Baburao Bagul’s When I hid My Caste
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-