Music transcends all boundaries. Not only have we heard these words often, but we’ve also experienced it. I was introduced to traditional Chinese music by a fellow journo — this was a couple of years ago. He said, ‘You’ll feel their pain, don’t fret about not knowing the language.’ And the songs did bring me closer to their emotions, so much so that I found myself recommending my favourite titles to others. From there on, my playlist also included French classics, Bengali melodies, Urdu ghazals, et al. Soon, I got addicted to movies and documentaries in foreign languages — with or without subtitles. Little did I know that in the process I was learning to open my heart and mind to words, the meaning of which was not limited to the language they were written or spoken in. These were words, which carried with them emotions — mostly hidden, sometimes bare. Together, they had begun to make a difference to my understanding of many things and bringing me closer to another form of art — poetry. I began to read, write and listen to poetry.
Three years later, I have taken it upon myself to be surrounded by fellow poets. As a ritual, every last Saturday of the month, I invite a bunch of creative souls to share their words with us all. Initially, we wrote and read out works only in English — but over the months, we’ve added a list of languages to the session. What binds us all? Words, which stem from personal experiences — good, bad or ugly — but we read them aloud, brazenly. In our last gathering, a few of us made our powerful, debut performances as singers and poets. One of the performers was moist-eyed by the end of it and the other confessed how it took courage to bare his heart out. When someone read out in Urdu or Arabic or German, we got goosebumps, even before the work was translated for our understanding. It got us thinking, what is it that makes us share our thoughts with a bunch of strangers? What is it about poetry that transcends all boundaries? Why did we request for an encore of performance in an alien language? As always, we found our answers in the words.
“Sharing our feelings or thoughts in front of with strangers is comfortable because they won’t judge you based on your past or even your present as they don’t know who you are. They only know the thoughts you chose to share and the way you shared it. They won’t put you down (mostly) nor tell you things like ‘you can’t say such things,’ or ‘how dare you think that way,’ unlike your family or even friends,” shared Syeda Aisha Atif, 19, a student of mechanical engineering. For Lionel Mendonsa, 20, a student of English, it was his first poetry performance in public, “When there’s something bothering you, you carry it around like a weight dragging you down all the time. Once you share these thoughts, even if it is with a group of complete strangers, the experience can be incredibly uplifting and even therapeutic.”
Ayesha shared a piece on a personal relationship with us and while she usually writes in English she does try her hand out in Urdu every now and then. We all leave a part of us in our writings and it requires courage to bare our heart out to others. Agree or disagree, we asked one another. “Completely agree,” said Ram Sridhar, 20, a third-year student at Heriot-Watt University. Ram read out a piece, it was his first public performance too, which in his words was, “A piece on the monster, the personification of every nasty aspect of myself — my vanity, arrogance, bitterness, greed, and self-hatred; basically the horrid voice in my head.’ As he read out his words, he shivered and his face said more than his voice. And we all became one with his poetry. “The monster is me without restraint, and it’s what I fear I’d become if my PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) took over fully. It’s not easy or comfortable the very first time. There’s always a leap of faith one must take at some point. I saw Lionel share his words, so I figured I should too. But then it grows on you and you know that your words need to reach others,” said Sridhar. Lionel added, “Any artist puts a little piece of themselves in every work of theirs, and it is very difficult to share a piece of art that bares the artist for all the world to see.”
But then, we muster up the courage and do it nevertheless, over a period of time. Because once we write, read or sing, the only relationship that matters is one that exists between our words and us. Perhaps that’s why they touch hearts so dearly. Is there a genre that is easy to write and share? “It differs from person to person. Some excel in writing romantic stuff and similar genres and sharing it becomes easy for them, as it is a very common genre so you don’t feel out of place or awkward. Whilst some excel in writing deep, meaningful, dark or sad topics as it helps them cope with something they’ve witnessed or felt. For some, it is easy to share as it’s their way of letting others know that a lot of people feel this way so it gives hope to those who don’t share their feelings. But sharing anything can be hard at a point because again, it’s a part of you being put out in public and the words have to fend for themselves,” said Ayesha. Sharing depends on her mood. “If I am having a bout of depression, I find it easier to write sad and dark poems. When I am ‘normal’, I find it easier to write happy and upbeat poems.” Lionel adds: “The easiest to share are the poems that have the best language — they have the most impact, regardless of the tone.”
Yes, poetry, just like music is different things to different people. But most importantly, both art forms transcend boundaries of all kinds; and language is just one of many. They liberate us. They allow us to overcome an initial hesitation or the fear of judgement. They make us equals as we experience them. At present, I am listening to Korean songs on the radio and am writing poetry in Hindi.
I can only hope that this experience lasts or gets replaced with another beautiful one.