Kala Ramesh, haiku poem, haiku journals, short Japanese poetry, short poetry, Jaipur Literature Festival

Passionate about bringing haiku and allied forms of Japanese poetry into everyday spaces, Kala Ramesh is leading a poetic revolution in India

Kala Ramesh’s first attempt at writing a haiku poem didn’t go as planned. “This is not haiku at all,” said the rejection letter along with four haiku reviews. Reading the poems in the newspapers again and again, Ramesh knew she had to learn to write haiku. Ultimately, his failed haiku poem laid the foundation for India’s first university course on Japanese poetry in short form.

“Indians are getting published and winning awards,” Ramesh says of the growing interest in haiku – a 5-7-5 syllable poem – in the country. Among these Indian haiku poets are several students of Ramesh, who began a 60-hour course to learn popular poetry in short form, the first such teaching program in the country. Offered to undergraduate students of the Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts at Symbiosis International, a reputable university in Pune, Maharashtra, the course turned 10 this year.

Haiku and five senses

Chennai-born Ramesh, a speaker at the just-concluded Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), says it’s the simplicity of poetry that attracts her and new students to haikai, the name of many forms of Japanese short verse such as haiku, senryu, tanka, haibun, and renku. “It’s not about your vocabulary or your ability to impress people,” says Ramesh. “We are not talking about gods and goddesses. It is a matter of observation, of being aware of the five senses.

At the JLF, participating in a session with author and politician Pavan K Varma, Ramesh recited one haiku after another, drawing applause from the audience. “Rainforest/The lives/I step on” was an example. The six-word haiku, one of Ramesh’s favorites, is about the impact of human beings on the lives of others through their actions. The Chennai-born teacher’s first love was classical music. “I wanted to be a professional musician,” says Ramesh, who lives in Pune. The first haiku poem she sent for publication was about music.

Ramesh is always ready to explain the different forms of Japanese short verse and what they mean for literature and society. The haiku, full of rules, talks about human nature. It is 400 years old compared to the tanka, a 1,300-year-old five-line lyric poem. Senryu, a sister of haiku, is based on human behavior. Haibun, on the other hand, is prose integrated with haiku poetry. There is also a haiga, which is a mixture of haiku and artwork. Another art-related poetry is tanka art, which is tanka poetry combined with painting, tanka prose (tanka poetry with prose). One of the haiku teacher’s senryu poems reads, “I play ball/With my grandson/My back goes for a throw.”

Walk to write poems

The 60-hour course at the Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts teaches all forms of haikai, beginning with haiku. “The first month of the course is devoted to learning haiku,” explains Ramesh, who gives “a lot of homework” to the students. At the end of the first month, students must complete 30 haiku poems. The haiku courses are followed by 15-day courses each in senryu, haibun, renku and tanka. Once a month during class, the teacher and students take a nature walk, called the Ginkoo Walk, aimed at revitalizing haiku students. On the walk, students will write poems based on their observations of nature and read them aloud. “I tell my students to think like a six-year-old,” says Ramesh, author of Beyond the Horizon Beyond, on writing haiku and haibun poetry. “The idea is to lay bare the whole poem. It’s a lot of work,” she adds.

Ramesh does not hesitate to recognize the work of others before her to promote haiku in the country. “Rabindranath Tagore and Subramania Bharati first exposed Indians to haiku poetry,” she says. Since then, many others, including Satya Bhushan Verma, considered the first professor of Japanese language and literature in India and the founding president of the Center for East Asian Languages ​​at Jawaharlal Nehru University, l Hindi writer and scholar BS Aggarwala, who started the quarterly journal Haiku Bharati in 1998, and eye surgeon-turned-haiku poet Dr. Angelee Deodhar have helped promote popular Japanese poetry in short form.

Growing interest in India

Many of Ramesh’s students, such as Ikra Raza, Shreya Narang, and Rohan Kevin Broach, also did well in publishing their haiku poems. “There are so many Indians who publish haiku poems today,” beams Ramesh, whose collection of nine essays published in the British Haiku Society’s journal on how to write haiku poetry is popular among budding haiku poets. “Indian haiku poets are also winning awards,” adds the haiku professor whose works have been translated into Hindi, Punjabi, Russian and Spanish.

Off campus, Ramesh has also worked hard to bring haiku to the masses, organizing haiku festivals. The first haiku festival in Pune in 2006 attracted only nine people. But Ramesh was determined to carry on. Other haiku festivals followed. In 2013, she organized a Haiku Utsav and formed an organization, INhaiku, to popularize poetry. She has also published books, including Haiku and a Companion Activity Book illustrated by Surabhi Singh (2010), Naad Anunaad: An Anthology of Contemporary World Haiku (edited by Kala Ramesh, Sanjuktaa Asepa and Shloka Shankar in 2016), First Katha Book of Haiku, Senryu, Tanka & Haibun (edited by Kala Ramesh, Johannes Manjrekar and Vidur Jyoti and illustrated by Surabhi Singh in 2016), Beyond Horizon: Haiku & Haibun (2017) and The Forest I Know: A Gathering of Tanka Verses (2021) , the last book, as the author says, is “14 years of work”.

INhaiku was followed three years later by Triveni Haikai India, a larger platform with members across the country. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Triveni Haikai India kept the morale of haiku lovers high, by hosting a virtual haiku festival in August 2020. Ramesh said, “We want more haiku poets in our country.

The author is independent

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