Holding up a mirror
In his latest book of short fiction, Sharankumar Limbale, a formidable voice of Dalit literature, mirrors the reality that Dalits live with even today.
S HARANKUMAR Limbale is among the most acclaimed writers of contemporary Dalit literature in India. His latest book, a collection of 28 short stories titled The Dalit Brahmin and Other Stories, further cements his reputation as the voice of Dalit literature.
The son of a Patil father and a Mahar mother, Limbale realised that he was considered akkarmashi, or one of impure blood. His grandmother had a live-in relationship with a Muslim. Limbale embraced this as his social, genetic and emotional heritage. He named his autobiography Akkarmashi (The Outcaste), and when it was published in 1982, it was hailed as a landmark in Marathi literature.
Dalit writing is largely experiential. There is not much fiction. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that until recently Dalits did not write or, more accurately, were not allowed to write. Until 50 years ago, literature in India was the stronghold of the upper castes.
The stories and traditions of Dalits were oral until B.R. Ambedkar emphasised the need for Dalits to declare themselves through literature and disprove the accepted wisdom that writing and literature were meant only for the upper castes. Hence the experiential writing that now largely characterises Dalit literature.
The writer Anand Teltumbde writes in his introduction to the book that it is this intensive recounting of their lives and all that has been forcefully ingrained in Dalits that has made Dalit writing “occupy a central place in literary discourse today”. Teltumbde places Dalit writing in context, saying: “The history of Dalit writings, as the experiential narrative of Dalit lives by Dalits themselves in writing, goes back to the Tamil Siddhas (6th to 13th centuries C.E.) and Bhakti saints; since many of them were Dalits, it is probable that their oral verses were committed to writing for their aesthetic and spiritual value by others…. Modern Dalit writing, a product of the consciousness created by the Ambedkarite Dalit movement and the spread of education among Dalits, adopted the natural genre of short story.”
Teltumbde goes on to trace the rise of this literature through the growth of certain publications that “brought forth a new generation of writers who were dissatisfied with the established Marathi literature, which they saw as bourgeois, Brahminic, moribund and orthodox. It [the Ambedkarite Dalit movement] ushered in modernism in Marathi literature and significantly became one of the catalysts of the Dalit literature movement.”
The short stories in the collection are a glimpse into the lives of Dalits. The framework is the Ambedkarite movement. The characters are Mahars who have converted to Buddhism. They include the young and the old, men, women, children and young adults with raging hormones. They either bow to cruel tradition or challenge institutionalised oppression. The settings are both urban and rural. Feudalism, modernity, class barriers, illiteracy, superstition, love, treachery, blind devotion and oppression rage through the stories. They are not potboilers; they mirror the reality that Dalits live with even today.
There is the generation that accepted the injustices. There is the generation that questions these injustices, followed by the generation that is
The Dalit Brahmin and Other Stories By Sharankumar Limbale Translated from the Marathi by Priya Adarkar Orient Blackswan Pages: 206 Price: Rs.450