Remembering Vidrohiji on his first death anniversary, I write this piece as a memoir. There are layers of memories, but it unfolds on the horizon of reminiscence through several repetitions of certain events. Vidrohiji may not have been remembered by many, but for many his absence is sorely missed. Just being one among such persons, I contribute this introductory article or my own paroxysm of sadness.
Rare is such a moment when due attention is bestowed upon any writer, poet or thinker while alive. There are number of such examples as well, when a single work has turned the course of history. There are such persons also who were forgotten in their own time but recovered from obscurity after centuries. Exactly the same can be said in case of Vidrohi, the poet, who left behind his only collection of poems ‘Nayi Kheti’, which, I think, embarks upon the canonical understanding of advances of movements waged by oppressed people of the whole world. This collection covers the widest range of turbulent people’s history of the world through poems in the everyday language. His ideas were the product of the sharp observations of people’s progress in the past. He envisioned the political idealism for his own life and remained engrossed in its praxis. Surprisingly, he won over the contradiction between theory and praxis at least in his own life. He remained communist to the core, stood firmly with all the progressive movements of his time and set the example that Left politics has yet to be arrive at.
Within the rout of Left politics, Vidrohi betrayed the plagued political slogan of ‘tactical’ struggle and he knew that history will absolve him for this. He strode on the path where survival itself was at risk. He took it and walked on confidently the whole of his life. For many, it was surely craziness intermingled with the notion of laziness as he did not fall prey to the consumerist culture. He was one among those who died the way they had chosen. In a conversation, Vidrohi said in 2013 that he will die at the site of some protest for movements, and it exactly turned out to be the same. He breathed his last at the protest site at the Occupy UGC Movement outside UGC building.
Very few people knew that his full name was Ramashankar Yadav. He came to be known as Vidrohi and he died with this name. He was born on December 3, 1957 and died on December 8, 2015. His father’s name was Ramnarayan Yadav and mother’s Karma Devi. He was married to Shanti Devi in childhood. He studied and started working a job. After some time, he left the job and came to Delhi and joined JNU to pursue M.A in 1980. Here, he joined the Left student politics. As a result, he was rusticated from JNU in 1983. From then onwards, he stayed in JNU and became a cultural activist. He stood with the progressive and democratic politics and advocated for values based on liberty, equality and fraternity.
His poetry and occasional speeches delivered at several protest sites ‘would’ bear witness of his commitment to the progressive Left ideology. His lifestyle gives an unparalleled account of being a true revolutionary. He stood for simplicity, lived humbly and defied accumulation to the core. He rebelled against all exploitative structures and practices and flowed free through the rough course of his life. His demeanor displayed the sufferings of selfless human beings. He lived in the reverie of history and died paving the way further ahead for its making.
His journey flows in the stream of organic consciousness, rising from the identity of social self to the expansion and discovery of the collective.
His stay at JNU
At no time it has happened when we read or listen to something and we don’t try to imagine the appearance of such a person, event or milieu. Like all great historical events or persons, people will imagine, how did Vidrohi look like? They will see it in the pictures, in the books and his biography which is yet to be written, his award-winning documentaries made by others and listen to the deep roaring poetry-reciting voice and will not escape from getting impressed. In such circumstances, it becomes difficult for me to describe his image.
He dressed like a ‘free’ man. Free from all kinds of pressures of social prestige, the clothes given by students who immensely loved him. It was generally of free size, mostly larger and loose. His hair was always uncombed and grey. His body was slim and uncared for, walking in chappals or shoes given by some students. To cut short, his posture was the posture of the oppressive era, where the love for humanity was seen struggling to survive in the world of growing hatred. To be rude enough, he looked like a beggar to some eyes. The world is weird and cruel and he knew it. People close to him know quite well that he had chosen to live like this. He came from a farmer’s family and was rich enough to enjoy a lavish life. He could have also chased the ‘illusory’ notion of basking in the glory of individual success and profiteering. He simply walked out of such a life. He was a happy man who loved his family. It was just that he made a wider family while staying in JNU for years, unlike others
Vidrohi ‘the poet public’
Some of you may find a mistake with the term ‘the poet public’, as it has always been ‘the public poet’. Of course, Vidrohi was the public poet as he truly belonged to people in the fullest sense, he considered and presented himself first as a poet and than anything else.
To continue, I think that Vidrohi was the last ‘poet public’. Some people write poems, some read and some memorise it. Some people think about the poems and thus are called critics. Unlike other poets, Vidrohi never planned to write poems. There are no long perforated sheets of poetic ‘transcendence’. Perhaps, there is no evidence to show as scribbled notes of poetic shifts and transformations. His poems cannot be called great the way Muktibodh’s poems are considered as he (Muktibodh) used to work on his poems for years to consider it final.
Instead, it just flowed from within. Vidrohi ‘did’ poetry. He ‘spoke’ poems. He ‘versified’ the tale, the daily narratives. He filled his surroundings with recitation. Thus, he became the ‘reciter’. Since, he broke all poetical conventions, and rebelled against everything he considered wrong, therefore I think him to be ‘a rebel reciter’.
Those who have heard him reciting poems know very well that his poetry recitation always appeared to be the true embodiment of “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Rather, it is not only “recollected in tranquility” but in my view, ‘recollected in turbulence’ also. In the gap of every word in his poems lies the love, affection and memory. His memory encounters with the splendid force of people’s history prevalent throughout his poetry. His literariness is expressed through the language, bereft of pedantic diction. His images are deep-rooted in the memory of minute description of human relations. Reading his poems is like celebrating the people’s revolt against all forms of religious bigotry, injustice and violence unleashed on humanity.
As listening to poems directly from Vidrohi was the act of participating in the political movements, so is reading his poems after him like flowing in the stream of history or evolution of present culture, politics and theories. Referring to the Indian context, his conception on partition and feminist movement is unparalleled in his poems.
Pangs of ‘Nayi Kheti’
‘Nayi Kheti’ is the title of a book in which all his poems and songs written in Hindi and Awadhi have been collected. This collection was published in 2011 by Sanskritik Sankul, Jan Sanskriti Manch, a cultural wing of CPI(ML) from Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. When published, its brief review was also published in the Hindi Newspaper. After that, it was hardly a matter a discussion within or outside JNU. The book is also not easily available.
The range of its readers is limited because ‘Nayi Kheti’ is yet to be translated into other languages. Apart from its translation, the exhaustive work on it is yet to be done. In this way, this article is just a beginning or can be said that I intend to draw the attention of all people who are striving for progressive change.
Every poem of this collection narrates the story of struggle. Every poem describes the agony stored in the memory from centuries. It represents the society in its wholesomeness. It is the society that is claimed by all. This is the society where the family system is in its core. His poems do not describe family as a system of slavery for any gender. His bond of relations within the family is strong. Family, as imagines Vidrohi, is the confluence of generations, a meeting point where different ages and experiences come together. It simply connects.
These poems fight against women’s oppression. There are many poems where women have been celebrated as never before. There are poems which sing the saga of families where women are as prevalent as anything else. These women are not ‘competitive’. A poem titled as ‘Auratein’ (Women), sums up the whole history of all shades of women’s movement layer by layer. In Indian tradition, this is the poem which clearly exhibits religion as an originating source of patriarchy. Mostly, poems showing women’s oppression have been written but for the first time, the religion as source of women’s exploitation has been written in straightforward language. It is unusual when women directly counter religion for its patriarchal slavery.
One of his poems is the most romantic as well as poignant description of love and departure expressed through the anxiety of partition. ‘Noor Miyan’ is the most powerful expression of love in all times. This poem grieves the partition. It is written in the most defiant manner. The defiance, which is shown by a person who is in extreme love, of all societal norms is all pervasive. Where poets weep out for their love, it rebels against the genre of individual cry and sings the miserable song of partition expressed simply through the event of ‘departure’.
All of his poems is a capture of our everyday life, all of them need to be discussed. It turns out to be the ‘everyday’ of history. It recounts the ‘everyday’ spanned across periods of several centuries. Every image drawn in his poems gives an account of resistance. Love is in the centre of all his poems. His love is inherent as well as eternal
‘Nayi Kheti’ establishes an organic ‘aesthetics’. It originates from his social identity. His aesthetics breathes on the living notion of that ‘aesthetics’ which has been otherwise a subject of humiliation. This is the ‘aesthetics’ rising from the ‘caste’. Caste, as Vidrohi views in his poems, is not a matter of humiliation or deprivation. He takes pride in its work culture. He takes most of his imagery from his surrounding profession. He goes deep down to the identity of being ‘Ahir’ (milkman). His sense of familial affluence is invoked from his profession. Thus, he celebrates being a real working class. This identity gives a way to feel one of such humans whose struggles are waged in relation to production. His images are abundantly taken from ‘milk’, ‘curd’, ‘cow’, ‘buffalo’ etc. He declares all of them as the epithets of the working class. Neither does he take his caste identity as a matter of pride by superseding over another profession nor does he feel disheartened or repentant. Neither does he think about himself as degraded nor does he desire elevation from the social identity he is born in. His images are not located in metaphysical or supernatural objects as has been the genre of poetical aesthetics in general, rather he establishes a new genre of ‘poetical aesthetics of working class poetry’. His images are taken from the real life which can be seen, touched or related directly to our lives.
To conclude, it may take longer to understand the grand narrative Vidrohi imagined through his poems, but it can no longer be denied that in the coming days the world will remember that there was a poet called Vidrohi who recited rebellion, who rebelled against everything which was against humanity, with love having malice towards none but freedom for all.
Dharmaraj Kumar is pursuing Ph.D in Hindi Translation at Centre of Indian Languages, JNU, New Delhi – 110067. He may be contacted at email@example.com.