Anurag Minus Verma: nothing is sacred for the author, podcaster and multimedia artist

The artist’s podcasts are authentic and educational, yet wonderfully conversational

Updated - June 12, 2023 05:22 pm IST

Published - June 08, 2023 01:02 pm IST

Anurag Minus Verma

Anurag Minus Verma | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When author, podcaster and multimedia artist Anurag Minus Verma recently visited Ashoka University, founded in 2014, he was struck by the contrast in the trajectory of this elite institution with his alma mater Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Even as funding is squeezed out of the older, leading university, its buildings increasingly dilapidated, and propaganda film The Kerala Story blithely screened on the campus of the once liberal bastion, the newer Ashoka in Sonipat, Haryana, where corporate sponsorship is visible everywhere, seemed to Anurag “more Harvard than Harvard”. The 34-year-old was inspired to make one of his popular YouTube ‘Soubhagya Diaries’ on the visit. The name is inspired by the way the diaries begin: “Last Sunday, I had the good fortune/ honour to…”

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His name, in case you’re wondering was created when “Zuckerberg asked my caste”. Facebook was not satisfied with Anurag FNU (‘first name unavailable’) and so he made up the rest. “That joke gave me five likes in 2011 and I felt my existence was validated,” he says about his response to a country where your name defines everything.

Dark room

In the age of content fatigue, Anurag is that rare commentator who combines gravitas with razor-sharp satire, empathy and experimental audiovisual technique. His video art was recently screened at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, followed by a conversation with screenwriter Varun Grover. In his edits, Anurag nonchalantly mixes filmmaker Terrence Malick with DJ Bally Sagoo. “I like breaking these definitions of purity. The Brahminical idea is broken in the form itself, without saying anything at all,” he says. So in his work, influences from French new wave cinema rest cheek-to-cheek with local Rajasthani techno music, Albert Camus alongside Rakhi Sawant. He believes it’s okay to experiment with colouring Satyajit Ray’s films. Nothing is sacred here — except maybe the work rituals he follows.

Anurag wears sunglasses all the time, even at night. “There are certain things that keep you in the mood. I remain in the zone, the outside world slips away,” he says, adding that he might also listen to one song on loop 50-60 times or light agarbattis as he works. “I feel safe with the glasses.” Some day he might give them up like he did his early online anonymity.

He grew up in towns across Rajasthan, moving 12 schools as his dad, a construction worker who later joined government service, was transferred on work. The result was a “confusing, weird” childhood with few friends. “There’s no archive of my childhood as most of the archive is saved by your friends,” he says. His speech is strewn with such observations and his art showcases them. “My wandering mind has stayed,” he adds. He still feels more comfortable leaving a place than settling in one.

Big city lights

Like most lost souls, he opted for engineering until one teacher gave him a label he hadn’t previously associated with himself: creative. “That was a defining moment in my life. I was totally confused about my own existence,” he says. “For many days after, I felt like a creative person and then wondered, now what do you do with creativity?” He went to film school and immersed himself in world cinema and existential philosophy. His influences range from Jean-Luc Godard and Andy Warhol to Jim Jarmusch, Aki Kaurismäki, and closer home, Amit Dutta. When he first attended a class to learn English they read mostly Chetan Bhagat. “It reduces the anxiety of picking up a book,” he says. “My dream was to become part of a big city culture.” In 2010, his first big city experience was working at a call centre. His politics flourished when he did a Masters in art and aesthetics at JNU. “That’s when my caste articulation developed,” he says.

When he first told his father that he wanted to pursue a creative path rather than a government job, he expected anger and drama. “I wrote the script of rebellion and resistance with my parents,” he says, outlining the chain of events he thought would happen next. Instead his father replied ‘okay’ and “robbed me of my rebellion,” Anurag says. “They gave me space to fail many times. In art you can’t create anything without failing multiple times. I had that privilege.”

During the pandemic, he began posting funny videos and ‘Saubhagya Diaries’ online and both were a hit. In 2020, he also started a podcast that spotlighted anti-caste voices you don’t usually encounter in the mainstream. The interactions in these podcasts are authentic and educational, yet wonderfully conversational. Anurag’s gently probing podcast with social worker and former RSS member Bhanwar Meghwanshi on caste in Rajasthan is a must-listen.

It was during this time that Anurag, who had spent nearly seven years working on short films and documentaries in Mumbai (writing two self-published books of short stories and poems ‘Love In The Time of Pokemon’ and ‘I Love You But Only On Weekends’) suddenly found renewed purpose. Or as he puts it: “I got a line to walk.”

When he travelled to the U.S. last year for a conference, he was surprised to find that in every city, there was someone who wanted to host him. “I spent a major part of my life in extreme loneliness,” he says. Writing was his therapy. “That saved me. I was communicating with myself via my art,” he says, describing the plot of a story about a lonely man in Delhi. “There is someone selling everything to foreigners. This man goes up to them and says do you want talk? I can give you talk for free, please talk sir.” Now, everyone wants to listen to Anurag talk.

Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and the co-founder of India Love Project on Instagram.

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