New Delhi: Be it to express feelings of joy, solitude, love or revolt, poetry has been an integral part of human life and history. From fighting for civil, political, socio-economic rights to raising awareness among masses and mobilising them for a common cause, poetry has been more than just an art form. Poems have been a reflection of the times they belong to and yet hold relevance for generations that follow.
Drawing on the power of poems, the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW), one of India’s leading not-for-profit policy research institutions based out of Delhi, came up with the idea of using poetry as a medium to raise awareness about climate change and sustainability. The think tank put their idea into action by collaborating with UnErase poetry, a community based in Mumbai that produces spoken word poetry.
The duo came up with an initiative called, ‘Love in the Times of Climate Change‘. It was a programme containing seven poems written and recited by seven poets in the span of seven weeks.
With this unique campaign, CEEW’s aim was to reach out to youth between the ages of 18 to 25 years, and sensitise them about climate change. The intent was to engage youngsters in climate change discussions through the power of poetry.
Love in the Times of Climate Change is an ensemble of spoken-word poems on climate change in Hindi and English by seven leading Indian performance poets. The campaign offers a fresh approach to sustainability literature by exploring the theme of ‘love’ while acknowledging climate change as an accepted reality.
To learn about how the initiative came into being, the NDTV-Banega Swasth India team spoke to Alina Sen, Senior Communications Specialist and Archivist at CEEW. Ms. Sen said it all started with a 168-page scientific report that the think tank had prepared last year in June as an independent scientific report for the UN international meeting, ‘Stockholm+50: A Healthy Planet For The Prosperity Of All—Our Responsibility, Our Opportunity’.
The entire world was together for the conference in Stockholm last year. We had co-authored this 168-page report that talked about ‘unlocking a better future’ and we wanted to put it out for the world to know about what the report had. But we were struggling to figure out how to get the science out there in a way that was the opposite of a PDF report. And from there, our team’s task was to find the ways in which we can supplement and complement reached messages in a way that is reachable not only to policymakers but to the general public.
In search of popular art mediums, performance poetry emerged as one of the most trending forms of communication that the youth were engaging with. Following this, the team connected with Simar Singh, the founder of UnErase Poetry, who went on to create a poem out of the research paper’s executive summary known as ‘Portrait of a Silver Lining’.
A scientific report with an artist’s impression of what it means—that is what ‘Portrait of a Silver Lining’ is. In his poem, he beautifully conveys how “the earth is our home, and we all have a responsibility to look after it.
The CEEW team and Mr. Singh continued to discuss several ideas to lay out the research paper in an artistic manner and leverage the platform of performance poetry in order to connect with the young generation.
We discussed several poems that have been written keeping in mind several social issues, such as Love in the Time of Cholera by Spanish Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez. One of our colleagues came up with the title of ‘Love In The Times of Climate Change,’ inspired by Marquez’s poems, and our journey began.
The team decided to run the initiative for seven weeks. The campaign brought together India’s seven leading performance poets to pen down experiences of love in contemporary times—the era of climate change. The poems unpack varied experiences of climate change through the poets’ narratives of how the changing climate is affecting/altering our experiences of love, companionship, desire, nostalgia, and other emotions in today’s world.
Poets who were part of the initiative included Priya Malik, Helly Shah, Shubham Shyam, Amandeep Singh, Simar Singh, Sainee Raj and Priyanshi Bansal.
Priya Malik, one of India’s most popular and loved poets and storytellers, discussed her journey collaborating with CEEW for the cause.
You know when this idea was pitched to me. I personally thought it was such a great idea, and the title was something that demanded attention. The concept of conveying the message of climate change in the form of love was enough for me to agree to be a part of the campaign. So, showcasing the love for people with the love for the planet became my motive.
Ms. Malik said that when a poet combines the love of people and the planet through his or her words, it starts stirring people’s emotions, which eventually translate into actions. Ms. Malik informed them that the CEEW team sat down with the poets to explain the scientific report they had co-authored, which further helped them to imbibe those in their poetry.
I was really happy when we got the brief and the kind of creative liberty we got with it. And the idea of producing art with a cause has always been something very close to my heart, I try to do that even in my love poems, there’s always some social aspect to them. So, the fact that I could bring in an environmental aspect to it made me very pleased to be associated with CEEW and UnErase poetry.
Priya Malik’s poem ‘Agar Tum Saath Ho‘ talks about a person’s love for his beloved and how it would remain the same, as resilient as the Earth, despite several changes in the surroundings (surroundings here refers to climatic changes).
“There may be violent storms, and rivers dry up, anything can happen.
Everything can change…But my love for you will remain the same, as resilient as the Earth….”
Helly Shah, a popular spoken word poet and a storyteller of the country, was also a part of this initiative. Ms. Shah explained the process of deciding what subject she wanted to talk about in her poem.
For me, before deciding the subject, it is important to be honest when writing about it. And I think when it comes to climate change, it’s something that we’ve been hearing since we were kids. It’s something that has been spoken about in school and classrooms, and we are all aware of it. But unless and until we put it into the context of our own personal lives, it is difficult to connect with it. So I think my objective with my piece was to make it personal, because a lot of times we think about it as something far-fetched that’s happening in some other part of the world, whereas, it is something that directly affects us.
Ms. Shah’s poems mostly talk about love, longing, and loss, and she imbibed the same for this poem. Her poem ‘Ghar Kab Aoge?’ is set in 2030. It explores flash floods in a city that compounds the growing distance in a relationship. The selection of 2030 was based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s ( IPCC) projections.
“…Before the damage is done beyond repair,
There is still time for us to take a stand and care
We, who swear by our lover’s name,
where will we go,
When our homes perish, how will our love survive?
For our clime is the ground for every victory in love
Let’s change how our stories end. The time is now…”
Amandeep Singh, India’s leading poet and storyteller, also joined the initiative with his poetic rendition. Speaking of the approach he took to deliver the message of climate change, diverging from the writing he normally does. He said,
Honestly, I started in the same way, thoroughly researching the subject like I do for the rest of my poems and prepared a draft. All of us, once we were done with our first draft, we held meetings and workshops with the CEEW team and discussed what we had written. The meetings helped us to understand various subjects of climate change in depth and write about it colloquially so that people could discover it in the most beautiful way and feel it.
Mr. Singh’s poem “Voh Laut Aayi” speaks about a drying lake, solar panels, and the girl he loves riding an electric scooter with.
“…These paths that were once lined with lush mango trees in the monsoons
now are dry with shrivelled fruits
Our hearts sank on seeing the trees now
It felt like someone had robbed us of the flavour of our childhood….”
Initially, the poets took time to understand the nuances of climate change and not confuse it with the local environmental impact of things.
That took some time for us to understand as artists., Ms. Helly Shah said.
Talking about CEEW’s collaboration with the poets, Alina Sen said it was a dream come true.
Young poets are enthusiastic to talk about climate in their language, and for think tanks like us, it is music to our ears, she added.
Ms. Malik said that after attending several workshops, she was sure she wanted to be scientifically accurate.
It is really important when you’re working with something as important as climate change. I didn’t want to just pluck things out of thin air and make them into a love poem, and CEEW was very particular about this as well. I wanted to make sure that I get everything scientifically correct. And if you look at most of the poems, they have actual predictions by scientists of what could happen in the next 100 years, if things are not taken care of. I just wanted to bring that emotion using hyperbole and exaggeration, and move it into the realm of love, relationships, and longing.
Ms. Malik said that things like climate change cannot only be talked about on conference tables, we need to bring it to the dinner tables.
Talking about the motive and the impact of the poems, Amandeep Singh said that the purpose of being a part of the collaboration was also to be able to make the word ‘climate change” reach more people.
For me, the biggest impact that it could have is, if somebody watches these pieces, takes a moment to pause and think about climate change, and feels empathetic for the environment, just the way we felt when we were writing about it. I think that would be the biggest impact.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.