A Hundred Gourds 2:3 June 2013
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Haiku in India

| Introduction | page 2 | page 3 | page 4 | page 5 | page 6 |

The Hyderabad Literary Festival, January 2013

– Kala Ramesh

The Hyderabad Literary Festival had two haiku sessions running along with mainstream poetry, something not generally seen in literary festivals in India. But Surya Rao, the man behind HLF has always encouraged haiku. So it came as no surprise that Gabriel Rosenstock, the famous Irish poet, was requested to conduct a full day haiku workshop on 19th of January.


The Hyderabad Literary Festival haiku masterclass with Gabriel Rosenstock.

Photo courtesy of Surya Rao.

Gabriel made a brilliant start with poems from Jane Reichhold’s Basho: The Complete Haiku. Each poem was written on the whiteboard and discussed. He kept away from rules and just encouraged participants to give voice to their feelings and emotions. Later in the afternoon, participants tried their hand at haiku. Over all, it was a very satisfying session and a day well spent.


Gabriel Rosenstock encouraging participants to give voice to their feelings and emotions in haiku.

Photo courtesy of Surya Rao.

On the concluding day of this three day festival we had an hour of haiku and raga. How does one read haiku to an audience? Can it ever get to the level of a performing art?

To create a good ambience I had switched off all the lights except the table lamp. The Power Point presentation was also in softer shades giving the haiku that subtle touch. I did not want to have the presentation like a haiga (artwork embedded with a haiku) nor to have the haiku poems linked as in collaborative poetry, renku. Here I wanted each poem and each voice to stand alone.

A haiku is over almost before we begin. To give the listener something to hang on to, haiku poets have experimented with reading their work to music. I heard a video recording of Jack Kerouac reading "American Haiku" in a program called Haiku and Jazz. Here the Jazz artist responded to the mood created by the haiku poem. In a few instances it seemed competitive too! This approach can be called as sawal-jawab (question and answer) of Indian classical music traditions, wherein a sitarist plays a piece and the percussionist (the tabla player) replies fittingly.

But, what was attempted at Hyderabad Literary Festival was: Saath Sangath— playing together in unison, in harmony. Two artists performing side by side: as one comes into the limelight, the other remains subservient and vice versa. Five minutes of pure raga, played at the beginning by a classical bamboo flute musician Bapu Padmanabha, set a meditative mood. The audience was requested to immerse in the melody, to note the pauses and silences embedded in the raga, thus awakening those dreaming spaces integral to emotions.

Three haiku poets, Gabriel Rosenstock, K Ramesh and I took turns to read our haiku alternately, twenty seven poems in total.


K Ramesh, Kala Ramesh and Gabriel Rosenstock take turns to read their haiku to the audience.

Photo courtesy of Surya Rao.

Each of us spoke about what actually triggered the making of our haiku poems, choosing to highlight a few. Here are some of our haiku:

a cow looks over
Caernarfon Bay
without knowing why

space Gabriel Rosenstock
spacer brush

  the ocean in a raindrop inside my womb a heart

space Kala Ramesh[1]
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    rustle of palm leaves ...
fishermen play cards
in the boat's shade

space K Ramesh[2]
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village fair …
insects fly round and round
a tube light

space K Ramesh [3]
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  with his one good hand
the scarecrow points
to the moon

space Gabriel Rosenstock
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    morning raga
a honey bee attempts
to waken the bud

space Kala Ramesh[4]
spacer brush

We ended with a composition in another raga, leaving the audience steeped in images and quietude. It was heartwarming to see them stay with us, for there were parallel poetry sessions going on and people could have simply slipped away to the next room.

1. the ocean in a raindrop – Modern Haiku 43.3, Autumn 2012
2. rustle of palm leaves –The Heron's Nest Volume XIV, Number 2: June, 2012
3. village fair –The Heron’s Nest, Volume XIV, Number 1: March, 2012.
4.morning raga - Shreve Memorial Library's Electronic Poetry Network July 2010