It is May, and the heat in the capital is white hot and angry. Outside Maneka Gandhi’s house—14, Ashoka Road—is a farmers’ rally. Inside, Varun Gandhi is in the office. His assistant, a young girl, comes to ensure that no pictures will be taken. “I am not comfortable with that kind of thing,’’ he says. He is dressed in a white linen kurta; the buttons are grey shell. Gandhi’s room is bare. There are pictures of his father in black and white. One of his mother. And his guru.
Stillness is probably one of the most expensive books of poetry in the industry. The announcement of it being on the shelves came in the form of half-page advertisements on the front page of two leading newspapers. An eight figure promotion budget for a book on confessional poetry is much more than most poets would get. “It is already in reprint,’’ he says softly. Then, there is the free endorsement on Twitter. He has had many people praise his poems, without him asking for it. “I have learnt over time that the loudest voices are not the strongest voices. In fact, the loudest voices rankle the ears. It is the gentlest voices that make you strain in to listen to them.”
Pictures—in black and white and muted tones, of landscapes that evoke emptiness, a feeling that has propelled Gandhi into baring his soul in a way—are peppered through the book.
His second attempt at poetry—his first was when he was 20—has taken 14 years. “I was very certain that I wanted to find my voice,’’ he says. “I didn’t want to write The Otherness of Self II…. I was very clear that I had to have a definite life experience, which I could use as a reservoir to draw from.”
He speaks enunciating each word slowly and very carefully. The interview has to be recorded. He holds the recorder in his hand through the conversation, even when he decides to pace up and down in the midst of this deep thought that he must share. “The book is called Stillness because stillness for me, for the last 4-5 years, has been a very definite goal. It is something to aspire to.”
Many poems and journeys within himself and a book later, stillness is still elusive. Poetry is something he clearly takes very seriously. Vulnerability, sadness, digging deep to find hidden depths, emptiness and even love as concepts, he can talk quite glibly about. “I think this adversarial kind of politics where everybody is aggressively targeting the other and there is almost a gladiatorial kind of atmosphere, it dries you inside. It evokes an emptiness. I turn to these words for solace,” he says.
The poems themselves—all tinged with sadness—may be an acknowledgement, a badge almost of vulnerability that he wants to wear, but Gandhi isn’t plagued with doubt. So, in each poem, there is a pathos but there is an element of hope, too.
Dedicated to his maternal grandmother, this book doesn’t have any unrequited love poems. “Poetry came very naturally to me. And I don’t know where it comes from. I find poetry very mystical,’’ he says. “There are months when you don’t write. Then suddenly the muse attacks you and then you write away.”
So why not just be a poet? “Until you are in public life in some kind of substantial manner, you can’t contribute in a very real sense,’’ he says. “I find the best and brightest minds of our generation, who are in academia or policy institutes or think tanks, social workers, journalists, lawyers, ultimately have to approach the most mediocre MPs and bureaucrats to literally plead with them to get the simplest works done. So, sometimes politics is a profession that rankles. But it affords you an opportunity to do good if you want to.”