His romantic dream was to be anonymous and hide behind the nom de plume of Firdaus. But, concealment wasn’t his nature either. His friends during graduation at Banaras Hindu University were the first to know that the quiet Math genius, Sudhanshu Shekhar, was also a writer of verse. When Sahitya Akademi publishes his collection of Hindi poetry, yet untitled, this year, the name on the cover will be Sudhanshu Firdaus. At 32, he was also one of the youngest at the first poetry biennale, Vak, organised recently in Delhi by the Raza Foundation.
In Delhi’s Jamia Millia, he is unknown except as a research scholar who is currently interpreting real-life problems about cracks in materials as mathematical equations. On a weekday morning, as chattering students take snack or selfie breaks, Firdaus methodically cuts his way to the leafiest tree on the campus. Sitting in a discarded chair with a broken arm, he looks up at the emerald canopy and says, “I have been thinking lately about the synergy that exists between the dead leaves that fall from trees and are replaced by fresh, new growth in this season.” The idea will churn in his head, engender a line or two, and finally push out a poem.
Firdaus is calm and self-effacing, and the silence permeates through his poetry until one begins to peel the layers. Aakhri machhli ko nigalkar/ bagule ne talab se poochha/ “Tum in dino itne udaas kyon rehte ho?”, about a heron, which after swallowing the last fish, asks the pond, “Why do you stay so unhappy nowadays?” is among the 100 poems in the collection. “I cannot think without nature. If I have to express a political thought, I will begin with trees and leaves,” he says.
His childhood was spent in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar, where a river flowed by his farm. His father died when he was young, and his mother when he was completing his post-graduation. “I have always been surrounded by the affection of women. Sisters have brought me up and I have imbibed their gentleness. The passiveness you see in my poetry, and my behaviour –not aggressive—is because I was surrounded by women,” he says.
He launches, with surprising force, into classical works in Sanskrit, Bengali, Urdu, Chinese and Sufi traditions to emphasise that “we have to bring gentleness in poems, Romanticism is necessary”. “Look around you, what is being attacked the most? It is gentleness — women, children, nature. That’s why I write nature poetry. I want to be political without talking about politics.”
He was inspired by the Panchatantra in the poems serialised as Bagula Bhagat ka Jantantra. The poems were written between 2008 and 2015 and the liberal anger is cloaked in animal fable. “Baagh ke jaane ke baad/ ghoorti rehti hai baagh ki aankhey / darwaje band hai / band hai khirkiyaan / janpad mein in dino / bhay ka utsav hai.” The poem captures a state of fear that prevails long after a tiger has left a place.
As a political act, he tried to dissociate from contemporary Hindi vocabulary to use the style of Kalidas in a long poem. He is working on a play on poet Mir Taki Mir, having learnt Urdu script to read his poems.
“I read him every day. I cannot sleep without reading Mir. My play is based on Mir’s old age, when his golden years in Delhi are over and he is in faraway Lucknow, travelling through memory lane. It will be Mir’s story but also mine. I am trying to take myself to this madness from where I can stand and see Mir,” he says.