As the saying goes, ‘Behind every successful man is a woman’. And for Sanket Mhatre, that woman is his wife. If it weren’t for his wife, Mhatre wouldn’t have ever found out his passion and skill for performing poetry and that would have been a shame considering Mhatre started writing poems when he was just 12 years old.
“I wrote my very first poem when I was in the seventh standard. That was the first time I realised that I could write and whatever I had written was called a poem,” laughs Mhatre.
Mhatre eventually joined advertising. While he worked as a digital copywriter in agencies such as OgilvyOne Worldwide, Law & Kenneth Digital and BBDO Proximity, he kept his love for poems and writing poetry alive.
“When you are working in advertising, it requires you to use language in a very specific way. It is very brand oriented and there is a brief that you must deal with. While I was doing this, what remained is my passion for poetry. So, after a hard day’s work I would write a poem or if I came across something amazing while working I would pen it down.”
Although Mhatre started early, he did not start publicly performing his poems until his wife (who is also a poet) dragged him to an event where she was performing.
“I came across a club called the Poetry Club Mumbai about three years ago. My wife dragged me all the way to the poetry club not because she wanted me to recite my poems but because she wanted to recite her poem there. I went along and was sulking the whole way there. But when I actually went there and saw all the poets performing, I identified with them. These were people from different walks of life but they wanted to say something and they were doing that and I realised that it is what even I wanted to do.”
It was there that Mhatre first performed his poem. He also met many people from the advertising and media industry there, who were also poets at heart, and that encouraged him to take poems and publicly performing them more seriously. One thing led to another and before long Mhatre was being invited to perform his poems at various events. He has recited poems at the Kala Ghoda Festival and also at the Kavyahotra, which is a 72-hour poetry recital festival.
“I have always been fascinated by the concept of different languages coming together on one stage. When I researched a little, I realised that nobody is actually doing this. Nobody is bringing poets of different languages on one stage. In a country like India where language becomes a huge part of one’s identity, no one was doing this. So, for Kavyahotra last year, I decided to bring poets of three different languages on one single platform. I got nine poets together. Three were English poets, three were Marathi poets and the other three were Hindi poets.”
The event received overwhelming response because for the first time an event that was used to seeing Marathi and Hindi poets were also witnessing poets performing in English. Mhatre has also used his love and passion for poetry and the unifying spirit of languages to turn host and curator for Crossover Poetry.
“Last year I was invited to a festival called Poets Translating Poets. This festival was being organised by the Goethe Institu – Max Muller Bhavan. They had invited me as a host and also as a poet to recite in one of the sessions. What I saw there was poets from different languages and different countries were invited and the poems were translated in German and in English. The event had a big influence on me and it is then that I realised that slam poetries are happening, stage poetries are happening but they are all happening in isolation. I wanted to create and curate a programme where people could cross over from one language to another. I also wanted to provide a platform for upcoming poets to come and show their talent.”
Right now, Crossover Poetry gives a platform to English, Hindi and Marathi poets and showcases one German poet and his/her work due to their association with Goethe Institu – Max Muller Bhavan but Mhatre is keen to widen the spectrum and bring more poets who write in many other languages.
Apart from being a poet, Mhatre has written lyrics for a Marathi serial called Radha Hi Bawari and a few movies that are awaiting release. Mhatre also won the Zee Marathi Award in the year 2013 for the song he penned for Radha Hi Bawari.
“I was approached to write a song for this serial and I had never written a song before this and I had no idea how to go about it. But the people who approached me had faith in me. I had multiple sessions with the music director and the director who guided me a lot in this process.”
Explaining the difference between writing a song and a poem, Mhatre said, “A song is a poem in disguise but writing a song is a completely different way of expressing yourself because it is not just about words. Your words here will transform into music and you have to tell a story in a nutshell. So, a song has multiple layers within itself and it is a complex mix of music and meaning.”
Some of Mhatre’s favourite poets are admen Nalesh Patil and Prasoon Joshi, Swanand Kirkire and Maya Angelou. For Mhatre, just like some of his idols, poetry has to be relevant and talk about life as it happens.
“Advertising is very contextual and because of that it stays relevant and because it stays relevant, people like it. I think poetry also has to stay relevant and it must make a statement about what we are going through. It must also provide a solution as to how to live through these difficult times and that is exactly what I have been trying to do with Crossover Poetry as well.”
Speaking about a stand out moment in this journey of his Mhatre said, “This actually happened after the third session of Crossover Poems. A lot of Hindi and Marathi poets were there and the highlight for me was that they were saying that they wanted to reach out to more English poets and create more events with them.”
And what does poems and writing poetry really mean to him?
“Poetry is a simplification of our society. It simplifies what our heart has to say when we fall in love, it simplifies what we want to say to the government or an establishment when we see that things are going wrong. Poetry lets you express what you feel about everyone and everything in the simplest and shortest possible way. In fact, if I really had to define it, I would call it the mathematics of words. It breaks down a complex problem and gives the solution in the simplest possible way.”