BENGALURU: Monday afternoon at Infantry Road saw a troop of nine French performers, all dressed in black and taking people by surprise with a pipe through which they whisper into one’s ear. What do they whisper? Nothing but poetry. The troop, known as Les Souffleurs (The Whisperers), performs poetry in the most unique sense, by whispering.
On their maiden visit to the city as part of the Bengaluru chapter of Poetry with Prakriti, Olivier Comte, founder of the collective, tells CE about their project, Jaan, which was specially curated for their tour of India. Comte says the poetry was curated in Hindi, Bengali and Urdu, from books that one hasn’t had a chance to open. “People are surprised when they discover that we whisper poetry in a language known to them. We also whispered in Kannada, which wasn’t planned earlier. We did not sleep in order to learn the poetry in the language. In Bengaluru, we started with Cubbon Park, which was a great experience because we met people across many generations and people there were also curious to explore,” says Nicolas Bilder, a performer.
Started in 2001, the Paris-based poetry collective has performed across the globe, maintaining the element of curiosity with their outfits and more importantly, by performing in the native languages of places they visit. Comte says their trip to India was influenced by the poetic tradition in the country, which is why they were eager to visit. He adds that performing in the native language of the people is crucial. “Many years ago, we performed in Palestine where we whispered poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, who is the biggest poet of the place. People would answer back in Arabic and complete the rest of the poems. They couldn’t believe that we didn’t speak the language.We do not speak Hindi or Urdu but you will always hear it in our poems for which we prepare ourselves,” says Nicolas.
From performing at the Jaipur Literature Festival to a crowded market in Kolkata, ask Comte on whether they had any interesting moments and he says, “The philosophy we follow is to slow down the world, which is also a way to dive deeper into oneself. People are really moved sometimes. For instance, we performed at a co-working space where people are immersed into tech and working rigorously. We went to the office to communicate in a manner that is so ancient that it’s funny at times.”
Drawing the talk to a close, Comte emphasises that people in India are curious about most things, which isn’t the case in most countries. “With poetry, it felt that people were more open towards us,” says Comte.