'This is a generation of change makers'

Back in 2013, Saumya Choudhury, was on a backpacking trip through Vancouver, Canada when she stopped outside a local food joint called ‘Café Deux Soleils’.

Hearing the commotion emanating from inside the cafe, Choudhury found herself converging towards the cafe to witness her life’s first ever ‘poetry slam’.

“My immediate thought was that there are so many poets in Delhi and we have such a vibrant culture of poetry readings but we don’t have anything like performance reading,” said Choudhary while sitting in a studio located in one of the rooms of her rented apartment in Chittaranjan Park. 

Less than two years after her tryst with slam poetry, Choudhury is now the founder and managing director of Delhi Poetry Slam, one of the first and probably the only, poetry slam club of Delhi. 

“This right here is a generation of troublemakers or rather change makers. It’s often surprising how powerful words can be,” added Choudhury. 

According to the 21-year-old, Delhi Poetry Slam is more of a platform that fosters ‘radical’, ‘unafraid’ and ‘outspoken’ artistes in an effort to “constantly strive to create a safe and non-judgemental environment for spoken word performers.”

“We first performed in Kunzum Cafe in Hauz Khas and I noticed hordes of people lining up on the street, trying to get a glimpse of what was happening inside. After the amazing response, we thought of doing something bigger,” Choudhury said, adding that soon after the first performance she approached a film production company called Beyond Cinematic to fund their project. 

“Our first major performance was in Siri Fort Auditorium and the seats were sold out a week before the event,” she added. 

Marc Smith, who’s largely acknowledged as the founder of slam, had started an open mic night in November 1984 called the Monday Night Poetry Reading. In subsequent interviews, Smith had repeatedly suggested that he sees the poetry slam movement as a measure to counter “establishment poets”.  

Over the years, slam poetry was employed by left-liberal leaning youth to express their social and political views. The slam movement has also been used by several feminist poets and has been an inherent part of the civil rights movement across the globe.

Given the political climate of India, and a growing demand of a space to practise dissent, it was only time that something like Delhi Poetry Slam would emerge.

In their last poetry session, videos of two performing poets went viral, garnering both adulations and vehement opposition. One among the performers was Rene Sharanya who blasted prevalent misogynist culture in pop music and the other was Ekta Sharma who, through her performance, posed a pertinent question that if Malala Yousfzai was hit by a US missile instead of a Taliban bullet, would she still receive the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Nineteen-year-old Khamboi Singson, another slam poet from Manipur, took to the stage and spoke out about the “terrifyingly and humiliating instances” when he was called a ‘chinki, Nepali and Chinese’.

“We come to the cities to make a career and what we face here is beyond humiliation. Everyone stares at us without any reason. I wanted to vent out how I felt and slam poetry is just the thing which helps me to do so,” Singson said.

The slam club has quite an elaborate plan and seems not to be deterred by the recent backlash they faced after internet users barraged the videos, featuring slam poets, with derogatory comments among which was “Go back to the kitchen”.  

Freddie Storm (24), has come all the way from her home in Canada to train the poets in speech and performance delivery. She sees optimism in the abuse and opposition they recently met. 

“Even though there is a lot of criticism I believe it helped in initiating a conversation. The very idea of a woman speaking out somehow annoys many and thus it becomes even more important that we speak up. The same goes for the other subjugated communities and minorities of this country,” Storm concluded.

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