The unpredictable beauty

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 4 August 2018

The terribly tiny tales team is back with another anthology, titled ninety-seven poems. Talking about the book, Chintan Ruparel, thought a physical book would add a touch of permanence to insta-poetry

All those who have read, subscribed to and written for the microfiction platform, terribly tiny tales (ttt), know what to expect when it comes out in the book format. Or maybe not. The tales (which came out last year) and now the poetry anthology (both published by Penguin), turn the simplest of experiences into something profound or deeply ironical. Take for instance this poem, Street Smarts, written by Rishabh Talwalkar... 

A young girl steps out 
on a hot Mumbai afternoon.
She’s wearing small denim shorts
and a T-shirt.
And that’s got everyone thinking
The old man waiting for the bus   
       thinks, ‘Another rebellious teen.’
The middle aged woman looks 
From her kitchen window and thinks, 
‘Here’s the problem with having    
       “modern” parents’
The sixteen year old college student 
grabs his books tighter and thinks
‘Man, I wish I knew girls like her.
I bet she’d give a b*** j** the first   
      time I met her’. 
The office going man, with the black  
      tie and light pit stains on his blue   
      shirt, thinks nothing.
He just snaps a discreet photo.
The taxi driver, oblivious to the     
      sound of the screaming pedestrian,   
      thinks, ‘I wonder what her boyfriend   
       thinks of this.’
The new mother, ignoring her bawl-
       ing baby, thinks,
‘I suppose this is normal now’.
The officer, staring past the signal   
      breakers, thinks
‘And then Facebook will say, “She   
       wasn’t at fault”.’ 
The graduate student running late    
      for her train thinks
‘Yes girl! F**k the patriarchy! Fight 
       it!’
And the young girl 
in the denim short and t-shirt thinks
‘Too f**king hot for jeans today.’ 

This is one of the ‘ninety-seven poems’ compiled by the ttt team, headed by Anuj Gosalia and Chintan Ruparel. Answering the obvious question regarding the title, Ruparel says, “Because 100 is predictable? We’ve seen ‘100 select poems’ a lot on the shelves, haven’t we? But honestly, after going through around 4,000 poems submitted in the last three years, we narrowed it down to these. And we stopped at number 97. After that, we looked at each other and decided to not force another three just to round it off. Also, it kind of sounded poetic to leave it there.”

Poetic, yes. And, picturesque too. It says on the jacket, ‘this book has pictures’ and while reading it, you realise that each poem constructs an imagery that is hard to shake off, thus explaining Ruparel’s statement that it has been a fascinating journey, a fun process involving three intensive rounds of curation to arrive at the final book.

But how did the team go about selecting the poems? Did all the 97 poems stay with them long after reading them? To which Ruparel responds, “It’s really subjective, this. Because poetry is so wide, yet confined to a few words. How does one tell good from bad? Can one, ever? So yes, only the ones that stayed after multiple discussions and rounds of curation were retained.”

“Each poem was first read by two curators independently, and then a shortlist was made on an excel sheet. We (a team of three) took that sheet to a bungalow on the outskirts of Mumbai and locked ourselves with it and followed a disciplined schedule for four days. That’s when every poem was read and re-read, mulled over and dissected basis its intent, content and construct. What we came back with, was an almost final list. The rejected ones were again split in batches and given to groups in office for the final round. After all of the above, we stopped at 97,” he adds. 

The poetry collection, much like the tales anthology, can be read the way you wish it — forward to backward,  backward to forward or right from the middle, like we did. The title ‘thesaurus’ intrigued us and that was the first poem we read. Next one was ‘this poem doesn’t have a structure and that’s okay’. Third one was ‘abortion’, fourth one ‘of fierce huggers’. These works are anti-label, we thought. Just free flowing words that suck you in. When asked if the writers and editors saw their verses as anti-label, Ruparel responds with, “Maybe it’s the general sentiment of the younger generation. The earlier ones were maybe boxed and labelled and didn’t/couldn’t do much. With social media and the age of acceptance, maybe it’s cool to just be the way you are. And shed label through your expression. As editors, we didn’t label anything. Just numbered them, and mixed them up.”

That brings us to the question of poetry. Why bring out a book on poetry and not another sequel to the tales?  “Everyone says poetry is dead. We don’t believe everyone. And there’s only one way to prove the notion wrong. By doing. So we did. And we humbly hope it makes people read. Because it’s the generation of ‘Instagram poetry’ and so many people write musings and poetry on a daily basis. We thought a physical book would kind of add a touch of permanence to insta-poetry that can be fleeting on timelines,” he adds. 

Next up, the ttt team is working around heartfelt confessions around Valentine’s Day. “We still haven’t finalised, but that seems to be the direction. It’s going to be an anthology again, a collection of letters,” concludes Ruparel.

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