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From ‘Jumla’ to ‘Urban Naxal’, Her Soaps Make a Political Statement

Behavioural scientist Vidyut Gore's handmade soaps have a unique agenda.

“I am apolitical,” announces Vidyut Gore, the 40-year old witty soapmaker, whose handmade soaps are named after political keywords and current events. Well-known on Twitter for her candid opinions and sometimes inflammatory views, Vidyut insists she is merely applying behavioural science theory using her country and its politics as a large group to study and analyze. And as with everything Vidyut does – from her soaps to her tweets to her carnivorous plants – there’s nothing ordinary about it.

The signs of Vidyut’s maverick nature manifested early. Defying her parents, the Mumbai-born adventurer took off to Manali to teach in a summer camp soon after her 12th final board exams. She ended up staying there with a nomadic tribal family for seven years, riding horses and eking her living as a cultural and extreme-trekking guide.

Having found a boyfriend, she moved back to Mumbai to settle down in her late 20s. “But prosperity didn’t work out,” says the alumna of Indian Society for Applied Behavioural Science (ISABS). Marriage at age 30, pregnancy a year later, and giving birth to a baby boy with congenital disability restricted her more and more at home. In an effort to utilize her time, and given her keen interest in the scientific study of group dynamics, she took to blogging about political trends. Her blog took off like a charm.

Vidyut and son
Vidyut and her son Nisarga

Soon, her marriage fell apart. Left broke, Vidyut began making soaps to gift friends and family on occasions. They suggested she sell these, and so it all began about eight years ago. Somewhere down the line, she developed a geeky interest in cultivating carnivorous plants. “No, they can’t help as pest control,” she clarifies. “It’s a kind of specialized, scientific hobby that’s very big worldwide, but there aren’t too many variants available in India.” Noting that there wasn’t a single reliable retailer for carnivorous plants in the country, Vidyut began retailing these as well a few years ago on her website vidyut.info.

With her son Nisarga now nine (he has his own Twitter account too), Vidyut is in a committed relationship with Godavar, an anti-Aadhaar activist. “We’re not too big on the marriage thing,” she says, explaining why they only had a reception for like-minded friends instead of a wedding. “We had anti-Aadhaar and pro-refugee posters for décor, and there was an open mic. It was a laid-back affair.”

Using her soaps to make a statement, Vidyut named one of them ‘Bagon Mein Bahar Hai’ after TV journalist Ravish Kumar used the term in one of his most unforgettable talk shows (in which he ‘interviewed’ mime artists representing leaders who refused to speak to the press, and proxy-answered through trolls instead). She gifted a set to Ravish, of course. The soap will be re-listed soon, as will the ‘Jumla’ soap, she says. “The earlier version was one that was stunning to look at, but if you tried to wash your hands with it, it barely made any lather. The new one may be hollow inside.”

Vidyut plants 2
Vidyut’s carnivorous plants

Another of her famous pieces was ‘Urban Naxal’, inspired from the title of filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri’s book that claimed certain urban busybodies were amplifying the rural Naxalites’ message and waging a propaganda war against the state. Released less than a year after the brutal killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh who was an avid critic of the BJP, Vivek and others used his book title to brand those who criticized the Modi government as ‘anti-national’.

Vidyut was one of the first on Twitter to campaign for people to use ‘Urban Naxal’ as a prefix before their name, robbing the term of its pejorative connotation. She further went on to name a soap after the term. “It’s funny how the soap became more famous than the book,” she chuckles.

Based in Nalasopara near Mumbai, Vidyut affirms she is not married to any ideology but she believes the Left has got a lot more correct than the Right in India. “I’d rather support what they do than follow their ideology,” she clarifies, explaining that the Left has not evolved in terms of relevance to the modern economy, and has not accommodated technological advances in the world.

vidyut - soap
Vidyut makes and packages her soaps at home

“The modern Left hasn’t been resilient,” she says. “They are largely handicapped when confronting things they don’t have jargon for. For instance, they haven’t been able to expand their definition of labour class to include coders in the IT industry, who can be laid off at any moment.” The Left isn’t future-proof, she goes on, “while the Right has evolved in ugly ways, creating injustice.”

Vidyut looks to her soaps for expression. “Complex preparations are in place. There’s a ‘Thand Rakh’ peppermint-fragranced soap coming up – with a cooling effect in summer – that tells people to ‘stay cool’.”

No doubt, with the elections going on, this one will be a bestseller.

First published as part of the series ‘Soap Stars’ in eShe’s May 2019 issue

Syndicated to CNBCTV18

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