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Illustration by Dhabia Almansoori

Spotlight — Tishani Doshi

Poet, dancer, author and NYUAD professor Tishani Doshi talks about her performance in Armed & Dangerous.

Sep 27, 2020

On Sept. 19, the Justice Rocks initiative, in collaboration with Indian news organization The Wire, brought forth “Armed & Dangerous”, the online rendition of its “volunteer-organized, crowd funded” concerts. Armed & Dangerous, now a YouTube stream, featured pre-recorded performances of various forms of artistic responses to the “pandemic of police brutality, racism and casteism [u]nsponsored by the police departments of the world." Tishani Doshi — author, poet, dancer and NYU Abu Dhabi professor — was part of the event and performed her poem Instructions on Surviving Genocide.
Doshi has given The Gazelle some insight into her recent work. Talking about the concert, she shared that the event was a multifaceted artistic response to a “universal, widespread anger” that followed the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police in the USA on May 25 and that of father-son Jayraj and Bennix in Tamil Nadu, India, on June 23.
T.M Krishnan, celebrated Carnatic musician and activist, asked Doshi to join the event. “I read a poem, Instructions on Surviving Genocide, which is not exactly only about police brutality but it is something looking at moments where a large number of people are disappeared and killed and tortured,” she shared.
In the slightly shaky footage of her performance, with a background score composed by Italian artist Luca Nardon, Doshi threads the striking imagery of the horrors of genocide, mass destruction and trauma onto the complicated fabric of a nation’s nationalism and memory. “…Cities rise and fall just as names of streets are changed… despite all footage, the event will be blurred from the nation’s memory span.” Doshi has been involved in similar events throughout the summer. On Aug. 28, she did a Facebook live performance of her poem Survival for the event Requiem for Justice organized by Delhi-based nongovernmental organization Karwan-e-Mohabbat, whose name translates to “Caravan of Love”. When asked about themes in her recent work, she said, “A lot of the new work has been inspired by events that have been happening in the news … I think the news and the headlines and all of the noise around it that happens is language that is designed to desensitize. Poetry, what it can do is [understand what it is]… in a way that is nuanced and feels like you’re challenging the reader to enter… in a different way.”
Her recent poem This May Reach You Either as a Bird or Flower is penned as a tribute to 81-year old Indian poet and activist Varavara Rao who has been in prison since 2018 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
In the description of the poem on Instagram, Doshi uses the tag #freeumarkhalid, referring to the recent arrest and now judicial custody of activist and academic Umar Khalid under the same law. The Delhi Police’s “flawed” investigation of the case has been criticized by over 200 thinkers across the world.
“I’m responding to the things that feel urgent to me…environmental concerns, stuff that’s going on in India in terms of attacking activists and intellectuals and poets and right to dissent, increasing fundamentalism,” Doshi shares, adding that her poems are “trying to enter those fault lines” that are dividing people. At a time when the failings of various systems are brought to fore due to the Covid-19 pandemic, “art can create conversations and it can be transformative.”
Doshi’s fourth collection of poems, A God At The Door, is set to publish in 2021 in India (by Harper Collins), the USA (by Copper Canyon Press) and the UK (by Bloodaxe Books).
Angad Johar is Senior News Editor. Email him at
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