The year is 2030. The sea levels are slowly rising and storms gather over a city, presumably Mumbai. A couple in love “unmindful of the world” and “lost in each other” find themselves caught in this maelstrom. Thus begins, Helly Shah’s poem, titled Ghar Khab Aoge? one of the seven poems, which are part of Love in the Times of Climate Change, a spoken-word poetry project that was kicked off on March 21, World Poetry Day and will end on May 7.
The project, a collaboration between the sustainability think tank, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), and online spoken word platform, UnErase Poetry, seeks to “unpack varied experiences of climate change through the poets’ narratives of how the changing climate is affecting/altering our experiences of love, companionship, desire, nostalgia and other emotions in today’s world.”
Kartikeya Jain, Communications Associate, CEEW, who spearheaded this project, talks about the raison d’etre of Love in the Times of Climate Change. “We wanted science and art to come together,” he says, pointing out that using an artistic medium such as poetry to drive a sustainability message, helps mainstream thoughts and ideas. While the target audience of the research organisation, is the policy-makers, they turned to the medium of poetry because they “wanted the masses— youth especially — to be engaged,” he says.
The poets — Amandeep Singh, Helly Shah, Shubham Shyam, Priya Malik, Sainee Raj, Simar Singh and Priyanshi Bansal — were chosen both for their talent and their sizeable social media following. “To mainstream the message of sustainability, we wanted to work with influencers who would bring an audience of their own,” says Mihir Shah, Director, Strategic Communications, CEEW, adding that this way they could reach more people.
Talking about the ideation process, Jain says that the CEEW worked closely with various poets to see that the right messaging went out. “We wanted to focus on the effects rather than causes of climate change,” he says. The process, began by the end of 2022, with CEEW providing reading and viewing material as well as conducting workshops for the poets, to help them understand climate change better. “The scientific accuracy of what they wanted to say, had to be there,” agreed Jain, who sought the help of two researchers to guide the poets as they created their poems. However, the poets enjoyed artistic liberty to draw from experiences they felt close to, stories they connected and resonated with. “I wanted to approach it from a personal place because I feel that I can be truly honest only if it comes from personal experience,” shares Helly Shah, pointing out that since she lives in Mumbai, the sea is an integral part of her life, as is the looming fear of what can happen when one lives so close to the sea. “That is why I connected (the poem) to something that was so close to my experience,” she says.
Also, while climate change is the subtext of all these poems, it is not its core. Instead, “we tried to make a conscious choice to front and centre it on love,” says Mihir Shah. For example, Helly Shah’s poem talks about the rising sea’s impact on two lovers, Amandeep Singh courts nostalgia when he bumps into a past love — on an e-bike, no less — while Priya Malik draws parallels between love and Nature. “If I want to learn about climate change, there are so many other sources,” says Malik, elaborating on the decision to perform love poetry. “If I want to remember, feel it, take it home with me, it has to be connected to an emotion,” she adds. “And what better emotion can there be than the universal emotion of love?”
Love in the Times of Climate Change can be accessed at the CEEW India website and on YouTube