Babu­rao Bagul’s When I hid My Caste

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Comment - ■ dhrubo.jy­

Dhrubo Jy­oti

When Marathi writer Babu­rao Bagul’s de­but col­lec­tion of short sto­ries was pub­lished in 1963, it trig­gered a storm. The vis­ceral prose broke the shack­les of re­spectable, Brah­mini­cal lan­guage and the sto­ries cen­tered the lives of peo­ple the caste sys­tem meant to erase. More than half a cen­tury and 11 edi­tions later, Jevha Mi Jaat Chorli Hoti or When I hid My Caste re­tains all of its punch-in-the-gut force in Jerry Pinto’s pow­er­ful new trans­la­tion.

Bagul’s 10 sto­ries are not an easy read. They re­volve around the lives of peo­ple most writ­ers have been happy to ig­nore, cour­tesy In­dia’s unique na­ture of knowl­edge pro­duc­tion that lim­its writ­ing largely to cer­tain priv­i­leged castes.

As writer Shanta Kam­ble says in the in­tro­duc­tion to the book, Bagul’s char­ac­ters are larger-than-life and he paints their suf­fer­ing and dis­sent through the force of his words shorn of the sophistry and gen­teel­ness of­ten used to dull the vi­o­lence of caste. His pro­tag­o­nist doesn’t just climb a stair­case, he “pounds the ribcage of the stair­case”. The sto­ries, which range from chron­i­cling the life of a De­vadasi strug­gling with the tyranny of a Brah­min priest to a vil­lage fes­ti­val tainted by caste op­pres­sion, are meant to leave the reader un­set­tled and uneasy.

But in­stead of just dwelling on the pain and the suf­fer­ing, Bagul strikes at the foun­da­tion of this pain in re­volt. His char­ac­ters refuse to bow down to rei­fied sys­tems of caste – their at­tempts are not al­ways suc­cess­ful but it is a mis­take to see th­ese sto­ries as de­void of hope. His pro­tag-

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