Poetry is often not associated with causes that make sense to the masses. Possibly because it is a little high-brow and it tends to go a little over the heads of people. And then, a couple of weeks ago, we saw a young boy fearlessly walk onto a stage in a cafe in Mumbai and poetry slam marital rape. Every word that came out of his mouth had the audience in rapt attention. He then summed it up by asking, “If marital rape isn’t a thing and being a housewife is a job, then isn’t this workplace harassment?” The audience could do nothing but give him a standing ovation.
That young boy is Simar Singh, the founder and curator of UnErase Poetry, a community to promote poetry and help poets grow. You might be surprised to know that Simar is just 16 years old. A student of class XII in RN Podar School, Mumbai, it took him just two months to conceptualise UnErase and set up the first performance. “UnErase is not just about having an open mic night. It is an attempt to promote poetry. Here, we conduct shows offline and create content online,” says Simar, who is a self-styled poet himself.
Making love to him wasn't an option, but an obligation
He says he loves me
So it didn't matter, what state my body was in.
It was my duty.
-An excerpt from Simar Singh's poem The Legal Rapist
For someone who started penning poems at the age of 9, his introduction to open mics was very early too, both as a stand-up comic and as a spoken word poet. This helped Simar establish a lot of contacts in his field. But he soon realised that it wasn’t easy for a poet to establish himself like a musician, dancer or a comedian. “There is no particular platform to give recognition to poets. So I got in touch with a few good poets and with the founder of the Tuning Fork cafe, where many open mics happen, and got the ball rolling,” he says.
On International Women’s Day 2017, UnErase performed their very first show. A performance by one of the poets, Aranya Johar titled A brown girl’s guide to gender went viral. Since then, Simar and his team have been flooded with appreciation and of course, criticism. “Many people have said that we are not poets and should stop performing. But that’s okay. You get exposed to all kinds of reactions in social media,” says Simar, nonchalantly.
We don't want to be another of India's daughters, do we?
So I wear my jeans long and my tops high
Don't show my cleavage or a hint of my thighs
Don't want to be mistaken for wanting it
- An excerpt from Aranya Johar's A Brown Girl's Guide to Gender
He remembers when his mother’s German colleague sent her the link to Aranya’s performance, appreciating how beautifully the issue of gender inequality was described. His mother proudly told her colleague that it was an initiative by her son. Simar believes that more issues have to be spoken about through poetry. He and his team are always up for it and are preparing for the next set of shows. “It was initially tough to get people onboard. Of course, you don’t find much poetry enthusiasts, but things are changing,” he says, optimistically.
You can watch Simar's performance here: