The inaugural session of Kalam series took place at the Quilon in St James’s Park, Westminster on 19th November, with eminent Hindi poet Leeladhar Jagoori.

Addressing the audience he spoke about his life and his practice, and read from his work in conversation with Dr. Padmesh Gupta, Director of Oxford Business College (a Hindi poet of international repute and founder of UK Hindi Samiti).

Jagoori is a member of the Garhwali people, his major literary Influences, are Sanskrit Classics and epics and also by Prakrit and Indian Folk literature.

At the Kalam session in London, Jagoori explained how he had run away from home at the age of eleven, and on his return joined the Indian Army. It was during this time that Jagoori’s love of Hindi literature, a result of reading widely and deeply as a teenager, compelled him to write his first serious poems. Speaking at the Quilon, there was a suggestion from Jagoori that this urge to write may have had something to do with the struggle to find an identity within the army, where self-expression was discouraged.

Without really expecting anything to come of it, Jagoori dispatched a letter to the then Minister of Defence, V. K. Krishna Menon, asking for permission to quit his post in the Garhwal Rifle. Happily for Jagoori and for poetry, the request was granted.

He decided to change his last name from one which designated his caste to one which reflected the name of his ancestral village in Garhwal. It is typical of writers in India’s satirical tradition to give themselves pen names in this manner. He went on to publish widely and has been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards and prizes, including the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1997 and the Padma Shri in 2004.

After talking so openly and generously about his life, Jagoori read some of his short poems and haikus, each demonstrating a deft way with language, a playful approach to words, and what Jagoori himself elsewhere has called his ‘lively interest in being human’.