This is my session, I think, settling down comfortably into my mosquito-free white sofa. The conversation is already well under way: self-eminent players-of-words Jeet Thayil, Joe Dunthorne, Jonathan Edwards and Tishani Doshi, moderated by Anjum Katyal, have taken the stage to describe their walk through the old, crumbling, growing, ever-new city of Kolkata: a project started in memory of poet Dylan Thomas whose centenary we celebrate through this initiative. The talkers plunge into their experiences: an overwhelming montage of sounds, colours and feelings take over. Joe thinks that “the City of Joy” is an appropriate nickname for Kolkata: happiness is decorous, joy is shrill and wild and free. Tishani mentions how the city always feels like it has more to give, more to know; their four-day walk couldn’t cover much of it. Jeet recalls the expression of the “girl in yellow” who watched as they walked by in North Kolkata and Tishani their experience at the High Court as they watched a session in progress. The poets read out their works: Jonathan’s “cumulonimbus bearded man” catches my attention and makes me laugh. Tishani reads her ditty that ends with, “What will we call love, when love is gone?” The quiet melancholy in the question rings and revolves in the hall. “And once again, you’re expected to be calm about the fact,” that the dead are gone, her next poem reminds, recalling Dylan Thomas’s very own “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Her poetry truly moves me; it is so very close to what I sometimes write, and feel, but can’t really express.
The conversation moves to writing poetry: Joe mentions the poem they all wrote together as they were stuck in the car during their way into the city, and Tishani says that she believes poetry lends itself naturally to collaborations: that is its gift. One becomes aware of others’ voices, thoughts and ways of using words, as also of the limitations of poetry, during the process.
The four poets then recite the poem they collaborated on; the spirit of Dylan Thomas seems alive and aware amidst us, as they are, at first, led by him, and then lead him, in the poem, through the city of Calcutta. The session ends on an appropriately poetic note as the Q&A begins. I ask Joe how, as someone who plays football, did he find the football-loving culture of Kolkata? Joe replies that he began to realise this only a few days back when he found a group of kids playing football in a side-alley, having built a shrine to the Brazilian footballer Neymar!
I come away solemn and enriched to have found people who find love and expression through and from poetry, and the experience comes to a close.
PS: Jonathan’s collection of poetry is called “My Family and Other Superheroes”. CAN I MENTION HOW MUCH I APPRECIATE THE GERALD DURRELL REFERENCE.