I finished school and went to university (Jamia Millia Islamia) to study mathematics but got more interested in all the contemporary English literature in the Dr Zakir Hussain Library. I remember my three years of B.Sc. Maths Honours as a period of great intellectual stimulation and growth. I spent hours at the library, got issued numerous books, devoured them, often using up seldom used library tickets of my classmates. I submersed myself totally in them, not really paying much attention to any of the subjects that I was actually supposed to study.

I did not have anyone around me to recommend books or let me know of reputation of writers and books. I mostly picked up books I read randomly, intrigued by their titles. This is how I found “Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter” and then ended up reading all four volumes of the autobiography of Simone de Beauvoir. Then her novels- “She Came To Stay” and “The Mandarins” and of course “The Second Sex”. I would read all the works available of an author who interested me. So read a lot of A.S. Byatt, Iris Murdoch, V.S. Naipaul.

The biggest discovery of this period was getting to know the work of African American poets-writers of the Harlem renaissance. I had picked up Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of America” in my usual random fashion and read Margaret Walker’s prose-poem “For My People”:

. . . Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second generation full of courage issue forth, let a people loving freedom come to growth, let a beauty full of healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now rise and take control!

And Langston Hughes‘ poem “Harlem” also known popularly as “The Dream Deffered”

What happens to a dream deferred?
              Does it dry up 
              like a raisin in the sun?
              Or fester like a sore-
              And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over-
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

It was still those days when internet had not been heard of much by likes of us- so I couldn’t just google ‘Harlem Renaissance’ or ‘African American poets’ to find out more. It took years to gather in bits in pieces my acquaintance with these phenomenal poets. Another very famous poem of the genre is by Gil Scott-Heron

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag
and Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back
after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, the tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.