We packed somewhere close to 150 people into The Community Library Project - TCLP last night for the launch of New Delhi Love Songs—it was a tough census to take, because people were squeezed into so many places.
It wasn’t your typical crowd. Yes, there were important members of our literary community—in this photo alone you can see Mangalesh Dabral, Natasha Badhwar, Sabitha Satchi, Himanshu Bhagat… and the side of Subhadra Sen Gupta's head; these were people who would have come to the launch if we’d held it at Habitat or IIC. But the room was also full of scores of people from our library community who wouldn't be able to travel across town for poetry.
For about five minutes, I tried to tell myself it had something to do with my book, but I’m smart enough to know that the book was not what mattered here. To borrow a frame from Margaret Wise Brown, the important thing about last night was not the poetry, but the people who came to listen to poetry. Yes, the chowmein and cake were good and saved some parents from having to go home late and cook. And we should have had a childcare room and used more Hindi in the conversation, but in the end most of us left smiling.
Of course there was some good poetry in Hindi and English from our members and guests, and it was fun to see how my poems and Sujit Prasad's translations lit up different parts of the crowd (and many felt and a few even said that Sujit Sir’s translations were the best part of the night). Still, the important thing about last night was not the poetry, but the people who came to listen to poetry.
I don’t want to overstate this. I’m smart enough to know this event was fraught with all kinds of large and small problems: this was just a very small step towards building a more democratic intellectual life in this city. But there were a few moments when I thought, Jesus, I know we’re not there yet—but yeah, when we get there, it might look something like this.
We need libraries and literature in every part of this city. If we do that, who can say what we’ll be capable of?