Where Romantic Poetry in a Fading Language Draws Stadium Crowds (via NY Times)

The four designated stages inside the crowded stadium complex in the heart of the busy capital weren’t enough. So the poetry lovers also took to the footpaths and the spaces in between, turning them into impromptu open-mic platforms for India’s embattled language of love.

In one corner of the festival grounds, which had been draped in vibrant colors and calligraphy, a group of university students alternated between singing popular romantic songs, backed by a young man on guitar, and jostling to recite verses of their own.

“In your love,” one young poet began, leaning into the huddle with confidence, before forgetting the rest of his verse. “In your love ….” he repeated, unable to recall.

“Don’t worry,” someone from the crowd encouraged him, as the others chuckled. “In love, we all forget.”

In another corner, Pradeep Sahil, a poet and lyricist, handed his phone to a friend to record him as he placed a red chair at a busy spot and took a seat, crossing his legs and reading poem after poem. A crowd soon gathered, cheering after every verse. With no room on the main stage, Mr. Sahil had found a stage of his own, climbing atop his chair and reciting what felt like his entire book.

That more than 300,000 people came to celebrate Urdu poetry during the three-day festival this month in New Delhi was testament to the peculiar reality of the language in India.

For centuries, Urdu was a prominent language of culture and poetry in India, at times promoted by Mughal rulers. Its literature and journalism — often advanced by writers who rebelled against religious dogma — played important roles in the country’s independence struggle against British colonial rule and in the spread of socialist fervor across the subcontinent later in the 20th century.

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