Category Archives: Dalit Literature

Namdeo Dhasal’s Poem

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Namdeo Dhasal’s iconic poem in Dilip Chitre’s translation:

Cruelty

I am a venereal sore in the private part of language.
The living spirit looking out
of hundreds of thousands of sad, pitiful eyes
Has shaken me.
I am broken by the revolt exploding inside me.
There’s no moonlight anywhere;
There’s no water anywhere.
A rabid fox is tearing off my flesh with its teeth;
And a terrible venom-like cruelty
Spreads out from my monkey-bone.

Release me from my infernal identity.
Let me fall in love with these stars.
A flowering violet has begun to crawl towards horizons.
An oasis is welling up on a cracked face.
A cyclone is swirling in irreducible vulvas.
A cat has commenced combing the hairs of agony.
The night has created space for my rage.
A stray dog has started dancing in the window’s eye.
The beak of an ostrich has begun to break open junk.
An Egyptian carrot is starting to savour physical reality.
A poem is arousing a corpse from its grave.
The doors of the self are being swiftly slammed shut.
There’s a current of blood flowing through all pronouns now.
My day is rising beyond the wall of grammar.
God’s shit falls on the bed of creation.
Pain and roti are being roasted in the same tandoor’s fire.
The flame of the clothless dwells in mythologies and folklore.
The rock of whoring is meeting live roots;
A sigh is standing up on lame legs;
Satan has started drumming the long hollowness.
A young green leaf is beginning to swing at the door of desire.
Frustration’s corpse is being sewn up.
A psychopathic muse is giving a shove to the statue of eternity.
Dust begins to peel armour.
The turban of darkness is coming off.
You, open your eyes: all these are old words.
The creek is getting filled with a rising tide;
Breakers are touching the shoreline.

Yet, a venom-like cruelty spreads out from my monkey-bone.

It’s clear and limpid: like the waters of the Narmada river.

Read an interview with Dilip Chitre on Dhasal here.

Street Fight Poet

The words are a spume of raw fire — degradation, obscenity, filth and horror rage untamed; there’s a hymn to hear when they’re spent. Nothing cushions in the world of Namdeo Dhasal, poet feared and revered, founder of the Dalit Panthers, comrade of controversy, born ‘untouchable’. Selections from thirty years of his work, 1972 to 2006, brilliantly translated by fellow poet Dilip Chitre have been released by Navayana, an award-winning publishing house, dedicated to bringing out titles for social change. Dilip Chitre and Navayana’s S. Anand talked to Shyama Haldar about the exhilarations of finding Dhasal.

Photo and poems reproduced with permission from Navayana.
photo by Henning Stegmuller

Like most Dalit leaders, Namdeo knows they will never come to power on their own. Mayawati had to compromise — the elephant’s become Ganesha

Dilip, you’ve been a friend, translator and champion of Namdeo Dhasal for over four decades. These poems, they rip through you — how is it they aren’t better known?

Dilip Chitre (DS): Namdeo Dhasal is known in Marathi as a major poet and is almost unknown beyond the language — he’s won awards and things like that, but very few critics have dared to delve into his works and say exactly what it is about him that makes him great. While I have no doubt that he is one of the world’s best 20th century poets, he hasn’t been translated even into other Indian languages because he is extremely difficult to translate.

There is, of course, the problem that India does not have any publishers worth their salt consistently publishing or promoting poetry, even in the English language. In fact, there are actually more publishers in the Indian languages promoting poetry than in English. In English, you have to be very close to your grave to be acceptable to most of your contemporaries, and then they may publish your collected poems. Then along comes this niche publisher who reads four translations of Dhasal in a magazine — Tehelka, as it so happened — and he contacts the translator, gets after him: do you have more?

S. Anand (SA): This was around the Sahitya Akademi’s golden jubilee in 2004; they gave Namdeo a lifetime achievement award. I didn’t know Dilip was on the committee, I just read this article he wrote. Navayana was very young then, and had never done poetry, but this was something I knew I wanted to publish. I hunted all over for a way to contact Dilip, googled madly, and somehow found his number.

That’s something the poems do, read just a few lines and you know you’re with an enormously exciting writer.

DC: And that’s what translation is about, sharing excitement. You can either share it in a very quiet, sober, scholarly way, or you can share it in a poetic way. Now, I am a practicing poet in two languages, English and Marathi, and I am committed to translation — I’ve been translating poetry from Marathi to English for the last fifty years, poetry from the 13th century right up to the 21st. With Namdeo, I found that he has it in him to be considered one of the world’s major poets, and the only way I could substantiate that claim was to bring the best of his poetry to the notice of Anglophone readers.

Namdeo’s a lumpen, as he describes himself, with no assets except poetry — he sometimes says he hurls his poems like stones, so they’re a street-fighting weapon as well. To convey the idea that poets can come from anywhere, that they bring from wherever they come something to the surface of the world — that’s a role he plays exceptionally well. Namdeo’s also an activist, and he’s been a good activist. But like most Dalit leaders, small-time and big-time, he knows he lives in India where Dalits cannot, by themselves, form a government anywhere. They can only act as a pressure group…

Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld
Translated by
Dilip Chitre

Navayana
180 pp; Rs 350

SA: Not until Mayawati.

DC: Even Mayawati has had to make that compromise with her ‘rainbow coalition’ — the elephant has been turned into Ganesha. These things will continue to happen, but let us not be deceived about the facts of the Dalit situation. No minority in India can ever come to power — and, in fact, there is no majority, not even the Hindus are an absolute majority, thank God. We are a land of minorities. And here is a minority voice, someone from the urban dispossessed, uprooted from his rural place, planted in the megapolis of Mumbai at the age of seven to grow up in that urban underbelly that no one notices. In the 19th century, the French poet Baudelaire wrote about Paris, wrote The Flowers of Evil, and started the trend of modern urban poetry. Baudelaire talked about decadence and so on, but he himself was a bourgeois trying to become a déclassé. Namdeo Dhasal is a lumpen, that is the difference, he’s already there. We also know that, although he was not dealing with cities and so forth, Dante in his Commedia was dealing with his contemporary world through the metaphorical frame of Paradise, Limbo and Hell. So you start with Inferno, you come to Purgatorio, and then you are elevated to Paradiso, in Dante’s framework. Now, here’s a person who gives that epic, mytho-poeic quality to Mumbai, and installs at the heart of his universe Golpitha, the red light neighbourhood of central Mumbai. It is an impenetrable world unless it can be illuminated by someone like Namdeo, illuminated from within. Golpitha, which was published in 1972, is, to my mind, a milestone in world poetry.

Cruelty

 

I am a venereal sore in the private part of language.
The living spirit looking out
of hundreds of thousands of sad, pitiful eyes
Has shaken me.
I am broken by the revolt exploding inside me.
There’s no moonlight anywhere;
There’s no water anywhere.
A rabid fox is tearing off my flesh with its teeth;
And a terrible venom-like cruelty
Spreads out from my monkey-bone.

Release me from my infernal identity.
Let me fall in love with these stars.
A flowering violet has begun to crawl towards horizons.
An oasis is welling up on a cracked face.
A cyclone is swirling in irreducible vulvas.
A cat has commenced combing the hairs of agony.
The night has created space for my rage.
A stray dog has started dancing in the window’s eye.
The beak of an ostrich has begun to break open junk.
An Egyptian carrot is starting to savour physical reality.
A poem is arousing a corpse from its grave.
The doors of the self are being swiftly slammed shut.
There’s a current of blood flowing through all pronouns now.
My day is rising beyond the wall of grammar.
God’s shit falls on the bed of creation.
Pain and roti are being roasted in the same tandoor’s fire.
The flame of the clothless dwells in mythologies and folklore.
The rock of whoring is meeting live roots;
A sigh is standing up on lame legs;
Satan has started drumming the long hollowness.
A young green leaf is beginning to swing at the door of desire.
Frustration’s corpse is being sewn up.
A psychopathic muse is giving a shove to the statue of eternity.
Dust begins to peel armour.
The turban of darkness is coming off.
You, open your eyes: all these are old words.
The creek is getting filled with a rising tide;
Breakers are touching the shoreline.

Yet, a venom-like cruelty spreads out from my monkey-bone.

It’s clear and limpid: like the waters of the Narmada river.

Anand, I’d like to go back to the point about Namdeo as a Dalit leader. What do you make of the issue of his aligning with the Shiv Sena?

SA: I really get cheesed off when people start talking about Namdeo Dhasal with the words, ‘Oh, but hasn’t he joined the Shiv Sena?’ It’s like people read a lot of newspapers and very little poetry…

He Takes Mumbai and installs at the heart of his universe Golpitha, the red light district, a world impenetrable unless illuminated from within

DC: And he’s not with the Shiv Sena, this is factually incorrect. The Dalit Panthers supported the Shiv Sena for a while, and then in the last municipal elections in Mumbai, they supported the cpm. That’s the 360 degree world of Indian politics — why isolate Namdeo Dhasal? Just because he’s a Dalit? Why isolate Mayawati? Just because she’s a Dalit? I think there’s high hypocrisy at work here, upper-caste, upper-class, journalistic hypocrisy. And for people to use this to obscure the fact that he is one of India’s major poets, it makes me furious.

SA: He writes for Saamna, I’m told — I don’t read Marathi. And, yes it’s a thin line, being with the Shiv Sena and writing for their paper — but, again, it’s what you write that matters. I’ve been told Namdeo speaks his mind in his Saamna essays, and Bal Thackeray lets him. It’s not a Namdeo I’m interested in at all, though, right now. Are we to divorce him from forty years of his work and say, ‘Oh, now he is with the Shiv Sena’?

Namdeo’s wife is a Muslim, and the daughter of a Communist…

DC: Who was a well-known balladeer, Amar Sheikh. Mallika is about ten or fifteen years younger than Namdeo, and is an outstandingly good poet in Marathi in her own right. They’ve had a very turbulent marriage; in fact, Mallika wrote an autobiography, I Want to Smash Myself, about their relationship, how much she disapproved of his Panther movement, how difficult it was to live with this man, an activist with cases against him all over Maharashtra, many of them implicating him in crimes he did not commit. At the time they married, he was constantly underground, they were hounded from place to place.

Modern Marathi literature has this constellation of outstanding contemporaries: Vilas Sarang, Kiran Nagarkar, Namdeo Dhasal, Arun Kolatkar, yourself. There’s this strain of defiance, rage and relentlessness that runs through this group — where is it coming from?

DS: Well, one of the things that’s common to all of us is that we are rooted in the same metropolis, we are very much Mumbai writers, all of us are rooted in the maddening cosmopolitan mix of Mumbai. We have our different modes of approaching it — for example, in Vilas’ case, he is consciously located in the existentialist tradition of Camus and the nihilist tradition of Samuel Beckett; Kafka has also been a very significant influence on him. You cannot say that about Arun Kolatkar. Kiran Nagarkar has a variety of narrative voices, but you can also read the European influence in Kiran very distinctly. Putting Namdeo aside, Arun, Vilas, Kiran and myself are all bilingual writers who practice writing in English as well as Marathi. Namdeo is monolingual, he writes in Marathi, speaks in Marathi. He doesn’t read any French or Spanish or German or English, for that matter. Where does his surrealism come from, where does his existentialism come from? It’s something native, it’s part of his self-education. He is a self-educated, dispossessed Dalit, fighting his way up into the literary world of the megapolis. Everything he’s read, he’s read in Marathi translation, and if he hears of someone whose work is untranslated, he’ll say, ‘Who is this person, tell me more about him, will you translate him for me?’

Translating someone like Namdeo is, in a sense, like Method acting — you have to find a space for him inside you, make room, and then act it out

SA: There’s something I’ve wanted to ask you, Dilip. His political followers — as you’ve told me — when he’s in hospital, there are some two hundred Panthers outside. Do they read his poetry, do they have an understanding of it? Or is there a split between Namdeo the poet, and this other, political, person?

DC: I don’t see it as a split in Namdeo; it’s the one-sidedness of his multiple audiences. His Dalit audience sees him as a charismatic leader, but they may not possess the literary sensibility demanded by his poetry. He’s not someone like Gadar, who will write these very simplistic poems, and some of them rank bad poetry, and express revolutionary sentiments and rouse people and so on. A middle-class person approaching his poetry does not know the Dalit situation, he does not even want to know. So he misses part of the poetry.

SA: So, is there’s no perfect audience for Namdeo’s Dhasal’s poetry? Nobody who’d have the sensibilities of his politics and be able also to appreciate his poems?

DC: Turn the shirt around and the shirt asks if it fits the audience as well. The shirt poem…

SA: I’d like to read the last three lines from that one, ‘Speculations on a Shirt’:

A human being shouldn’t become so spotless / One should leave a few stains on one’s shirt / One should carry on oneself a little bit of sin.

The Day She Was Gone

 

The day she was gone,
I painted my face black.
I slapped the savage schizophrenic wind hard in its face.
I picked up small pieces of my life
And stood naked in front of a cracked mirror.
I allowed me to wreak vengeance upon myself.
I stared condescendingly at the Sun and said, ‘You screwball!’
I showered choice curses upon all artists who paint dreams;
I walked from the East towards the West;
I picked stones I found on the way and hurled them at myself,
How boisterously flows this water in its fit of laughter
Through mountains and gorges.
What ocean is it seeking to meet?
Or will it seep
Into the soil at sea-level?
Did even I belong to myself?
I could not even embrace her dead body
And cry my heart out.
The day she was gone,
I painted my face black.

And just look at the beginning of it: Let’s change the sex of Eve / Let’s make Adam pregnant. And then you find it so odd that he should be with the Shiv Sena — maybe he’s saying, ‘Let’s do that, let’s go out and confuse you.’

DC: Namdeo dares you, as a reader, and as a translator. There’s something I describe as aesthetic subversion. Namdeo subverts bourgeois sensibilities, and that’s what appeals to me. A subversive act tries to undo the entire system on which your values are based. Namdeo is a guerrilla poet. In one phrase, one line, he’ll juxtapose dialect and the slang of Kamathipura with European references in very sophisticated Marathi. These shifts and transitions of register make translating him very hard. Translating someone like Namdeo is in a sense like Method acting — you have to find a space for him inside you, make room, and then act it out.

Viju Chitre (Dilip’s wife): At the time Namdeo started writing, his poems were the sort people couldn’t bear to go near. The words he used were the kind educated people would never even think of. That’s why most people can talk politics with him, but they don’t want to go into his poetry, because they get scared, even now. When you ask why he’s not better known, it’s because of that. He’s too rough for the sensibilities of even literary people like Vijay Tendulkar. We all pass Golpitha every day, but we try not only to not see what is there, but not to even feel it.

DC: You know, there are many Dalit poets writing in Marathi, none of them write this way. He’s far above them. It’s not as though he could be the leading light of Dalit literature when Dalit writers have such very small ambitions. They all have too many statements to make about being Dalit.

What you’re saying is this is past being an identity statement: I am Dalit, this is my voice. Maybe this is one way of getting over the question of audience — maybe the perfect audience for Namdeo Dhasal is the reader’s gut.

DC: How does he reach German audiences through a secondary translation based on my translation?

SA: Or how would I read one small excerpt and get so excited by it, and say I want to publish this, somehow, anyhow? When I show this book around, when people read just one poem, first they’re not sure they’re reading a translation, and then they can’t understand why they haven’t heard of him before.

DC: But it is also the case that you cannot really separate Namdeo’s politics from his poetry. On April 14 [Ambedkar’s birth anniversary], every year from 1972 onwards, Namdeo Dhasal has been writing one long poem addressed to Ambedkar, but also at the same-time a self-questioning poem. He is talking to Ambedkar and to himself, and is asking himself and all Dalits the question, have we lived up to the standards Ambedkar set us? These are self-examining poems that also point to several things that happened after Ambedkar passed away in 1956 that he did not have to face — the India that Ambedkar never knew and that Dalits have to face today is also part of those poems. There is this too in Namdeao’s work — if people were to read his poetry first and then read his politics, perhaps they will be less clueless than they are when they start with his politics and don’t even approach his poetry.

Jun 02 , 2007

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main30.asp?filename=hub020607Street_fight.asp

Although you are gone, NK

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It is so sudden, so sad, so unnecessary. NK Hanumantayya, a promising young Kannada poet, is no more.

I have not met, seen or heard him. But I have read his poems which impressed me a lot. NK was considered by many poetry enthusiasts as a good poet. Much by him was liked, much was expected of him. It was hoped he would take kannada dalit poetry to further heights.

Hanumantayya wrote poems that were intensely political and personal. He was original in his expressions, his images. Well I liked his poems. NK, you will be loved for what you have given us, you will missed.

Here is a fine one in my intrepid translation.

The King, he waits

The King, he waits

Wearing the cobbler’s shoes

Bearing the blacksmith’s sword, the King, he waits

Wearing the weaver’s dress

Bearing the gardener’s flowers

He waits, the King, he waits

Invisible when we search

Inaccessible when we seek

Hiding behind the eye’s hue,

He waits, the King, he waits

photo from kendasampige.com

photo from kendasampige.com

Dalit Poetry in Kannada: Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy

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I have earlier offered a translation of Kannada Dalit poet Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy. He is a senior writer and a good poet. Experimental and sharp, his works are surely important. Recently I discovered his website which has lot of pictures and details about him.from: mudnakadu.com

Some of Mudnakudu    Chinnaswamy’s poems are  available in translation by Prof. Rowena Hill here

I must apologize for spelling his name incorrectly in my previous post. Thsi time around I have corrected it.

IF I WAS A TREE

If I was a tree
the bird wouldn’t ask me
before it built its nest
what caste I am.
When sunlight embraced me
my shadow wouldn’t feel defiled.
My friendship with the cool breeze and the leaves
would be sweet.
Raindrops wouldn’t turn back
taking me for a dog-eater.
When I branch out further from my roots
Mother Earth wouldn’t flee shouting for a bath.
The sacred cow would scrape her body on my bark,
scratching wherever it itched
and the three hundred thousand gods sheltering inside her
would touch me.
Who knows,
at the end,
hacked into pieces of dry wood,
burning in the holy fire,
I might be made pure,
or becoming the bier for a sinless body
be borne on the shoulders of four good men.

Symposium announcement

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Here is an interesting symposium that puts together some very fine thinkers. Satyanarayan from EFLU is putting together an anthology of Dalit writings from South India. I have heard him speak and read his articles. He is an original. Very focused and clear in his thinking. Not at all simplistic in his oppositional discourse. Then there is Umesh, a very fine historian. His earnestness makes his scholarship more valuable. Venkat Rao from EFLU has been speaking the Balagangadhar logic regarding caste. So it would be an interesting exchange to watch out for.

Department of English

A One-day Symposium on Dalit Studies in the Indian Universities

31 March 2010

Venue: Dean Hall, Administrative Building,

SRTM University, Nanded

Concept Note

We deem it necessary to see critically how the dalits across India see an emergent pan-Indian dalit cultural identity. This cultural identity is being articulated through creative writing in many Indian languages. It has been through such creative writings, also known as dalit literature, that the dalits have repudiated norms of untouchability, oppressive caste structure and the normative ideology of brahminism. The emergence of dalit consciousness and dalit voice across India during the last three decades has received considerable attention in the realm of social sciences. However, the so-called mainstream literary theory has largely remained uninfluenced / unaffected by the literary, cultural, theoretical and ideological issues raised by the new writers.

Dalit literature emerged as the revolutionary literature and challenged the norms, standards and principles of the so-called mainstream brahminical literature, aesthetics and literary theory. Dalit literature is not the literature of mere protest or negation. It aims at dismantling the existing structures of exploitation and restructuring the global society.

Started in Marathi during the seventies, dalit literature is now being written in several Indian languages. These literatures, barring languages, do share the egalitarian ideology and expose the exploitative mechanisms latent in the Indian society. The rise of dalit women writers in many parts of India has raised many issues pertaining to brahminical patriarchy, dalit male chauvinism and specificity of the dalit women’s exploitation. Many dalit women writers have refused to subsume their ideological and practical issues in the overarching rubric of Indian feminism. Apart from creative writing, there have been attempts to theorise caste, patriarchy and culture. However, such writings hardly find any space in the curricula in the Indian universities, leaving them lopsided and socially irrelevant.

It is now being widely accepted that educational system is exceptionally important in maintaining the status quo in the society. Curriculum happens to be actual means whereby a particular worldview is inculcated in the learners’ minds. Basil Bernstein suggests how a society, selects, classifies, distributes, transmits and evaluates the educational knowledge it considers to be public, reflects both the distribution of power and the principles of social control. Since the curriculum is a result of deliberate selection and organization of the cultural knowledge in the syllabus, textbook has been the significant issue in educational research. The traditional curriculum designed for courses in literatures at the UG and PG levels has either underrepresented or not represented the literatures produced and theories developed by the subaltern writers and intellectuals. Marginal incorporation of dalit literature into the curriculum, which is predominantly brahminical and patriarchal, only serves to legitimise it.

This symposium aims at discussing the state of courses in dalit studies / literatures in various universities and colleges and hopes to explore the commonalities in the experiences of the teachers committed to contribute to alternative pedagogy. The Department of English of SRTM University, Nanded plans to start an interdisciplinary course in Dalit Studies from the next academic year. The deliberations in this Symposium will also be hopefully useful in designing and conducting of this course.

Resource Persons

Dr. K Satyanarayana (Head, Department of Cultural Studies, EFLU, Hyderabad)

Dr. Venkat Rao (Department of Literatures in English, EFLU, Hyderabad)

Dr. Umesh Bagade (Professor and Head, Department of History, BAMU, Aurangabad)

Prof. Rahul Pungaliya (Dept. of English, Abasaheb Garware College, Pune)

Dr. Bhagwan Jadhav (Dean, Faculty of Arts, SRTM University, Nanded)

Contact

Dilip Chavan – dilipchavan@gmail.com

About Namdeo Dhasal

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Dilip Chitre is a poet of significance both in English and Marathi. He is a painter too. His contribution as a translator is also great. Of his from: navayanatranslations,, two noted works are his translations of Tuka in Says Tuka and his translations of the Marathi Dalit poet Namdeo Dhasal. Tehelka had published an interview with Chitre about Dhasal in 2007. The interview was conducted by S Anand of navayana. Read the complete interview here. One of the questions Anand asks relates to the perennial question of the obscurity of the poem and their political stance. I like the way Chitre answers it.

 

S Anand: There’s something I’ve wanted to ask you, Dilip. His political followers — as you’ve told me — when he’s in hospital, there are some two hundred Panthers outside. Do they read his poetry, do they have an understanding of it? Or is there a split between Namdeo the poet, and this other, political, person?

Dilip Chitre: I don’t see it as a split in Namdeo; it’s the one-sidedness of his multiple audiences. His Dalit audience sees him as a charismatic leader, but they may not possess the literary sensibility demanded by his poetry. He’s not someone like Gadar, who will write these very simplistic poems, and some of them rank bad poetry, and express revolutionary sentiments and rouse people and so on. A middle-class person approaching his poetry does not know the Dalit situation, he does not even want to know. So he misses part of the poetry…

Namdeo dares you, as a reader, and as a translator. There’s something I describe as aesthetic subversion. Namdeo subverts bourgeois sensibilities, and that’s what appeals to me. A subversive act tries to undo the entire system on which your values are based. Namdeo is a guerrilla poet. In one phrase, one line, he’ll juxtapose dialect and the slang of Kamathipura with European references in very sophisticated Marathi.

Dalit English Poet – Meena Kandasamy

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Recently I came across an exciting voice in Indian English poetry: Meena Kandasamy. I first read her poems in a blog and found about her through blogs, her own as well of others. This is an indication in itself that blogging is beginning to be the dominant medium for accessing poetry. Blogging has several advantages in this respect as it unshackles the poets from being dependant on publishers or magazines. It is as democratic as is currently possible. More and more poets, despite their background, can find their  readers without being subjected to the humiliating process of the publishing industry.

Meena Kandasamy has some interesting things to say about blogging. She is a Dalit writer from Tamilnadu who writes poetry in English. She is also an active translator. Her blog makes for interesting reading. A new voice in the field of Indian English Literature, she is very articulate about the aspirations of the dalits. One of her recent blogs was insightful. Here she talks about blogging, caste oppression and women. Here is an excerpt:

from: Meena Kandasamy blog

Big media houses which own the major publications rarely give opportunity to Dalit (ex-untouchable) writers, and there’s an absence of Dalit/anti-caste writers who write in English. The elitist writers want to write the feel-good stuff, India Shining myths, and that’s the work that gets into print. So, I wanted to tap the power and enormous outreach of the internet: how anyone can write and be read/heard in the virtual space. I was not writing because anyone was commissioning me, I didn’t have to follow other people’s diktats, I could speak my mind. Google and tagging ensure that I can get heard without having my own column in any newspaper. Sometimes its helped me bring some happenings to light—such as the recent inside story of Dalit students being beaten up at a law university in Chennai (the mainstream media merely reported it as a “clash” at first) and so on. Blogging on feminist issues, with a caste perspective, was also something that I set out to do, because feminism in India forgets that caste exists at all, and that women at the bottom of the caste hierarchy do suffer more.

Since the cost of establishing alternative media in India is extremely high, activist groups have taken to the Internet in a big way. There is a hunger to use the potential of this media, and human rights defenders are doing it the right way. The campaign to free Binayak Sen; the exposes on state terrorism, fake encounters and police atrocities; the virulent speed in which fact-finding reports can be circulated; the ease with which the LGBT community in India came together and organized their shows of strength in every major city—these have all been possible because of the digital sphere and the space for social networking, discussion and dissemination that it allows.

She has another blog where she has posted several of her poems. She has published a collection of her poems called Touch. Kamala Das wrote the forward where she calls Meena an exciting writer. Believe her. Or decide after reading her poems. One of them is ‘Becoming a Brahmin‘:

Algorithm for converting a Shudra into a Brahmin

Begin.

Step 1: Take a beautiful Shudra girl.
Step 2: Make her marry a Brahmin.
Step 3: Let her give birth to his female child.
Step 4: Let this child marry a Brahmin.
Step 5: Repeat steps 3-4 six times.
Step 6: Display the end product. It is a Brahmin.

End.

Algorithm advocated by Father of the Nation at Tirupur.
Documented by Periyar on 20.09.1947.

Algorithm for converting a Pariah into a Brahmin

Awaiting another Father of the Nation
to produce this algorithm.

(Inconvenience caused due to inadvertent delay
is sincerely regretted.)

While this poem is a frontal attack, there is a nuanced poem which is rich in irony yet trenchant in its critique of the caste system – varna system.

TOUCH

Have you ever tried meditation?
Struggling hard to concentrate,
and keeping your mind as blank
as a whitewashed wall by closing
your eyes, nose, ears; and shutting out
every possible thought. Every thing.
And, the only failure, that ever came,
the only gross betrayal—
was from your own skin.
You will have known this.

Do you still remember,
how, the first distractions arose?
And you blamed skin as a sinner;
how, when your kundalini was rising,
shaken, you felt the cold concrete floor
skin rubbing against skin, your saffron robes,
how, even in a far-off different realm—
your skin anchored you to this earth.
Amidst all that pervading emptiness,
touch retained its sensuality.
You will have known this.

Or if you thought more variedly, about
taste, you would discount it—as the touch
of the tongue. Or, you may recollect
how a gentle touch, a caress changed
your life multifold, and you were never
the person you should have been.
Feeling with your skin, was
perhaps the first of the senses, its
reality always remained with you—
You never got rid of it.
You will have known this.

You will have known almost
every knowledgeable thing about
the charms and the temptations
that touch could hold.

But, you will never have known
that touch – the taboo
to your transcendence,
when crystallized in caste
was a paraphernalia of
undeserving hate.

Photo from: Meena Kandasamy blog.

Dalit Poetry in Kannada III – Moodnaakadu Chinnaswamy

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There are some excellent dalit poets writing in Kannada these days. I don’t have too good an access to the latest dalit poetry emerging in Kannada as my visits to Karnataka are not vary frequent. I try my best to get as much as my friends can send me. Continuing my earlier posts, here and here, I present a translation of another Kannada Dalit poet. This time another well known name: Moodnakadu Chinnaswamy. I am familiar only with a few of his poems and they are very good. Here is one ‘Footwear and me’ in my poor translation. I read it in a magazine and can’t find that copy around me. So I am a little unsure if this is the complete poem or if I managed to translate only a fragment. I am sorry, I haven’t done enough homework on this. But I promise I will soon rectify this deficiency. I also don’t have a picture of the poet M. C. If anybody has one, do share, please….

Footwear and me

* Moodnaakadu Chinnaswamy

When I go to the temple

The footwear is not left outside

It is I who is outside

Shoes on cobbler’s feet

Makes as much news as when

A man bites a dog

Taking off the shoes

Everyone’s feet

tread all over me

I am a plant:

and they just don’t realize

that under their feet are my roots

Like a crane craning her neck

to the dried up lake’s spring

I stand on my toes

and peep in to steal

as much of god’s form as I can see