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Open mic sessions offer voice to the unpublished

From music, storytelling to poetry, the city saw various types of open mic performances

By Chandreyee Ghose in Calcutta

  • Published 25.02.19, 2:24 PM
  • Updated 25.02.19, 2:24 PM
A student reads out her verse as book lovers pore over poetry books at Oxford Subscription Company Bookstore in Picnic Garden
A student reads out her verse as book lovers pore over poetry books at Oxford Subscription Company Bookstore in Picnic Garden Picture by Pabitra Das

Open mic sessions kept unpublished writers busy at various places in the city in February.

In such sessions, writers and amateurs are encouraged to walk up to the microphone, face the audience and share their writings, even impromptu ones.

From music, storytelling to poetry, the city saw various types of open mic performances with first-timers comprising the bulk of the participants.

Such events are typically organised by artist groups at cafes and advertised on social media.

Often, a theme binds them; as in the case of Tell Tales, an open mic storytelling series run by Debasish Sen Sharma, who made the film Aranyadeb. His theatre group Chaepani hosts them in city cafes regularly. The episodes are uploaded on the group’s YouTube channel.

“Bengali addas are slowly giving way to open mic sessions. They are flourishing in Calcutta’s robust cafe culture, following a worldwide trend,” the director whose storytelling open mics involve all age-groups said.

“I had witnessed open mics in London and in the US years ago. I especially enjoyed a jazz open mic session in Malaysia.”

One of the first groups to organise open mics in the city was Poetry Paradigm, founded by filmmaker Ashok Viswanathan and poets Ananya Chatterjee and Joie Bose.

“We have been conducting open mic poetry sessions in cafes since 2014. It gives people of all age groups and writing in different languages an opportunity,” Chatterjee said. “We conducted an open mic session on love on February 16 and now plan to make it a monthly affair.”

A duo from Bhubaneswar, completing a 20-state road trip with Calcutta, flagged off a day-long open mic poetry carnival at Oxford Subscription Company Bookstore on Picnic Garden Road on February 13.

Satapdi and Akshay had been on a pan-India tour to promote reading, especially poetry. And as they pulled up at the Picnic Gardens bookshop, they inspired many to share their own verses as well.

“I spread the word around on social media. Visitors were free to join in,” Mayura Misra, the owner of the bookshop, said.

The event at the Picnic Garden Road bookshop was on till 5pm and saw 70 unpublished poets and students reading out their verses. Some from the audience, too, participated in the session.

“I joined out of curiosity,” Debashruti Roy, a Tollygunge resident and a second-year commerce student, said.

An open mic poetry session at Artsy cafe in Minto Park
An open mic poetry session at Artsy cafe in Minto Park Picture by Pabitra Das

Rashid Jamil, an IT professional, came from Rajarhat to attend an open mic session at Artsy-Coffee & Culture cafe in Minto Park the same evening.

A veteran of 15 open mic sessions, he started last July. “I have been writing verses and songs since my schooldays. But it’s only now that my hobby has got a new life,” he said. “My friends in Delhi and Mumbai have had attended open mic sessions but I had my first taste at an eaterie on Russel Street last July.”

Jamil often attends open mic sessions as one in the audience and reads out his compositions when the floor is opened. He has uploaded a few of his performances, too.

The event at Artsy cafe was organised by Trina C. Chaudhuri, an unpublished poet and an open mic regular in Mumbai. “Our city does not lack in talent, only in opportunity that I wanted to offer,” she said.

Children’s writer Nandana Dev Sen welcomed the trend and drew a parallel with Bengal’s “ashor ghar tradition”. “In New York, the city I live in, Open Mike nights are a big part of the cultural life of budding artists; and many of the lit fests I’ve spoken in hold Open Mike nights,” she said.

“In my hometown Calcutta, we’ve had our own version of Open Mike for years, without microphones! I grew up amidst wonderfully spontaneous soirees of poetry readings and song recitals that would pop up in gatherings — homes, coffee houses, and clubs. Ashor ghar is a beautiful tradition in Calcutta, and it’s marvelous that it’s taking on a modern face at a time when it’s increasingly difficult to publish.”

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