Tag Archives: Open Mic

What Happens At An Open Mic

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On Losing A Voice And Remembering How To Speak Again

This Monday I said two conflicting things within the space of an evening.
I said,

“This is my favorite stage to perform.”

Two hours later I thought,

“I’m not coming back here again.”

Let me tell you a thing or two about performing, about writing, about women’s voices and about men, men, men. The silencing, the hatred, the chauvinism, it’s relentless. It’s pretentious non-talents (usually male, small town North Indian origin) parading ada and fake Urdu to present stale ideas. It’s uber urban metrosexual men getting intoxicated and turning everything into jokes that are not really funny. It’s the in-betweens eating Instagrammable food and hoping you’ll swipe right on Tinder. But this is nothing new. It’s the story of every patriarchal, toxic masculine space.

But it’s also the sniping. It’s old boys’ clubs jeering every woman performer. It’s leching that happens in words and laughter rather than eyes so it’s harder to call it out. It’s passive-aggressive bullying of the “Settle down, honey. There, there, she got upset. Now silence, boys, give her a hanky. Look, you’re so pretty when you smile.” variety.

Then it’s the wheedling by ‘Nice Guys’ to speak softer, be gentler, talk about men’s good points.

This Monday was simply the last straw on my back. I decided to let them keep their male voices, talking to a male audience about how women are pretty/horrible creatures. This Monday, I decided not to go back and to hell with a world ruled by monsters called men.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Raju recommended Sonya Renee Taylor’s ‘The Body Is Not An Apology‘ at an Alphabet Sambar meet last month.

This is why writers should first and foremost be readers. And speakers should be better listeners. I found Sonya’s powerful voice and gestures moving me as much as her words.

Today, I listened to her deliver ‘When The Shotgun Questions The Black Boy‘. Now this is a tricky one. While it’s politically correct to talk about #BlackLivesMatter, really what’s it like to be Indian on this? We face internalised racism within our country itself, not to mention what it’s like to be brown in multicoloured spaces. My ex bullied me and demeaned my intelligence frequently for not acting or thinking like a black person. But this poem, today, made me want to cry. It reached beyond what he said, what anyone else demanded I think or feel. It moved me beyond who I thought I was.

This is the power of good poetry and a good performer. It can change perspectives. It can make a person reach beyond their life and feel empathy, inspiration, anger, whatever the speaker wants them to feel.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that. But it’s sobering to know that as a performer, I share a space with people who change lives. I cannot let my individual annoyances take me away. As one of the few women performers in the city, I owe the stage at least that much. Artists and writers are responsible for moving thought forward for a civilisation. The world needs more women’s voices. I may not be the best but I’m part of the little that my city has. And I’m not going to let them down.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

New Spaces But The Stage is Always Home

I’m always looking for new spaces, venues and people in poetry. I’m a very social creator and I find my creative juices flowing with novelty and fresh perspectives. So when I heard about an Open Mic being organised at the Mumbai metro, I jumped to it! Spoken Word derives from several disciplines (right from the African bushmen’s storytelling to the American frontiersmen’s tall tales to Indian village streetplays – many of which are street performances). I saw this as a chance to do the same in a more contemporary setting. I was rather hoping that we’d be performing in one of the public spaces at a metro station, with people passing by. Instead they had cordoned off one small area at Ghatkopar metro station. Still, it was just as noisy and bustling, with a flea market across the bridge and planes flying overhead (who knew Ghatkopar was in any flight path?).

I opened with a revamped version of Flamingos, given it is my only real piece about the city. I’m going to keep refining this one till it becomes the story I want to tell.

We had time for seconds so I went in with Paper Plane, which is not only my go-to signature piece but also the gift that keeps giving. It gives me a shot of energy, a life lesson every time I perform it.

After that Gautam and I went on to another Open Mic we had heard about at another place. This one turned out to be primarily for actors. It was heart-warming to see such spaces available to all the performing arts. A lot of us tend to take a very condescending attitude towards actors and dancers. Jokes abound about ‘the Aram Nagar strugglers association’. But in becoming a performer, I realised how much generosity of spirit, how much strength and courage is required to take pieces of your soul, turn it into art and hold it up for the world to be cruel about. My respect for the other performing arts has been renewed.

The folks at Kabeera presents were very welcoming even though poetry is not acting. I was a bit worried since I am an English performer and there is a minor form of linguistic racism at work in poetry circles. But one of the audience members actually spoke up and said,

“Why are we assuming such things? We are all artists here. Art goes beyond language and other boundaries.”

And true to form, they were really very receptive when I performed Paper Plane.

I’ll be going back there if they’ll have me and even if only to watch their performances. What a lovely Sunday it was!

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Performing To The Gallery: Alcohols & Men – Tuning Fork

I went to an Open Mic after nearly three weeks and I’m glad I picked that Monday to do it. It was an evening rife with unusual performances, from a poem-turned-song to a monologue to a haiku battle to a truly moving piece that made everyone’s eyes well up.

I had a piece I wrote awhile ago and have never performed. But something about the weekend that went by made me want to retain my good mood (that piece is, in keeping with my monsoon temperament, melancholy). So I switched at the last minute to one of the lightest pieces I’ve written and performed just once before at a comedy routine. It made a lot of people laugh and it made me sparkle just as though I’d had that much of my favorite alcohol (I’ve been on the wagon for months now).

There will be an I Wear post in video coming up sometime later. And in the meantime, here’s ‘If Alcohols Were Men

The blogpost that this was based on was written nearly 7 years ago and is here.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Tuning Up The Poetry At Tuning Fork

So Karthik showed up at the Open Mic earlier this week. I was running late and we barely had a few minutes to catch up and sync up. There was a super ANNOYING couple at the table next to us talking LOUDLY during a performance and saying things like “He’s not good.” about the performers on stage. The owners politely asked them to shush up, which gave me the confidence to throw them a derisive look. The venue is an art/culture place so what kind of a douchebag philistine comes to sit there and yap at the top of his voice? Anyway, said philistine pair (shall we call them PP?) moved to the terrace, which was unfortunate because that’s where some of the performers have taken to practicing or grabbing a smoke in between performances. Karthik and I managed to steadfastly ignore them, the sweat pouring down our faces on account of Mumbai’s drawnout welcome to the monsoons and PP walking around LOUDLY between us several times. At one point, they were joined by an even louder male friend who turned to us and offered to ‘give advice and feedback about the performance’ with a wink at PP. Seriously, I hope you both get married to each other and live a suffocating, sexless, boring happily ever after. Douchey single friend can stay single and pathetic.

As it turned out, Karthik and I made it back to the stage just in time for the break. The Tuning Fork guys chipped in and offered to record our performances and asked for a sound check. Karthik got into his groove. It’s a wonder how this boy is completely oblivious to the world when it’s him and his guitar (me so lucky we met and he agreed to collaborate).

We started with Paper Dolls that we first did at TARQ back in January. It’s such an intense, artsy piece I didn’t think we’d ever have a chance to do it again, outside an art gallery.

Then the other performers returned. And we closed off with Lullaby which is totally my ohmygoddidwecreateTHAT?

These videos are as usual, the ones shot on my phone by a friend. I’ll put up the professional ones shot by the Tuning Fork folks shortly. These Monday evenings make me very, very happy.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

My Fortnight In A Playlist of Poetry

I haven’t really felt like writing much of late. I also haven’t felt like talking or socialising as much. It has been a month of enjoying the cliched ‘my own company’. And no, I don’t mean solo dates. I mean, there is so much going on even when I’m only talking to myself.

Anyway, I haven’t exactly been antisocial. There has been work. And in addition, I’ve been going to a lot of poetry events. That doesn’t feel as much like socialising, especially if it’s newer venues and events. I’ve been seeking the last actively for awhile and I found two. They’re great for now because they are fresh enough to be open to all forms of poetry and attract completely fresh slate minds. So yes, there’s cliches, there’s teenage angst and canned feminism and stale cynicism. But it comes from unfamiliar faces, in newer stories. And best of all, the career poets haven’t showed up as yet. These are the people who are approach poetry, performance and events the same way mid-level managers approach corporate events armed with visiting cards and antacids.

I realise how bitchy that sounds considering a fair lot of them are known to me. I hesitate to call most of them friends because I learnt more than a year later that they’re no different from the b-school alumni meet crowd. There used to be a certain quality to the poetry with performers like this but now it’s all so formulaic and worst of all, drowned in the politics of who’s getting showcased, who’s performing on which show, who got paid and how much. And with all that comes the condescension, the backbiting, the sniping (in whispers and in poetry). Writers are truly appalling people. Well, people are appalling people.

Anyway, I discovered entirely by mistake two new platforms. The first was Art Refurbish’s poetry slam + Open Mic at Khar Social. The crowd was entirely unfamiliar. I made it in late after having wrapped up a three hour webinar and a trek through the heat. The freshness of the performances and the audience was invigorating. I was one of the last performers and I did ‘Paper Plane‘ but I felt like I was experiencing it for the first time. Truly, this is a wonderful medium that allows your old stories to be reborn with every telling.

The Hive feels like homebase now but the crowd was almost all new and there was a new host too. For all intents and purposes, that makes it a new event. I brought out ‘Paper Dolls‘ from my TARQ event earlier this year.

Tuning Fork turned up two events within the space of a week. The first time, I was wearing a saree just because I was in a mood to. And I went in with ‘Feminist Poetry‘ well, because I thought it would be funny to do that particular piece when the audience probably expected more ‘respectable, traditional poetry from the woman in the saree’. An old poet-friend had referenced angry feminists in his heartbreak poetry earlier. I called him out mid-performance and the audience laughed, him along with them all. 🙂

The next week, I was determined to not continue with the feminism theme. I had attended the Caferati Open Mic at Prithvi earlier in the evening after all. Karthik showed up as a surprise and we performed ‘Lullaby‘ there.

But at Tuning Fork later in the night, one young man started his piece addressing the (exaggerated airquotes) FEMININAZIS in the audience. Several people turned around and looked right at me and when it was my turn, they hooted. So I changed my plan and went in with ‘SuperWoman‘.

And then, when I finished, I got off the stage, changed my mind and returned to request another performance. I concluded with ‘Paper Plane‘, my third rendition in two weeks (I also addressed Manisha’s Creative Writing class and concluded my talk with a rendition, not recorded).

Later that night, the young man came up to me and said “Well played.” I grinned back at him. This is so cool. Banter and conversations in poetry. Me for the world, only in poetry. I’ll enjoy it while I can.

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

The Thane Chronicles: Poetry, Music & Sweet Unions

Poetry Tuesdays:  Feature Performance by Ramya Pandyan & Karthik Rao

Last Tuesday marked a lot of special milestones for me. Anish Vyavahare (he of Thane boi fame) invited me to be a feature, the first ever, for his monthly Poetry Tuesdays event. Anish and I know each other off the poetry circuit and have been grinning (and prawn curry sharing) acquaintances for nearly 6 years. We’ve collaborated on fiction in the past and talked about doing more. And he’s a key partner in bringing Alphabet Sambar to Thane.

Then there’s Thane itself. And all the credit for bringing me to this lake city lies with Swamini who came to attend my Erotica Writing workshop last year and stayed on in my life as a friend. I’m loath to say anymore, partly because of all the disastrous goodbyes that have been happening lately — I don’t want to jinx this. But yes, how wonderful Thane is now that I know its Swamini!

And finally, Karthik and I collaborated, really did this time round. In the past, we’ve met minutes before an event, jammed for a bit and just taken that to the stage. And it’s been great, great, great. This time, we practiced, we improvised, we co-created and we selected a setlist from our growing repertoire.

A bit about Karthik. We have a decade between us. He’s laidback and reticent as I’m brash and outgoing. We haven’t really known each other that long but we’ve collaborated and produced some great work more than once. These include ‘regular’ performances, a special themed performance, a poetry-art-music collaboration and now a feature performance. I like how we manage to produce something that feels good to us both, without a lot of prior choreography. I know a lot of this is possible because of the art form called Spoken Word/Performance Poetry which provides ample room for experimentation. But I also know a collaboration works when both (or more) people trust, respect each other and just have a unique chemistry. I’m very lucky (well, we both are).

When there’s a chance to perform more than one piece, I like to take the audience on a journey of ups and downs. We revised the setlist several times before deciding to open with the colourful, kickass ‘Feminist Poetry’. I always ENJOY doing this because it kicks my mood into high gear and brings out the golden, shimmering, roaring lioness in me. And if you listen carefully, you can hear Karthik’s guitar rolling out a merry, mischievous tune.

We followed this up with ‘Patchwork Relationship’, which I think has only gotten better with telling. I was cold to this piece when I first wrote it because it was craft-first rather than inspiration-first. I constructed it out of bits of twitter poetry I had posted over several nights. But I think the pieces have come together and knitted well. And with each performance, the truth of the piece seems to ‘sit’ a little better within me. I love the sombre, haunting melody that Karthik has composed for this one.

From here to my signature piece ‘Paper Plane’ which didn’t get the same dramatic response it has usually gotten. But I’ll chalk that up to line-up placement. And perhaps it wasn’t the best of my tellings.

And finally, we ended it with a new piece called ‘Lullaby’. I’m so happy with how this turned out, chiefly because of the music. I catch myself humming the tune even in the middle of the day. The writing still needs polish and I am working on it. So expect to hear much better renditions of this in the days to come!

Thank you Thane for being such a warm host. And thank you, Karthik Rao for this wonderful journey.

Opening 2016 With A Voice: At Poetry Couture Open Mic With Karthik Rao


My first performance of the year opened on a good note. It has been exactly one year since I ventured in Performance Poetry and Spoken Word. In this time, I’ve learnt the difference between page poetry and performance poetry, examined poetic nuance and how it goes beyond basic rhymes. The stage also gave me a chance to face my fears, my terrors and meet residual emotion that had lain unused and unexamined till then.

This event was Poetry Couture’s feature+Open Mic Poetic Adda. They featured me in their last Poetic Adda event and I was very happy to return to this venue and a new audience, a different context from the spaces I’ve been at.

Karthik Rao who supported my foray into musical accompaniment last year with Flamingoes and then with The Poetry Club’s #UndoingGender event returned. We are both hoping to collaborate further and explore this union of music and spoken word in a big way.

We first performed ‘Superwoman’, my first ever really feminist piece. This started as a blogpost I wrote more than a decade ago, one of the first ones to appear on my blog. It was also the turning point where I realised I was going to have a lot to say about urban womanhood and gave rise to the blog I call XXFactor. Then, at 24, the poem was one-quarter my own experiences and the remaining fragments of lives of women around me and some conjecture. More and more I’m finding my own life has begun to echo this piece in a spooky fashion. It’s not entirely good because the piece is far from being happy. I can only hope that anybody reading this post (and this blog) realises that the life I’ve laid out in performance is not all bad. I’ve lived a largely fulfilling, happy life after all. Here again, in collaboration with Karthik Rao, is Superwoman.

The organisers were nice enough to allow us to do one more piece. Late last year, I realised that I wrote almost no love poems. This, when 90% of all songs and poems are written about love. It made me reflect on how I avoid thinking about love because it’s memories in my life are too painful. But, as with my Paper Plane, perhaps performing a positive piece will be my road out of darkness. I’ve resolved to write and perform a lot more love-related material. I know me and I am coming to understand how I love so this will be far from mushy or rose-coloured. But maybe I can learn to build my brand of beautiful, flawed love too. Here is Patchwork Relationship.

I’ll take it as a good sign that both of these came through well, even though I had a bad cough (and woke up this morning completely voiceless). Here’s to a year of many more Spoken Word stories!

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*Also published on The Idea-smithy.

If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

With Love From The City Of Flamingos

My dear readers,

How have you been? It feels like it’s been a long, long while since we spoke. For one, this medium has changed so much that many of you don’t post comments or write emails to me anymore. To be quite certain, I’m even surprised at the daily graph of visits and readers. It seems like some of you are interested in what I am saying. Why and what things, I still don’t know. But I will not ask for you to speak up. Some of you have probably been with me on this journey for years and respected my decisions to be anonymous, hidden, coy and then open. So I must respect your choices.

I went through a rough patch earlier this year. It wasn’t the heartbreak of a failed relationship or the pressure of a job I hated. It was the feeling of not being able to write. I had never experienced it before and it made me question my identity, my very existence.

One of you, a stranger I had never met before, spoke to me after my birthday post and asked,

“How are you now?”

It was so unaccountably touching and kind, I felt I had to respond. It has been months since that day and I’m afraid I haven’t till now. But I feel like you’ll forgive me for that. You and I, have come a long way and I believe you may have learnt to forgive me for my moodiness, my desperate flakiness and my unpredictability. The truth is I was not ready to answer. I had the answer, I just didn’t have the words or the voice for it.

I still don’t know exactly what was or is happening inside of me. But I feel a little less anxious, a wee bit less suffocated these days. Allowing myself the leeway of not writing did that. I guess I must allow myself to let the identity of writer fall away sometimes, to remind myself that I am more than that.

I’ve gone a long way into Spoken Word performance, far longer than I ever imagined. The format gave me a chance to explore stories and feelings that got caught in the mesh of my head and didn’t make it out in writing. And today, I did something new. I tried performing with musical accompaniment.

This post here will tell you about my troubled relationship with music. Add to it the anecdote of the ex-fiance, a rapper with obsessive ideas about his chosen genre to the point of squelching any musical inclination at all in me. So I count today as a milestone in trying to reverse that painful journey so far.

It’s a story I’ve performed a few times before. But just like my confidence grows with each performance, the story seeps better into my being with each telling. So here it is, the result of several months of working and several years of feeling.

Mills to Malls. Walk respectfully when you tread over the bones of my city’s history.

Home. City. Identity. Nostalgia. Memory. Melancholy.

Me.

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