“Tumko maine bataya AK called me? He is releasing his second book at India Habitat Centre and he wants me to read at the event. Unkey doosre poet friends will read their poems too.”
“So talented boy! Kab hai ye?”
“Next week. Sunday, 7th.”
“Uss din hamara welcome party hai, Arunachal Bhawan mei. I won’t be able to come.”
“Party ke baad aa jana?”
“Nahi yaar. Main host kar rahi hun.Mujhe end tak rukna padega.”
“Um thike. Fir mei aa jaunga apney event ke baad.”
“Yahh I will. Lekin listen na, mujhe practice karna hai. Main Hostel aajaun shaam ko? Please advise me how to read poems for an audience. Spoken word form me. Jaisa tum kartey ho.”
“Haan okay. Kitne baje aoge?”
“Nahi. Ussey pehle aao. Visitors allowed nahi hain Hostel mei 6 baje ke baad.”
“4 baje aata hun firr?”
Our Ambedkarite reading group also had a meeting early that afternoon. The day was chosen intentionally so everyone who attended the meet could also later accompany me to the book release. I would need my friends in the audience to cheer for me. It was the second time I’d be reading at a poetry event. The only time I had done so earlier was incidentally at another reading organized by AK. It was a smallish affair which drew around a dozen or so poetry enthusiasts, mainly among those who admired AK’s work and wanted to see him perform.
When I reached the Women’s Hostel, I met you at the main gate. I had just started seeing you outside the University. We had met for the first time a couple of weeks back when S had sent me a text asking if I wished to come for the play adaptation of Umrao Jaan Ada at a theater place in Mandi House. They had an extra ticket since A had canceled at the last minute. I agreed to join after S mentioned you’d be there too.
After the play, the three of us found a South Indian restaurant nearby to eat in. We walked to the metro later, engaging in friendly banter. The literary historiography paper we had submitted earlier as part of our course work had been marked and returned to us and we discussed the feedback we had received from the professors. Dr Hany Babu had marked sentences in our research papers and flagged them “redundant”. It made us laugh. That he would be jailed within a year along with other professors and writers, nobody knew. All of us were mindlessly oblivious. I had received a 5 out of 10 and wasn’t bothered one bit, having submitted my paper precariously on time. We somehow got into the topic of capitalism and I quoted a line from Thoreau’s Walden. Later when you started sharing past anecdotes, you said you had wanted to point out to me that while Thoreau was composing his classic work on spiritual self-discovery, his mother did all his laundry for him.
At the book release, I kept wondering how everybody who read before me only reminisced about Delhi glowingly. Each poet romanticized the city, its architecture, its royal heritage. My love for India’s capital, in contrast, had turned to dust the very year I moved to live here, studying English at DU as an undergraduate. Delhi had been less than kind to me.
When I was invited to the dais to recite, I began—
“Though Akhil’s new collection is about Delhi, it’s a bit different for me because I do not like Delhi…. I like the people I have met here, the friends I have made while studying at college, but the city itself I don’t like.”
I read About Lynching*as if to prove a point.
The poem about Babasaheb I kept for the last. I knew that those in the audience (apart from my friends) were listening to me for the first time. They’d have thought I was odd to say all that I did and I knew they were curious to know where I came from. Before I made my stand clear, I wanted them to make their judgments as they wished.
Introducing Babasaheb is waiting for his visa, I spoke briefly about how the title references his autobiography, and then—
“I wrote this poem as a tribute to Dr Ambedkar. He is the reason why I’m here.”
When I reached Arunachal Bhawan later that evening to see you, I found you on the stage addressing everyone present. It was lively. I told you that the first poem I had read that evening was the one I had written about you.
Chanchal Kumar is a poet and writer from Jharkhand. Currently, he is pursuing M.Phil. from the University of Delhi.