That Friday night, my Twitter feed was abuzz with Kanhaiya Kumar — he was everywhere, and the electrifying speech he had given in JNU after his release on bail kept being retweeted and watched again and again. I could not stop thinking about it, and immediately called up a colleague who knew him, and another friend, also an author, to see if I could meet him for a book.
I finally managed to meet him on Sunday — I was ushered into a tiny dingy room in the Brahmaputra hostel inside JNU, while the drama continued outside. Some folks played table tennis at a nearby table, and it seemed they had been at it perpetually. Finally, Kanhaiya came, surrounded by a few others, while the table tennis game continued to be played outside the room. We spoke for a bit — me, trying to converse in my broken Hindi; he, eloquently and fluently and often quoting other great writers — while I told him what Juggernaut was about, and why we wanted him to write for us. He said he would think about it; I had my fingers crossed.
At our second meeting, he simply said, ‘The book is yours.’ He thought that as a young (and digital) publisher, our vision was completely in sync. As a young student leader, he wanted all of young India to read this book — his experiences of jail, what he called Bihar se Tihar tak, and his ideals — and he shared our vision. He talked of how he had read Walter Benjamin in Hindi, and told me he had been active politically since a young age; he wanted to make rural life come alive for readers, and what it’s like to be a young idealistic person in a village in Bihar. He believes a revolution will come in India and the world, and his passionate idealism was simply electrifying.
Kanhaiya has an amazing team: there was a young cartoonist outside, doing graffiti on the walls of a JNU building. We decided he would illustrate the cover for the book; another friend who is really savvy on social media would also chip in for the book. I began thinking aloud of the things we could do around the book — all this while, the table tennis game still continued outside.
The last time I met him, he looked burnt out and exhausted (he had just returned from Hyderabad). We had two milk chais, and his face lit up. He had forgotten all about his exhaustions.