Singing Chameleon Lights: An Evening of Poetry at Oxford Bookstore

If you guys remember, I very recently attended the launch of journalist-poet Ayushman Jamwal’s book, Chameleon Lights on behalf of Kolkata Bloggers. Since many of you guys were not there, here’s an online tour of the event to sustain you until you’re lucky enough to attend the next one!

The Reading

You know when you read a poem and you’re just like ‘???? This makes no sense’ or ‘Well, I like it, but it simply seems too generic to be my favourite’? Clearly, as a reader, Ayushman knows this pesky problem too. So he decided to solve it for us by reading out excerpts from some of the poems he has penned. In the process, he also told us about what inspired those poems, and how he felt when he wrote about it.

On display at Oxford Bookstore

So Canine Love was inspired by watching his beloved dog Leo rolling about on the floor, and realising how much he means to him as a companion. The Artist of the Soul was inspired by the dulcet tones of a singer in a Scottish pub who caught the poet’s fancy. Party of the Magi mirrors his intense dislike of school routine and his longing to escape. The cues are in his everyday life, the words in our everyday speech. His artist’s way of looking at things has turned them into poetry.

The Conversing

What can be better than meeting a poet? (Getting a peek into their mind. That’s the answer. I’m giving it to you. Shh.) We got a glimpse into Ayushman’s way of thinking when the one-on-one interactions with the audience were underway.

Countered by a woman, who went to school in Dehradun, about his perception of schooling there, Ayushman hastily replied that while his experience was traumatic, he understood that others’ need not have been so! He spoke about his brother having a great time in his school now.

Ayushman Jamwal
(L-R) Ayushman Jamwal and Debashis Mandal

From school, I think, came the question of liberty: how free is freedom of speech in India? It is not, but it should be, said Ayushman firmly. The space to express one’s thoughts is a democratic right and it should be protected; hooliganism cannot and must not take the place of critique. I think I was nodding so vigorously at this point that my head was in danger of falling off.

When the conversation turned to micropoetry (very short poems of around two to three sentences each), I think I accidentally ended up talking too much (and making the rest yawn) about poets I love on Instagram: poets like Warsan Shire, Rupi Kaur and Nayyirah Waheed featured in the discussion. We all agreed that brevity and illustrations are the soul of Internet Lit, and while everyone may not like that, it is certainly a newer, unique way to express yourself. God knows, haikus have been around for pretty much the same reason.

But my favourite part was yet to come.

The Meeting of Poetry and Music

Have you ever had the luck of watching a performance that makes you hum along to an entirely unknown tune, tap your foot to a beat you never knew, and move you to tears, all in the same moment?

That is what I, and all the other lucky ones, got to watch that evening in Oxford Bookstore.

“Normally, setting a poem to music is not a challenge as poems usually follow a set metre,” said Surjo, the (other) man of the hour. “The biggest challenge here was that the poems had no set metre. But I have been playing for twenty years, so the experience helped.”

(L-R) Surjo with Ayushman


What emerged from this unusual collaboration would make Alex Turner and John Cooper Clarke proud.

“It was amazing. He breathed life into the verse,” said Ayushman. “Musicians have always inspired me to write, they express emotions with greater poignancy than mere words. I just felt fortunate a gifted musician like Surjo saw some spark in my poems.”

Surjo sang The Artist of the Soul, Love Letter and Modern Affection, making each of them unique and melodious and adding another layer of beauty to the poems. Then, because clearly setting three poems to song isn’t enough, he sang Canine Love, having set it to music right there at that moment in the store. We were spellbound.

“Surjo did an incredible job,” said Debashis Mandal, the moderator of the event. “I could not believe my ears when I first heard them, they were so good!”

The book launch of Chameleon Lights was startlingly unusual and enormously fun: everything, in fact, that the book itself is.

Getting to know the author was the added bonus for an audience already sold on the beauty of his words. It was an evening none of us will soon forget.

‘Chameleon Lights’, is out now. You can find it here:

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