Jab kavi gata hai
Tab bhi kavita hoti hai
Aur jab kavi rota hai
Tab bhi kavita hoti hai
Karm hai kavita
Jise main karta hun
Fir bhi log mujhe puchtein hain
KI Vidrohi, tum kya karte ho….
(When a poet sings, poetry happens/ when a poet cries, even then poetry happens. Poetry is my work, it is what I do/and still people ask me, ‘Vidrohi what do you do for a living?’)
When a poet such as Vidrohi dies what do you do? Do you become silenced at the absurdity of such a void, do you walk away in anguish or do you scream- but wherever grief takes you, his poetry walks along, somehow refusing to leave you alone. It was the winter of 2008 and I was walking around the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, while on a visit to my sister, who was pursuing her MPhil from the university. Seated near the iconic Gangaram Dhaba, we sipped on tea and snacks when a man passed us huddled in a sweater and muffler even while his feet remained bare. Someone shouted at him, ‘Vidrohi ji jute kahan gaye?’ (What happened to your shoes Vidrohi?). The man did not turn around but muttered as if to himself, ‘chod aye sarkar ke ghar’ (left it in the house of the government). Peals of laughter followed, one of the students left his seat and followed him out of the Dhaba( road side restaurant). It was my first introduction to the revolutionary poet who had made the university his home for thirty odd years, despite being thrown out from the university during his student days for indulging in student politics against the governing body.
Vidrohi lived a life that very few could imagine leave alone imbibe. Winters are extremely cold in the capital city and Vidrohi who lived under a tree in the campus would have felt the stinging bite. But little of all this seemed to bother him and his self discipline towards a culture of protest( Vidroh), poetry and introspection perhaps made it a passionate calling. Taking a walk around the campus, someone showed me his bags hanging from a tree, the sight reminded me of a clipping from the film made on him-‘ I am your Poet’, where he says people die, move away, things rot, get lost and yet people give..the poet seemed indebted to this kindness that his verse had brought on.
I had seen people giving him strange looks, there were many who pitied the life he lead- misunderstanding the choices that a person like him makes, as a path that comes without alternatives. It is perhaps not easy for those who chose to lead their lives under the compulsion that society or their families have destined for them, to grasp the immense impulse to be a free bird.
A life of self introspection, of imbibing a certain discipline of being unrestrained in one’s choices is hardly easy, given the fact that on most days you walk alone, are perceived as a poor entertainer, devoid of more serious work. It did not of course matter to the poet what people thought of him as long as he had an audience who listened to his poetry. Would he have paused to wonder, if in that moment at least a few people would have understood him?
Like most revolutionary poets, Vidrohi talked about all kinds of social issues that caused him pain. His poems often spoke about class struggle, about the plight of women, about the plight of partition, about human pain and its endurance too. Thankfully though, his voice of protest did not wait for a momentous occasion, for Vidrohi protest seemed like a way of life. In that sense Vidrohi’s poems are no less historical because they depict the struggles of daily life. In fact its historicity lies in the very knowledge that poetry unlike very few mediums is a platform for struggle.
The second time I saw the poet was a year later, when I had accompanied a friend to the university library. He sat outside smoking, muttering to himself. I had already heard him and his poetry by then, as I watched him from a distance I marvelled at his ability to be happy, be angry, be rebellious and remain content, all at the same time. A group of students passed by, one of them stopped to ask him whether he had eaten, exchanged a smile and walked away. Vidrohi continued sitting there, muttering to himself from time to time, I wondered if he had a poem bubbling within him that wanted to pour out.
Vidrohi would say that people liked his poems because they made them think, the poems made them pause, question, seek thoughts that they might not have otherwise come across. In his own words, his poems are a question mark on the government and its governance, in our own beliefs and our system.
Ay meri logon tum utho aur gira do un sari deewaron ko
jo roke huye hai taji hawa ko taji paani ko taaji vichar ko..
daro nahin deewaron se, deewaron mein aatmayein nahin hoti
daro nahin pedon se, pedon mein bhut nahin hote
daro nahin mandiron se, mandiron mein dewta nahin hote
Aur suno, jis din tum ye baat samajh jaoge ki iint iint hi hoti hai pathar pathar hi hota hai
toh uske baad tumhara koi kuch nahin bigad payega.
(My people, wake up and break down those walls that have imprisoned the fresh air and fresh thoughts..don’t be afraid of walls, walls don’t have a soul/don’t be afraid of trees, ghosts don’t reside in trees/ don’t be afraid of temples, the Gods don’t reside in temples/And listen, the day you realise that a brick is a brick and a stone is a stone, then no one will be able to harm you.)
In the larger scope of things, Vidrohi is that voice of continuity that does not pause for the seemingly growing economy or the politics of globalization. His is a voice that speaks for those who continue to be victims in spite. Vidrohi’s poems are that important turning point in an ongoing war against atrocity of every kind, it is ammunition that sets the mood for those who are a part of this ongoing fight. In that the poet himself is a reflection, a movement that seeks to set precedence for introspection and contemplation about what we make of our future. Vidrohi’s poetry and his presence hopefully will remain like a conscience keeper that reminds one of songs that few feel or even acknowledge and in that pristine virginity of a happy light, his poetry shall be embedded in the minds of an entire generation and beyond.