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Jayati Godhawat

IWB Blogger

National Youth Poetry Slam Winner Discloses Their Midnight Sneak Outs At The CUPSI Chicago’17

  • IWB Post
  •  May 11, 2017


National Youth Poetry Slam winner, Diksha Bijlani, won a million hearts with her poems, especially, ‘Why I say You’ll Never Understand Me,’ and ‘Dear Tinderella.’ 

The 20-year-old student of Applied Psychology, Diksha is the co-founder of a poetry group called Slip of Tongue and has also been a speaker at TEDxAIIMS. After winning the National Youth Poetry slam last September, she, along with her team, represented India at the International Slam Competition in Chicago, this April.

IWB had been following Diksha’s phenomenal work and growth ever since. Last time, we spoke to her about her preparation for the then-upcoming International Slam Competition and she had said, “I shall be going for CUPSI Chicago in April with my three-member team from Gargi College who I won the slam with. We still have a couple of months to prepare, although we keep collecting themes out of everyday events and conversations. We are looking out to the issues that are Indian, Universal, or the issues which are Indian but also find solidarity in an international community.” 

(You may read our entire conversation with Diksha here.)

Excited to know about their performance and to explore more about her Chicago adventures, we contacted the spoken word poet.

Diksha Bijlani

Congratulations on doing a feature performance at the CUPSI finals. How was it like?

We were a non-competitive participating team in CUPSI, and we had a feature performance at the finals. It was enriching listening to other groups and learning from them. Our feature got a standing ovation!

Tell us a little about your poem.

My poem was called ‘Translated Disney,’ and it was about the hegemony of English language in India and how it weighs my multilingual folk down even though we can speak three other languages. It’s drawn on the lines of my childhood experience of growing up in a small town where all the Disney shows were aired translated in Hindi. But once I watched them in English, I realized how the characters differed from what I used to observe. So much of identity is lost in translation.

Diksha Bijlani

Would you like to share an excerpt?

My mother is not mother but Phineas and Ferb of our house,

The genius of two in one woman alone, the smartest woman I know.

Until she is put through translation,

Then, she is every Facebook comment.

Put through my literary counsel before,

Being posted online her longest comment,

Till now is “god bless you.”

She knows this phrase,

She also knows the English names for

All my achievements because, haven’t they always

Come from proving I know my second language

Better than my first.


They say we feel things in the language we speak,

Think in the language we speak.

So maybe my feelings are dual,

Maybe my thoughts are dual too,

Maybe I am in two parts and,

I can never be whole until I let go of one of my identities.

Maybe America is half a million immigrants.

But one million identities,

Maybe I am a Disney lost in translation,

A Disney on display and two countries,

Know different versions of me,

You don’t get the ‘best of both worlds’

When one world rules your other.

Let’s now talk about your wonderful team, shall we?

My teammate Cheryl performed a poem called ‘How to Make a Photograph’ and it was about her personal struggle to surpass her parents’ expectations of becoming a doctor and going on to become a photographer. Another teammate, Shubhra, performed a poem called ‘Holygamy’ and it was about marital rape laws in India and the invisibility attached to it. Cheryl and I performed a duet called ‘Bra Shopping’ which was about the power of female friendships. An excerpt goes like:

Our dates are in La Senza
Victoria’s Secret, M&S
But they’re like any other date-
We put our interests on the table
Start with 30A, now we’re at 34B
Going along slowly, taking a peek
At each other’s bras but not objectifying
Or sexualising, just caring enough for
Each other’s comfort-
We’re breastfriends!
Lost in alleyways of lingerie sections,
Because female friendships are like bras
That fit perfectly, support painlessly
Female friendships are the kind of bras
That you don’t wanna come home and take off!

We’re sure you had your backstage-moments. Spill some fun beans to us!

Before the performance, as a ritual, we all decided to meet. We held hands in a circle and did some breathing exercises. All of us then discussed a very beautiful thing – that no matter how tough the competition gets, what matters is our poem and why we chose to be here. We were told to think of a voice we like and shout it out the loudest we can. Of course, that act was deafening. Ha-ha! This was followed by a group dance.

This sounds like a thing! Did you also have an inspiring conversation during the stay?

It was during BrownTown – the brown people’s meet at CUPSI that I got to listen to so many amazing people. We talked about brown people’s problems and strengths. It was so enraging to hear Palestinian and Muslim poets share their experiences at airports of how they are frisked twice, sent for additional checks just because they are Muslims, and are denied entry into their own country. This was inspiring because the amount of rage and fighting it takes to thrive despite being doubted at every point is a statement in itself; to be brown and survive – and do it well – is a statement in itself.

Diksha Bijlani

Do you have a favorite slam poem by another team?

The poem performed by the Brown University team: Casey, Manuel, Sonja, and Jamie, during the second day of prelims, was outstanding! It was a group piece on the Orlando gay nightclub shooting. They created the ambiance of the club through music and beatbox, and the entire poem continued at the same backdrop. Another thrilling performance was by the Tufts University about the white team using names of dead black people in their poems (just to win laurels).

What is that one learning from the CUPSI Chicago that you packed safely in your luggage?

This would be on the ethics of spoken word culture: it is not okay to co-opt another community’s struggle just to make a poem out of it when you hadn’t gone through their lived experiences. If you do that, you are not only taking away the voice that is essentially theirs, but you are also making yourself a representative of a narrative that is not yours to tell. At CUPSI, a boy performed a poem as a sexual abuse survivor when he hadn’t actually been through it, and the whole room walked out.

As the Tufts group piece says, “You cannot dig out bodies from the bottom of the Atlantic without getting your feet wet”. From another poem, “I do not need you to speak for me, I have a mouth”. It is essential to demarcate between opinion and personification, a poem in support of a community will never take up the space that was meant for the community. And even in the case of opinion versus lived experience, the latter is always preferred.

 Lastly, tell us about your adventures for the following:

Weird food that you tried:

So one day we walked into a Chinese restaurant. We ordered only one item as we couldn’t read anything. It turned out to be pretty amazing, actually. It was a bowl with dumplings and cellophane noodles. We realized that we got addicted to this cafe called Saint Anna and visited it often after that. The accidental food turned out to be the best! Also, we tried the infamous Chicago Deep dish pizza, it was lip-smacking!

Midnight sneak-out:

The first day we arrived, we were so jetlagged that we fell asleep immediately after landing and only woke up in the middle of the night hungry. We snuck out to get something at Chinatown. This bravery continued as we enjoyed a dinner at an Indian friend’s place on the second day. On the last day, our friends from the Ryerson College team from Canada drove us around the city and dropped us back quite late. Ahem!

One “desi” rule that you broke:

Paying 30 dollars for a museum, ha-ha! But, honestly, it was worth it! Other acts included drinking tap water and wearing denim on denim. We don’t do this in India, right!?Diksha Bijlani

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