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Slamming the Cliche
Breaking the silence on a lot of issues that are pertinent to teenagers in particular today and people at large, and doing so in style, Aranya Johar is a breathe of fresh air for the world of spoken word poetry. School Live contributors had an opportunity to shoot some questions at the 18 year old artist, and this is what transpired!
Sep 25, 2018 at 00:00


How did your tryst with poetry and performing poetry begin? 

I started writing when I was around 11, I started performing when I was around 13. In school we always had very conventional poetry, William Wordsworth, Robert Frost, and the ilk, I always felt the lack of something from closer to our times. So my brother introduced me to Button poetry, a YouTube channel which uploads slam poetry videos. That’s how I got into spoken word poetry, and I had never thought I will someday be able to do it.

How did you chose poetry as a mode of expression?

I am not good with music, I cannot sing at all. But something that made me feel powerful were the words, words could make a person or break a person. I found it quite interesting that words could have that much of an effect on people, on a number of people. So it felt like the right platform through which one could speak about things that needed to be spoken about.

What inspires you to come up with newer poetry?

I do come from a point of privilege, my parents are very open-minded, they are very understanding and accepting of studying and doing poetry. And I understand that a lot of people do not have parents like that. Since I did, I thought I should use the opportunity for people who do not have the same privileges as me, I had a voice and I might as well use it to represent people who are silent.

Which is your favourite slam poetry: of your own and of someone else?

My favourite slam poem would probably be Denice Frohman’s twitter campaign where she wrote a spoken word campaign. It’s called “She Inspires Me.”

Honestly, I feel like I am the worst critic when it comes to my own work. I write something, and I am like ‘hey, I like this piece a lot’, and the next day when I go back to edit it, I am like what have I written! So bad, and I end up editing half the piece. The piece that I am excited about right now is the one I am writing for a TED Talk I have to deliver. So it isn’t out yet, but I am quite excited about it. While my earlier pieces were closer to my age, this one is about the millennials, why they are portrayed in a certain way. That is something pretty close to my heart.

You're really influential now, do you ever feel like you have the responsibility of very carefully    filtering whatever you say because your content reaches a mass audience? 
Absolutely. But to be honest, I generally don’t cuss a lot. Brown Girls was the first piece I had a cuss word in and that too, I used it in a verb format. Since my audience is the teenage group, I do understand that there is a certain amount of responsibility with the language that I use, and with the kind of content that I am writing. But at the end of the day people put me on the pedestal to represent the voice of the youth and that puts a lot of pressure on me, because it makes me feel that the next time I speak I have to be well informed and make informed decisions about what I am saying and what kind of opinions I am creating. That is not a point of complain but rather how things stand. I anyway always did enjoy reading about all kinds of style and stuff but increasingly I feel a certain amount of responsibility.

I feel that any talk about gender needs to be about equality between the sexes rather than skewed in favour of any one gender. Would you agree?

Yes, feminism is not the empowerment of one gender but its the equality of the sexes. On talk shows I often get asked if feminism is only what media portrays it to be. But the fact is that is only partially true, no one highlights feminism when it fights for the male rape victims, who aren’t taken seriously. It also means accepting that women can be perpetuators of crime. Feminism also means fighting for the right causes, like the act for sexual harassment of men at workplaces. Feminism is not only empowerment of women, but also empowerment of men. Feminism is equality and equity, the difference with equity is accepting that we are lacking, and working from the lack of opportunities for both the genders.

Today, women are asserting themselves like never before. Do you see hope in the way women are redefining their roles?

I do. If you see women like Kalki, or even a commercial start like Alia Bhatt, they are representing and talking about a lot of stuff that wasn’t part of the dialogue for the past decade. Women using platforms to represent other women who can’t avail of these platforms is something I find very admirable. In fact, Faye D’Souza who represents Mirror Now, she has in her own way done commendable work just by doing her job right, she gives informed opinions and also creates an informed opinion about news. I go on YouTube and Facebook a lot, and I see so many women making posts about injustice and that going viral. I have seen women making Youtube posts about what they have experienced, and the fact that women feel they should share these is something I feel is fantastic. I keep telling people that the only thing we need to break out of is the silence.

What would be your tips for people, especially teenagers, who are just getting into slam poetry or are thinking of starting? 

First, realise that you don’t have to stick to a format or rhyme scheme. When you start you feel there has to be a certain shape or format to your work, lets say abab rhyme scheme, or having four lines per paragraph or verse. That is not true. IF you do write like that, good; if you don’t, still good! It is art, it is your baby.

Second, don’t compare yourself to other poets. You can compare yourself in literary terms, for example, if you want to try something with your flow that is fine. But content or format wise, do not do that. It’s like if you go to a science fair, everyone is representing different things. The larger goal is not what you made, but how you made it. What you connect with, might not be what other people connect with. You should not feel forced to write about commercial issues just because it would get you more acceptability in the poetry scene.

Who do you feel are other people or artists, upcoming or otherwise, the teenagers of today should be tuning in to?

Like I had mentioned, Faye D’Souza, fantastic person. This is a very unpopular opinion but Rega Jha, Buzzfeed India editor, a very intelligent woman and she is changing the way Buzzfeed is seen with the Indian media. Because to a certain extent it was only listicles and offshoots, she recently started this editorial section where she asks someone/anyone to write about a topic they feel passionately about, and if it resonates with people she will post it up. She does not care about the kind of commercial success the article brings as long as it is sharing information or it is talking about things people haven’t spoken about yet. So I really like how she has taken over the scene as well.


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