Monthly Archives: September 2009

Dalit Autobiography in Kannada


Siddalingayya’s Ooru Keri is one of the most important dalit autobiographies in Kannada. Other notable ones include Arvind Malagatti’s Government Brahman, Ramayya’s MaNegara and Govindaraju’s Manavilladavara Madhye. I think Siddalingayya’s autobiography is important not only because he is an important dalit poets in Kannada. I think his book has a larger importance for dalit literature as a whole.



Among dalit autobiographies we see two distinct types: autobiographies by those who are already notables in the society; by those who became notable because of the autobiography they have written. Siddalingayya was already an important public persona – an established kannada poet, a mass leader, a major figure in the Dalit Sangharsha Samiti (DSS), – unlike some of the Marathi authors of autobiographies, who came to obtain social notability through their autobiographies.  In this respect autobiography is not the means through which individuality is claimed by Siddalingayya.

Ooru Keri means ‘neighbourhood’ roughly, it refers to residential colony anyways. In this respect it is similar to Vasti an autobiography by the Marathi writer Vasant Moon. It has been pointed out by many that dalit autobiographies, contrary to other autobiographies, focus on the collmunity rather than the individual. That is, an autobiography also becomes ethography as it were, but one from within.

Ooru KeriThe remarkable feature of this book is that it is less a record of pain and suffering than of joy and success. The reader will perceive the oppression that Siddalingayya and his community go through but the author makes the reader see the power of dalits too. Dalit solidarity, struggle become frequent motifs here. No wonder in his afterword to this book D R Nagraj speaks of the ‘power of poorman’s laughter’. The reader of this book is repeatedly invited to laugh out at the naughtyness of the protagonist, or his friends, at the humorous side of occurences.

While the narrative does not trivilise the experiences, it nevertheless does not become a record only of the power of victimisers but tells how dalits wrest power for themselves. Importantly it relates the determination and the commitment of the dalits to shape their own life even when they are caught in highly subjected situations.

The language used is standard kannada unlike some of his revolutionary poems which use dalit dialects. It has been translated into English by S. R. Ramakrishna and published by Sahitya Academy. Availability is thus an issue. But you can easily get it on Flipkart here.

Caste as Human Rights Violation


The ongoing UN session has drafted a resolution which considers caste discrimination as a human rights violation. This is a welcome development considering India’s consistent opposition to allow internationalisation of the issue of caste. Foreign policy of a nation quite often is based on reasons of false pride. In refusing in 2001 a resolution linking caste to racism India had displayed the same pride. Now with Sweden (EU) and Nepal going with the resolution, let us hope that India wont manage to block it.

The TOI says:

The draft principles specifically cited caste as one of the grounds on which more than 200 million people in the world suffer discrimination. “This type of discrimination is typically associated with the notion of purity and pollution and practices of untouchability, and is deeply rooted in societies and cultures where this discrimination is practiced,” it said.

UN treating caste as human rights violation might help in drawing the attention of the international community to the ancient horror that still thrives. If this increases the visibility of the practice of caste system we can hope it will bring greater pressure on the Indian civil society to emerge out of complacency. You may want to read this on the same issue.



Unless caste system, as Ambedkar taught us, is annhilated there is no real progress for this country.

Arundhati Roy “The God of Small Things” I


A few scattered ideas about this v. good novel. I hope to add more thoughts later may be. Had Arundhati Roy not angered the Indian middle class with her uncomfortably sharp pieces in magazines, had she been a goody goody writer writing her uncontaminated literary stuff in her sterilised novels, had she not taken pot shots at the icons of progress and the capital, I guess she would have been much less rejected writer.  What say?

Anyways, about The God of Small Things

by John O'Hara

by John O'Hara

One of the important episodes in The God of Small Things presents a scene of violence. The importance of this is created through a repetition of snatches of the scene throughout the novel. It accumulates through frequent reappearances as a memory, bits of descriptions, a vision, a detail, a small sound and so on, until we are forced by the sheer accumulation of small bits into a shocking recognition of the degree of inhumanity displayed in that scene of violence. The scene is not presented in full detail in one place anywhere in the novel. It is built up as emerging from various bits across the narrative, like an insistent memory, a prickly past.

This scene of violence depicts how the Kottayam police brutalise Velutha at the time of his arrest. At the time he is unarmed (he is not known to be armed anyway), asleep, caught unawares by the police. Yet they attack him and beat him up mortally (he succumbs to injuries the next day). In focusing on this scene I would like to pursue two related questions: the first relates to the number of actors present in this scene of violence. The scene of crime is split between the place of arrest, History House, and the police lock up. The second question relates to gender identity.

During the day, at the end of which Velutha is arrested, Rahel and Estha visit him as they often do. And as part of their play, they put paint on his nails. At the time of arrest and even after, Velutha, thus, has painted nails which prompts one of the police constables to exclaim: “What is this? AC- DC?” (190) The expression AC–DC of course is a derogatory reference to a bisexual. This production of bisexuality in Velutha at the moment of violence on him is entirely sudden. The novel has earlier portrayed him ambivalently in relation to his status in the labour economy. Velutha being a skilled worker has been indispensable for the Paradise Pickles and Preserves factory. Thus as labourer he is at once a dependent (he is unlikely to get a job elsewhere) as well as one on whom the factory depends. In relation to Ammu, he is seen as a receiver of gifts from her though in the past he has been the giver of gifts. These mild suggestions at Velutha’s ambivalent status in a quasi-feudal social setup are extended in the image of Velutha’s bisexuality at the instant of his brutalisation and death.

A similar constituting of Ammu can also be seen in the novel. She is a single parent for the twins and she tells them repeatedly that she is their mother as well as father. In her relation to Rahel and Estha, she alternates between the tough disciplinarian and tender parent. Thus Ammu is also ambivalently portrayed in a combined image of father/mother.

Further, with the twins too, such a portrayal can be seen. The twins see themselves as ‘one’. Rahel laughs at Estha’s funny dream in the midnight. She experiences his sensations. They are seen as a single person with double, dually sexed bodies: “The twins, not rude, not polite, said nothing. They walked home together. He and She. We and Us.” (237)

These elements in the novel that suggest androgynous identity in some of the main characters raise the question of metaphorisation of the victim. In the case of Ammu, then, we can ask if her status as a victim of patriarchy is a metaphor for other kinds of power regimes. Also, whether Velutha is a metaphorical victim of power regimes. It has to be remembered here that in each of these instances in the novel the victimiser is not seen as occupying a singular frame of oppression. The regimes of power are always a combination of different power systems. Hence, Velutha’s and Ammu’s metaphorisation raises the question whether we could admit such a combinatory perspective of the victim. We are familiar with the dangers in seeing every oppression as a metaphor of other oppressions with reference to the use of class as a category of social relation.

Nevertheless, when regimes of power reproduce themselves as social control variously, the subject of power is rendered liminal. Velutha and Ammu in The God of Small Things attest to how the juncture, where the conjunction of regimes of power effects its control at once, is multiply produced – woman also becomes caste marked; dalit also comes to be gendered. Subjectivity of the objects of power is multiply constituted. The risk of metaphorisation of the space of victim need not detain us from attending to the multiply constituted and scripted bodies of the oppressed.

While the oppressive system is not a singular regime, one that operates only as a patriarchy or brahminism but works in collusion to make the victimiser a complex, so is the oppressed a liminal figure, opening up a reductionist metaphorisation. This makes literal the statement ‘oppressed have no gender, no caste, no class’ by which in each scene of domination, the division between the oppressor and the oppressed seem to repeatedly insert the vocabulary of binary. This insertion of binary leads us back to the play of similarities and differences. The danger in an analysis that works with duality, in a minimal articulation, is a serious one. However the same scene in The God of Small Things leads us now to another question: from liminality of identity to the issue of the pitfalls of binary.

Jayant Kaikini – Now


He can make you sit up and shake off complacency. Yes, Jayant Kaikini in some of his poems. I guess I have lived with this poem for a long time, now. There is no argument, no ‘tear floods’, no criticism, no irony. It merely comes to us as a series of images of urban life, of Bombay, of modernity. It blames no one. It asks no question. But drops a punch in the gut.

He does that in the other poem I had posted some time ago, ‘The Script’.

Jayant, you are amazing.


* Jayant Kaikini

from: google images

from: google images

Now it is eight p.m. –

time for the cooker’s first whistle

from the single-room kitchen of the chawl –

time for the bathed luxury buses to leap

into the vast dark night –

time for the unsold jasmines withering in the wickers

to die in tired fragrances –

time for the women returning home after work

to be appalled in front of the mirrors –

time for the aged tiger in the zoo

to wail for its grub –

upstairs in the third gulley of Kamatipura

teenaged Baby

starts her labour pain

they kick her in her stomach

with none of us there.

Raja Rao, ‘Kanthapura’ – I


Kanthapura depicts the arrival of freedom struggle to a south Indian village sometime after 1921. It records the devastation of the village in the explosive encounter between the ‘foreign rulers’ and the freedom fighters. Traditionally it has been described as a novel that depicts the impact of Gandhism on a small village. But it nevertheless disrupts configurations of nationalism, colonialism and the brahminical discourse.



The all too well known characterisation of India as the white man’s burden (Kipling) can be used here as a shorthand for the ideological claims of colonialism about its racial, social, civilisational superiority that imposes it as a moral responsibility on the coloniser to bring light to the ‘dark’ and ‘depraved’ life of the Indians. Imperialism is defended by colonial discourse as a moral responsibility towards the barbaric. As Macaulay said in a speech in 1833: “There is an empire exempt from all natural causes of decay. Those triumphs are the pacific triumphs of reason over barbarism; that empire is the imperishable empire of our arts and our morals, our literature and our laws” (qtd. in The Imerishable Empire, M. Mukherjee, OUP, Delhi, 2000).

Such claims of the colonisers conditioned the self-perception of the colonised. The 19th century ‘Indian Renaissance’ is informed of this self-perception. This exemplifies Fanon’s description of the first phase of a colonised culture as one in which the native intellectual, having internalised the coloniser’s characterisation of the ‘native as barbaric’, attempts to obtain the coloniser’s approval by assimilating the culture of the occupying power. Raja Rammohan Roy’s eager participation in the debate over the Unitarian vs. Trinitarian Christianity (in Precepts of Jesus) provides us with one example. To take another, Toru Dutt in her Savitri attempts to create an ideal woman making Savitri a Victorian heroine as has been pointed out by Susie Tharu. A more explicit example is obtained from K.K. Sinha’s historical novel about the great Hindu past, Sanjogita or The Princess of Aryavarta, (1903) at the end of which the author says: “India appeals to her foreign masters for kindness and sympathy; she is indebted to them for her rescue from a chaotic society” (p. 267; qtd. in Mukherjee).


I am only labouring here to make a fairly well established point that the discourse of colonialism instituted a notion of the natural superiority of the colonising race, and this was internalised by the colonised. Raja Rao’s Kantapura, critiques this position.

U R Ananthamurthy, “Samskara”


I have heard that when UR Ananthamurthy was a visiting prof at USA once, he used to have packed halls. This fame was due to his novel Samskara, apparently, whcih was translated into English by AK Ramanujan. Ericfromm commented on Ananthamurthy’s novel, whcih also contributed to his fame over in USA.

It seems that outside the Kannada circles, he is primarily known as the author of Samskara. Here is an extract on how he came to write this novel which some consider as one of the most important Kannada modernist novels. Please ignore my disagreement.

How I wrote Samskara

U R Anathamurthy

I was barely 13 years old when some momentous things happened in my little Agrahara… I was witness to actual death all round me. Four miles away was my high school, which was closed because of plague in the town. People began to die along with the rats. In my village only the pariahs died. That was because, I had realized, the orthodox doctor had not gone to inoculate against plague- they were untouchables. Although I was surrounded by all these people, something in me was stirred against all these superstitious beliefs. My father used to read Gandhi’s writings in Harijan which used to come to our Agrahara.

Just then another queer thing happened in my Agrahara. An orthodox Brahmin who had joined the army had come back and he used to gather all of us schoolboys and drill us upon a hill. He also talked to us of far away places and the battles he had fought and so on. He had greatly impressed me. I was also privy to a secret, which no other Brahmin in the village knew. This ex-army young man who spoke English had a secret romance with one of the loveliest dark girls from the untouchable huts, although, he came from an orthodox family. This was a secret of elemental importance, which had begun to shake my belief in the whole caste system.

When the Harijans began to die they set fire to whole huts for everyone had died in the hut. They were thatched huts with no belongings and the Brahmins in my Agrahara whispered to one another that they were being punished by god for having dared to enter temples somewhere in North India under the guidance of the Kali of our yug – Mahatma Gandhi. The beautiful girl I referred to, had seemed extraordinarily lovely to me- I had read the story of `Mathsygandhi ‘; the fisherwoman with whom Parashara fell in love and instantaneously produced Vedavyasa, the Sathyojatha. I was living in the world of Purana and reality at the same time.



Such was my state when one fine morning the beautiful girl did not come to clean our cowshed and I was told that she had run away. That struck me: she ran because she was touched. In other words, I thought, however vaguely, that a new consciousness was aroused in her by her contact with an upper-caste man. This lighted up the meaning of the Parashara Purana in me. We, the boys of Agrahara, used to edit then a manuscript journal in three languages- English, Kannada and Sanskrit. I had friends who were doing their SSLC and so could write in English and the boys who went to Sanskrit Pathashalas could write in Sanskrit and I wrote in Kannada. I remember to have written a story on this metaphorically. Why metaphorically? Not because I felt like a poet, but because I wanted to hide the true story from my elders whom I feared. It was much later I realized that even Dostoeveski wrote metaphorically for similar reasons, to hide from the Czarist censors.

I don’ t remember how this story was received in the manuscript journal which I had named ‘Tharangini’. For many years later in 1964, when I was 32 years old, I went to see a Bergman film “The Seventh Seal” in England with my friend and guide, the famous novelist Malcolm Bradbury. Seventh seal is a film on a Christian facing a belief crisis. It was a great and symbolic film, but I saw it without sub-titles. I was stirred by it. Often creativity is aroused by imperfect understanding and even misunderstanding. I told Bradbury, “Look Malcolm, as an Englishman you have to create your medieval times through learning and knowledge acquired with hard scholarship. But the medieval times are part of my consciousness; centuries can co-exist in the Indian mind” Malcolm said that my writing must reflect such an existence.

I had to give my next chapter of my thesis on Marxism and fiction to him. What a boring and hard chapter to write and I wanted to evade it. What better ruse can there be if your teacher is a novelist? I told Malcolm that I have begun to write a novel and I did. I finished it within a week. Being away for nearly two years from my own land and people, the language Kannada with all its richness and the people whom I knew came back to me and I found myself rewriting the story, which I had written at the age of 13. But with a lot more in it than I could grasp in my tender years. This is how Samskara was born in England.


U R Ananthamurthy, the public intellectual




It is an interesting idea, the public intellectual. I guess the word may be challenged as to whether there can be an intellectual in a domain other than public. But, I guess the use of this expression to refer to Ananthamurthy has something to do with the fact that he takes it upon himself to be a voice raising issues that concerns the public in a society that is increasingly turning introvert.

Once my friend Ashok Hegde, the story writer, and me were with Shantinath Desai. In our conversation Ananthamurthy’s later writings came in for a discussion. What Shantinath Desai said has stuck in my mind. He said that after a point some writers become public property. What they write, good or not, becomes important for the language community. Their writings become an example irrespective of whether they have a present appeal.

Another instance that comes to my mind about Ananthamurthy is what my favourite living Kannada writer Rasheed once wrote in his blog about him. I think Rasheed went to Ananthamurthy for the purpose of some podcast or some such thing. Anyways, he was accompanied by a friend. Ananthamurthy receives them cordially, seats them in the front room, makes a small talk and then insisting they have some tea proceeds to the kitchen to brew some. Rasheed is touched by the ready warmth with which Ananthamurthy plays host.

I have had the opportunity to talk to him only once. In IUCCA, Pune, he presided over a book relaease and after the do, there was a little tea and biscuits. Over the tea Pune’s own poet Dilip Chitre and Ananthamurthy were animatedly talking about the status of English and the Indian languages. I joined in with a contrary view. I still remember the intent look on his face which was as enthusiastic to listen to a rookie for a fine debate. He showed no impatience. He was keen to listen to the younger people and engage in a debate with them. I think that shows the public nature of his concerns.

If you are interested in reading Ananthamurthy, visit his website Rujuvatu at