City Life – Poetry after Second Surge, Ghalib Academy
Like a condolence.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Each person is separated from the other by a seat plastered with a printed leaflet cautioning “Please do not sit here.” They were put up last year during the first surge of the coronavirus pandemic.
The auditorium is filled with sadness, and half a dozen people. In a 198-seat hall, this is no embarrassment. Since a crowd is actively discouraged in these times of social distancing, only a few invites were sent on WhatsApp. A mobile phone camera has been set up to stream the proceedings live on Facebook.
This is the first literary meet of the Ghalib Academy following the pandemic’s deadly second surge that began in April. Held once a month on a Friday evening, poets, writers and readers from across the city gather at this central Delhi hall, and read/hear fresh compositions on the stage. This has been a tradition for 25 years in the literary institution. It was set up 52 years ago to celebrate the life of Delhi’s great poet. Ghalib’s grave lies in a courtyard nearby.
The masked attendees include poet Gulshan Rai Kanwal (in a magnificent long tie), who has come from Punjabi Bagh extension, writer Chashma Faruqui from Zakir Nagar, poet Naseem Begum from Jasola, poet Sarfaraz Faraz from Jafrabad, artist Ehtram Siddiqui from Laxmi Nagar and poet Mateen Amrohi from H. Nizamuddin West. And of course there is the scholar Aqil Ahmad, the academy’s long-time very-unassuming secretary who launches the proceedings by noting that everyone present here, both offline and online, personally knows of at least one person lost to Covid-19. He recalls some of the departed who were regulars to this Friday tradition—professor emeritus Shamim Hanfi, short story writer Anjum Usmani, novelist Tarannum Riyaz and poet Naseem Abassi (the list is long).
Later, Chashma Faruqui gets up to read a paper on her late father, a writer and journalist.
In the lobby outside, a framed panel displays old photos of various meets—each picture shows crowds without masks. On a side wall, a portrait of Ghalib is partially blocked over with a yellowing flyer, put up last year during the early days of the pandemic. It says: “Mask is the vaccine. Distance is immunity. Hand wash is the medicine.”