Become a Fan
By Prabhakar palaka
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Not rated by the Author.
For ages the Dalits have been suppressed, oppressed. Thier intellect had been benumbed. Knowledge had been hegemonised. But now I know the truth. Now I must assert. I must write about it. I must dream for a better world, an egalitarian society.
When I started my research in Dalit literature, I really did not know why actually I was doing it. Was it because I am a Dalit? Or was it just to get an academic degree? However, as I dived deep into the ocean of research, a great treasure of knowledge and wisdom was gradually unlocked for me. I got an opportunity to read a great number of Dalit autobiographies, Dalit narratives, Dalit poetry and short stories and their aesthetics. I am happy that it has been challenging me to write something about myself, my community, and my identity. Can’t I be a writer? How long shall I read and read what others have written? Once I was reading Om Prakash Valmiki’s Jhoothn. He very vividly and graphically describes the location of a Dalit street and the unhygienic conditions in which the Dalits live and so on. In one of the early paragraphs, he says, “On the edges of the pond were the homes of the Chuhras. All the women of the village, young girls, older women, even newly-married brides, would sit in the open space behind these homes at the edges of the pond to take a shit. ….there was muck strewn everywhere. The stench was so overpowering that one would choke within a minute. The pigs wandering in narrow lanes, naked children, dogs, daily fights, this was the environment of my childhood. If the people, who call the caste system an ideal social arrangement, had to live in this environment for a day or two, they would change their mind.” My experiences are quite similar with him. My feelings, emotions, mental trauma, anxiety, anger against descendants of Manu are the same as that of Om Prakash. As I read the book, I felt as if he has snatched away the words from my mouth and spoken it out. But why can’t I write?
Once I was reading Chinua Achebe’s essay, “Named for Victoria, Queen of England.” Here he talks about how he came to write. As a young boy the "African literature" he was taught consisted entirely of works by Europeans about Africa, such as Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson, which portrays a comic African who slavishly adores his white colonist boss, to the point of gladly being shot to death by him. Achebe has said that it was his indignation at this latter novel that inspired the writing of Things Fall Apart. The work, published in 1958, is the seminal African novel in English. Achebe is trying not only to inform the outside world about Ibo cultural traditions, but to remind his own people of their past and to assert that it had contained much of value. Africans in his time were ready to accept the European judgment that Africa had no history or culture worth considering. He also fiercely resents the stereotype of Africa as an undifferentiated "primitive" land, the "heart of darkness," as Conrad calls it. The language of the novel is simple but dignified. This choice of language was a brilliant and innovative stroke. He makes a deliberate effort to make others listen to another tongue, one with a rich and valuable tradition. Since then the idea, ‘White is beautiful’ was replaced by ‘Black is beautiful’.
Recently I read Limbale’s Dalit Brahmin, a collection of short stories. In a short story entitled, Atmakatha, he tells how he came to write. He had heard from a professor about Dalit writing. The professor had said, “Write any damn thing about yourself and you become a writer. Anything you write will be published. Dalit wiring is something you write about yourself. Language does not matter”. I have not read Limbale’s original text in Marathi, but I have read the translated one. It has been translated by Nisikanta Thakkar into Hindi. I do not know how well it has been translated. But the language is so simple that it smoothly flows in mind and there is no struggle for words, no search for vocabulary.
Here I discover a point I had been so anxious about. I want to tell the world so many things: my feelings, my experiences, my frustrations and my dreams like any other writer but I fail to share anything. Many times I blamed myself, my poor social background and my language. In Delhi many times I have come across people asking me, ‘What is your mother tongue? If I say, ‘My mother tongue is Dom Bhasa, they look at me strangely as if I am a foreigner, because they expect me to say, ‘Oriya is my mother tongue.’ But truly speaking, Oriya is not my mother tongue; it is Dom Bhasa, the language spoken by my community, Dom, and the language which I picked up when I learnt speaking. I spoke Dom Bhasa till my high school. After that I lost the touch. Even teachers in my school discouraged us to speak in our language. We were made to feel low because of the language spoken by our community. We were asked to give up that ‘uncivilized language’ (that’s what they said to our language) and learn Oriya language and the culture (dress code and food habits) of the upper castes. Everything that belonged to us was looked down upon. And everything that belonged to the upper castes was promoted and encouraged and we were virtually forced to learn it. But now, after coming to JNU and being engaged in research in Dalit literature, a self-image has been created in me. I have learnt to be proud of my own identity, my own culture and my language. I greatly regret having lost the proficiency of speaking my own language. Now I deliberately make an effort to speak my own language. But alas! Now when I try to speak my own language, I sound funny to my own people. Whenever I visit my village, my sister-in-law requests me, ‘Babu, (that’s what she calls all my brothers), let’s speak in Dom Bhasa.’
Over phone I try to converse with her in our language. In fact, she insists on speaking our language, not because it has anything to do with what I think now (assertion of my own culture and language), but it sounds strange in my mouth. It sounds just like the Dom words coming from the mouth of an upper caste, who has picked up some slang from my mother tongue. She laughs and laughs.
But my Oriya is also not as good as the other ‘upper caste Oriyas’ speak. It also seems to be funny with my accent and intonation: some words from my own language and some from Oriya – a khichdi language. But still that is better than speaking my own language (that’s what I was made to think). When I come across a Cuttackian I immediately switch on to speak in the accent of Cuttackians. But a Cuttackian catches me there and says, ‘Hey, where are you from’? I reply, ‘Why? What is the matter?’ He points out, ‘Your Oriya is not like ours.’ I reply, ‘Yeah, because I am from Koraput’. Koraput! They think people in Koraput district are all tribals and aboriginals and are yet to be civilized. Who would civilize them? These Cuttakians have taken up the job. They think that they should civilize us.
Oh what was I saying? My heart is almost bursting with a medley of emotions and feelings and thoughts. Yeah, now I remember. I have the desire to write but language handicaps me. Till class tenth, I studied only in Oriya, after that I took up English with the desire to master English. In college, whenever I got a chance to speak, I remember, I never spoke in Oriya. I tried to speak only in English and write only in English. I am still struggling to align my thoughts and ideas with this language.
When some idea spurs me, I think of jotting it down. Then I think, ‘In which language should I write?’ Sometimes I think, ‘I should write in English,’ but then after writing a few sentences, I fumble for words. Then I start thinking, ‘Perhaps I should write in Oriya’. But within seconds I begin to feel that I do not have suitable words to express my thoughts. At times I feel I should write in my own mother-tongue, Dom Bhasa. Whenever I think of something in my own language, I feel that the words also begin to flow smoothly like gushing waters in the river. I was greatly inspired by Bama’s Karruku written in her own language and not in the ‘standard’ Tamil language. Karruku is a poignant subaltern novel that speaks of the childhood experiences of the author. Constantly reproved for being a member of a lower caste, the Dalit children go through severe abuse and torment. The novel is not just the story of the author alone. It seeks to expose the plight of thousands of Dalit children. There are places where she is proud and happy to be a Dalit but is angered by the treatment given to her. She writes, “Are Dalits not human beings? Do they not have common sense? Do they not have such attributes as a sense of honour and self-respect? Are they without any wisdom, beauty, dignity? What do we lack?” (page 24) Thus, Karruku is not merely a militant voice seeking to liberate the Dalits from oppression. The language used in the book is that of the Dalits. This in itself is a mode of overthrowing established conventions for writing, as dictated by the upper castes and upper caste writers. Here I learnt that language should not paralyze one’s thoughts and writing. Thoughts and ideas are definitely more important than language.
I think by now you might have got to know about my predicament in acquiring language skills and my anxiety to express. Still I dream. I am a dreamer. Only by dreaming I have reached this stage. Only because of my dreams, I came to JNU, one of the premier universities in India for my higher studies, otherwise I would have ruined myself just like many of my caste fellows. Even today, when I share my views and my desires, many of my colleagues think that I am a dreamer. But you will surely agree with me that only he who has a dream has a hope; and the one who has hope will work hard and achieve his dream. I have a great dream to be a writer. A year back I wrote some poems and published them in my departmental magazine which was my own initiative. It looks as if the magazine was initiated to publish my own poems. But I don’t mind if together with me many other strugglers like me also get published. I expected my students and colleagues to come and appreciate my work. I thought my work was something different from what was usually published in journals. But nothing significant happened. Only a few students and teachers appreciated me for my poems. Still I dream to be a writer. One day, like Limbale, like Om Prakash Valmiki and like Sameer Ranjan, I would also be published and get the attention. A writer to be talked about. The government would recognize me and give me some awards and select me for some committees. People would write to me about my writings. They would become my critics and I would be a writer. This is my dream. This dream gives me the hope and support. So let me dream.
Department of English
Site: My dream.com
Want to review or comment on this
Click here to login!
Need a FREE Reader Membership?
Click here for your Membership!