Saturday, January 4, 2014

Three Boys from Uttar Pradesh: Kumar Vishwas, Raju Shrivastava and Amitabh Bacchan

(Kumar Vishwas, poet and AAP Leader)

When I was a young boy in Kerala, during the days of Doordarshan, while Manoj Prabhakar played one day matches, I used to think about his handsome features. I thought, it was his handsome looks that had got him a chance to play cricket. Those were the days I preferred to look more at Kamal Haasan than Rajni Kant, and Kapil Dev than Ravi Shastri. Each juncture of growth any individual develops certain kinds of physical attraction towards rich and famous people. Today when my son idolizes Dhoni or Virat Kohli or Shikhar Dhawan, I do not feel any wonder. But when I ventured out of Kerala during my early twenties, especially in North India, I could see so many Manoj Prabhakars in the streets. Same was the case with my youth idols, Amitabh Bacchan and Mithun Chakravarty. Today when I see young men from Uttar Pradesh, especially if they are coming from the Rai clan, I see a submerged Amitabh Bacchan in them. So is the case when I travel in Kolkata. Several middle aged people look like Mithun Chakravarty and the die-hard fans amongst then sport even Mithun’s hairstyle, simply heralding an anachronistic fashion statement. A few years back, when North India got hooked to the Great Indian Laughter Challenge, I noticed a striking similarity between the stand-up comedian Raju Shrivastava and the famous star, Amitabh Bacchan. Mukesh Khanna, the Bhishma of Mahabharata serial had come to the scene emulating Bacchan. Singer Sudesh Bhosale had made his mark by giving voice to many of Amitabh Bacchan songs. But out of them Raju Shrivastava caught my imagination by storm.

Today, I remember Raju Shrivastava for a different reason. One of the leaders of Aam Aadmi Party, Kumar Vishwas, reminds you of Raju Shrivastava, not only by looks, but also in intonation of voice, presentation style and even in public performance. If you morph Kumar Vishwas image with Raju Shrivastava it would gel perfectly. If you further morph this already morphed image with that of Amitabh Bacchan it would gel again. The simple reason for this is their locality of origin; they all come from UP and they share more or less the same cultural ethos of UP, of poetry, literature and great histrionic skills. Raju Shrivastava does not shy away from the fact that he had gone to Mumbai in order to become an actor because he idolized Amitabh Bacchan. One could easily see, or imagine that a younger Raju Shrivastava might have looked more like a younger Amitabh Bacchan. Or rather, a younger Amitabh Bacchan’s image has a lot to do with an older Raju Shrivastava’s image. In many interviews, after his television success as a stand-up comedian, Raju Shrivastava has accepted that his ideal is Amitabh Bacchan, though his shifted his forte from serious acting to stand-up comedy when he realized that he could not get heavy roles like Bacchan in Bollywood. I was not surprised to see Shrivastava as a middle aged person, as the years of struggle are still etched on his happy countenance. But his optimism helped him to wade through the turbulent waters of survival and until he could write his own name in the history of stand-up comedy in India.

Something intrigued me when I saw Kumar Vishwas for the first time in television. He was attending one of the debates pertaining to the Aam Aadmi Party’s declared stance on the ending of the VIP culture in Delhi. While other seasoned politicians in the debate vehemently reiterated the fact that having a red beacon is thing of distinction and it is an unavoidable necessity, Kumar Vishwas in a very calm and composed way replied that it was not so. His arguments were not vociferous. Perhaps, for the first time in the history of Indian television, I could see English News Channels inviting a non-English speaker like Kumar Vishwas just because he and his party are convincing enough even in the use of Hindi. I do not know, whether the use of Hindi by is a reclamation of national idealism of the yester years or it is a deliberate choice of the AAP to play to the galleries, whatever it may be, today the fact is that the English speaking News Anchors also have to come down a few steps in order to accommodate the Hindi speaking politicians to their English citadels. Kumar Vishwas spoke in Hindi and the other answered in English. To their English arguments, he replied in a kind of Hindi which is pure enough to be dignified and mixed enough to be pedestrian. It was poetic and rhyming.

 (Raju Shrivastava, stand up comedian)

I saw some kind of depth in Kumar Vishwas eyes. At that moment, I did not know that Kumar Vishwas had already become a darling or the Delhi’s middle and lower middle class masses. Even I did not know that he had already been a darling of the BJP even before he joined the AAP. What I liked in his eyes was not just the depth but the enigma that denies a complete penetration into his personality. His eyes showed composure but they glowed with some sort of determination and angst. Then I just remembered the smiling face and deep eyes of Raju Shrivastava and the benign eyes of Amitabh Bacchan. Their eyes are big, dreamy and a bit slanting. Their hairs are straight which naturally parts in the middle. There are a lot of similarities between them. But the dissimilar factor is the difference in their voice modulation. Amitabh Bacchan has a baritone voice. Raju Shrivastava has a voice that could go upto baritone and shrillness and go down to rustic intonations. Kumar Vishwas’ voice stands in between; it is neither baritone nor pedestrian. While these three personalities could articulate poetry efficiently, Amitabh for the academic and classic, Raju for the ones who want to be entertained and Kumar for the masses who yell and scream for effect, their rootedness is expressed in some sense of sophistication in their articulation.

Kumar Vishwas belongs to my generation. He is born in 1970 in Uttar Pradesh. He studied Hindi literature, took a doctorate and became a college lecturer. But his calling was for poetry. His website says that he is a romantic poet. As a South Indian, for me it is very difficult to understand the nuances of Hindi poetry, however my interest in gazals and the general interest in the poetry of Galib have helped me to catch a little bit of Hindi romantic poetry. As per the certain revelations, it is said that the couplets of Kumar Vishwas have become so famous that many ‘pappus’ (as in the poet’s own admission) use it as their ring tones. Here I cannot help thinking about the popular singer, Altaf Raja who had shot into fame when he sang the bus boys’ and lorry drivers’ all time favorite song, ‘tum toh thehre pardeshi, saath kya nibhaogey’. Kumar Vishwas says, in one of his speeches that he left his academic career to become a ‘shayir’ (poet). He travels all over the world (every year he goes to the US, according to him) and he writes a lot of poems for the jawans, Bharat Mata and the love-lone couples. His website also says that he is one poet who could perform without any paraphernalia other than a microphone. He could reach out to people through his poems and he has been hailed as a contemporary poet who brought romantic poetry once again to the masses.

(Amitabh Bacchan, younger days)

I thought that the resemblance between Raju Shrivastava (Bacchan upto an extent) and Kumar Vishwas was just facial. But while reading his website introduction, I chanced upon a line which made my thinking quite clear; he is hailed as someone who could excel any poet, theatre person, actor, academic and a ‘stand up comedian’. That means, Kumar Vishwas simply knows and accepts the fact that his personality has been developed by looking at the mannerisms not only of Amitabh Bacchan but also of Raju Shrivastava. Some people might have even mentioned it to him. Interestingly, like any popular poet or populist poet, Kumar Vishwas also has written a lot about Kargil war. He celebrates the sacrifice of the jawans who are killed in the war. These poems had made him a darling of the BJP and even of the RSS. They did not know that one day the same poet was going to be one of their biggest rivals. Perhaps, politics always attracts poets or the other way round. In every political party one could see a few poets. Jawaharlal Nehru himself was a poet of prose. In BJP we have/had Atal Bihari Vajpayee. V.P.Singh was a poet and a painter. Even Kapil Sibal writes poetry. Forget the IAS people. Every IAS man/woman is either a poet or a painter, if not a stand up comedian.

In Kumar Vishwas, one could see today’s poet transforming into tomorrow’s politician. He has already shows the symptoms of becoming a belligerent politician. His public speeches are pepped up with poetry and direct challenges to the opposition parties. Like both BJP and Congress, he too evokes nationalism and national idealism, he also yells Bharat Mata ki jai. And for a change, like the Communists he also calls out ‘Inquilab Zindabad.’ Growing in stature, Kumar Vishwas’ composure, when he is out of the television studios, is giving way to aggressive political speech. So far he has challenged both Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi in the coming general elections slated to take place in May 2014. He, like a populist politician who is riding on idealism and people’s support has openly challenged Rahul Gandhi declaring that he would fight his even in his home constituency, Amethi. Moreover, he has invited Narendra Modi to come and contest from the same constituency. This is an open challenge for a triangular fight. Perhaps, only a poet can give out such challenges (stand up comedians too can but they meekly surrender to the macho of the heroes). But Kumar Vishwas looks real and more shrewd a politician than Arvind Kejriwal. Kumar, Raju and Amitabh plays well when it comes to giving speeches. Raju has not yet contested any elections. Amitabh has and Kumar is going to be. It is time for watch out this politician. 

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