Thursday, November 28, 2013

Of Poetry and Lit Fests

“Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life.” Said William Hazlitt. Surya Rao makes this true as he is going to make verses hang in the air of Hyderabad this winter.
What if four Irish Nobel Laureates in literature come to your street in the mellow sunshine of January, 2014? You will want this ‘daydream’ to continue. And why not? Meet the man, who is all set to transmute Hyderabad into a mini Ireland. He is GSP Rao, the Festival Director of Hyderabad International Literary Festival and Founding Editor of Muse India, a non-profit literary web journal. An engineer by profession, Rao is an equally seasoned poet per se.

Cumulating literature with technology

The Romantic poet John Keats was a qualified medical practitioner and so was the Russian writer Anton Chekov. And in today’s age there are bureaucrats and engineers who make literature rich with their varied exposure. For Rao, too, poetry and technology were two 
poles – separate from each other. But his poetic pollination made the two amalgamate into one. “I was interested in literature from my college days. My background in technology always wanted me to conjoin the two. That is how Muse India was born.”

From Dalit to Danish Literature
Rao is the technical architect for Muse India. The e-journal focuses on Indian writing in English from the country and overseas. The budding young writers and the renowned ones share a common platform. The poetry of protest finds its way in the journal’s posts. One gets to see the moving works of Gogu Shyamala and others. “The poetry of protest has a very strong voice. And so is the Diasporic literature. For example, a writer like Tabish Khair, who has made Denmark his home, talks about rootlessness. But his work now gives a flavour of Danish literature. This blend completes the Indian Diaspora. An honest writer brings this cross-cultural element in his writings.”

The Festival of Literature

Surya Rao along with other members of Muse India started Hyderabad’s first International Literary Festival in 2010. Wordsmiths from India and abroad flock to Hyderabad, and celebrate this Lit Fest. Every year a ‘Guest Nation’ is featured. That is why Irish stalwarts like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw and W B Yeats are going to take the breath of Hyderabadis away. “The Lit Fest will be celebrated at Road No. 8, Banjara Hills at different venues,” beams Rao talking about transforming this street into a ‘Literary Street’. There will be street theatres, book stalls and musical performances on the street. “We have invited the Ambassador of Ireland to India Feilim McLaughlin for the inauguration,” Informs the poet, flipping through the pages of his planner.

With a Vision

All arts bloom from literature. Rao solidifies this take by exemplifying the magnum opuses of maestroes like Raphael and Rembrandt. “Their art works are related to Greek mythology. The words they read flowed on their canvas. It was poetry in dots and colours. Why just painting? Drama and cinematography is based purely on what wordsmiths create. Web journals preserve everything as digitalized. The reach to global audience has become wider.”

With three books that range from a collection of poetry, collection of short stories and biography of King Krishna Dev Rai of Vijay Nagar, Rao enjoys his penchant for different literary forms. For now his energy is focussed to make the streets of Banjara Hills a literary kaleidoscope as HLF gets ready to be unveiled.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Dedicated to Heritage and Poetry

What does a person do when history calls to him from the corners of the city? He becomes a mystic of History and uncovers tales from the regal ruins for posterity to read. Meet Sajjad Shahid, a heritage activist of Hyderabad and an aficionado of Art and Poetry par excellence. 

“If you as yet fail to comprehend, you will be annihilated O’ countrymen!
Your very mention will be erased from the chronicles of the world,” croons Sajjad Shahid on the condition of dilapidating heritage buildings.

Born in a noble family of Hyderabad Sufis, Shahid had his origins firmly rooted in the Deccan soil. Sufi literature left indelible imprints on his mind, more so because his father was researching on ancient Sufis of Deccan – especially Bijapur. And the voice of History would call to Shahid from the book his father wrote. The bridge to ancient past made him fall in love with ruins of architecture. “We would go to dargahs at least once a year. Seeing the dilapidated condition of beautiful old dargahs made me sad! What troubled me more was how the relics of history were being changed in the name of maintenance,” laments the heritage activist.

A lover of history

His interest changed into passion. A civil engineer in construction that he is by profession his technical background opened up the macrocosmic world of ancient architecture to him. In 1995 he joined INTACH, Hyderabad Chapter. He had to document the details of Dutch monuments at Bheemunipatnam. 
He is the Co-Convener of INTACH and the Secretary of Centre for Deccan Studies. And then, came his tryst with the architecture of Hyderabad namely Golconda Fort and tomb of Maha Laqa Bai Chanda, the famous courtesan and lyrical poet of Nizam’s era. “We conserved the 200 year old mausoleum at Chanda Bagh, Moula Ali. As part of the restoration-exhibition we put on display her portraits and volumes of her poetry,” avers Shahid. The work was undertaken under a grant from the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.  An American scholar Dr. Scott Kugle worked on an English anthology of Chanda’s poetry. 

Governments Apathy

What bothers Shahid the most is the apathy of government towards conservation of heritage monuments. There are more than 5,000 tombs in India that are not being taken care of. And the irony is that Government of India has released only Rs 100 crores for all the monuments of India. “This much amount is required for the conservation of Qutub Shahi alone,” he wonders. He is the crusader for conservation of old monuments of Hyderabad. Be it Naya Qila, Moazzam Jahi Market, Khusro Manzil or Koti Residency. Disappointed with the lackadaisical approach of Government, Shahid suggests, “Much like Britain National Trust we require to form a Public Trust for Conservation in India. The funds that the Trust will receive will go for the conservation of the heritage monuments. Officially the conservation should be transferred to the Trust from the Government. Then we will see concrete actions.” With this vision he hopes to preserve the slices of history scattered all around Hyderabad.