We Need Good Poetry in the Country Today: Chinmayi Tripathi

Posted on 9 July, 2016 by Team Wishberry


Chinmayi Tripathi is unlike your usual musicians. While most musicians focus only on the realm of music, she is nurturing and protecting two realms at the same time – music and Hindi literature. Her skills as a Hindustani Classical vocalist can barely be argued about. But, this singer/songwriter from Delhi is also a poetess worth noting.

This time, though, she is embarking on a new journey. She’s carrying the weight of legendary Hindi poems on her shoulders and trying to find the musical match for it. She is calling it The Music and Poetry Project.

One rainy Friday evening, I called her up, and my long distance, long duration phone call with her resulted into some insightful conversation. The Music and Poetry Project, currently being crowdfunded on Wishberry.in, is her most ambitious project, she tells me. Here are the excerpts of the conversation, where Chinmayi speaks about, life, music, and literature.

How did your foray into music come about?

As a kid, I learnt Hindustani classical music; I took vocal training. While I was in college, I started writing and making my own tunes. That was, basically, my first step into songwriting. I was writing poems in Hindi and English, anyway. So, I started making tunes as well. That is how songwriting started.

When I released my first song, Aali, on MySpace, I got a really good response. It got 20,000 plays in the first week, and some really good comments. So I thought, I will develop more music like this. And, I started working on my album. In the meantime, I also developed my band, The Spice Route.

Everything happened gradually. There was no one particular event which led to this or something like that. I had not decided that I will pursue music full-time, but it was more of a trial. Over a period of time, through my college and everything, my interest grew. I practised more and more. I knew that I would definitely continue to be a singer/songwriter. Plus, performing live started giving me a lot of rush. So, that is how it began.


What is the Music and Poetry Project? And how did this idea of taking Hindi poetry and making it reach more people through music come about?

See, I have a lot of interest in Hindi literature. Both my parents are… well, my father is a scholar of Sanskrit, my mother has been teaching Hindi literature since ages. So, we (Chinmayi and her siblings) have been exposed to that sort of literature from the very beginning. That is one.

Other than that, I have been writing poetry, and I love reading poetry as well. I have written about 60 poems, and compiled them in a book. So, poetry has always been close to my heart.

 This idea (Music and Poetry Project) – it just happened, I don’t know how it came to my mind exactly. But, basically, while reading some of the poems, I felt that they inherently have some music in them. Like, if you listen to, say, Pagla Mallah by Harivansh Rai Bachchan, it is a very musical poem. You don't even have to compose it; you just have to unfold the music which is already there in it. As I kept doing this, I realised there are so many such poems in Hindi literature!

 Over a period of about 6-8 months, I selected some 7-8 poems and realised that, you know, I can actually do this as a project because they are of a similar theme. And it can be a very rich music project which will be interesting. This train of thought excited me. And, that is how it just happened.

I have spent a lot of time understanding these writers, because if I am selecting a poem, it becomes very important for me to understand the entire scenario - who has written this, why is this thing structured like this, why is this poem like this, what is the experience behind it - all of it.

You are collaborating with some of the legendary indie musicians like Susmit Sen and Baiju Dharmarajan. How is the experience of working with them, and what do they bring to the table which already looks delicious?

Well, they are phenomenal. The experience and the kind of richness they offer is unbeatable. All of them, whether it is Susmit Sir or Baiju Sir or Sharat Sir (founder of Mrigya) are musically very diverse and very rich in their own fashion. The way they perceive music, the way they treat it, it is completely unique. So collaborating with them is like taking things to a whole new level, with so much of their own flavour added to the music and the poetry.


Not everyone is adept with Hindi literature. So, do you think it is important for all the musicians you will be working with to understand the meaning and your interpretation of those poems?

It isn't only about these musicians. I guess if there is a team working on a song, it is very important that they understand what the song is. It is required to even understand the writer, the person who has written it, because any piece of writing is an extension of the person who has written it. So, sometimes the entire context, entire history and an in-depth understanding is as important as the piece of writing.

I have spent a lot of time understanding these writers, because if I am selecting a poem, it becomes very important for me to understand the entire scenario - who has written this, why is this thing structured like this, why is this poem like this, what is the experience behind it - all of it. But, for any other (collaborating) artist, I think at least the meaning has to be very clear. Depending on the meaning will the mood be set.

Also, even if somebody doesn't know the language, understanding the nuances and the essence of it is very important. Without that, I don't believe anybody can do any justice to any written work.


How are you going about the Music and Poetry project, and what stage is it in currently?

I am doing this as a solo project, because I plan to do it in collaborations with a lot of artists. You know, like Susmit Sir (Susmit Sen, former Indian Ocean lead guitarist) and Baiju sir ( Baiju Dharmarajan, former Motherjane lead guitarist), and a few others. I plan to get more artists on board over the course of time.

Each song will be very different. I like to see it as an open ended collaboration sort of a project where, maybe, for each song there will be different artists collaborating.

As of now, it is at a stage where 6-7 poems have been composed. More poems will soon follow, and there will be a total of 10 poems on the album. We are crowdfunding this project on Wishberry so that we can gather certain funds for the entire production and the recording, and obviously mixing and mastering. Once the audio album is ready, we will also do a few videos. Then we will launch it as a full album within this year. It is all a work in progress as of now.

What is good is that, during this crowdfunding process, I am going to do a lot of live shows to promote this concept. So far, wherever I have performed acoustic versions (of some of the songs) at 2 or 3 of the events, it has been received very well. People have shown interest to be associated with it and to support it. So, it is very encouraging. I plan to continue doing this for the next month and a half till we get the complete support (funding) for it.


We need to work towards making Hindi and regional literature richer, relevant and appealing to the youth over a period of time. That hasn’t happened and the link somehow got broken in our country.

You have said that there is a dearth of good Hindi literature in the country. Why do you think Hindi literature has lost the charm and hold?

Honestly, there are a lot of emerging Hindi writers. I am not trying to make a general statement. But, you’ll hardly find the kind of impact and quality that you would’ve seen about 20 or 30 years ago. It is very rare, save for a handful of writers of this generation. 

The reason, I believe, is... if you look at our education system there is very little value given to our own languages. English is the business language, and there is much more focus given to it. More than that, it (knowing English) has become a prestige issue, so there is much more weightage to it, and that is a fact.

Also, the exposure to literature is very less in schools. Despite that, if a student wants to pursue literature, he is not encouraged to do so. Sadly, people in our country don’t go by aptitude or interests; they go by the marks (scored in exams). Arts as education is underrated compared to other streams.

We need to work towards making Hindi and regional literature richer, relevant and appealing to the youth over a period of time. That hasn’t happened and the link somehow got broken in our country.


You mentioned good poetry coming into music. Bollywood used to have good poetry, but do you think on the way it has lost track, and become, what I can describe crudely, crap?

Well, I agree with that. But, the problem isn't only about songs. When a film is made, it is based on a certain story and certain characters. If those characters and the plot itself does not demand good poetry or good poetry based music, then you can't force it. The film or the creation itself may not be demanding that kind of content.

Also, if something is disappearing from society, how can it be force fed into a film?

So, it is all inter-connected with the society and where it is going.

I would also disagree that all films are producing bad music. Masaan, for example, had some really great and lyrical songs.

One needs to understand that film music will always be bound by certain limitations. But, at the same time, who is stopping independent artists from experimenting? I think us musicians and artists should see how we can integrate and experiment more.



Chinmayi is the kind of indie musician, in my opinion, that brings a lot of reassurance to the Indian music scene, especially with her belief that independent artists need to take responsibility of creating good stuff. It is this belief and spirit that makes us root for The Music and Poetry Project!


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