At the age of 24, Megha is the author of three books, fierce page poetry and is also a ferocious stage performer across India.
One of the things you notice instantly about Megha Rao is the colour of her hair. It changes a lot - from a bright crimson to an electric blue to a burgundy (which is what it is when I meet her). She reminds me of Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
“Do you apply your personality on a paste, too?”
She takes a moment to think. There are dark violet shadows under her eyes - she’s probably still hungover from the performance at the Under 25 Summit.
“Yes, I guess,” she says.
Megha Rao is the poet of her generation. Through her page poetry on Instagram, Megha has been teaching young girls to love themselves; through her spoken word poetry, she has been trying to make fierce warriors out of women and helping people heal; and through her art, well, that is for herself.
At the age of 24, not only has Megha published three novels, she has had her work featured in many significant platforms including ScoopWhoop, Kommune, UnErase and Terribly Tiny Tales (ttt). She is currently a curator at ttt. Megha took the literary world by storm with her spoken word poetry, I’m in Love With this World, a couple of years ago. Since then, she has embarked on a literary journey which has only pushed her further and further.
Paintings and Poetry
So what if we got lost in translation?
We’ve got love for subtitles.
The canvas was Megha’s first love. The love for writing came from the need to fill the speech bubbles of her characters. It was in college that Megha got hooked on poetry. Sylvia Plath’s was the kind of poetry that she resonated with - modern and contemporary.
“When I came across confessional poetry, I realised you can write honest stuff without being vague,” she says. “I like the fact that you know, you can hang your dirty laundry in public without being judged or being ashamed. It’s very honest, vulnerable and raw. Saying something very genuine, and that is very shameless about emotion or feeling things, I really love that.”
Her relationship with art (“my art will never abandon me”) is rather intense.
“My art teacher and I, we started doing this experiment where she would take one painting of mine and she’d be like, let’s turn this into a poem now. They are different forms of expression. There have also been many times when I painted something and I would come back to it and I would just write a poem on it. But I know that I can go a month without painting and I cannot go even a week without writing. And I also know that I love painting more than writing.”
With her lyrics based on her own feelings - “I am a very shameless person when it comes to how I feel. I think every feeling is validated” - she has set out to string her words into powerful poetry and pictures that emphasise self-love. She works in a manner similar to Taylor Swift that way. “I love Taylor Swift for how beautiful her relationship with art is. She is very honest with her work and I love that,” says Megha.
A random anonymous caption on Megha’s Instagram feed reads: I will turn this anger into something beautiful.
My mother tells me
If you want to write poetry
You need to master the art of metaphors
You know. This is this, and that is that.
The kitchen sink is not full of her vomit.
The kitchen sink is a suicide note.
In her works, Megha brews metaphors, surrealism and magic realism with an aroma as unique as coffee. “I attach metaphors to surrealism a lot. Surrealism is my space because I can choose madness and reality together. I can put my feet on the ground and my head in the clouds at the same time,” she says.
Art and the Artist
… angry women
don’t give a fuck about
flower crowns and
she washed her hair
with his blood and called it
Megha’s diction is powerful and her style is ferocious. Megha is also a big believer that when it comes to art, the artist is accountable for his/her work. To her, the art is not separate from the artist. You just don’t write about something because it is unhealthy, not because it’s bad per se, she says. “It’s important to be a good human before being a good artist. Artists have a certain responsibility towards society. You have a voice, people are listening to you. Why would you say the wrong thing,” she asks. “At some point, you become a role model. You might have chosen it, you might have not chosen it.”
The Megha Rao that people know, she says, is her alter ego. “If you look at my personality, people are like, you are so kind, so soft, so gentle but in your poetry, you are so different - you are so fierce and intimidating. It’s another side of me. That’s how I balance it out. Megha Rao is so different from Megha. I look at the image of Megha Rao like how everybody else looks at her; she is a person separate from me.” There’s nothing, really, to be surprised about it. The oreo-shake sipping woman sitting across from me, could have been any other 24-year-old.
The Witch, the Wolves and the Howling
...Days when my dad begs me
to make art that doesn’t
make people uncomfortable.
Days when I howl
into the night so fierce
other people start howling with me,
as if mourning in unison.
Megha had gone through a very tough time in college. It was to prove her resilience to her bullies that she first started writing poetry online. Although that didn’t lead to much good in that ‘arena’, people she didn’t even know began to respond to her poetry. The fact that there were other people who felt the same way made her feel less alone. “In that way, I was saved,” she says. There is this other ‘pack’ of people, like wolves, and there are lone wolves, whom she identified as her pack. Her poetry then, was traumatic and full of vengeance. She was howling and the wolves howled back, she recalls.
“At the Summit, this girl came up to me and she was sobbing and she told me you saved my life. I didn’t know what to say. I cannot say thank you to that, so I said, you saved my life too, which is true,” she says.
Back in her college days, she was called a witch (“I mean, I had books coming out by then”) which is funny as my great grandfather was a blackmagician, she chuckles.
ഞാൻ കവിതകൾ എഴുതാൻ
എന്റെ നാട് എന്നെ
(But when I finally started writing poems in my mother tongue
My mother land could not recognise me.)
Though Megha’s mother tongue is actually Tulu, she considers herself closer to Malayalam since she was born in Kerala. "Malayalam literature is so beautiful,” she says. Sometimes, she reads the translations and at other times, in Malayalam, even though that process is long, she confesses. She grew up in Singapore and came back to India when she was 10. She occasionally writes in Malayalam and dotes on all the vibes that the language and the state radiate. “English has become the language I think in rather than my mother tongue. What does that say about me? It’s embarrassing to me that I am using my coloniser’s language and thinking in my coloniser’s language,” she says.
Megha’s eyebrows and her voice elevate to the same pitch when she’s talking. She sometimes dives into a banter of laughing at herself and sometimes, clenching her fists. So, I do what I have to do when we say goodbye, I also thank her for the performance.
(In italics are excerpts of her poetry from Instagram.)