The Dying Art of Poetry and the Age of Instagram Poets in India

Where did we go wrong while defining a ‘poem’, and who are some people still doing it right?

The Dying Art of Poetry and the Age of Instagram Poets in India
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Where did we go wrong while defining a ‘poem’, and who are some people still doing it right?

Whenever one talks about Instagram poetry (Instapoetry, in short), can one not mention Rupi Kaur? Just 29 years of age, Kaur is the pioneering force behind those cascades of emotions wrapped up in a few words that left readers all over the world falling in love.

After Kaur, several other Instapoets have carried her baton and passed it all over the world, not only amassing millions of followers but also having written books that became bestsellers.

After their work became a sensation, several people have been enticed by the promise of this emerging art form and blindly jumped onto the Instapoetry bandwagon.

Like all other trends prevalent in the West, the fad on Instapoetry has made its way into India too.

The history of poetry in India

Traditionally, India has been a land rich in culture and literature.

The Indian census of 1961 recognized 1,652 different languages in India. Yet, this statistic doesn’t include the various dialects, the subtle variations of each language that run through the blood of the 1.2 billion inhabitants of this multi-faced, diverse country.

There is no doubt then, that this country with its billion pens would have evolved over the years to leave a rich legacy of art and literature.

Even before discovering English during its colonization by the British, Indian poetry had already shaped itself up in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Sanskrit, Bengali, Assamese, among at least a hundred other languages.

While their ways of expression were complicated, the common thread that tied these old poems together is their strict adherence to rules, to finding beauty in rhyme and meter, to sticking to shapes and guidelines. Most of them stuck to social issues, though there were odes to love and heartbreak as well.

Poems, irrespective of their content, left a mark on the readers’ hearts when they ended. And just like any other art form, appreciating traditional poetry forms took up time and effort. Their beauty was in their depth, and the myriad of meanings that unveiled themselves in front of the reader after each re-read.

The evolution of poetry with technology

With their smartphones and super-fast internet, the new generation has developed an attention span that can hardly consume content that requires them to concentrate for anything longer than five minutes.

This restlessness, combined with the vast amount of information available at the click of a button, has made people look for content that is ‘easy.’ The average Indian youth looks for spoon-feeding, whether in blog posts, videos, or even poetry.

This has given rise to a large number of hugely popular pages with more than tens of thousands of followers that focus on keeping the content relatable without paying much attention to the quality of the posts.

The cost of this mass popularity might be high at times, ending up glorifying misogyny, encouraging fat-shaming, downplaying the importance of mental health, or simply dressing up effervescent non-sequitur as “poetry.”

How social media changed it all

A few months back, Sakshi Salil Chavan, a 23-year-old Indian writer called out Rahul Kaushik, a published poet with over 600k followers on Instagram, for the sexist posts he shared. One of his so-called poems went like this —

“A well-spoken girl, with the foundation of intelligence and blush of humor shines brighter than a bimbo out of the parlor. I might remember a few hot girls I saw, but I remember all the beautiful women I talked to.”

Wrong on so many levels, this post works on the assumption that all women who go to parlors and wear make-up are “bimbos” (a derogatory term that means a woman who is attractive but not intelligent). Also, the poet seems to believe that the best way to compliment a woman is by telling her how she is not like “other women”.

This isn’t all. There were several other posts shaming women for being overweight, sharing “semi-naked pictures”, and saying “no” to the man who pursued them. The saddest part is, all such posts have over 10000 likes. What does this say about the sense and sensibilities of the people of the country?

As Sakshi pointed out, another hugely popular poetry and microfiction page, @susprisinglyshortstories with over 60k followers posted a short piece of fiction that said –

“How many times do you rape her?”
“Until she knows how much she really needs me,” I said.
“You are one sadistic husband,” the kidnappers laughed, cutting the call.

This post, with over 3000 likes and several hundreds of comments appreciating the humor, negates the need for consent in a married relationship. Apparently, the solution to a wife not wanting sex is for the husband to have a group of his friends kidnap her, then rape her till she sees his point.

Sounds so perfect, doesn’t it?

The ones who are still doing it right

Of course, for every page that spreads hate or mediocre content, there are several others who share positivity and spread happiness.

There is Megha Rao, a hugely popular published author who never fails to share her daily dose of sunshine, writing poems about strong feminist themes. Her poems reflect on modern society and often make the reader squirm in their seats for the content. She writes —

“As you grow older, you realise adulting doesn’t come with a manual. That Santa Claus breaking into your house at midnight is criminal behaviour. The tooth fairy exchanging wishes for your broken milk teeth is but a tradeswoman fascinated by Barter systems in Mesopotamia. That after hearing rumours of Walt Disney being pro-Nazi, you love him less because you can’t separate the art from the artist.”

There is Nilesh Mondal whose writings reflect a raw and delicate beauty rarely seen in the modern in-your-face fare often marketed as “poetry”. His piece “10 rules of possessing a woman” still remains a favorite among his fans — often getting reshared on Instagram stories.

1. her body is her own. you’re not entitled to the slightest opinion about the same, and if you still feel like taking a jab at her, know that she stabs.

2. her mind is her own. oh and by the way, the dark ages called, they want their gaslighting and manipulative ways back.

3. her virginity is her own, it neither defines nor dictates her morality. just like your virginity doesn’t do shit about your indecency.

4. her womb is her own. if you argue that the foetus she aborted could’ve cured cancer, well, why don’t you stop giving people cancer with your logic first?

5. her career is her own. what can a woman do in a man’s world? become whatever she wants to, that’s what.

6. her life is her own. don’t approve of her wish to not marry at all? well, not like she was gonna marry you anyway.

7. her choices are her own. whether she chooses to cut her hair short or get a tattoo. whether she drinks or stays at home binge-watching tv shows. stay out of it, will you?

8. her independence is her own. if it scares you, if it emasculates you, you need to rethink your place in this world and these times.

9. technically, the only way in which you can still possess a woman, is if you’re a ghost, for which you’ll have to be brutally killed first.

10. but hey, you can’t have an omelet without breaking a few eggs. (something you’d know if you hadn’t kept waiting for a woman to cook for you, btw).

Closing thoughts

When poetry pages gather a huge following, they have the power to influence and sway public opinion. This is especially significant in a country like India with the largest population of youngsters under 26 in the world.

More often than not, the mindset of the youth mirrors the content they are consuming online.

This puts a significant responsibility on the shoulders of the popular poetry pages on Instagram to monitor the quality of their posts before releasing them in front of millions of eyeballs.

As readers, the responsibility lies upon us, too, to watch what we like and to call out indecent behavior, irrespective of how popular or well-loved the perpetrator is.

What are your thoughts on this? Do let me know in the comments.

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