Vikas Gorur and Kaustuba KV started the page Poetry Auto to document the visual poetry spotted in Bengaluru, and have now expanded to across India.

Stylised picture of Kaustuba KV and Vikas Gorur who run the Poetry Auto Instagram page
Features Culture Wednesday, September 01, 2021 - 18:00

“If we succeed in love, we should keep the lover safe; if we fail in love, we should keep the liver safe.” Vikas Gorur wrote these words with his friend Kaustuba KV on the third anniversary of Poetry Auto, their Instagram account, where they document the visual poetry often seen amidst the traffic of cities across India. 

A variety of quotes and poems on themes ranging from life, love and family are often written over auto rickshaws, lorries, cars or two-wheelers in India. However, these spottings last for a fleeting moment before they disappear into the traffic and eventually fade from our memories. Visual poetry remains largely undocumented and even if someone clicks a photograph, it rarely is available for public access.

Speaking about the journey of starting the page, the curator duo tells TNM that their desire to document the visual poetry before it fades away drove them to start the page. As the page got increasingly more traffic, they also started to receive submissions from around the country, of which a select few made it to the page.

Kaustuba works for the computer manufacturer Dell in Strategy and Planning Department, while Vikas runs his own start-up called Airbase, a spend management company, in the city. The two began the account four years ago when they would consciously observe the poems on vehicles to feature on their page, with contributors also sharing their sightings.

“I and Vikas have been friends since college and when we first moved to Bengaluru, we spotted these poems often on the back of the rickshaws here. I am from Udupi and it was not as prevalent there as here [in Bengaluru]. About four years ago, we decided to document the visual poetry spotted. When we initially started out, we’d go out and keep an eye out for such poems and post them. Off lately, it has been community-contribution based as we keep receiving posts,” says Kaustuba.

Vikas notes that visual poetry was a part of the culture that was going undocumented. ‘Whether we will get to see the next morning is unknown, yet we soak rice and lentils. If we are alive, we’ll eat Idlis, if not, we’ll eat vade [savoury snack]’ was the Kannada couplet that first drove them to begin the page documenting this “weird slice of culture”.

“We wish there was a way to honour the real poets who came up with the quotes. They are often spotted in the traffic and there’s hardly any time to stop and speak with people and learn their stories,” Kaustuba added.

The page manages to tickle one’s funny bone, while simultaneously making one think about the most profound couplets and quartets. When asked about their gradually increasing followers, Kaustuba notes that the page really resonated with people. “Visual poetry is common to India and neighbouring countries like Pakistan. The resonance made people gravitate towards our page. Secondly, we also give a translation of the poems written of the poetry which has gotten us global traction; we have followers based in the United Kingdom, China and other countries as well.”

“Initially, it was just two of us posting the photos but as the follower count grew, the community contributed and within a couple of months since we began posting, the community contributed posts increased,” he adds.

Even though the page majorly focuses on poetry, occasionally funny quotes like, “Please honk gently, for the government has already wrecked us up,” finds a grid to occupy. Elucidating on how they select the content to post on the page, the curator says that they just usually avoid posting photos of quotes they have already featured and that they understand.

Kaustuba tells TNM, “With we receiving more and more contributions we did struggle to post all the similar-themed poems together as we had lost track of who had sent what pictures. We usually refrain from posting a poem or quote unless the contributor has provided transliteration or translations if we are not familiar with the language. Only those posts are featured in which we understand the content of the poem, mostly focusing on Kannada, Hindi and English as we have a good understanding of these languages.”

Upon being quizzed on whether the duo has any future plans for the page or their aspirations, Kaustuba and Vikas tell TNM that they have no set plans. “Our plans are all in the air, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our social interactions. It would otherwise have been so good to meet our followers and contributors. Although we never wish to monetise what we do, we were thinking of having our own merchandise line alongside that we are planning to create a catalogue that will be available in libraries to help someone in their research work,” Kaustuba notes.

A researcher, the duo says, got in touch with them while doing their research work on visual poetry in India. He explains that the researcher is part of the Instagram page that focuses on designs of India and under one of the segments exploring visual poetry, he says, they refer to their page.

“We as of now have thought of halting posting on the page as we hit 1000 posts or if we think that we have covered all the themes of the visual poetry. If anyone is willing to take over the page and continue our work,” says Kaustuba.

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