UnErase Poetry: Simar Singh’s Journey from Artist to Promoter

March 29, 2017

I am Simar Singh, and I’m 16 years old. I am just another guinea pig of the messed-up Indian education system.

Photo Courtesy: Simar Singh

I have actively been making short films since I was fourteen, and I was an active member of the theatre community since the age of three. I was so much in love with the process of filmmaking that I directed ten short films in two years, and collaborated on over twenty five projects with other people.

In May 2016, a week before my birthday, I got a dare from one of my friends to try out stand-up comedy. I thought I was funny, and I believed other people around me thought I was funny as well, and so, I turned up at an open mic to perform standup comedy, without knowing that registrations were done a month in prior. I pleaded them, and since I was with a group of friends, I begged the organisers, saying that if I don’t perform, “Meri bahut bezatti hogi”.

After pleading for a while, the organiser had some sympathy and he let me perform. I performed a set inspired by the soap Sasural Simar Ka, because at that point in time the serial had a new twist where the protagonist turns into a makhi (house fly). I compared that situation to my life, and how the serial has affected me.

I thought this was funny. My friends thought this was funny. But, not the audience. In the five minutes of my performance, I got somewhere between two to three laughs. Luckily, a couple of stand-up comedians who were pretty chill came up to me and encouraged me to perform more. Since I got a lot of encouragement, I thought I would try stand-up for a while. That, is how I got into stand-up comedy, which I pursued for around half a year.

I was a Sardar, there was a serial that shared a name with me, and I was dumped twice in the last six months. I really enjoyed this period because I had a platform to express myself and make light of my situation.

I was supposed to go for a stand up open mic, which I had registered for. But I did not read the Facebook event, which stated that it was an only poetry open mic. I turned up there, my name already published in the list of performers.

Photo Courtesy: Simar Singh

Now, I didn’t mention this, but I have been writing poetry since the age of 9, and I have four notebooks full of poetry. So in my head back then, you write a poem in your notebook, and it just stays there, but I had no idea that a platform existed to perform this poetry. I was standing in the middle of the venue, clueless, and I figured I could perform some of the pieces I wrote. A couple of people suggested other open mics to me, and this is how I got introduced to spoken word poetry.

It was in the end of December when I attended my first open mic at Tuning Fork. This was very different compared to the other open mics I had attended, and the first piece I did there was titled Papa. I performed that piece, and received a lot of appreciation from poets that I looked up to, Mohammed Sadriwala and Sudeep Pagedar, and I decided to go for every one of their weekly Monday Poetry Slams.

I would attend regularly until mid-February, religiously, when my Grade 11 Final exams were going to start in a week and that’s when I got the idea for UnErase Poetry. This, like many other of my ideas, mysteriously appeared only dangerously close my exams. In the start of February, I came across Button Poetry, a platform for poets, that inspired me to creating a similar platform in Mumbai, and across India.

The poet who is the largest inspirations for me today is Neil Hilborn, who I first saw via Button Poetry. I read a Facebook post by him, which gave me a push to make the Indian Poetry scene get the recognition, he had received.

The Facebook Post by Neil Hilborn, on February 23, 2017

UnErase was a confluence of different art forms that I had been exposed to, and was an attempted to reconcile these differences. The kind of growth in the audiences that view poetry is rather limited.

I call the audience ‘performers’ because most of the audience comprises of the performers and the organisers, people intrinsically connected with the poetry world. This is very different from the other performance arts that I have been exposed to. I saw other live performing arts too, but nothing had the same effect as poetry. Nobody really looked forward to poetry in the general public, just like students looked at those two literature chapters that contained poetry in my CBSE textbook. That, was the tragic end of their relationship with poetry.

Since I had been introduced to the Indian Poetry Community and the performers, and to Button poetry, I thought that I could use inspiration from all sides and do something big with poetry in India.

A lot of people are promoting poetry, but only a few are doing it online. I wanted to leverage social media, especially because of its around the clock and global nature, to show people all around the world what was happening in the Cafés of Mumbai. I wanted to reach as many people as possible, as far as possible.

The first show happened pretty coincidentally. I spoke to a few poets who perform regularly at Tuning Fork, who were open to the idea of a curated event. I connected with a friend who played the guitar (Pranav Kakkar- a major part of UnErase), and I think that was essential because in a way, it completed what the poetry had started out to accomplish. We got a video team on board as well, since I was already into filmmaking. The equipment followed as well.

And, that’s how UnErase Poetry came into being.

In the end, I would like to thank Balraj Singh Ghai & Sohaill Gandhi, the co-owners of Tuning Fork, who helped us get all our logistics sorted, with the curation, and everything else behind-the-scenes. The second person that was instrumental to UnErase’s formation was Shweta Parekh, who managed our production for the first show, and all the videos were made possible by her.

Simar Singh is the curator and founder of UnErase Poetry, a movement to promote and produce spoken word poetry in India, who is based out of Bombay. UnErase Poetry currently curates poetry performances at the Tuning Fork Café in Khar West, and makes these performances available over the internet for anyone to see.
As told to Ishaan Jajodia.

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