Interview of Diksha Bijlani by Richa Gupta
Hi Diksha! It’s so nice to talk to you! Before we begin, could you tell us more about your background?
I am originally from Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. I had my schooling there in a convent, and moved to Delhi for college. I’m currently studying Applied Psychology (Honours) at Gargi College, Delhi University.
You’re a prolific and well-known slam poet, who also won the National Youth Poetry Slam! What got you interested in slam poetry?
My involvement with spoken word poetry was more of a realisation than an interest per se. I like to call it a ‘tubelight moment’. I had attended a total of two events and had come to think that this artform was not for me; because I was so moved by it, I thought I could never do it! I did not attend any events for a year because of college work, but I was writing during this time – just things I observed or wanted to say or be told. So when I attended the next slam poetry event a year later, I realised that what I write actually fits into the crux of this so well! I had been a spoken word poet all this while, just without the ‘speaking’ part.
I love your poems ‘When I Say You Will Never Understand Me’ and ‘Tinderella’. Could you tell us more about the inspiration behind them?
‘When I Say You Will Never Understand Me’ was the first spoken word piece I wrote, though it wasn’t written as a spoken word piece – and I realised it was one after coming back from the poetry event I had attended. It emerges from my experience as a Psychology student, who is taught that people can be defined and sometimes even quantified, and my failure in defining my own self. ‘Tinderella’ comes from my own experiences and observation of peer experiences on dating applications, and I wrote it for everyone who is trying to find love in the wrong ways.
Do you ever experience stage fright before a big performance?
Not really. The anxiety I experience isn’t stage fright – on the contrary, I feel content and powerful on the stage. I experience a fear of forgetting my poem mid-way due to loud audience response, or blanking out, though it has only happened once (at a small workshop). That one time has produced a conditioned fear – but I never read from a paper/phone when I am performing. I overcome that fear by memorising the poems better and working on my craft. That is the only way out, for stage fright too.
Since you’re a spoken word poet, I’m sure your audience is very large and diverse. How do people generally respond to your poems?
I feel both lucky and content that the response to my poems has been pleasant every time. At CUPSI (College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational) Chicago, my poem ‘Translated Disney’ received a standing ovation at the finals. At the National Youth Poetry slam, our finals performance received another standing ovation. That said, although these things do not matter in the greater scheme of reasons, they do remind me that I must be doing something right – and they encourage me to continue staying true to the artform.
Which slam poet do you admire the most?
Dominique Christina. She is a 43-year old slam poet, and is the epitome of power, kindness, and solidarity. Her poems speak to the soul.
Being an Indian poet, are there any taboos or popular misconceptions that you try to combat through poetry?
I do informational pieces on themes like bisexuality, the right kind of human rights activism, how speaking English does not make me better than non-English speaking multilingual folk, and high-functioning depression.
Are there any other art forms you tinker with? Is there a particular art form or activity you’re dying to pursue?
I particularly love Indian music vocals, and in my spare time, I try to practice voice modulation in Indian music. And I am dying to learn the keyboard!
You’re a college student, in addition to being a slam poet – so your schedule must be pretty busy. What’s your daily schedule like?
The daily schedule is that there is no daily schedule. In one week I might be attending regular classes, in the other I might be in Uttarakhand working on my social entrepreneurship in village communities, or I might be doing my research paper, or taking exams, or performing at events back-to-back, and on one rare, once-a-year occasion I might be at home. Everyday is a juggle of priorities, which makes it easy to rule out all the activities I am not passionate about, and to keep only those that I genuinely love doing.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Do everything lightly, feel lightly and live lightly. Being too serious makes you miss out on life.
Do you have any advice for creative youngsters too nervous or afraid to enter the world of slam poetry?
If you have a story to tell, or a personal experience so important that it would be an insult to not speak about it, please take up the mic. I aspire to see a time when youngsters and adults alike learn to deal with issues by speaking creatively. Remember, we make the audience as well as the poets. If you are a kind audience member, the audience you help build will be kind too. The ideal spoken word community is one where nobody is nervous or afraid to speak up – because the audience is so accepting and sensitive. Help build that audience.
Could you share an excerpt of your favorite poem you performed at a slam poetry event?
Not sure about favourite, but the most difficult poem for me to perform was about my high-functioning depression. It is the kind of depression where the person is functional, over-achieving, and successful, so it goes undetected for years. Here are two excerpts:
High functioning depression is like depression on steroids,
Everybody is happy as long as the work gets done
And you, don’t remember doing the work at all.
It is depression with perfectionism
It is everything you’ve ever dreamt of happen to you
But not feel like everything you’ve ever dreamt of.”
“And mom always said the worst kind of pain is the invisible one
And maybe she was wrong;
Maybe the worst kind of pain is one that doesn’t really seem like pain at all
Maybe I don’t need help at all, I just need convincing
That this success really is therapy
That 12 hours a day and coffee is not mental illness
You should see the ones who really have it
How it devours them from the inside
Until you can literally see their life fall apart,
How it does not let them breathe,
I’ve never needed a mask to breathe
I’ve only needed reasons to;
And one day, I’m scared I’ll run out of reasons to
So I’ll just stop
You can literally see my life