Vidrohi, the poet you probably have never heard of, or maybe you have, the one who lived under a tree in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, and the one who never wrote any of his poems down, died last week.
For me, and for many other present and ex-students, Vidrohi ji was a romantic—an extremist one, if there is any such thing. His real name was Ramashankar Yadav but very few knew of it. For them he was just Vidrohi, which literally means rebellion. And he sure was a rebel. Sample what he said to the woman he loved, “I love you, not because you are beautiful, and elegant, but because whenever I look at you, I believe there will be a revolution.” In his poem Nayi Kheti he says his ambition is to sow seeds in the sky. Can you see how romantic he was?
Vidrohi ji could have waved a flag, thrown a grenade, screamed to get heard, yet all he did was to have an ambition to sow seeds in the sky. His poetry was his revolution.
Born on December 3, 1957, in Firozpur village of Sultanpur district in Uttar Pradesh, India, he graduated from Sultanpur. Later after abandoning a course in law from Kamla Nehru Institute, he studied masters in Hindi literature. At this time he became involved in activism and student politics and was expelled from the university in 1983. The expulsion hit him so hard that he ended up spending his entire life on the university campus narrating poetry formed by him. Nobody seems to know why, but he never wrote any of his poems down. The only collection of his poetry titled Nayi Kheti was published in 2011 with the help of his small section of fans. Vidhrohi took his last breath on December 8, 2015 participating in a protest with the students of the very University that had expelled him.
The poet in him was spontaneous, combustible, and engaging. One of the favourite themes on which he wrote was the gender inequality in India. I often say that Vidrohi is a mirror we prefer not to look into.
When I was at the university, Vidrohi taught me recitals. 7-8 years with him in the university campus and anyone could learn recitals. He abused lyrically too. In the last years of his life, he became abusive and that’s why he was expelled from the campus once again, forbidden entry for offensive behavior. But the students of the university brought him back to his only home within a few days, where he participated in protests and activities and walked with hundreds of them silently, reciting his poems, until his last breath.
Throughout his life, Vidrohi was a victim of literary politics. No recognitions and no awards. Despite being a people’s poet, following the path of greats like Kabeer, Nagarjun and Adam Gondavi, despite having the spectacular range in his poems which targeted issues from ancient Mohanjodro, Greece, Mesopotamia, Spartus to the recent most politics, he was ignored by the literati, academia and the government. By everyone except the students.
I did not go for Vidrohi ji’s funeral. I was in a studio recording his poems. Reciting them in the company of twenty musicians. To tell you the truth, Vidrohi is an idea—an idea that needs voice, an idea that needs music, an idea that needs to be heard.
He is singing through me today, through these musicians, and he would sing forever. It’s up to us to listen. If you want to pay him a true tribute, read him. His only book Nayi Kheti is available in JNU and Ber Sarai.
Rest in Peace Vidrohi ji. We will take it over from here! We will dream of sowing seeds in the sky.
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