Vidrohi, A Ghost of Julius Caesar: Pallavi Paul
To speak about a dead man, is a peculiar thing . Even more so when he happens to be a poet. And not just a poet but an infamous one . But I am still going to try. In doing this there are many instincts that I have tried to confront. His several and often violent outbursts, the many conjectures about his relationship with his family, his ill concealed need for attention, the useful anger of some of his poems (for it is mostly an insult for an artist to be overtly useful to some), the presence of only mothers and sisters and not of fallen, promiscuous women in his world – are perhaps enough to cut him to size. To cull from his memory every iota of nostalgia, tenderness or empathy.Or worse – make every obituary of him into a defense. I do not wish to defend Vidrohi, because defending the dead is an unadventurous thing. The dangerous and the disruptive have to be recast in retrospect- to fit into the respectability of death. @Author
Vidrohi: A Ghost of Julius Caesar
By Pallavi Paul
Not all of Vidrohi’spoems may have been equally wonderful, his personal life may not have been an illustration of his political beliefs, he may have had an uncritical relationship to a political moment – but one thing is for certain. Vidrohi was never tied to respectability. Infact he was never going to die. In my conversations with him, Vidrohi 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 Vidrohi was not just going to die, he would have to be killed, so the news of his death seemed a bit strange.
I would also use the word strange for the way he and I got to know each other. While now I call myself a filmmaker with some confidence in public settings, in 2012 this was not the case. I was not really a bonafide ‘political artist’, deserving of any attention from a poet like Vidrohi who by his own admission had risen to status of the Ghost of Julius Caesar. Added to this, my first meeting with him was disastrous. The meeting time was decided for 2pm on a Monday in the winter of 2011 on JNU Campus. This was in the midst of a crisis in my M.Phil. dissertation – so it almost escaped my mind. I finally made it an hour late to see Vidrohi waiting on a bench outside Brahmaputra hostel. As he saw me approaching, his face tightened and he said, I normally never wait for people. Of course many months later in another moment he went on to tell me – record hone ki itna ichchha hai ki agar koi aadhi raat ko ped par tang ke bhi record karna chahe to ham uske saath chal dete hain. Bas ek shart hai ki wah apni line ka hi aadmi ho na ki kisi vipreet line ka. Already nervous for being an hour late without any good reason, as I set up the shot and started recording him talking about his poem “Nani”, I was horrified to see that the camera was dying. Behind the lens, as I struggled to look composed while feeling for a spare battery in my bag- Vidrohi stopped. He paused for a bit and went on say – Tum late aayin, phir camera bhit heek se tyaar kar ke nahi layin – yeh sahi nahi hai, lekin hum artist log aise hi hote hain. Agar ek afsar ki tarah sab time to time karne lage, to hum mein aur usmein farak kya reh jayega. Agli baar jab poori tayaari ho to mujhe bataa dena, main mil jaunga” This was in some ways my first education in how an artist should be dealt with. How belief and conviction in artistic work can be held irrespective of their flawed performance on the scale of the norms of sociability.
Of course I was to realize that vidrohi was going to far exceed to me in that department, because for every other date after that I waited and waited and waited for him to turn up and was never once allowed to complain about it.
Like Alok Dhanwa ( another infamous poet says in one of his poems
उन स्त्रियों का वैभव मेरे साथ रहा
जिन्होंने मुझे चौक पार करना सिखाया।
मेरे मोहल्ले की थीं वे
हर सुबह काम पर जाती थीं
मेरा स्कूल उनके रास्ते में पड़ता था
माँ मुझे उनके हवाले कर देती थीं
छुट्टी होने पर मैं उनका इन्तज़ार करता था
उन्होंने मुझे इन्तज़ार करना सिखाया
Vidrohi ne mujhe intezaar karna sikhaaya. Lekin ek baat jo hemeshaa se hamaare beech mein spasht thi ki yehi ntezaar Vidrohi ka nahit ha, balki ek kavita ka tha. Aur kavitaaon ki manmaani sehna aur unka intezaar karna seekhna behad zaroori hai.
Vidrohi taught me another thing without knowing it of course – to be wary of false humility. To get caught in the web of appearing self effacing while hanging onto the egotistical conception of artist. The biggest danger of this is that the poet has to forfeit the possibility of being a magician. What a drab insufferable thing a humble magician would be. To help strike a reasonable balance between a self obsessed delusional (often male) artist and a playful magician –I turn to Eduardo Galeano who in his book Days and Night of Love and War says –
I don’t share the attitude of those writers who claim for themselves divine privileges not grated to ordinary mortals, Nor of those who beat their breasts as they clamor for public pardon for having lived a life devoted to serving a useless vocation. Neither so godly and nor so contemptible. Literature as a form of action is not invested with supernatural powers, but the write may become something of a magician, if he or she procures through a literary work, the survival of significant experiences or individuals.
Vidrohionce told me about how was forcibly made in to a magician. Born left handed he said “ Maar maar ke seedhe haath se salaam karna sikhaaya gaya, maar maar ke seedhe haath se khaana sikhaaya gaya, maar maar ke seedhe haath se likhna sikhaaya gaya. Iska ek fayda hua. Ab ham saare kaam dono haath se karne lage, yeh ek tarah ka jaadoo tha.”
What made our friendship interesting was that as time went by the film I was making about him started to morph into films that were going to feature him but weren’t going to be about him. He became a kind of link between other poets from other epochs. In a book titled after Lorca , poet Jack Spicer writes letters to Garcia Lorca, nearly twenty years after Lorca’s passing. The letters written the fashion of urgent impassioned enquires, became a site for me to see whether the images from Vidrohi’s world could help Lorca write back to Jack. When I broke this to Vidrohi – he seemed only momentarily disappointed. But soon took it as challenge to wrestle with two dead poets for film time. He said “Chaloismeinekbaat to sahihaiki tum mujhe Lorca kishrenimeindekhrahi ho, magardekhna jab film ban jayegi to sab vidrohikikavitako hi pehchanenge”
Interestingly the introduction of this around which the films were coming to be structured book was written by the Dead Lorca.
He says –
When Mr. Spicer began sending letters to me a few
months ago, I recognized immediately the “ programmatic letter” – the letter one poet
writes to another not in any effort to communicate with him, but rather as a young man
whispers his secrets to a scarecrow, knowing that his young lady is in the distance
listening. The young lady in this case may be a Muse, but the scarecrow nevertheless
quite naturally resents the confidences.
In my encounters with Vidrohi I was very much the scarecrow that Lorca feels Spicer makes him out to be, the one who is not the object of communication but merely a conduit. So in some ways the films I made with Vidrohi can be thought of as a story of two over smart people using one another as conduits- while trying to justify their actions as art.
The last time I metVidrohiji was almost two years back. He had called me from someone’s phone at JNU. and asked me to come and see him. I hadpromised 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 Caesar” . Finally, what I am happy about is that he will never die again.
Lal Salaam Vidhrohiji
I will miss you.
Pallavi Paul is a film researcher and video artist based out of New Delhi. A graduate of AJK MCRC, New Delhi. she is currently a PhD student at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU