Vidrohi: A Rebel Poet On The Streets Of Delhi
There is a poet on the streets of Delhi called ‘Vidrohi’ – the rebel. He roams around the old city, spouting Molotov cocktails of words.The citizen name of the ‘Vidrohi’ is Ramashankar Yadav, a raggedy old man from Sultanpur. Vidrohi is a title that has been conferred to Indian poets before, such as Kazi Najrul Islam and Damodar Swarup, but has it had such an organic development so as to overshadow the real name.
Ramashankar Yadav is a people’s poet, a rebel at heart who carries on the legacy of poets like Kabir and Nagarjun. He spends most of his time around Delhi and inside Jawaharlal Nehru University’s campus. A former student of JNU, he was rusticated from the University for being part of a mass movement in the 80s. It was after this incident that he started living under the trees inside the campus. Away from his faraway home and wife, Vidrohi has chosen the life of a vagabond, roaming around with his bag full of the poetry of rebellion. There is no bitterness between his family members and himself for his chosen lifestyle of living on the streets. He lives off people’s kindness, living by the people he writes for, of which JNU students play a crucial part.
The subjects of his poems deal with universal struggle and suffering, imbued with socio-political perspectives. He uses historical places, times and names to constitute his subjects with historical relevance. There is a history behind each system of oppression and a game of constant manipulation to make people forget that history. Vidrohi’s poems fight against the politics of re-memory and re-interpretation by retelling and reconstructing the discourse of suffering.
His poems are mostly composed in Hindi. He uses everyday phrases in his poems to make them comprehensible to people from all walks of life, but even with ordinary words he creates powerful images, like a burnt corpse of a woman lying on the last step of Mohenjodaro, her corpse embodying the history of continuous exploitation and violence committed by imperialist powers all over the world. He also writes about the interconnectedness of class and gender oppression. Each of his poems deal with one powerful image around which he constructs the narrative.
In Ek Aurat ki Jwali Hui Laash’ (Burnt Corpse of a Woman), he says:
“har sabhyata ke muhane pe ek aurat ki jail huyi laash
aur insaano ki bikhri hui haddiyan,
yeh laash jwali nahi jwalai gayi hain,
yeh haddiyan bikhri nahi bikheri gayi hain,
yeh aag lagi nahi lagayi gayi hain,
yeh ladai chhidi nahi chhedi gayi hain-
lekin kavita bhi likkhi nahi, likkhi gayi hain,
aur jab kavita likkhi jati hain toh aag bhark jati hain.
Main kahta hu mujhe bachao mere logon is aag se
Tum woh saare log milke mujhko bachao
jinke khun ke gare se
pyramid bane, minaret bane, diwaare bane,
kiyuki mujhko bachana uss stree ko bachana hain
jiski laash Mohenjodaro ki talab ke akhri siri par pari hui hain”
“On the stepping stone of every civilization
there’s a burnt corpse of a woman
and scattered bones of humans,
this corpse is not burnt, but has been burnt,
these bones are not scattered, but have been scattered,
this fire hasn’t caught, but has been made to catch ,
this war has not started by itself, but has been started by someone or something –
but poetry is also not already written,
someone has written it,
and when poetry is written by people
the fire is boosted.
I am asking you people to save me from this fire
Save me, you all
from whose blood the pyramids,
the monuments and the walls have been made,
because saving me is also saving that woman
whose corpse is lying on the last step of the pond in Mohanjodaro.”
Poem: Ek Aurat ki Jali Huyi Laash
In his poems, Time is without boundaries of past, present and future. He travels from Mohanjodaro to modern day India in one breath. The timelessness of oppression is depicted very beautifully; oppression as a continuous process from the beginning of civilization. With waves of his words he creates dissent, unmasks the oppressors, fights the dehumanization of people and somewhere in between, inspires. In a poem titled ‘Nayi Duniya’, Vidrohi says:
“Ek duniya humko gar lene do/ jaha aadmi-aadmi ki tarha/ rahe sake, kahe sake, sahe sake”.
‘Let us build a world where humans can live, speak and endure like human beings’
Poem: Noor Miyan ka Surma
In another touching poem called ‘Noor Miyan ka Surma’, he retells the story of Noor Miyan as heard from his grandmother. While lamenting Noor Miyan’s departure, he refers to the partition of India and Pakistan. Nothing goes untouched in his poems, from the ancient civilizations and Palestinian children dying in the war, to women facing gender violence and Latin American workers defying the imperialist and capitalist powers. He also mentions the resulting silence of oppression.
In one of Vidrohi’s popular poems named ‘Auratein’ (The Women), he endeavors to capture the untold stories of women killed by patriarchal religions and corrupt justice systems that were framed and listed as suicides in both scriptures and police records. He later adds that these women could be any woman in any part of the world facing similar oppression. He declares:
“main un auroto ko, jo apni iccha se
kuye me kud kar aur chita me jal kar mari hain,
phir se zinda karunga aur
unke bayanat dobara kalambandh karunga
ke kahi kuchh chhut toh nahi gaya?
ke Kahi Kuchh baki toh nahi rahe gaya?
kahi koi bhul toh nahi hui?”
“I will revive those women, who are said to have
jumped into the well or thrown themselves
in the burning funeral pyres of their husbands
by their own wish,
and I will write their testimonies again
to know if something has been missed,
if something has been left out,
or if there has been any mistake.”
Vidrohi regularly participates in mass movements and student movements in and outside JNU; he goes to different cultural and political events, sometimes invited, sometimes not, and performs his poetry. Vidrohi does not believe in writing down his poetry or publishing it. He is a spoken word poet who mirrors the politics of our times through his words. He travels with his words and creates an immediate connection with his audience while reciting. However, in more recent times, a few students from JNU convinced him to publish a collection of his poems called Nayi Kheti (meaning ‘New Farmland’).
A short poem by Vidrohi (with English subtitles):
Some of Vidrohi’s poems can be found in written form here: