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Thursday, October 13, 2011

performance poetry or cholkazhcha

Learning one's culture in a foreign land is what is happening to some 25 Indian expats in Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh. The 25 individuals gather every evening at the Indian Central School under the supervision of two visiting theater personalities for their practice of, arguably, one of the rarest art forms in the world now: visualization poetry. This art form denotes the exploration of the visual possibilities of a poem through oral recitation, dance, music and movements. Their one-hour performance will be staged next Friday in three segments at the Indian Central School, during the annual Tug of War competition organized by Thanima, Kuwait.

The performers will visualize around ten poems by well-known Indian poets. These poems, rich in content, folkloric in structure and unpretentious in appearance tell the story of a culture replete with the clash of tradition and modernity, variation of values and the gulf between the roots and fruits of a moving people. At the same time, these poems represent a culture that is fast evolving and in a constant flux.

Though the term 'performance poetry' was in use in the early 1980s and oral tradition has been the method for poetics since tribal times, today's generation may not have seen the acting out of a poem on stage. "It's modernly visual and at the same time nostalgic," says Madhu Shankaramangalam, the visiting guru of the poetry performance or, in the performers' words, Cholkazhcha. Madhu, on his first trip to Kuwait in his 30-year journey as a theater personality, stage director and associate filmmaker is happy about with his team's commitment. "Back home people have no time for art. But here I see people coming from work, practicing until 10pm, and then linger around with questions", he said.

MK Gopalakrishnan, another visiting theater instructor, told me about the impact of poetry on people. A few years ago, he said, it was the poet who would recite a poem to an audience. Talented actors replaced poets over the course of time and now we have an abundance of talent. Poetry is independent of books, academics and from its very form. Gopalakrishnan, 63, an actor for more than 30 years, shared an experience his troupe had while performing a ten-minute poem about a family dispute over dowry. "The audience like our performance so much that they requested an encore," he said.

Cartoon poetry is another genre the performers will stage next Friday. Popularized by the late Indian poet Dr K Ayyappa Panikkar, cartoon poetry connects and communicates with people all over. Here is a loose translation of a few lines of Panikkar, "Protect me, though I'm a bore; Make me a lover of surplus budget; Give me abundance of goal that it may reach from lakhs (of rupees) to crores (of rupees).

When choosing a poem for performance, what we look for is its visual possibilities and stage impact," said Babuji Batheri, of Thanima, the organization which will hold the cultural event next Friday. Over the years we had concerts; this year we're going for a change, added Rose Kattukallil, another coordinator of the event.

As well as the 25 performers there are many others who are behind the effort, including Madhu Bhaskar who provided photos for this story. The performers are due to sing as well as play Indian folk instruments as part of the performce. Iqbal Kuttamangalam, a partaker in the Cholkazhcha could not hide his glee. "I wanted to sing or act or play a musical instrument on stage. I can do all three at this event!

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