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The Best Way To Art Is Through the Stomach

I attended a dinner party that used my taste-buds to build haikus.
Shamani Joshi
Mumbai, IN
“Even if haikus aren’t relevant to everyone, food is.” Image: HaikuJam.

When I first came across an event called Kitchen Haiku in Mumbai, I expected an overpriced affair of high-brow food doled out in small quantities to spin poetry. Instead, the HaikuJAM app’s monthly event served up a refreshing intersection of poetry and food, where flavour was used to get our creative juices flowing. Tucked away in a quiet corner of Bandra, their cosy cottage is a physical extension of the app, with warm candles and soothing ragas adding to its inviting atmosphere. On Saturdays, this office space becomes a cafe that accepts your writing as currency for chai and conversations.


The Young and the Restless

In his final year of college in the UK, CEO and co-founder Dhrupad Karwa stumbled upon this idea when, over a cup of chai, he scribbled a verse on a page that he passed to his friend, who responded with another verse. This continued for a while, until Karwa realised that something like this could be therapeutic. “I wanted to make people feel less alone,” says Karwa, who then ditched his plans of launching an energy startup and founded HaikuJAM with his college friends, Andy Leung and Neer Sharma, in 2015. They travelled across the UK and San Francisco for two years, ultimately coming to India, where the app finds its highest number of users. Interestingly, while the majority of their user base is millennials, their objective revolves around bridging the gap with the older generation. “Jamming with haikus also helps you grow,” says Leung. “I never considered myself a poet, but I now find it easier to be snappy, creative and think spontaneously to express myself.”

"Different places, different Pani PuriBreaking into memories, soaking the flavourLike sunshine on a rainy day" Image: Shamani Joshi

Playing with your Food

On September 1, I landed up at the Bandra space—which has previously hosted haiku rap sessions and indie music gigs—where HaikuJAM held their first Kitchen Haiku, bringing together eight of us over a three-course dinner. “Even if haikus aren’t relevant to everyone, food is,” says Karwa, “We live in a complex world where we're always online and not very present in what we’re actually consuming”.


Playing host for the evening, Karwa dove into why a Kitchen Haiku—traditionally, an art form for Japanese women to indulge in domestic subjects, something that wasn’t considered profound enough back then— is relevant in an Indian context. “We are trying to shift this perception and aid gender parity with our debut event. We also wanted to heighten our guests’ awareness of the eating process and appreciate the labour that goes into its preparation,” he said.

"Take me away, banana leafA green carpet folded just right,The colour of grass is just another belief" Image: Shamani Joshi

What followed was a ‘democratic’ flavour fest, wherein each bite of cuisine from different parts of the country was alternated with a poetic verse of the emotion it invoked, in the conventional haiku structure of 5-7-5 syllables per line. Making mental notes of the taste and how it made us feel, we started the process by slowly biting into pani puris, leading to a discussion about its equalising force in the Indian food culture. The second round included an assortment of South Indian yummies, like tangy lemon rice, ragi idlis and a variety of powdered spices mixed with ghee on a banana leaf. For the final course, we were blindfolded in a bid to figure how the deprivation of a sense affects our creative output. This resulted in me focusing on the nostalgia factor of the sticky jalebis and rabri served to us, and gave my haiku a more personal touch thereafter.

"Sweets make me bitterWith memories that don't melt in the mouthThey belong to people from the North to the South" Image: Shamani Joshi

Although I consider myself a regular in the poetry slam scene, there was something beautifully unconventional about jamming with people I had never met before, especially through the brevity-commanding haiku format I usually steer clear of. It not only let me gaze into their innermost emotions in a short and silently social manner, but also opened me up to new insights.

I wasn’t the only one.

“Because we ate slowly and savoured it, it felt like I was watching a movie in my mind,” says artist Daniel Baptist, one of the attendees. While musician Brijesh Joshi spoke about how food is a language with the potency to liberate, the night took Roselin Koshy, a consultant, back to her time as a student who “hated writing, but connected to haikus to express herself."

The event ended with a collection of our spontaneous compositions that the team plans on turning into a HaikuJAM book soon. Image: Shamani Joshi

The night ended with Karwa paraphrasing from his favourite book, Dawn of the New Everything by Jaron Lanier: “The whole universe is miraculous but because of the chores of the everyday, we miss that. So, by experiencing the food and the subtleties, we are actually more connected to it as well as with each other.”