Dangerously honest. These are the words that come close to describing Megha Rao, a 25-year-old spoken word poet, painter and author who uses her art to speak about pertinent issues that plague society. Her most recent project has been a podcast titled ‘Poems to Calm Down To’. Produced by performance arts forum Kommune, you can stream it on Spotify.
The first line of the first episode ‘Pauses’ goes: “The best way to help yourself is to listen to yourself’.” If one grasps the enormity of the sentence, such simple wisdom might actually be life-changing.
“Amy Pence Brown (writer and body image activist) once said, ‘In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.’ It’s tragic that so many young people grow up thinking they’re not pretty, strong, smart, fair or thin enough. Self-acceptance is the medicine for every toxic feeling like insecurity, jealousy, shame, guilt, low self-esteem. When an individual accepts themselves, that’s when they’re truly free. That’s when they’re truly powerful,” says Rao, when asked why self-acceptance is so important.
While the world is hell bent on working and earning to the point of burning out, Rao advocates giving time to oneself and slowing down to enjoy every moment. She takes down the almighty rat race that pits humans against each other for little slivers of capitalistic ‘success’. More importantly, she says that it is okay to not be productive all the time.
At a time when people are losing jobs and battling deteriorating mental health, she talks about slowing down, taking a break, prioritising family and friends, enjoying one’s life and simply existing. With ‘work-from-home’ eating away into people’s personal lives, her podcasts can actually be therapeutic.
“A lot of people are losing employment and those who still have it are overworking because they’ve gone into survivor mode. I’m mortified to see clients sending me work voice messages on WhatsApp on a Sunday morning as if it’s the most ordinary thing. Nothing is that urgent!” she says, adding that she quit her demanding job. “I do hope people take care of their mental well-being in their own small ways. There’s this quote, ‘you’re killing yourself for a job that would replace you within a week if you dropped dead. Take care of yourself.’ How unhealthy is hustle culture?”
Such worldliness is what catapulted her into the limelight three years back when her spoken word poem ‘I’m in Love With This World’ went viral. The poem applauded the kindness of humanity.
Rao has written three books – It Will Always Be You (2015), A Crazy Kind of Love (2016) and Music To Flame Lilies (2019), with an illustrated poetry book, Teething, in the pipeline. She became a curator for the micro-fiction platform Terribly Tiny Tales as well. But her talents extend beyond writing as she loves to express with the brush, especially body painting.
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However, this compassionate side of hers doesn’t complete the entire picture. Rao’s ferocious fire comes out when she dissects gender politics, questions identity, abandonment, abusive relationships and mental health problems. A fine example is the poem ‘To All the Boys Who Call Me Sexy’, where she cries out against the blatant objectification of women. Her cathartic and unapologetic poems bring together the voices of numerous other women and victims of abuse and bullying.
Several listeners of the podcast have also reached out to Rao. “They tell me that they listen to ‘Poems To Calm Down To’ every night before going to sleep. I like to think I created a lullaby for adults. The way they reach out to me feels so confidential. They’re pouring their story into their letters to me and it’s waterfall-ing out of them because they’re finally talking about it to someone they feel understands them,” Rao told LiveWire.
The episodes have an overarching theme of personal growth. Whether it’s about pushing aside insecurities or becoming mature and responsible enough to accept and appreciate parents and elders for being who they are, Rao doggedly pursues the path of betterment. One episode celebrates non-platonic love and friendships while another seeks to learn from the hurt of broken relationships. There is also a prayer of hope for when the world has healed from this devastating pandemic.
“The podcasts are calming and relatable. The way she writes makes you feel it’s your own story,” says Priyansh Roy, a young copywriter from Pune.
Indeed, finding resonance with Megha’s work will not be difficult for today’s youth, who grapple with understanding themselves and what they want to do. A good starting point would be her words:
“Life is a novel and there is a rare happiness in savouring every single page.”
Shaswata Kundu Chaudhuri is a features journalist based in Kolkata with an unhealthy interest in music.
Featured image provided by the author