The Void Left By JNU's Rebel Poet Ramashankar 'Vidrohi' Yadav
“I love you, not because you are beautiful, and elegant, but because whenever I look at you, I believe there will be a revolution.”
- Ramashankar Yadav
It was in December of 2015 that the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University lost their household rebel poet. Before the ‘anti-national’ Kanhaiya Kumar, Anirban Bhattacharya and Umar Khalid, there was Ramashankar Yadav, a poet, romantic and revolutionary who was more popularly (and lovingly) known as Vidrohi, meaning rebel. Vidrohi first came to JNU in 1980 as a student. An active participant in Left student politics, he was rusticated and asked to leave in 1983 after a huge students’ movement took over the campus. But it wouldn’t be that easy for the administration to get rid of Vidrohi. He may not have been allowed to complete his Masters degree, but he just didn’t leave the campus and made it his home for the next three decades to come.
With the exterior of a disheveled and wrinkled man, you could easily spot Vidrohi roaming the JNU grounds, sipping hot chai at the library canteen or at the popular Ganga Dhaba benches reciting his powerful and subversive poetry. He would then spend his nights at the Students’ Union office or under a tree in the JNU woods with a small bag of belongings that were usually given to him by others. A social, political and cultural activist, Vidrohi’s poetry, which are in Hindi and Awadhi, was rarely recorded in written form but was available in person for anyone who was willing to listen to his wisdom and revolutionary thoughts; “If I write my poems and do all the work, what work will my comrades have?” he’d comment.
Vidrohi never left the college campus, although he was thrown out, yet again, by the administration for allegedly using abusive language in a public space. A campaign run by the students brought him back and soon his life became the subject of Nitin Kumar Pamnani’s award-winning documentary titled Main Tumhara Kavi Hoon (I Am Your Poet) in 2011. Pamnani gives us viewers an intimate look at the daily life of Vidrohi, offering us a glimpse into the mind of this alleged mad man, and allowing us to see the world through his eyes. “Vidrohi had several shades,” said Kanhaiya Kumar, current President of JNU’s student union, in conversation with Scroll.in. “He was a very complex person.”
“He always had a tragic sense of defeat, A warrior who had lost his battle but continued to fight. He was not ready to bow down; that was, in a way, his political, ideological zeal. He had said this in many of his poems, ‘I am a defeated warrior, lying on the flames of the ocean, continuously burning,’” says Sandeep Singh, former President of JNUSU and close friend of Vidrohi speaking to Scroll.in. “Great wars and mythologies happened inside Vidrohi’s head. His profanity was never driven at an individual, but at the rotten system and images he saw in his head,” he added.
Born into a family belonging to a low socio-economic class, Vidrohi was wed at an early age, and in fact, it was his wife, whom he loving called ‘Shanti ji,’ that supported and encouraged him to pursue his studies. His poetry was a “mixture of the struggles of peasant life, a very deep and often disturbing, subverted sense of history and mythology, and a great sense of geography. His poems features halwai’s from his village, his grandmother, shepherds of Australia, nomads of Central Asia and several oppressed women,” writes Rahul M.
Vidrohi was committed to the life of a vagabond, of agitation, protest and revolution, and that is what we get to see in Pamnani’s film. When the film won an award, Pamnani gifted the prize money to Vidrohi, who sent it on to his wife—he had no need for it himself. When Karl Marx speak of the battle between the exploiters and the exploited in his theory of class and revolution, it is these exploited that JNU’s beloved poet stood for, and in his work no issue goes untouched.
After thirty years on the university campus, there were no nooks and crannies Vidrohi wasn’t acquainted with. He loved his home and his fellow comrades, and with them he fought the system for which he held contempt. He belonged to a class of intellectuals that long-go unnoticed and unappreciated, but they remain unperturbed. In a final gesture, a laal salaam to the ‘people’s poet’ Vidrohi, after his passing the students named the Student’s Union building after him, a place where Vidrohi would often retire to for the night. “He will stay here forever,” commented Kanhaiya Kumar. “We will name the students’ union office after him: after all, this is for those who are involved in vidroh [rebellion]. That’s a perfect name for a student’s union building.”
You can watch below Nitin Kumar Pamnani’s award-winning documentary Main Tumhara Kavi Hoon, courtesy of Imran Khan via Youtube.
Click here to read the full story about Vidrohi written by Rahul M for Scroll.in
Feature image courtesy of Aaj Tak