Raja Sekhar Vundru

Raja Sekhar Vundru's Writings

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Location: New Delhi, India

Ph.D on Dr.Ambedkar's Electoral System from the National Law School, Bangalore (NLSUI) Currently working as Deputy Director General, UIDAI, Government of India , New Delhi +911123752322 (office)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Celebrating Protest

Date:01/05/2005 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/lr/2005/05/01/stories/2005050100260600.htm
Literary Review


Celebrating protest


Namdeo Dhasal was a pioneering poet, who inspired an entirely different literary imagination.

In a wholly racialised society, there is no escape from racially inflected language, and the work writers do to unhobble the imagination from the demands of the language is complicated, interesting, and definitive.

- Toni Morrison in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

INDIAN society, with its history of oppression of Dalits, often fails to recognise the Dalits' contribution to the repository of Indian literature through their distinctive criticism of the inhuman social system.

Recently it came closer to redeeming itself a bit, as the Sahitya Akademi, while celebrating its Golden Jubilee, presented its Golden Jubilee Life Time Achievement Award to a Dalit poet, Namdeo Dhasal, who symbolises the essence of Dalit protest poetry. Dhasal with his unique style revolutionised the Marathi literary landscape and inspired a whole movement of Dalit literature in the rest of the Indian languages.

Unprecedented creativity

Dhasal was one of the founder leaders of the Dalit Panthers movement, which flowered into a renaissance of Marathi literature with an unprecedented outburst of creative activity among Dalits. It draws a great parallel to the Harlem Renaissance of 1920s of the Blacks in America and the Panthers drew immediate inspiration from the Black Panthers movement and black poetry. The Dalit literary movements in all Indian languages posed a tremendous challenge to the existing literary imaginations with Telugu Dalit literary movement of the 1990s being the latest example.

Dhasal's writings represented the anger and reflected the untouchable's protest voice against oppression and societal discrimination. His first collection of poems Golpitha (1972) took Marathi literary circles by storm and broke all the rules of traditional Marathi literature. Golpitha, named after a red light district of Mumbai city, caused an uproar for its vivid language where Dhasal employed common (vulgar) language used in the red light area, shocking the traditionalists.

... I am headless body of a rat with a pyramid rising above me
Meat and fish
Rice and eggs
Bootleg liquor and flowers of white champak
Kisses, embraces, coital postures, jewels,
And beds, and a house with a leaking roof,
And the rhythm of a lullaby.
I am squeezed: in my yearning
Feminine beauty flowers
The Mona Lisa painted by Leonardo da Vinci
In the service of A-B
Rain driving down in sheets, a dying cigarette,
A dehydrated dancing girl,
Contrasting colour harmony
I too have poverty as my own piece of land... .

(From Golpitha; translated by Dilip Chitre.)

Dhasal's works include Moorkh Mhataryane, Itihasatil Apaphavya, Khel, Priya Darshin, Ambedkari Chalawal, Tuhi Iyatta Kanchi, and two novels, Negative Space and Hadki Hadawala. Dhasal, like other writers, was inspired and frequently invocated Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, whom the Dalit literary movement recognises as the father of Dalit literature. This is one on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar:

You are the one
Who dances from shrub to shrub like the butterfly
Of the new year and emit rays of light.
Who goes on expanding like railway lines
Who unnerves the foundations of universities
who travels from freedom to freedom.
You are the only one, charioteer of our chariot
Who comes amongst us through fields and crowds,
And protest marches and struggles.
Never leaves our company
And delivers us from exploitation
You are the one
The only one.

(From Golpitha; translated by D.B.Karnik.)

The first introduction of Marathi Dalit literature to English readership came through the Times of India, Weekly Supplement on November 25,1973. Anthologies edited by Arjun Dangle (Poisoned Bread, 1992), Eleanor Zelliot with Mulkraj Anand (1992) and Eleanor Zelliot's From Dalit to Untouchable (1996) later carried translations of Dhasal's poems. His poetry featured exclusively in Journal of South Asian Literature (1982 &1989); Bulletin of concerned Asian Scholars and Translation journal in 1989. He was invited to the International Literary Festival in Berlin in 2001. Interestingly, one can find a lengthy account of Namdeo Dhasal in Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul's India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990). He was awarded Padmashri in 1999.

While I write this at night
it's three o' clock
Though I want to have a drink
I don't feel like drinking.
Only I want to sleep peacefully
And tomorrow morning see no varnas.

(From the poem: "Ambedkar:1980", in Tuhi Iyatta Kanchi; translated by Asha Mundlay and Laurie Hovell.)

Dhasal's career has its own turn of events. The Maharashtra Government continued to persecute the Panthers for their militant ideology. But Dhasal accepted the literary award of State Government for Golpitha, which created cracks among the Panthers. In 1974, the Dalit Panthers split. His political career took him to Congress Party and later, surprisingly, to the Shiv Sena, against whose ideology Panthers waged a war.

The United States celebrates its Harlem Renaissance: one of the most pungent literary attacks on racial discrimination. It gratefully accepts the Renaissance as a great cultural and literary event and made it a part of the nations' consciousness. Why was the Indian nation deprived of the great contribution Dalit literature has made to the literary landscape, as great literary works are languishing for want of translations?

Lothan Lutze of Germany and Laurie Hovel McMillan of the U.S. did basic work translating Namdeo Dhasal poems. Dilip Chitre, a long-time friend of Dhasal and translator, Jayant Karve and A.K. Ramanujan have played significant roles. All the translations we have were due to their individual efforts. No concerted move to translate the voluminous writings of Dalit literature into English and other languages was initiated by the literary academies.

Deserves to be known

But as the great vehicle of Dalit literature inspires generations, it is time for the celebration of the protest, in its true spirit of pain and agony in being a Dalit. Dalit literature deserves to be known to the world, to the children, the elders and the Generation Next of this country. In a multi-lingual India, it is time we have all the translations into all languages, in our hands.

As Namdeo Dhasal, one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century watches from the mixed scented lanes of Golpitha, Dalit literature is flowing into the 21st Century mixed with blood, sweat and anger, flowering into greatest poetry that this country is producing now.

(Raja Sekhar Vundru is an IAS officer presently working as a Director, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Govt. of India, New Delhi. The opinions expressed are his own and does not represent the government's.)



Dear friends,What Dr. Rajshekhar Vundru, himself a very able literary figure, says about the poetry of Dhasal is true, indeed. One must read at least his "Golpitha". There can be no doubt about the literary acumen of Dhasal or his poetical ability. But the real reason of his getting the Sahitya akademy award is his nearness to Shivasena, rather than his poetry. That is the general feeling among the Ambedkarites.The old firebrand Dhasal is gone. Now only the Shivasainik in him is alive, which is not of much use to the Dalit cause. There is hardly any enthusiasm about his award among the Ambedkarite circles. I do not know about the Shivasena circles.They are trying for unity of Shiva sainiks and Bhim sainiks, we hear. Good Luck to them!Thanks!

Dr. K. Jamanadas =======

At 03:49 PM 5/7/2005 +0000, you wrote:Message: 1 Date: Thu, 5 May 2005 03:37:26 -0700 (PDT)

From: Tarun Udwala <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>Subject: Celebrating protestCelebrating protest http://www.hindu.com/lr/2005/05/01/stories/2005050100260600.htm


Celebrating protest


Namdeo Dhasal was a pioneering poet, who inspired an entirely different literary imagination.


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