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Writing, a safe profession but monetary gains only happen if you are Chetan Bhagat: Gurgaon poet Sanjay Yadav
With a love-hate relationship with India, writer Sanjay Yadav of Gurgaon recently tasted fame through his lyrics, 'Never love a woman.' Although he has books such as 'The Environmental Crisis of Delhi,' 'The Invasion of Delhi' and 'Portraits of India' in his long list of achievements, his stint in UK's Songwriting Contest as a semi finalist garnered him international eyeballs.

With a long beard, resembling the looks of Rabindranath Tagore, this Oxford educated man's inspiration is Shakespeare. In a candid chat with us, he talks about his lyrics, Gurgaon, population explosion and how free verse in the modern era is nonsensical. He also believes that India must do away with elitist educational institutes that gives us students who are unproductive and proud. According to him, had we listened to Winston Churchill, India would have been in a far better shape.

Question - Tell us something about the UK Songwriting contest.

Sanjay Yadav – It’s the premier songwriting contest of Britain, which is the centre of the English speaking universe. One can call it the Olympics of songwriting. If you check on the Internet, you will see that it is one of the two listed - the other being the John Lennon Songwriting contest. These are the only two for UK. There are other for other countries.

It is a premier contest that has various categories where one can participate. There are lyrics only, there are lyrics with music and so forth. I was a participant in the lyrics only category. I reached the semi final stage.

Question- What was the inspiration behind your song, 'Never love a woman.'

Sanjay Yadav – The inspiration is experience and writing something funny and interesting. Basically, saying what one wants to say or feels.

Question- Since you have written both poems and lyrics tell us how are songs different from poems?

Sanjay Yadav - In a song or lyric, at least in the modern frame, you have to have a chorus or a refrain but in a poem after every stanza one doesn't need a refrain. Poems can be fairly long, whereas in a lyric you have to be more crisp, to the point, striking so that it can be set to music.

Question- Have you written the music for your above mentioned song?

Sanjay Yadav - No, I have written the text only. It is yet to be transferred to a song. I am trying to get some musicians interested in my song. It is a struggle finding the right person to buy it and to compose music for it.

Question- Where did you receive your education from?

Sanjay Yadav - I did my education from various places. I started from Scindia School, Gwalior. Then I did my BA privately from Bhopal. From JNU, I did my MA. Later, I was at Cambridge University. I was also a fellow at the University of Oxford. So, my education is spread over various countries but out of my advanced years, 57, I have lived my 49 years in India and I am 100 per cent Indian.

Question- Apart from India, any other favourite country?

Sanjay Yadav - India is the least and the most favourite. I have a love-hate relationship with India, because it is a very difficult place to live in and work. I don't think merit counts for anything in our country. What counts are networks and contacts and in that sense, it is not my favourite country at all. But in another sense, here I find greater meaning to live and to do something and that is why it’s my most favourite country. It is nasty, brutish and harsh but that also provides the inspiration and if life is too comfortable then one doesn't have any motivation or inspiration.

Question- You were essentially an international politics writer and you used to write on that before you took up poems and lyrics. You wrote two books....

Sanjay Yadav - Three or four actually but those were not on international politics. Earlier I wrote academics papers and one of them is quite well known. I can't say famous, because academic papers are not famous, but it is one of the most frequently cited papers on the Afghan war. It has been cited by a specialist from the UK Defence Academy and an Israeli strategist and it has been studied by US experts on war, so it has become fairly well known as an analysis of the Afghan war. It was written 25 years ago and even after 25 years, it is widely cited.

The books are on Delhi and the impact of the population explosion on civic services, the environmental effects of the population explosion, etc. The size of the NCR population is around 25 million, which is the size of Australia.

Australia is a vast continent, whereas the NCR is a dot on the map. We have but one sustainer, the river Yamuna. So you can see the consequence. But, Gurgaon is not typical of India, so one can be misled into thinking that the population explosion can lead us to millennium cities and development. Gurgaon is a very isolated, small section of India.

Question- So you don't think that Gurgaon might face a population explosion in the near future as Delhi already does?

Sanjay Yadav - I think Gurgaon is already facing a population explosion. If you see, there is a lot of dust in Gurgaon. This is a very arid region. It cannot support so much human activity. Although, shiny buildings have come up in various places, there is still a severe water scarcity in the city. We are acutely dependent on tapping underground water reservoirs, which are very limited.

Gurgaon very soon would face problems, which Delhi is facing at present, water scarcity and episodes of dengue in the city.

Question- You used to write on international politics and Delhi as well as the population explosion. Why change your focus to songs, lyrics because you have written some 55 poems apart from songs. What was the reason for the change in focus?

Sanjay Yadav - I think, it is a natural progression because while poetry has virtually no market commercially and has very little recognition, with lyrics there is some degree of recognition and some possibility of making a commercial gain and making an impact. It has already produced an impact though I have been into this for only about a year.

Despite, writing poetry for a decade, no one noticed but in this people are noticing. So I think, lyrics create a greater impact.

Question- You feel that poems are not as popular as songs but compared to prose, how popular do you think poems are?

Sanjay Yadav - Poetry is not popular at all. We don't live in the age of poetry. Maybe 300 hundred years ago, verse was the mark of a gentlemen, mark of education and culture. But this is a more democratic and popular age, and poetry has very little popularity or significance. Maybe, it is still a mark of culture, but it doesn't matter so much. I think, writing novels brings you far greater recognition than writing poetry.

Question- People, today have a very short attention span and yet novels are more popular than poetry. Don't you feel there is a dichotomy there and why such a disconnect?

Sanjay Yadav - I think, the poets themselves are to be blamed because modern poetry is incomprehensible, as free verse is very easy to write. There is as much free verse as summer flies in India (laughs).

99 per cent of modern poetry is absolutely insufferable. The opaque expression of personal fantasies is nonsense, anyone can write it; whereas, verse in a meter with rhyme presents a challenge.

Question- Being associated with Caferati Gurgaon, which is a platform for first timers to present their work to the world, what do you feel about the writing skills of Gurgaon people. As far as poetry goes, do Gurgaon people write well?

Sanjay Yadav - I think they are very good. The quality of Hindi poems that one hears is amazingly good. As an English writer, I learn from them. Some of the ideas, which I already had, they expressed them so well that I build on those.

In English, it can be a bit funny, with poor English and sometimes silly rhymes. People forget that words in themselves are not beautiful, they sound beautiful because of the meaning. It is a huge misconception that rhyme in itself is poem. But the quality of work in Hindi is excellent, both free verse and traditional rhymed verse.

Question- About your childhood. Did you always want to be a writer?

Sanjay Yadav - No, I never aspired to be a writer. I have come to it more in order to express my feelings about India and about the world. I look upon it as a medium of self expression and there are no other media that offer such opportunity. This is the safest occupation in the sense that one can pursue it quietly without harassment or without asking this or that fellow for this or that favour.

Monetary gains are nominal in this profession, unless one becomes a Chetan Bhagat. But I must add that lyrics have some possibilities on the monetary front.

Question- Who is your role model for poetry and lyrics?

Sanjay Yadav - Given my critical view of free verse, I am more impressed by traditional writing. I have read a lot of poetry of the earlier periods but in terms of ideas, my inspiration has always been Shakespeare. The object of any art or science is to distil the essence of human nature. Of course, one does not always succeed and one can be terribly wrong about it and maybe my lyrics are nonsensical but that said seeking truth is my object. In that sense Shakespeare is my inspiration.

Question- Why is the population explosion so interesting for you that you wrote two books on it?

Sanjay Yadav - I belong to the Delhi-NCR area and in a sense, it is trying to discover myself, my identity, how the identity of the NCR has been modified and the people of the area count for nothing. Nobody knows about those people who constitute the indigenous component of the population. Ethnically, I am linked to them but no one talks about them. People imagine that the Delhi-NCR is culturally a Punjabi area, notwithstanding the more recent Bihari influx, but in truth there is an older population that has been present here for several millennia. Today this population lives marginalised in what are called urban villages. I wanted to bring them into the equation.

Currently, I am working on a book in a leisurely fashion where the central idea is Indian society and civilization. Churchill was very critical of India but in retrospect, he was correct. For instance, on the eve of Indian Independence Churchill said in a speech that with independence corruption, incompetence, inefficiency and incapacity that you will see will be mind-boggling. And we see that now.

The Congress leaders said that by the end of 1950s India would be as developed as Europe, as developed, as wealthy, as affluent as Europe. But 60 years after Independence we still have the largest population of poor people. And in JNU and other institutes, they are still teaching that 'Imperialism stole it all.' For how many years do you want to give this excuse? Here's where Churchill comes in. We could have dismissed Churchill in the 50s and 60s and we could have blamed the imperialists then but now we can no longer blame them.

Question- Since you talked about education and JNU, what do you feel about the education system in India. Are we up to the mark?

Sanjay Yadav – Our education system over emphasizes marks and points a student gets and over emphasizes the so-called elite institutes like the IITs and IIMs. Too much importance is attached to these categories and hierarchies in institutes. We don't need them as the IITs have been into existence since the 50s but the economy remained stagnant till the last decade. It’s the same with the IIMs as Indian management is one of the worst in the world; we have never produced any significant product for many decades.

They are ivory towers - a lot of money is spent on them, people who come out of them either try to get into the civil services, where no engineering is required or they migrate to the US. Their contribution to the growth of the country is virtually zero. What we need is to privatise it all and we should not have so much gradation in achievements and institutes. Students should just pass or fail. Because a student might be a 99 pointer but look at the condition of our Indian roads, the kind of drainage systems that we have. Why does one want 100 per cent if we cannot have better roads, better goods? The reason for that is once people get those kinds of marks, there is a natural sense of entitlement and they feel that they don't have to prove anything. They are not capable of working in teams as they are 100 percenters. Good roads, good medical facilities require teamwork.

Question- What about future plans?

Sanjay Yadav - To write more more and better lyrics. I would also like to work in a concrete practical, political field to help improve things.

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