[ Rama Shankar Yadav ‘Vidrohi’, was a familiar figure for students, especially in Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. He was a friend, a companion, a comrade, a mentor. Though rusticated many years ago from JNU, where he had been a student, for his participation in a protest, he had never left the campus of JNU, and had become, over the years, a beloved feature of campus life. His visceral poetry, often heard at protest gatherings, was passed from person to person by word of mouth. A few days ago, he died while marching with his beloved student friends in a protest against cuts in education in Delhi. Pallavi Paul, a filmmaker and artists, who made short films featuring Vidrohi, remembers him in this tribute..]
Yesterday, as I was looking out a window of an old house in Ballygunge, Kolkata- my phone buzzed. I ignored it. I was in the middle of telling a friend how happy I was to be away from Delhi for sometime. How the sights and smells of a different city were rejuvenating. The feeling of not having a ‘special connection’ with anyone or anything here felt liberating.
Much later, I opened the message from my friend Uday. ‘Vidrohiji passed away’, he wrote. Just three words. In our conversations with him, Vidrohiji had often spoken about his death. We had revisited the scenario over and over again. Like a dream or a film – it had a grand setting. He had told us “Now that you are recording me, i know that i will say goodbye in the most glorious way possible. Very few people can say that about their death, while they are still alive.” On another day he had said to us, “As my fame has increased, so have the dangers. Now what i need is guarantee. Your records are guarantee against that largest threat of being killed. I say to my enemies, that if you want to kill me – then shoot me in the eyes. Because i will keep staring back at you till my last breath. Your records will help me stare back at them even after I am gone. “
In his imagination, Vidrohiji was never going to just die. He would have to be killed. So, Uday’s short message seemed anti-climactic. Unable to attribute the prosaicness of death to him i called Uday. Almost as if sharing our confusion would make the absurdity seem manageable. As the phone rang on the other end, i thought to myself that Vidrohiji would have been delighted seeing me like this . Almost like a little child he would have revelled in my concern. To him, each instance of people fussing over him or wanting to take care of him was a victory of the resistance. “My friends are from all ages and all parts of the world”, he would say. “And the Vidrohi that they love is far more beautiful than this Vidrohi. Their Vidrohi keeps challenging me day and night. He grows more beautiful with each slogan, each poem, each public meeting, each demonstration and each prison term. As he accrues more and more comrades I look on, trying to catch up.”
The beauty of the other Vidrohi dawned on me this morning as i woke upto several people ‘s Facebook messages, some blogposts and even a newspaper report. Along with it also came the realisation that i had no special claim on him. He was everybody’s. Between the years 2012-2014, i met him almost every week. Most days i would film him. Hear him and watch him with greed. I wanted to remember every word, every gesture, every conversation. I knew every line on his face, the shape of his fingers, his gurgling laughter, his frail frame, his fiery but failing eyes, his smoker’s cough, his unwashed clothes, his silver hair, his anger, his crumbling teeth. In his poetry however there was nobody as courageous, loving, handsome and desirable as him. He wasn’t a poet of despair, but of pride and fire.
During our time together he spoke about his childhood in Sultanpur, his love for his grandmother, his encounter with radical left politics, JNU, the emergency, his marriage. One day as i was recording him talking about his fear of being forgotten, the battery of my camera ran out. That was the first day i saw Vidrohiji feel angry with me. Irritated by me telling him to stop- he said, “when you had asked me to meet you today should you have not done anything to make sure you had a backup for your battery.” Even as i was finding a way to both apologise to him and explain that i had just one battery, he added, “but experimental people like us are like this only. I prefer working with people like you that than hi-fi professionals. Because they are scared to break away from conventions. To you people convention doesn’t matter much, so you make mistakes.”
The last time i met Vidrohiji was almost a year back.Some months ago he had called me from someone’s phone at JNU. and asked me to come and see him. I had promised that i would , but couldn’t make it. He did not remind me. A week after the day we were supposed to meet I went looking for him, I couldn’t find him. Someone told me that they had seen Vidrohiji leaving the campus some time ago. I couldn’t call any number to tell him that I had come. Our meeting was deferred, but i didn’t know for how long.
Always surrounded by students, comrades and opponents, he probably would have not even thought of me in his last moments. I will, however, always regret that i was in another city, unable to bid farewell, unable to see him shout slogans at his last protest march, unable to see him shine with pride as students would implore him to say one of his poems. “Vidrohiji please, the one about your grandmother in Mohenjodaro. The one where you speak about yourself as a bomb, the one about the barricade.” He would always take those opportunities and speak of them as gifts.
Today as I try and make sense of his absence, i am happy that he circulates all around us in all kinds of records. He desire to stare back into the eyes of those who try and silence voices of dissent, stays alive in those records. I am happy that his prophecy about his death being glorious and not going unnoticed has come true. As i think about his passing repeatedly, i break into a smile thinking that his ambition in death was to become the “left handed ghost of Julius Ceaser” . Finally, what I am happy about is that he will never die again.
Lal Salaam Vidhrohiji
I will miss you.
[ Here is a short poem by Vidrohi, appropriately, on dying, and the satisfaction of dying well ]
“मैं भी मरूंगा
और भारत के भाग्य विधाता भी मरेंगे
लेकिन मैं चाहता हूं
कि पहले जन-गण-मन अधिनायक मरें
फिर भारत भाग्य विधाता मरें
फिर साधू के काका मरें
यानी सारे बड़े-बड़े लोग पहले मर लें
फिर मैं मरूं- आराम से
उधर चल कर वसंत ऋतु में
जब दानों में दूध और आमों में बौर आ जाता है
या फिर तब जब महुवा चूने लगता है
या फिर तब जब वनबेला फूलती है
नदी किनारे मेरी चिता दहक कर महके
और मित्र सब करें दिल्लगी
कि ये विद्रोही भी क्या तगड़ा कवि था
कि सारे बड़े-बड़े लोगों को मारकर तब मरा॥”
Pallavi Paul is a filmmaker and artist based in Delhi