Voh ek bansuri todta hai, aur us mein sansein choddta hai (he breaks a flute and exhales into it).”
With verse upon verse that the young man recites, the audience snaps its fingers or claps, while a section of it brings on the ‘wah wahs’.
The young man was waxing eloquent at the Wryte Litfest in April, at the four-month-old Raah, South Pune’s performing arts centre that holds workshops in music, art and literature. And poetry is not all. At a ‘drum circle’ event, a group seated in a circle sounds out a message on drums that transports one straight to the Congo basin. Or take the young couple exhibiting their Salsa moves on a brightly coloured floor.
Three years ago, when Azhar Tambuwalla, a Pune-based fruit exporter, was returning from the US, he stumbled upon an article about the lack of intellectualism in politics. It got him thinking, and talked about this with his sister, Aimaan Mehta, a former media and real estate professional.
Soon, Tambuwalla established Raahat Foundation, and in December 2017, the brother-sister duo co-founded Raah in a 2,000 sq ft area in Lullanagar—once picnickers’ paradise with rolling green hills.
Tambuwalla believes he’s found a way to create the next generation of intellectual politicians, by offering space for ideas to be bounced off. “There are so many opinions in a country where the fabric is divided, so the idea is to get intellectuals together to talk freely. And intellectuals are also people who enjoy life’s finer things, which we’re showcasing,” he adds.
This summer, Raah will give Punekars some mental flexing with journal writing, mindworks, creative writing through film appreciation, and of course, dance and drama. For kids, some novelty will be woven through magic and mentalism shows.
Mehta insists that Raah is not a profit-making centre. “If a performer looks to make some money, we do charge, but not if an event is free. Our shows cost `100-200, and even the eatables in our café are nominally priced.”
And then, there are the little sweet notes like the guitar that’s left around for anyone who’d care to come by and strum. “Youngsters can also get their own musical instruments or sound systems for a jam session,” says Tambuwalla. “And children can come and read at our library for a refundable deposit of `200 and a monthly fee of `150,” he adds.
On the flexible stage with theatre lights and mics, Mehta envisions an open mic event for slumkids. “People are not willing to take art and culture there,” she says.
The acoustics at Raah are remarkable, says Mahrukh Bharucha, the founder of Pune’s Expressions Unlimited, which is dedicated to speech and drama skills. She describes Raah as a hybrid between commercial banquet facilities and conference halls. “That is really something unique for a venue of that size segment,” she adds.
Raah, which has given the otherwise quiet South Pune a voice, has also received support from neighbouring Mumbai. “We’ve hosted programmes such as poetry reading, storytelling, ‘clean’ comedies and open mic sessions in which anyone can speak about a subject of their choice,” says Mehta, who sees Raah going international. “We’d like to have film screenings. People from varied walks of life like even doctors are making documentaries.”