The Quarantine Train, a community of poets and writers, instituted the memorial prize after Khiwani’s untimely death in March.

The quarantine train Deepankar Khiwani Memorial Prize collageR: Deepankar Khiwani
Features Poetry Tuesday, November 03, 2020 - 15:44

A creative writing workshop that came into existence this March, when lockdown was imposed to control the pandemic, has burgeoned into an important community for poets and creative writers across the country. The Quarantine Train (TQT) was started by Pune-based poet Arjun Rajendran, who at first set out to gauge people’s interest for a regularly held creative writing workshop. “In March when the pandemic was at its peak, I posted on Facebook to know if people would be interested in a regular creative writing workshop. I was, of course, holding such workshops since 2017 but this was going to be new, it was going to be held online. The response immediately was very encouraging,” Arjun shares with TNM.

The group first started with poetry appreciation sessions held over Zoom, and later progressed into poetry critiquing and guest sessions. TQT has had guest speakers from countries like Ireland and Canada, and the group presently has about 71 members. TQT has announced its first poetry competition under the newly instituted Deepankar Khiwani Memorial Prize, with prizes worth Rs 30,000. Poet Deepankar Khiwani, who had moved to Mumbai from Paris only recently, passed away at the age of 47 on March 28 this year.

“Deepankar is a dear friend with whom I have shared many ideas. He is an expert in the metrical form and has released a book named Entr’acte (which means interlude between two acts in a play in French). He always wanted to do something for poetry in India. His sudden and very unexpected passing earlier this year came as a shock to the community. I wanted to institute a prize in his honour and pay respect to his memory,” Arjun says, whose latest poetry collection, 'One Man Two Executions', was published recently by Westland.

The prize has no entry fee, and is open to all Indian nationals aged above 18. Submissions can have three to five original, unpublished poems in English. “We opened the prize on September 15 and the last date is December 31. We will take about three months for judging and results will be announced by April 2021. This will be a “blind process” judging to eliminate all forms of partiality,” Arjun adds.

Noting that the prize money is indeed a high amount as far as Indian poetry competitions go, with the first prize worth Rs 15,000, Arjun shares that they were able to do so with help from donors. The membership fee collected from TQT members has also contributed towards this.

What started as a space to encourage creative writing has turned into a nurturing ground for fresh talents. “We have been compared to a fellowship program, a second-degree program…” Arjun says. The bi-weekly sessions that convene every Tuesday and Saturday between 9 and 11 pm, Arjun adds, have turned into a “home” for creative writers. “A lot of them have told me that TQT has given them more focus during lockdown. Most importantly it has given them a community of like-minded people, a connection with well-read poets who can mentor them. We have poets of all ages and all skill levels, reading and growing together,” he observes.

Those wishing to enter the Deepankar Khiwani Memorial Prize can do so by logging on to TQT’s Facebook page here.

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