In 2009, after 3 months of absolutely unplanned travel from Goa to Chandigarh, Delhi, Rushikesh, Jaipur, substance, alcohol, at the mercy of the hospitality of friends and strangers, white water rafting, learning how to paraglide and doing everything with no real source of income, fresh out of the euphoria of a published book, out of a copy writing job, multiple fractured relationships – I chanced upon a gathering of people, peers, who would meet each other in Mumbai, over surreptitious smokes, almost free drinks and poems.
And I thought to myself, ‘Really? Poems? Like the things I write when I have nothing better to do? People bond over it?’ So I dug deeper. The photos looked quite nice. So did the people who attended. But really? Poems? How magnificently pretentious! I decided to give it a try.
It was in Bandra. Far from the comfort of good old Thane, but I had recently done a Bharat Yatra – Mumbai wasn’t going to daunt me! So, I went.
Places in Bandra, more than any other niche of the city or even the country, have mastered the ambience of shady, dingy, elitist, all together. This was another such joint, then called Trafalgar Chowk – again, a perfect balance between wannabe Sahibish and tongue-in-cheek. In the October hope of a Mumbai winter, I ventured on my bike to this place of poetry. The group of people hosting it, very genial, very Mumbai, very Xavier, stay with me to this day when I end up comparing every single open mic, including mine, to theirs. This was, the now defunct, Bombay Elektrik Projekt and I had a shit load of nerves reading my poem in front of a boisterous crowd of at least 40 people. But, I was hooked.
I ended up going to 5-8 of their open mics for poetry. Those who know me will understand why the 5-8 is a big deal even if it was over a period of 18 months or so. I also chanced upon the Board Games Bash community during this time. And I knew in my heart that all my love for these beautiful community gatherings and my proactive disregard for travel within the city had to co-exist for one reason alone – Thane had to have its own such niche.
In June 2011, piggybacking on the company I was working with, Maxreach Resources Pvt. Ltd., we started with the very first Maxmeet Social Poetry Tuesdays!
It’s been 5 years since then, and I am very proud to say that in all these months, we have only missed a couple of meets. So while we complete 5 years in June, we complete 60 Poetry Tuesdays in August.
For the first meet, I had to talk to coffee house managers and their area managers and their wives and children and watchmen, just so I could have a place where we could sit, recite some poetry and then eff off. I put up an event on Facebook (when it still wasn’t twenty thousand events a day on your timeline), called up a few people and hoped that at least 2 turn up. 19 did and less than half were from Thane. Someone I had met on yet another unplanned journey to watch a solar eclipse at Kanyakumari had spoken about this poetry meet to one of his friends, who had had the excellent sense to get together all his poetry enthusiast friends and travel all the way to Thane. He saved my socially inept ass by making sure people were introduced to each other and comfortable. I am indebted to him to this day.
Absolutely buoyed by the success of the first one, serendipity decided to be more generous. We got a nice (unpaid) contract to conduct our meet at the lounge in a new 4-star hotel in Thane. We had almost 50 people attend and I knew, this thing was alive and I could retreat into my nice shell of comfort – post a Facebook event, call up a few people, be shamelessly insistent with invitations and voila! Another successful event!
We were in the comfortable lull of a good relationship, but there was no progression for the next two wonderful years. Until a soul-mate descended on wings of tattooed fire and sang to me of my own work and admonished me for being satisfied with the output of the property I had created. Sometimes you need a push and this was it. Cobwebs of satisfactory inertia started getting torn and churned as I started thinking of what it was that I could do more with this thing I had created. That is how, when we completed four years in multiple venues from hotels to local cafes to Starbucks to lakesides to building a community that shared in each other’s lives beyond the meets themselves, I decided to start a YouTube channel.
Once the Poetry Affair of India started gaining traction and Radio City Freedom had started inviting poets from the city for their online podcasts, it was natural I got into collaborations. With Radio City Freedom as an online radio partner, a major news publisher as a media partner, the ranks of PT swelled in 2016. I knew, this was yet another milestone. We started calling in feature poets after one other serendipitous PT had the wonderfully engaging Amit Dahiyabadshah come in after watching one of our YouTube videos, all the way from Delhi!
Our first official feature poet was the very versatile Idea Smith aka Ramya. Priyanka Menon from Pune followed with a barrage of feminist poetry. And when I saw that the audience loved the feature poets and vice versa, and that the crowds at PT were getting unmanageable, I had to split the open mics and the featured sessions. Also because of my greed to reach out to the experienced poets in the city, but we shall ignore that for now.
So that is where we are now. Five years down, a robust property in Thane, a young YouTube channel and some experiments in tow. I have met an insane number of folks, seen people form business and friendship bonds amongst themselves, seen them revel in the magic of the stage, seen the fondness they have for the property. I have also seen people lost to work, time, marriages, travel and ulterior motives. I have seen people travel to Thane from Borivali, Andheri, Bandra, Pune, Delhi, Bangalore, even Colaba. I have also seen people take 5 years to make it to the property but miss it each time.
Most importantly, I know I would have been a lesser person were it not for Poetry Tuesdays. I haven’t done anything for so long as I have done this. And I have no intentions of stopping anytime soon! The only question is, when do I see YOU here?
PS: I haven’t seen a better open mic host than Rohini Ramnathan all these years since I saw her hosting the BEP meets. I am sure a lot of good hosts are doing wonderful work and that I will discover them soon; even have met a few. But Rohini deserves a shoutout!
We meet in Thane on the first Tuesday of every month.