The Indian Poetry League
Just as there' never been anyone like you or me, concede there's never been anyone like me. Every song I have sung for you, every whisper we have shared, every poem I write for you declares this simplest truth
Author Chetan Bhagat's wisecrack -- at the launch of Again, a collection of poems by Pritish Nandy -- wasn't very far off the mark.
Nandy, the poet-turned-journalist-turned-talk show host-turned-film maker-turned-politician-turned-painter-turned-poet-again, has returned to his first love after a hiatus of 25 years.
The event, held at a popular book store in south Mumbai, indeed seemed more like a film function. Celebrities smiled for scores of cameras, hundreds of fans jostled and pushed for a better look, scores of media personnel fought for a sound byte and dozens of flashbulbs lit up the place.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan made her first public appearance after her much-discussed foray at the Cannes red carpet. Poet Gulzar and actor Anupam Kher shared the dais with Bachchan.
Even former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor came out of self-imposed hibernation to grace the occasion with his characteristic wit and candour.
That is why Bhagat, who acted as the moderator between Nandy and his audience, posed the first question, "Is this a launch or what?"
Videos: Hitesh Harisinghani and Afsar Dayatar
Image: Star-studded launch of Pritish Nandy's poems
Aishwarya wows the audience with her oratory
I have panicked many times before, before God, before you, before myself at times. I am humbled by my own fears, for they open up so many and new torrid landscapes of dreams and of possibilities.
Aishwarya told the audience that though she was an ardent reader, she had never played the role of an orator "of such beautiful writing in a room full of attentive, avid listeners."
"I told them I would just release the book, but I had to (read the poems)," she admitted.
"I must thank Mr Nandy for introducing me to Again. Now, I will read your earlier works," she chirped.
She concluded by saying, "I could go on and on but I need to give others a chance".
The poet is still alive: Gulzar
Calcutta if you must exile me wound my lips before I go
only words remain
and the gentle touch of your finger on my lips
Calcutta burn my eyes
before I go into the night
"The poet is still alive. Welcome to his poetry again," said the lyricist and film-maker.
Nandy acknowledged that Gulzar's continuous nudging had inspired him to pick up the pen again. "Whenever I met him, he asked me why I didn't write poems anymore. The entire collection of my poems, which even I don't have, is with Gulzar," he added.
Gulzar revealed that though he had possessed Nandy's books for over 30 years, he got them autographed only in 2009.
I am an incurable romantic: Tharoor
of an ever ever land
You reach a lonesome sand strip called a never never strand
"He was a young poet but a poet with a tremendously original voice. He inspired an entire generation of young people in Kolkata," said Tharoor.
He regaled the audience with stories about the city's youngsters harbouring poetic aspirations, a la Nandy.
"I would see all these young high school and college girls who would write reams and reams of poetry, trying to be the next Nandy. Of course they couldn't," said Tharoor.
Putting political correctness aside once again, the Congress leader took a swipe at Nandy's stint in the Rajya Sabha on a Shiv Sena ticket.
Clad in his trademark tricolour uttariya, coupled with a shocking saffron kurta, Tharoor quipped, "I told him that I am wearing this kurta to remind him of his mistakes. I am glad that he is away from the kind of political affiliation he once courted. We are glad to have him back."
Though the media personnel were specifically told not to pose questions to Tharoor, a member from the audience still wanted to know who was the bigger romantic, he or Nandy.
The former minister, in the dock for alleged favours granted to his 'close friend' Sunanda Pushkar in the IPL's Team Kochi, gamely fielded the question. "I am not qualified to comment on others. As for me, I am an incurable romantic," he shot back.
The former United Nations diplomat expressed hope that Nandy's poems would attract both 'readers and non-readers' to poetry.
Anupam Kher on offending Pritish Nandy
Tonight when the sunflower cries I shall unopen this gypsy love
And ride midnight river to your eyes
Where an autumnal lust will declare your absence in my skies.
Tonight when the sunflower cries
He also thanked Nandy for giving him the opportunity to "sit next to Aishwarya and away from Chetan Bhagat."
The actor listed out the main factor that differentiated the "two bald men". "There is a hidden actor in him. There is a hidden poet in me. I have written only one poem, and when I showed it to my Hindi teacher she almost had a heart attack," Kher added light-heartedly.
On a more serious note, hailing his friend of 27 years, Kher said, "He always wants to do something. He is always looking for something. He spreads happiness with whatever he does, with his poems, films, paintings."
'If the world around you doesn't anger you, you don't deserve to be writing poetry'
When you first came, quiet as the rain
that never fell, in the sunlight that never
shone, I whispered words I had never known
and now shall never forget.
"I left Kolkata, the city where I used to live and where I wrote poetry, because I could not make a living from my writing. I left it to come to this city to be a journalist," recalled Nandy when queried on why he had given up writing poems.
"Poetry is tentative, it's about vulnerability, poetry is about not knowing what the next word should be, and poetry is about escaping the cliches. When I became a journalist, I succumbed to the cliches," he explained.
"I think I have come full circle now," he reflected.
Speaking about the recurrent themes of love and anger in his poems, Nandy said, "You cannot write poetry without love in your heart. And if the world around you doesn't anger you, you don't deserve to be writing poetry."
On how he managed to don the various hats of a poet, painter, politician, journalist and film-maker, Nandy said, "I don't know which one is my favourite. My hats change colour all the time."
Nandy, who has written 32 book of poetry, managed to pen down Again in 20 days flat. "It used to take me five days to write a book when I was younger," he said nostalgically
'I am a shameless sinner'
Goodbye is not always a great exit line
There are still simpler ways of saying 'You are wrong'
The sign on your window says you are lonely
The void in my heart says you are gone
He went on to elaborate, "Like the poem Aishwarya read, I am a shameless sinner. I love my wife, but I also love women. And I don't think any kind of love has to be exclusive."
Kolkata and his bitter-sweet relationship with the city had inspired many of his most famous poems in the '70s. Does it hurt him to witness the degeneration of the grand old city over the years?
"Cities don't decay or die. Politicians make them do so. But Kolkata still gives me memorable, magical moments," he asserted loyally.
Nandy also lamented the readers' lack of access to poems from other states due to linguistic barriers. He cited the icons of Bengali poetry -- Jibonanondo Das and Shakti Chattopadhyay -- as examples. "I consider them as among the greatest poets of all time. But the tragedy is that a reader from Gujarat would not have read either, while a person from Bengal will not know who (eminent Hindi poet) Muktibodh is, and somebody in Andhra Pradesh would not have read Nissim Ezekiel."
Displaying a spark of the "extravagant passion" that Tharoor had attributed him with, Nandy said, "We are made to read the shittiest English poems in our academics, when the best stuff is being written in Spain and Latin America and India. We are questioned on it and we have to write answers. Students memorise them. There is no real connection."
He pointed out the tragic irony that in every Indian household, "someone writes poems".
He is one of the most prolific Indian celebrities on Twitter, with over 35,000 followers.
"Social networking is so powerful today. You can protest by having six people stand there and read a poem each. You can change the world around you"," he declared, and promised to give 'tweet-poems' a shot.