Hindi Poetry in Motion ….. and Laughter Commotion!


The poets who performed at the IHA Kavi Sammelan, from left, Aashkaran Atal, Archana Panda, Suryakumar Pandey and Ramesh Sharma
Photos: Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: So what if it was a late Sunday evening and you had to get to work the next morning? You couldn’t help but linger on as those Hindi poets on stage kept you in stitches with their witty delivery of couplets. Some made it out to the lobby to eat a light dinner of pav-bhaji and vegetable rice and raita only to devour it quickly and rush back in so as not to miss the ending wrap up. Others stayed glued to their seats, already for over three hours, and hated to let it go.

And the last Hindi comic poet standing was Aashkaran Atal, who, with his cherubic cheeks, glasses, prominent chin and pursed mouth resembles Peter, the dad in the hit tv-animated series The Family Guy. He had a quick wit about him and a knack for turning a quick observation into a witticism in craftily composed Hindi pankthiyan or verses. As in when Suryakumar Pandey, the lead poet for the evening, made a sly remark when Atal walked off stage and disappeared for a few moments. Atal came back with a retort that he was “in the restroom doing something you (pointing to Pandey) couldn’t do: comb my hair” while a bald Pandey looked on bemused!

These two formed the bulwark of the 9th Annual Hasya Kavi Sammelan (Comic Poet’s Gathering) while the other two poets – Ramesh Sharma and Archana Panda – rounded out the quartet with impassioned poems in song on emotions and relationships. The event was held this past Sunday, April 24 at India House and began with chai and snacks at 4pm and ended with a light dinner at 9pm, both catered by Madras Pavilion restaurant. An audience of nearly 300 people came to hear poetry in Hindi and roar with delight and laughter as each verse tumbled out.

Guests and poets were welcomed by India Culture Center President Rajiv Bhavsar and International Hindi Association Houston chapter President Dr. K.D. Upadhyaya, while Suman Uppal and Saroj Upadhyaya marked the start of the event by lighting the ceremonial diyas (lamps) onstage. Talented local kavis (poets) who have performed in previous IHA programs were recognized with an award certificate and group picture.

Hasya 1

The visiting poets posed after the show with the boards of the IHA and ICC and volunteers. Not pictured is ICC Director Ajit Patel who was busy at the CD sales table.

The IHA and ICC gave an award to a very surprised Swapan Dhairyawan for his many years of community work and for the propagation of Hindi through the Hindi Kary Vistaar (work to spread Hindi) and connecting with non-Hindi speakers so that prachar (propagate) and prasar (expansion) happens with all. Recognizing his dedication, he was selected as the IHA President for a two year term starting this year; which is significant as it is the first time in 36 ears of the organization that a person whose mother tongue is not Hindi (Dhairyawan’s is Marathi) has risen to this post.

Dr. Upadhyaya and Bhavsar both stressed the need for Hindi outreach within the community and the strong IHA/ICC team that will work to make that happen; with Upadhyaya delivering the slogan sabko saath le jao (take everyone along) in spreading Hindi. Sangeeta Pasrija, Trustee of IHA and ICC introduced all the poets in her chaste Hindi. The vote of thanks was delivered by ICC Secretary Saundarya Sohoni and IHA Joint Secretary Mahesh Derashri.

None of the poets are strangers to Hindi lovers as they are well known in India. The Bayou City was the 5th stop on an eight week, 22-city tour for them of the US at different IHA chapters. Suryakumar Pandey, from Lucknow, is a leading satirist in India whose poetry is mixed with engaging humor. He has written 21 books, he writes for several national Hindi newspapers and appears on Hindi radio and TV channels. It is his first visit to Canada and the US. Bombayite Aashkaran Atal is well known for his unique style of humor and satire, a film lyricist, writer and director; an 11th grade teacher in Chattisgarh state; the author of four books and has performed in Europe, the Far East, Middle East, Canada and the US.

By contrast, the other two poets are more reflective and masters at expressing emotions. Ramesh Sharma of Chittorgarh (north east of Udaipur), Rajasthan also writes for several national Hindi newspapers and appears on Hindi radio and TV channels. It is also his first visit to Canada and the US though he has performed in the UK and Oman too. Archana Panda is a native of Orissa who lives in the Bay area in California. She is a software engineer but is passionate about Hindi poetry, having performed at many Kavi Semmelans. She has written two books, is a singer and dancer and anchors the radio show, Zindagi (Life), every Sunday. She is also a close friend of IHA Director Sangeeta Pasrija.

Pandey, the informal emcee for the poets, started the program with a vow to “take you to another world – of Hindi poetry” and broke into the levity that he is known for. Archana Panda started off with poetry sung in praise of love and asked that “you listen not with your ears but with your heart”. Pandey then returned to poke fun at common things (“In India it takes 20 people to change a light bulb: one to put it in and 19 to say “Wah, wah! What a light bulb!”); Indian politicians, corruption, education, youth among others. Ramesh Sharma followed with poetry sung in his deep voice, singing “Kya Likhte rehte ho yuhin?” (What do you keep writing always?) an ode to marriage and “Yaad Aati Hai Ma” (I remember mother) both of which were well received. Aashkaran Atal easily stole the night away with his non-stop humorous observations and short skits in poetry, taking stabs at his fellow poet Pandey, at actors, renting a flat in Bombay, love, Indian political parties and even a barb aimed at Dhairyawan and the media in the audience, looking straight at this reporter! They kept the pace up for nearly four hours, much to the audience’s delight.

The sponsors for the event were Madras Pavilion; Deep Foods; Discount Power; Wallis State Bank; MD & Associates LLP; Paradise Gifts; Dr. Ashima and Anand Chauhan; Sarita Singhal; Parul Fernandes; Keka Kar; Pallavi Dhairyawan; Saroj Upadhyaya; Deepty Patel and Bela Bhavsar. Additional support came from the Indian Senior Citizens Association and Banke Bihari Parivar.