Culture in verse: Poetry the new tool of soft diplomacy
New Delhi: Cultural and linguistic boundaries blurred as Rabindranath Tagore`s poetry was set to a dance and Hungarian poetry composed by national icons like Endre Ady was recited in Hindi and in Hungarian. All this when 15 poets and writers from the two countries assembled here under the "Poetry Across Cultures" to read and exchange over musings of love, cadence and friendship.
As the "Poetic Cadences in Rhythm with Dance" session progressed at the Hungarian Institute of Information and Cultural Centre late last month, it was proof that diplomacy has many colours.
To this end, the emergence of soft power as a potent tool of diplomacy is redefining poetry as the new people-to-people contact between India and the world.
"Poetry Across Cultures", a non-profit organisation of poets and prose-writers, uses poetry as a tool to promote cultural understanding between India and countries like Finland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, the US, Portugal, France and Italy.
The organisation - led by the faculty and students of Kamla Nehru College and white-collared professionals with a flair for literature - usually ropes in the diplomatic missions of European countries out to reach out to poets across continents.
"We try to diminish the dichotomy between the east and the west through an exchange of poetry and different poetic voices with similar expressions. It is a step towards using poetry to expose young writers, poets and the students to poetry of other cultures," Rita Malhotra, the founder of Poetry Across Cultures, said.
Tibor Kovacs, director of the Hungarian Institute of Information and Cultural Centre, said: "Most people are interested in poetry because it is easy to understand."
"The Hungarian government has launched a literary exchange programme, `Publishing Hungary`, to translate Hungarian poetry into foreign languages and poetry of other countries into Hungarian. We are looking for contemporary English and Hindi poetry from India for translation into Hungarian," Kovacs said.
"Soft diplomacy is very important now," he added.
"Universal Poetry" - another initiative - has been bringing Indian and foreign poetry on the same platform to promote literary exchanges for the last three years.
The organisation on Sept 20 featured noted Indian poet Ashok Vajpeyi at a poetry exchange between Indian and Swiss poets at the Swiss Embassy.
Poet Sameer Kakkar, the founder of "Universal Poetry", says the objective was "to create an international community of poetry through cross-cultural readings and workshops".
"Poetry is a human mirror. It tells us how the other cultures think and how they feel," Kakkar told IANS.
The British Council`s "Indo-Wales Writers` Chain" has added to the growing relationship between Britain and India.
Last year, Welsh poets Sian Melangell Dafydd, Robert Minhinnick, Twm Morys and Eurig Salisburg travelled to India to collaborate with Indian poets K. Satchidanandan, Anamika, Sampurna Chatterji and Anitha Thampi.
Recalls Sampurna Chatterjee in the BBC Wales Arts blog: "We were sitting on the rocks by a river. Twm is speaking about himself, his life and how he came to poetry, talking about listening to the clack of keys on his father`s typewriter as he lay on a sunny wall as a young lad... Like sharp unpredictable flurries of wind and leaf, revelations arise amidst us." It sets off the poetry chain in motion.
This year, a bunch of Indian and Welsh poets will meet again in November to add to the growing Indo-British poetry coffers.
Irish poets have been visiting India to collaborate with their Indian counterparts supported by the Embassy of Ireland in India.
Exchanges between new Indian and American poets are growing with more and more university students from the US travelling to India to "work on traditional genres of Indian poetry".
The Washington-based literary cafe, "Bus Boys and Poets", known for combining poetry, literature and good food at the Friday night readings for coloured poets, hosted a group of young arts protagonists and writers from the developing world, including from India.
"We would welcome new poets from India to read their poetry at our cafe...India has a rich history of poetry," cafe owner Anas "Andy" Shallal, a migrant from Baghdad, said.
Poetry is also forging new links in South Asia with the growing number of "mushairas" or reading sessions hosting poets from the country, Pakistan and Afghanistan in the native languages aided by several vernacular literature academies, including the government.