By Sonya Rehman
Released over Youtube last month by Delhi Poetry Slam, an Indian poet, Shivani Gupta, speaks from the heart in a thoroughly sensitive spoken-word performance that touches upon India, Pakistan and a desire to know and understand ‘the other.’
“Look I’m not here to start a fight,” Gupta speaks in the video, “I just wanted to say hi, how are you? I know nothing about you except that all we’re separated by is a border not created by us…”
Dear Girl From Pakistan is a moving, emotive presentation of the poet’s thoughts of the role of politics rupturing a connection and a shared history by way of a border that has divided a people so similar, yet so misread on both sides. Still, there is a strong desire, a want, to heal, re-build the bridge and at the same time, there is a wide-eyed curiosity that begs the question: are you too, just like me?
“Obsessive with the need to demarcate our partition, I have a confession; I wish I knew you better,” the poet says in her Youtube video.
A psychologist by profession, Gupta got inspired by slam poetry when she began watching videos of slam poetry performances on Youtube two years ago. But it was only until a year ago that she performed in public at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2015 for very the first time. From thereon, the twenty-two year old psychologist initiated an open mic night in Chennai, India.
With a colorful background in dance, choreography and theater, Gupta states that she was inspired to pen her poem in Edinburgh when she was hanging out with new friends from different backgrounds and nationalities one evening after a spoken-word event.
“Some barely spoke fluent English, but were still laughing at the same jokes, welling up with tears over the very same words, feeling exactly what I was feeling,” the poet says, “There was something very unifying, and yet liberating about that experience, because it allowed me to really see myself as more than I had till then, and put myself in a very global perspective. It broke my view of the world as I knew it, in terms of how small I felt for ever feeling the need to ‘exclude’ anyone on no rational, objective basis.”
For Gupta, the evening marked a change in perspective, a turning. “It shook me right to my roots, when I realized that I had been so unfair to a whole nation, and all the people in it without ever actually intending to, purely because of what the world had fed me, that I passively accepted and never questioned for myself. Which is why I apologize so many times during the piece, for my ignorance.”
Currently based in Hyderabad, India, Gupta bides her time as a researcher in the healthcare industry where she puts the wheels of her profession, psychology, to motion. However, Gupta mentions that her poem, Dear Girl From Pakistan, has brought it with a response that has been touching and even, overwhelming.
“People on both sides of the border [have told] me how I’ve put words to a thought they’ve had for years,” she states.