Vidrohi, the last people's poet in Hindi, departs
Vidrohi: The rebel
A person who rises in opposition to an establishment
The body on the pyre was burning. High flames leapt towards the sky, which seemed to be shedding tears at his demise. Little rain drops seemed to be paying tribute to a poet who stood for the people, the nature and their cause.
The air stood still; Overcast faces reflected the sorrow of losing someone important. The flames leapt as if the poet was reciting his last poem.
Vidrohi, or Ramashankar Yadav, died on 8 December. Many poets die. Many artists leave behind a vacuum.
But the death of Vidrohi was not typical to theirs. It was the departure of the last Hindi poet who was a people's poet in the real sense. He carried the legacy of Baba Nagarjun, Trilochan and Girish Tiwadi Girda.
Yadav was born in 1957 in Uttar Pradesh's Sultanpur district. His parents Ram Naryan Yadav and Karma Devi were peasants. As a minor he was married to Shanti Devi.
In 1980, Yadav came to Jawaharlal Nehru University for his post-graduation. Three years later he was rusticated for his involvement in Left politics and students' movement. The varsity administration reportedly told him that he would not be allowed inside the campus anymore.
It was like a rebirth for Yadav. He vowed that no one could push him out of the campus. And he lived that vow. Until the day he died, the trees and their shades of JNU, the corners of its hostels and the students' union office were his abode.
Vidrohi lived the life of a real king. He left behind no material possession except his clothes. Those too were mostly not bought by him. "Jinko kachu na chahiye, woh hi Sahanshah (the one who needs nothing is the real king)", perhaps these lines of Kabir describes his life: Vidrohi lived this life till his last breathe.
The poet was always a student. The campus was home for him. Vidrohi continued to participate in students' movements. He joined protests by students and by those who demanded justice and civil liberties be it in Delhi or anywhere else. His was a voice of inspiration. His poems were a catalyst in times of struggle.
And he was one with the class he represented. His words, attire, voice, looks, the issues he raised and the references he made, his subjects represented and talked about that class. Labourers, rickshaw pullers, cleaners, chai wallahs and workers made up his audience. Wherever Vidrohi read out his poems, they responded actively. This made him stand out.
It was never about 'me' and 'you'. Rather it was about 'we' - sharing pain, power and struggle.
The genius ingenious
It is not easy to count how many protests and people's action were attended by Vidrohi . The people's poet was always available for the people, unlike many who stuck to safer, hygienic confines. At several poetry recitations, gatherings and meetings, Vidrohi's name was not even mentioned in posters and pamphlets. Yet, he would stand in a corner and would be asked to read his poems towards the end. Invariably, he was the most-liked at those events.
The poet stood against establishments and systems. He challenged the existence of God, clearer and sharper than Kabir. He attacked kings, castes, the Brahmanical social and cultural systems, patriarchy and he fought for women through his poems. He stood firm against inequality and war.
His characters were people less known - the marginalised and suppressed. Vidrohi was anti-communal and anti-religion. His canvass was vast and comprehensive.
The beauty of his work is that he lived what he wrote - important when we talk about literature of resistance. If writers and poets for resistance distance themselves from their cause, they achieve nothing except good reviews from friends and followers.
Vidrohi never bothered about getting printed or awards. He preferred taking his poem in front of people instead of being published by big houses and getting restricted to libraries and academies.
The crazy, the poet
Vidrohi was never seen with a pen and paper, or a notebook or anything where he has written what he recited. It was all in the mind. And not just in one language - his work in Awadhi is outstanding and far beyond his contemporaries.
For some, Vidrohi was a deewana, a crazy man, a disturbed soul. But many did not judge him by his clothes and material achievements. They loved him as their own poet, the people's poet. He stood for them. He wrote and recited whatever was needed at that time. Vidrohi was not about tables with whiskey glasses and advance cheques from publishers.
A few years ago, some friends compiled his poems and published them and we got a gem like 'Nayi Kheti'. Many other poems have been left without a trace though. His friends have a few recordings, very few compared to what we have lost forever.
Nitin K Pamnani, an independent filmmaker, made a film on him, 'Mein Tumhara Kavi Hoon' (I am your poet). The documentary was awarded at the Mumbai International Film Festival, 2011.With Nitin's permission, we share the film here:
The literary clubs of the Capital and other parts of the country underplayed the work and life of the poet. Most of them were insecure about his work and repulsed by his lifestyle - they may resist such a statement, but that is the observation of those who knew Vidrohi.
The poet himself felt the same, but never complained. He would laugh and say: "mein unke liye kavita nahi karta" (I don't do poetry for them). Hundreds of his fan came for his last rites but writers, poets and critics - barring two or three - kept away. Perhaps they were busy in their seminars, tea-time discussions or at prestigious bars.
The last day
Vidrohi lived his poetry. He was engaged to his causes. He never waited for a call - he was everywhere at the right time. The rest of his hours were spent talking and reciting to himself at dark, dirty corners of JNU.
On his last day, he was with students outside the University Grants Commission office protesting the withdrawal of scholarships. The evening of 8 December, he told the students that he was hungry and they got him some food. He then said he was sleepy. Soon he was asleep forever. At the hospital, he was declared 'brought dead'.
He didn't die in an ICU or in an apartment in a middle-class colony. He died at the forefront of struggle, fighting for rights and liberties.
The pyre was in flames. The crackling fire played a rhythm.
The poet was on the pyre, reciting his poems to himself. For the last time. And his poems were all around - in the air, in the sky.
The last poet of the people had departed. There was no other Vidrohi. Not in JNU, nor anywhere else.
It was a black day.
This writer was a friend and admirer
More in Catch: