This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Samar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

With Or Without The Nobel Prize, Bob Dylan’s Literary Work Is Unmatched

More from Samar

By Samar:

Yes, he has won the Nobel Prize for literature, and opinions will conflict. In any case, what American folk legend Bob Dylan’s latest achievement does is open the door for an analysis of the wordsmith in him. It is worth assessing, through the yardsticks of both skill and impact. And, courage. Title and honours aside, Dylan’s stormy relationship with words for over 50 years breached artistic no man’s-land, breathed life into global activism and lent a part-lucid, part-rambling expression to love and cynicism in the 20th century.

Essentially, Bob Dylan was serious. Perhaps much more so than now. It was this seriousness which largely dictated his interest and choice of subject matter. Honed early on by then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo’s passionate support for de-segregation and anti-nuclear campaigns, Dylan’s latent empathy for the shorter end of the stick emerged through the pen in the 1960s.

On “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, his sophomore effort, he tore open the horizons for what protest music could be. With songs like “Masters of War” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”, an entire new subculture was inadvertently formed. Greenwich Village, New York, bore witness to the early stirrings of an unabashed political bent to folk music. More than even the songs, there was a consciousness at play. From the Village to later all over the world, Dylan was using lyricism for change in a way which threatened to succeed. He was infusing a transcendental relevance into sung, spoken and written things. The ideally welcome but practically rare was being realised: he was making words matter.

From spitfire critiques of the Cold War-era arms race and the military-industrial complex, to painful, almost reluctant portrayals of moral corruption in society, Dylan addressed a world gone wrong. Although racism, poverty, war, privilege and suppression were all themes sung about before, there was a difference here. It was in the writing. Dylan’s writing almost always managed to catalyse issues and arguments into the morally obvious, the irrefutable. It came with a certain sincerity; iron conviction making possible a complete lack of fear. To this day, what Dylan wrote can transport the reader to old sights and smells, to a Vietnam-war disillusionment, to a brave new students’ movement which was shaking windows and rattling walls.

Sometimes bordering on op-ed journalism, his lyrics actually stoked in young people the desire to be aware. They broke the inferiority complex civil society can have towards the high corridors of power. “Even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked,” he wrote in the searing “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, being as bold as his outrage necessitated him to be.

The unwilling preacher, the miserable anti-hero, the born-again Christian, the country star – Bob Dylan has swum in multicoloured waters in his life. His words were accordingly varied. Although some his songs have become universal anthems for activism, he is far more than that.

Both before and after he ditched a good chunk of what made him famous and ‘went electric’, Dylan wrote and sang extensively about the apolitical and the personal. In fact, perhaps more than his activism, his discography (and, consequently, literary body of work) speaks to his own interpersonal struggles and grappling with the ebb and flow of the world. Songs like “Sara”, “All I Really Want to Do” and “Visions of Johanna” are just some popular examples of what may be termed ‘Dylan on love’. “My Back Pages” and “Mr Tambourine Man” can be called ‘Dylan on spiritual ambition’. “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Positively 4th Street” are documents on fakery and people. The list goes on.

The point is that it actually helped people, the writing. “I ain’t saying you treated me unkind, you could’ve done better, but I don’t mind” (from “Don’t Think Twice”) gave perspective on break-ups to people in their real lives. “Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse!” and other bludgeoning lines from “Like a Rolling Stone” aided listeners and readers see, in bitter vividity, the backlash of taking everyone and everything for granted.

Bob Dylan is that versatile. He would even, at least back in the day, change the entire sound for whole songs on any given gig; he would literally decide to play straight blues songs as waltzes moments before the show, leaving supporting musicians nonplussed. Because of the sheer length and journeyman nature of his career, his lyricism cannot be pigeonholed into any one trope. He was there, singing at the Great March on Washington, part of the history that culminated in the expression of Martin Luther’s dream. He was also there in the room, alone presumably, when he experienced ‘a presence in the room which could only be Jesus’. Such was the variation which informed his writing.

Dylan also displayed his mastery of the lengthy tour-de-force; songs replete with such rich and generous imagery of the human condition that they escape all brackets. “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” and “Desolation Row” are good examples of this further multifaceted artistry, to say nothing of Dylan’s fun-loving, joyously deranged avatar a la “Rainy Day Woman”. Still, all this doesn’t cover much of his prolific career. It is a vast world, continuously crafted for over half a century.

On waves of acoustic jangle and swelling harmonicas, Dylan’s penmanship gave voice to protest. Aboard shrill organs, synthesisers and electric guitars, his words exposed modern hypocrisy and inflated heads. Interspersed were (and are) the pleasures, tangles and vulnerabilities of love. All this, of course, filtered through the artist’s typical manner of being frighteningly deep beneath an informality of language. His seriousness about what it means to write made him extraordinarily sincere, and perhaps that is why, in his case, the written word did always respond to being written.

If you never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns, Dylan’s pen forced your neck. If you seemed to need more ears to hear the weeping, his typewriter would scream. His lifelong affair with words has resulted in a unique body of literary work capable of inducing love, laughter, tears, rage and resolve. In that light, the conferring of honours doesn’t really add or subtract anything. Bob Dylan shaped and wielded words in a way which shifted tectonic plates in the world of art and the lives of people – for the better.

And that is a remarkable thing, with or without the Nobel prize.

You must be to comment.

More from Samar

Similar Posts

By Ananya Bhuyan

By Barkha Pawar

By Rushikesh Barje

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below