He may be brawny, but Arunoday Singh is as mushy as they come
His brawn makes actor Arunoday Singh an unlikely poet, but his verses on Instagram make him a starbrunch Updated: May 28, 2017 10:42 IST
Arunoday Singh recently returned from a three-week trek to the Siachen Glacier that involved traversing over a hundred kilometres on foot. “We travelled right to the top. It was incredible,” he says. Among the many memories he brought back is a jumble of notes scrawled on his phone – musings the actor penned whenever inspiration struck. “I’m unabashedly mushy. I cry at sunsets if they’re beautiful enough. And in the mountains there are a few,” he says.
There’s nothing particularly unusual about this; nature can stir the strongest emotions in anyone. But Singh is 6’4” and well-built. It’s hard to imagine him as a schmaltzy poet, as conventions go. But that’s what he is – and a popular one, no less. Sufi Soul, the actor’s account on Instagram and Tumblr (Sufi Soul Collective), has over 22,000 followers, and is filled with pictures of his poetry – neat, calligraphic scrawls from his journal, brimming with love, loss, nature, victory and hope.
“I’ve been told many times that I should change my Instagram handle to my actual name so people can find me better. But I’m not a selfie taker or frivolous promoter,” he says. “How would people reconcile the fact that I acted in Jism 2 with the fact that I do poetry?”
Singh’s Bollywood career may be in a lull, but the words never stop. Whether it’s inexplicable joy or profound sadness, he turns the emotion into short, affecting verses. “I’ve always really liked literature, and have always been drawn to lyrics and poetry. And I’m genuinely quite shy and reserved, so it’s a nice place to retreat,” he says. He wrote his first poem at 13. “It was for a girl called Esther, and looking back, it included every bad cliché – pre-pubescent love crush stuff.” But Sufi Soul began after Singh moved to Mumbai a few years ago. “I was lonely and didn’t know anybody.”
Because he was always drawn to Sufi philosophy, the name was a no-brainer. “It’s the kind of thinking I wish to live my life by, because there is no guarantee that an austere life or a rigid denial of every pleasure is going to lead you closer to god,” says Singh. “The Sufis searched for god in friendships, in wine, in music. It was a slight counterargument.” In fact, one of Singh’s favourite poets is Leonard Cohen, who lived as a monk for several years.
Music and his fiancée, Lee Elton, are his biggest inspirations. “My mother got me my first music when I was eight, and it was all The Beatles and Bob Dylan. In fact, a lot of who I am is because of her,” he says. His mother was a great design artist and because she came from a conservative family, she could not pursue her dreams. “She poured a lot of creative angst into me. It wasn’t just writing, even my notebook had to be neat, and it became a habit.”
Elton, a Canadian he met at a yoga retreat in Goa, makes a frequent appearance in his poems. Sample this.
You touch me
Like a blind man
Caresses a face,
At all the details
Will never see.
“With her and me, it was the closest thing to a lightning strike I’ve ever felt. There was no questioning the feeling. It was like the entire universe pointed a giant finger at us,” he recalls.
There’s a visceral quality to Singh’s works, a rawness that exudes honesty and forges an instant connect. He states that he clings to poetry as the world is getting increasingly superficial. “In a culture where nobody acknowledges sadness, I found the same longing in everybody. People try to be cool, but there are common threads of feeling and loss that nobody talks about. It’s like it’s uncool to talk about the fact that you’re hurting or lonely. So my poetry was an indirect way of reaching out, and I was humbled by how many people reached back.”
Explaining the undercurrent of melancholy that runs through his poems, he says that only when you’re feeling really low and questioning things does the light come through. “My truest, most revelatory moments always come when I’m down. I write so that others feel that too. If anyone reads what I’ve written and feels slightly hopeful, that’s worth more than any award I can get for an acting job or anything else.”
Singh wants to bring out a book of his poems, and already has a title in mind. “I’m very serious about it, and don’t want to be a dilettante. I might even self-publish,” he says. And where brawny stereotypes are concerned, he refuses to conform. He writes a lot of his poems after his morning run.
“I don’t know how to not be fit. The more unfit you become, the slower your brain becomes and you get more irritable. It’s a medical fact. To keep myself clean, both in emotion and in thought, I have to keep myself clean in body,” he asserts.
As one would have expected, the first poem he put up after his travels was heart-warming, dreamy even.
Here, Singh opens up on the inspirations behind some of his poems
The older I get, the less the usual things matter. I found that you can’t change the world, but you can change small circles around you. If you’re a loving, happy person, you make the little piece of universe around you more loving and happy. Fill your little piece of real estate with as much love and light as possible and you will affect things. That is your job, your purpose... to make sure the candles don’t go out.
My lady, my muse, came from exactly across the world – Newfoundland in Canada, which is as far away as you can get. It’s a 27-hour journey by air. She used to be a lawyer but she got tired of the stress and sold her firm. She wanted to wander for a bit, and in her wandering she landed at a yoga retreat that I was at, in Goa. That’s when the lightning struck, and she never left. There was no reason for her to linger in this place, so alien from everything she knows, except for me. If you can’t acknowledge that, you’re an idiot. And I do. I have to be worthy of it.
I’m quite detached. I was in boarding school since I was six and so, I don’t miss things and people past a point. I learned early on that it doesn’t helps to focus on what’s missing. That’s life – people come, people go. Because Lee is Canadian, she has to go to Canada every so often and there’s always a chance that she won’t come back. That’s how the world works. That day, she was feeling sad and I was trying to stay cool. But as soon as I saw her pack, and saw our dog looking at her, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this person has moved way past my cool. I am no longer unaffected on any level. This poem was about acknowledging that I am forever changed.
The victories that matter are won quietly. They can only be seen, in the shift of light, in the nebulae of your eyes, in the widening of your smile, in the easing of your shoulders, from even a fraction of your doubt. The only victories to be proud of, are those no one will ever know anything about. #sufisoulpoetry #journalentry #keepgoing #unsung
I’ve been having a very rough year Bollywood-wise, trying to find my groove and to find work worthy of me. When people want to cast you and you turn them down, they say ‘how can you’ and ‘this will make your life’. But sometimes, you just know that your talent, sensitivity and soul deserve better. I’ve been losing a lot of work because of that attitude. I’m not invited to the cool parties, I haven’t been invited for an awards ceremony in five years. But that’s what people value here, who you’re seen with, how many ramps you walk. It’s hard to be your own person and be accepted in this place.
The things that matter are how you treat yourself, whether the light still shines in your eyes, whether you’re still proud of yourself, and none of these victories are ones you can talk to anybody about because they only exist for you. Who will care how much work and actual blood I shed for Mohenjo Daro and when it came out, everyone only talked about Hrithik Roshan? Who will ever know how good it felt to work on this film and all the little things I did well, that may or may not have made the film? Who will ever know how I felt walking out of a really patronising meeting, with my head held high? Nobody will know what these victories are about, but they’re the only ones that matter.
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From HT Brunch, October 23, 2016
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