IHAH President Dr. K.D. Upadhaya. They dedicated the event to the memory of the late poet Gopaldas Neeraj (who died in Delhi this past July 19 at the age of 93), whose grandson Palav Neeraj (along with his wife and two children) attended the celebration and read some of his grandfather’s poems. Palav has lived in San Francisco since 2012 and works in the IT sector. Amit Khanna from the Indian Consulate also attended the celebration.

The evening opened with the devotional Kathak dance Ganesh Vandana by Eesha Dhairyawan, Saanvi Mistry, Aditri Singhal, all young students of Shiva Mathur’s Shivangini Academy in Sugar Land. Then the poets had their turn to show their skills, beginning with Bankim Bhavsar (the father of ICC Director Rajiv Bhavsar) who sang the devotional Bhakti ras to Krishna and Radha. He was followed by poetry read in fluent Hindi by 13 year-old Arjun Singhal (both Singhals are children of the emcee).

Palav Neeraj read poems from his grandfather, the renowned poet Gopaldas Neeraj

Sangeeta Pasrija, a founder of the IHAH and 20-year resident of the area shared Urdu poetry that her dadi (paternal grandmother) would recite to her, and explained the meaning. Palav Neeraj read poems that his grandfather had become famous for. Gopaldas Neeraj was a renowned poet in Hindi and Urdu, some of which were used in Hindi movies. He was also a Professor of Hindi Literature in Dharma Samaj College, Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, He had been awarded the Padma Shri in 1991 and the Padma Bhushan in 2007.

Sarojini Gupta continued with her bubbly personality and radiant to match, presenting a hasya n vyang poem. She and her husband Subash were later felicitated for their dedicated efforts to promote the IHAH. More lighthearted poems followed from Fateh Ali Chatur who is well-known for the twinkle in his eye and the chance to turn a phrase into a limerick. Dr. Nik Nikam, a cardiologist, host of the online NNN podcast, frequent community photographer and author of two books, continued the vein in Hindi, which is not his mother tongue and one which he usually doesn’t converse in.

Arjun Singhal, 13, read poetry in fluent Hindi with his father Dinesh who was the emcee

Sanjay Sohoni added more light hearted poems to the lineup, which was bookended by Dr. Nausha Asrar whose skillful delivery of three poems he sang reminds you that, apart from his profession as a material scientist, his avocation of Hindi and Urdu poetry has made him a star in demand at many mehfils across the world. Alka Raj followed reading vatsalya ras on her mother. And Sarita Mehta, a professor of Hindi literature, entrepreneur and much admired and skillful poetess read a dedication to Gopaldas Neeraj, which she hastily wrote early in the morning when the weather was still calm.