“Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” – Rita Vaz
One of humanity’s most treasured forms of cultural and linguistic expression, poems tell you so much while saying so little. Sensitive and subtle, the simplest of poems can provide solace and inspiration at the end of a busy day. But at a time when even the habit of fiction reading is declining, poetry, especially in vernacular languages, is something people rarely make time for.
However, one Indian man with a passion for poetry has made it his business to let everyone know how amazing Hindi poetry actually is.
Manish Gupta, a successful filmmaker and businessman settled in Miami, was suffering from depression when he found solace in the poetic works of Maithilisharan Gupta, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Mahadevi Verma, Amrita Pritam, and others. The soothing effect their poems had on him inspired Gupta to search for ways to make Hindi poetry popular again – especially with youngsters.
He launched Hindi Kavita, a channel on Youtube that already has thousands all over India falling in love with Hindi poetry.
In 1980, Manish Gupta was just 11 when he read Bhavani Prasad Mishr’s poem, ‘Satpura Ke Ghane Jangal’, in his school textbook for the first time. He remembers the words resonating within him, the beginning of a lifelong love and appreciation for poetry. In the coming years, young Manish would spend countless afternoons under a tree with his friends at Chhindwara, reading Munshi Premchand’s short stories, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s poems and Hindi translations of Mark Twain’s works. Decades later, it was this connection with words that the 47-year-old evoked with his YouTube channel, Hindi Kavita.
In the time between his teenage years and starting Hindi Kavita in Mumbai, Gupta moved to the US, worked as a painter, ran a beach club in Miami, produced TV shows and directed two feature films — Indian Fish (2003) and Karma Confessions and Holi (2006). He was working as a columnist with a leading Indian daily and had just returned to India from the US when the idea of a Hindi poetry channel struck him.
It was a nostalgic conversation about the long-gone days of reading Premchand, Nirala and Dinkar with his friends in 2013 that convinced Gupta to finally start the poetry channel. In his research for the project, he interacted with students of different colleges in the country, met publishers and book-sellers and got the feedback that Hindi poetry was not popular because it lacked a “style quotient.”
Thinking about how he could present Hindi poetry in a way that would appeal to the new generation, Gupta hit upon a simple yet powerful idea. He decided to persuade the best of the talent from the film industry to recite poems of renowned poets, both contemporary and yesteryear greats. The results were no less than incredible.
Hindi Kavita took off with Manoj Bajpayee’s recitation of Dinkar’s ‘Rashmirathi’, rapidly raking in 1,90,000 views, and writer-actor Piyush Mishra’s own poem ‘Premikaon Ke Naam’, getting more than 86,000 views.
Three years later, the much-loved YouTube channel is considered so ‘cool’ that it is called the ‘Coke Studio of Poetry’ by its followers.
“When we started, people were like, ‘Poems? And that too in Hindi?’ But today, English-reading clubs from across the country want to be a part of Hindi Kavita because we have made poems look cool,” says Gupta.
Hindi Kavita’s videos of actors and writers reading the works of their favourite poets — from lyricist-writer Varun Grover reading ‘Main Laut Jaaunga’ by Uday Prakash and actor Rajendra Gupta’s nostalgic narration of Hubnath’s ‘Musalman’, to actors Swara Bhaskar and Rasika Duggal reciting their favourite verses by Pash and Amrita Pritam, respectively — have become widely popular in the country.
In an interview with Indian Express, Swara Bhaskar said:
“Recently, at a friend’s place, a vegetable seller told me how he can’t read but had watched the video of me reading. This was very humbling. It also made me realise that the vernacular belt doesn’t only enjoy masala Hindi films, they enjoy this as well.”
Renowned actor Saurabh Shukla says that these beautiful videos have brought back a love of poetry in him, a sentiment that resonates in Hindi Kavita’s steadily growing fan following.
As lyricist-writer Varun Grover says:
“Hindi poetry never had a marketing channel of its own. People love poetry but it never left the pages of our school books. With this channel, in this age of sharing, Hindi poetry has become ‘cool’.”
The short, simple and crisp videos are usually shot at Manish Gupta’s own house, with a violin playing in the background, and the anchors explaining their choice of poem for the day. Gupta has the support of the best technicians from the film industry, who help with the cinematography, editing and graphics. As a result, the videos look, sound and feel amazing, making listening to poems a thoroughly engrossing experience.
Manish Gupta says he has also discovered long-forgotten poems, like those by Nazir Akbarabadi (an 18th century poet), and little-known voices, such as Dogri poet Padma Sachdev, as a result of his work for Hindi Kavita.
Aware that the interest of students in Hindi literature is steadily declining, Gupta also wants to take Hindi Kavita to colleges across the country, including the IIMs, IITs, Delhi University and Banaras Hindu University. He plans to show the videos in colleges and get the performers to read out the poems themselves as often as possible.
Gupta believes that though English is hugely popular and has become a common language of communication, India, as a country, is most comfortable speaking in its own languages. He says:
“I have no problem with English, it is a great language too. But it is not ours, so we, as human beings, don’t really excel in it. We bloom in our own language. Even the psychologists say that when we use our mother tongue the relationship with words becomes deeper and more satisfying.”
For Manish Gupta, rediscovering poets and poetry through Hindi Kavita has been the most fulfilling project of his life. He and his team have been promoting poems in Hindi, Urdu and recently Punjabi, as a part of their project to promote vernacular languages. They are also planning to add Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali to it soon.