Corona or Covid-19, whichever name you wish to address it by, need not signify the end of the world. Some creative personalities, stuck at home for more than 50 days who wish to spread cheer among people and at the same time, save themselves from being sucked into a vortex of depression, have initiated a movement in reciting poetry across social media sites, cast live which remains to be watched and heard later as well.

“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness”, wrote Robert Frost and this may have worked behind the poets who have created this movement.

The fun in all this is that most of those who are reciting poetry on their social network pages are not fulltime poets but are engaged in other professions related directed to art in some form or another. The first name that comes up during this discussion is that of actor-director Aparna Sen. She gets herself ready, poised, made-up beautifully and decked in the best of sari and jewellery, dignity enriching her persona with the glasses she wears, and at midnight begins her recitation, mostly first in Bengali and then its translation done in English mostly by herself.

“During the lockdown, I have taken on this mission of sharing the works of lesser-known Bengali poets with the world out there, captive within the four walls of their homes. The non-Bengali community and even many Bengalis are not aware of these poets and their works because they have more or less adhered to the name and works of poets like Rabindranath Tagore. So, my feeling was – why not?” said Sen in a recent interview.

She takes great care to present great visuals with the sheer power of her personality. She introduces the poet and also the poem she has chosen before beginning to recite. She requests her listeners not to copy or share what she recites perhaps with the idea that her translations may take the shape of a book of translated poems sometime in the future.

Ranjan Ghosh is a noted filmmaker who has reached international fame with his third feature film Ahaare revolving around food and its impact on the love that is created, sustained and carried on through food. He began his own programme of reciting poetry every other day. Talking about what motivated him to initiate this, Ranjan says, “I was going through my childhood memorabilia when this home confinement had just begun in March. I came across old family photographs, school notebooks, personal diaries, quite a few scrapbooks, and so on. In one such diary, I found poems in my handwriting – by Tagore, Sukanta, Sukumar Ray, and others. I used to write my favourite poems in my own hand in those diaries. Meanwhile, Delhi-based FolkLog Studios wanted to do a live online storytelling festival, and wanted me to be a part of it. My reclusive self declined initially, but they persisted. And I had to relent. The storytelling event went off well. I got some great feedback. It was then that I thought – why not revisit these childhood poems? And rekindle that chapter of my life? “

The third person is a committed, well-known and talented poet whose life was mainly dedicated to the teaching of English literature till she retired from the University of Calcutta a few years ago. Her name is Sanjukta Dasgupta and she has a series of published books of her poetry. Entire groups of young teachers and researchers, most of who were her students at one time or another, have floated a very popular social media page dedicated entirely to her movements within the world of literature in general and poetry in particular. The lockdown has set her creative juices flowing so well that she is creating a poem around the present situation almost every other day. Her poem dedicated to doctors ends with these lines:

O Doctor,
Do prescribe a healing touch,
A Healing word,
A healing poem,
A healing song,
We are not well,
Not well at all.

Dasgupta, in spite of having been a hard core academic and a brilliant scholar of English literature, lets the political dimension of her personality ride free of academic inhibitions and yet reveal, layer by slow layer, her acknowledgment, recognition and strong comment on international issues, on national issues converting her passion for language into a knife, a sword, an arrow and a whiplash, as and when she chooses to draw from her armoury to hit, kill, hurt, injure and scar as and when. She does not have a live podcast recitation programme like the others, but one gets to read her poems and sometimes listen to her reciting them though the page her admirers have specially created for her and keep it constantly updated for those who are interested.

She says, “When I write poetry in English I experience a sense of words and lines crystallising within me till I am compelled by a force within to allow these to flow out of me and be born on the page. It’s a sort of restlessness that is akin to labour pain that accompanies the birth of a child. It may be a few lines, an idea, an impression that will not allow me a moment’s respite, as it strives to break free and express itself in human language. A sense of ease is restored when I can see this internal turbulence take shape on the page-now of course quite often my lines are born on the computer screen.”

“The response has been overwhelming” says Aparna Sen and she is right. There are thousands of her fans across the world eagerly waiting her to appear on their mobiles or tablets on computer screens to see her and hear her, as if in person. “I have chosen poems by Joy Goswami, Sankha Ghosh, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Premendra Mitra, Jibanananda Das, Nabaneeta Deb Sen among others. People from Mumbai, Chicago, Italy and other places have responded positively to the poetry sessions,” she adds. She has created the new concept of preparing to appear in the rather intimate yet public domain of the social media network dressed for the occasion.

Ranjan Ghosh has chosen to be more topical in keeping with the darkness of death that looms over these already dark days of death and sickness and alienation and distancing that is redefining our lives – and deaths – in a hundred different ways.

Says Ghosh, who was a very good elocutionist at school and won many prizes at recitation competitions says, “I have recited Tagore’s ‘Praan’, ‘Prarthona’, ‘Tomaar Onyojuger Shawkha’, ‘Ak Gnaaye’ and ‘Jawnmo O Mawron’. The ones in English were William Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’, ‘The Solitary Reaper’, Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, and Emily Dickinson’s ‘Because I could not stop for Death’. The last two poems in Bengali and in English were dedicated to the departed souls of P.K. Banerjee, Nemai Ghosh, Usha Ganguli, Irrfan Khan, Rishi Kapoor, Chuni Goswami, and to the thousands we are losing all over the world to this pandemic. These two poems dealt with birth and death, and I found resonances and reflections my present feelings and emotions in them. The other poems are about life, nature, the times we live in, and other related themes. They are timeless, relevant then, as also now.”

He is stunned by the wonderful feedback he is getting from his listeners spread across the world. “I am overwhelmed by the positive feedback. The poetry sessions are getting an excellent number of views, and a lot of encouragement from friends all over. They say that these sessions are reuniting them with their childhood, making them feel more positive about life in the present circumstances. They want me to continue with this. What better gift can I ask for?”