Saturday, February 28, 2009

Namdeo Dhasal: A Radical Voice of Dalit Protest by Shaleen Kumar Singh

Namdeo Dhasal’s voice of Dalit protest emerged onto the Maharashtrian Literary scene in early 70s and it succeeded in fracturing ‘Marathi Literature’s tranquility’ and giving birth to a political movement for Dalit voice. Born in 1949, in Mahar caste, Dhasal is the only Dalit poet to have received a Lifetime achievement award from country’s apex literary institution Sahitya Akademi. He is, though Mumbai poet and his poetic sensibility ‘emerges from the underbelly of the city- its menacing unplumbed Netherlands,’ yet that his vitality and vivacity of expression is so sublime and exquisite that he deserves to be ranked among the radical voices of protest in India
If we delve deep into the history of protest movements of regional literatures in poetry in India, we will enumerate find few names viz. Malay Roy Chaudhary (who led Bhorki Peedi Aandolan that is also know as Hungrialist movement), Sunil Gangopadhyay and Pritish Nandy in Bangla, Muktibodh, Kedarnath Singh, Dhumil and Rajkamal Chaudhary in Hindi, Siddhilingaliah in Kanada and Namdeo Dhasal in Marathi who created an ‘alternative poetics’ and with a deliberate use of subversive language and diction and ‘challenged the middle notions of decency’. Namdeo Dhasal needs peculiar focus as his Dalit Panther (an organization founded in 1972) in its ‘long-standing struggle’ with higher castes both ideological and physical, has a major movement of protest in India.
The journey of Dhasal’s life commences from his humble hamlet Purkanersar of Maharashtra to his maturing of talent in ‘Dhor Chawl on the fringes of Mumbai’s red light area where he formed his ‘Vigilante Organization, Dalit Panther’ and had in 1972 and named after the U.S. Black Panthers to indicate independence and militancy, the Dalit Panther grew in a number of educated young men. Loury Hovell observes this Dalit organization as:
Dhasal is both poet and Panther, and his poetry and that of the larger Dalit movement cannot be separated from its historical, political and social context. The poetry of this movement has a purpose; the poets speak about and for a community. Some of these poets say that if their political and social goals were met tomorrow, they could stop shouting and writing. (Hovell 7)
Another renowned dramatist Vijay Tendulkar looks at the world of Golpitha (Dhasal’s first poetry collection in Marathi) which is about Mumbai’s underbelly Kamatipura as:
This is a world where the night is reserved into the day, where stomachs are empty or half-empty, of desperation against death of the next day’s anxieties, of bodies left over after being consumed by shame and sensibility, of insufferably flowing sewages, of diseased young bodies lying by the gutters braving the cold by folding up their knees to their bellies, of the jobless, of beggars, of pickpockets, of holy mendicants, of neighbourhood tough guys and pimps… (Deshpande 72)
Dhasal is a potent voice of Dalit protest who feels a close relation between literature and politics. His collection Golpitha (named of a red-light district in Mumbai) depicts the tough life of a Dalit and is marked with ‘raw energy exuded by each of its words entirely unfamiliar to the established literary circle of its time.’ Rakshi Sonawane says:
The book scandalized the Marathi literary world, which had always been dominated by upper-caste writers. Golpitha was initially attacked for not being a literary work worth the name. Taking artistic liberty with free verse, Dhasal lashed out against the system, using words that had never been printed. (Sonawane)
After Golitha (1972), several poetry collections have been published in Marathi entitled Moorkha Mhatarayane Donyar Halavile (1975), Tuhi Lyatta Kanchi? Ambedkarara Prabodhini, Mumbai (1981)Ambedkari Chalwal, Ambedkara Prabodhini, Mumbai(1981), Khel (1983), Gandu Bagicha (1986), Ya Sattet Jeev Ramat Nahi (1995), Andhale Snatak, Ambedkara Prabodhini, Mumbai (1997), Mee Marale Sooryachya Rathache ghode Saat (2005), Tujhe Bot Dharoon Chalalo Ahe Mee (2006) and recently Dilip Chitre, another renowned awarded poet critic and translator has selected, introduced and translated Dhasal’s poems from Marathi (between the period of 1972 to 2006) in the book entitled Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underground. The book carries (black and white photographs by Henning Stegmuller)) Dhasal’s poems from his eight collections and three introductory chapters of Dilip Chitre and a self-note of Namdeo Dhasal. Chitre is the only person who has introduced Dhasal to English speaking literary world (though a few others like Vijay Dharwadekar have also few poems of Dhasal for his anthology Modern Indian Poetry in English with A K Ramanujan) and he has been translating Dhasal from a pretty long time. One astonishes at the fact when he says:
I have been translating Dhasal’s work for the past 40 years. When I read a piece of poetry or prose in Marathi, and if it’s something that bugs or haunts me, I share it with others, to take it beyond the Marathi speaking identity. Over the years, I’ve taken this task on myself. Translating the works of Namdeo Dhasal became part of my general agenda. (Lobo)
Chitre and Dhasal have looked at the life of Dalits, the prostitutes and pimps, hijras, loan sharks, corrupt cops, drug addicts, petty criminals, street urchins, sexually transmitted diseases, physicians and general practitioners, gangsters, supari killers, singers and mujra dancers, folk balladeers, tamasha artists, cooles, immigrant labourours, food vendors, paun shopwallahs and all other type of people of Kamathipura, the hell of Mumbai. Unlike Mumbai’s multicultural, multiethnic, plurilingual, multireligious and multicommunal population as well as high towering buildings, malls and glamorous world of Bollywood, Kamathipura, the slum is a tiny but glaring example of the lives of Dalits who reside throughout the nation. Besides being a poet, Dhasal is also a political activist and he is equally known for his poetry and his protest movement that he raised under the banner of Dalit Panther. He remained ‘under the influence’ of Achary Narendra Dev, Ram Manohar Lohiya and India Socialist Ideology but he later on realized that the Samajwadi Party worked within a certain class limits. He also felt that he will have to target untouchability at first. He says:
I had to prepare ideological ground for my political commitment to Dalit Panther. We would have nothing to do with the so-called progressive and left parties as long as the problem of untouchability was not their topmost political priority. Around 1968-69, I gradually came to believe that untouchability would we our prime target. (167-168)
For him there is no difference, between poetry and activism and his poetry is only the literary form of his activism. Chitre is right when he says:
…Namdeo’s universe is untouchable too. It is loathsome and nauseating universe, a journey into it is a journey from the sacred into the profane. Or, if we were to see it in purely secular and material terms, it is a journey from the clean to the dirty, from the sanitized to the unsanitary, from the healthy to the diseased. (11-12)
The poems of the Namdeo Dhasal collected in the volume Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of The Underworld are the result of Dilip Chitre’s forty years arduous labour of translation. In the first poem of the collection, Dhasal in higher crescendo of protest says:
Man, you should explode
Yourself to bits to start with
Jive to a savage drum beat
Smoke hash, smoke ganja
Chew opium, bite lalpari
Guzzle country booze- if to broke,
Down a pint of the cheapest dalda. (38)
Launch a Champaign for not growing food kill people all
And sundry by starving them to death
Kill oneself too, lest disease thrive, make all tree leafless. (36)
But this high voltage current concludes in a mild and positive vision:
After this all those who survive should stop rubbing anyone
Or making others their slaves
After this they should stop calling one another names-
White or black, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra;
Stop creating political parties, stop building property, stop committing
The crime of not recognizing one’s, kin, not recognizing one’s mother or sister
One should regard the sky as one’s grandpa, the earth as one’s grandma
And coddled by them everybody should bask in mutual love. (36)
And in a didactic tone, he says:
Man, one should act so bright as to make the sun and the moon seem pale
One should share earch morsel of food with everyone else’
One should compose a hymn
To humanity itself, man, man should sing only the song of man.(36)
Similarly in the poem ‘Kamatipura’ where nocturnal porcupine reclines/… like an alluring gray bouquet wearing the syphilitic sores of centuries/ pushing the calendar away/ forever lost in its own dreams. (74) According to him, Kamatipura is ‘hell, is swirling vortex, an ugly agency’ and a ‘pain wearing a dancer’s anklet’. But his all bitterness turns into a tenderness when he says:
O Kamatipura,
Tucking all seasons under your armpit
You squat in the mud here
I go beyond all the pleasures and pains of whoring and wait
For your lotus to bloom.
- A lotus in the mud. (75)
Pain, anguish, abject poverty, deprivation, starvation, loneliness, hellish life of man, woman, children and almost all the marginalized sections of the society have been captured in the poetry of Dhasal. The predicament of a Dalit woman and her exploitation is mirrored in a sarcastic way:
Women are merely printed whores of men.
Men are just pimps of women.
The relationship of men and women is just like-
Take a few whores; take a few pimps; take a few chewing stick to clean the teeth;
And throw them away after use; and then gargle with the holy water the river. (58)
In a long poem ‘Hunger’, the poet personifies hunger and puts several questions to her:
A fruitless thing.
However hard you work, for wages you get paid in stones;
If one can’t build a house of stones
One can’t live in it.
Hunger, at times, you assume the form of a mouse, at times you become a cat, and a lion sometimes;
How can we weak ones, face
This game started by you and dare to play it? (76)
In another long poem ‘The Tree of violence’ mirror exhibits Dhasal’s concern for Dalits predicament and mature understanding of the social system in which ‘like a Tulsi Vrandavan’ the tree of violence is planted, ‘watered’ with blood and ‘with great devotion’. ‘The tree of violence continued to flourish’ and sucked human blood and even it ‘hammer like blows’ on ‘a holy man’, schooled in the sophistry of Parliamentary etiquette resulting which ‘he remained in a coma’. Somehow the messiah recovers and warns the people ‘about the alarming/ terror-trees or some propensities and ‘ministers and cronies’ attempted ‘to chop the tree’ but the tree could not be broken nor sawed off and people regarded it as a tree of steel. After constant futile attempts of ‘lifeless and frozen government to search for the ‘ever growing roots of the tree’, there comes a roaring of fusillades from all directions they came to find the roots of the tree when Dhasal says:
Finally they found the roots of the tree
In the Havelis of the Zamindars and in their mehfils
Finally the roots of the tree were found
In the safety-vaults of capitalists and monopolists
Finally the roots of the tree were found
Under the throne of the Empress
Hellhounds and hit-men on red alert were summoned in the end
The tree was cut down. (70)
And later on the same tree of violence turned the tree of love and became the Kalp-taru. The poet weaves chapters of hope and says:
Really, the cannot die
But multiply it will-by the hundreds, by the thousands, by the millions and by the billions
It will overflow into rice-fields, and foul up the Parliament, it will run
Over the ghettos of the untouchables, the mangs and the mehetars,
The mahars and the chambhars, into the fields and into the factories,
They will all weave and wave streamers and pennants for the Gate of a new nation
And the tree of violence will perform the role of the tree of wish-fulfillment
Yet, it will be a cornucopia for the newborn nation. (71)
Dhasal like other protest poets is an ardent votary of Baba Sahib Bhimrao Ambedkar. His poems ‘Dedication’, (Tuhi Bot Dharoon Chalalo- Ahe Mee 2006) Ode to Dr. Ambedkar (Tuhi Yatta Kanchi, 1981): 1978 and Ode to Dr. Ambedkar (Golpitha 1972) are his poetic offering to Dr. Ambedkar. He remembers him and says:
You are that sun, our only charioteer,
Who descends into us from a vision of sovereign victory,
And accompanies us in fields, in crowds, in processions, and in struggles,
And saves us from being exploited
You are that sun
You are that one-who belongs to us. (42)
In the poem ‘dedication’ he apologizes ‘Baba Sahib’ because he ‘could not do without writing/ ‘the poetry of his achievement’ and he is ready to suffer for a life-time because he says to him;
In archaic poetry, one has come across many
Who turned cured humans back into their original form.
By suffering the punishment given by you
My life shall become pristine again. (134)
Dhasal’s raw imagery describes the lives of the Dalit who have been a victim of exploitation and savagery of the higher casts. Dhasal lashes out against the system with the armoury of altogether new words and symbols and with an ‘artistic liberty ‘of ‘free verse.’ He attacks even the intellectuals:
These great intellectuals are roaming with blazing torches in their hands
Through lanes and bylanes, chawls and chawls
Claiming that they understand the darkness in our huts, where even rats die of hunger
They are great like horny whores
Those who don’t know that their darkness under their arses
Can exhibit coquettish excellence with ease. (Sonawane)
In the poem ‘Orthodox Pity’, he complains that the ‘feudal lords’ have ‘locked all light in their vault and ‘their orthodox pity is no taller than folk land road pimp’ and in their (Dalits) and their lowered life which is imposed upon them, is without a pavement belonging to them. He continues:
They’ve made us so helpless; being human’s became nauseating to us
We can’t find even dust to fill up our scorched bowls
The rising day of justice, like a bribed person, favours only them
While we are being slaughtered, not even a sigh for us escapes their generous hands. (47)
Brought up in an extreme poverty in Mumbai’s red-light Kamatipura area Dhasal lived among prostitutes, goons, beggars and in a place where distinctive stench, leaky drainages, the smell of human urine and faces, stale food and garbage, sweat, smoke and many subtler aromas abound where ‘it’s poor inhabitants tries to keep it as hygienic and orderly as possible’ (150) but fail at last. Dhasal feels alienated, dejected and torn when he says:
This soil treated me as an outsider;
This air turned its back on me;
What took pity on me in the end was the sky that has no limits. (113)
In the poem ‘Worry’ the poet Dhasal is worried about future and remains indifferent to immortality and spirituality even;
I do not wish to get chained to this God-created hell
For me every day brings a smile to the lips of fortune
Whether the ambrosial cloud rains immortality or not
I don’t wish to entomb myself here in a trance
As for me I still have to worry
About tomorrow’s bread. (107)
And he is bold enough to face death because he wishes to fight for his people and as he knows that ‘poets can save the earth from extinction’, he wants to sacrifice his life for them. One can observe his boldness when he says:
Death is a better alternative to fear
Rather than get buggered; butcher them back
Then bring them back to life, and then kill them again
I too would like to be martyred
For my people’s sake. (111)
Dhasal has indomitable will power with which he attempts to uproot the tree of castism, communalism and regionalism. He opposed not only the oppressors of higher casts but he raised his voice against the oppressors of women, children, religion, fascism and fundamentalism also. His Dalit Panther a crucial role in the politics and literature of maharastra. Dhasal has remained objective from the very beginning. Robert Bohm critic says aright:
Dhasal of course makes no apologies for his writing. Instead, he’s
Relentless in his insistence the reader know why he writes the way He does. And so he regales us with the real, detailing a claustro-phobic world filled with extraordinary deprivation and garbage that is both literal and spiritual. (Bohm)
The poetry of the poet Dhasal is criticized severely by critics but he takes delight in shaking the staid and stirring up the controversies. Sudhanva Deshpande says aright: “The more his (Dhasal’s) critics are exasperated, the more he enjoys being outrageous.” (Deshpande 72)
Dhasal supports it and says: “I have been criticized by many. Whenever I find the time, I read what my critics write. However it does-not affect me.” And alike a genuine protest poet know what he has to do so adds- “our times are such that we have to more on, leaving the establishment in its own fix.’ (170)
Although the Dalit movement and Dalit politics ‘are now in shambles, the translator Chitre has concerned himself to ‘his human vision without sharing his political view, his strategies and his tactics as a political activist’, because at a ‘deeper level’ of poetic vision of humankind and human equality they meet each other. The readers of Dhasal should also adopt this positive vision of looking at an art or poverty by sharing human tenderness that originates in a heart to and reaches to another. According to Dr. S. K. Paul:
Dalit literature is ultimately, a declaration of independence. It is impossible to understand the revolutionary quality of Dalit literature without understanding the people to whom it is addressed. (Paul 398)
Dhasal’s poetry speaks for Dalits and is addressed to Dalits, so it is more down to earth and realistic than other protest poets. One can not search sweetness in his poetry and at the same time one cannot find it missing anywhere. His love for the down-trodden and the people living beside dung heap and hell remain running undercurrent. As an ideal protest poet, he loves everyone and spares no one. He lashes, but simulates with a hope to see under it a shinning vision and so his poems, that are addressed to a peculiar audience and community carry universality in them and make him a master crafts-man and maverick and his poetry ‘worthy of noble prize’.

Works Cited

Bohm, Robert. “Note to D on Namdeo Dhasal” <> 26 Jan 2009.
Deshpande, Sudhanva. ‘Superstar Dhasal’. Frontline. July 27. 2007.
Hovell, Laurie. Dhasal,Namdeo: Poet and Panther Journal Bulletin of concerned Asian Scholars. Vol 23. 1991. 7.
Lobo, Kenneth. Interview with Dilip Chitre ‘Bard of The Banished’ Mumbai Mirror. Sunday. 3 June.2007.
Namdeo Dhasal: The Poet From the Underworld. tran. By Dilip Chitre, Chennai: Navayana. 1st ed. 2007. (All the poetry and a few prose references are from this book)
Paul, S.K. ‘Dalit literature: Its Growth and Evaluation’ Indian literature in English. ed. Satish, Barbuddhe. New Delhi: Sarup & sons. 1st ed. 2007.
Sonawane, Rakshi. “Dhasal’s times of irony and Anger”
http://www.indianexpress,com/story/215603.html> 22 Jan. 2009.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shaleen Singhs unusual poetry Proprietary Pains

Shaleen Singh belongs to a small town of Budaun in the province of Uttar Pradesh in India. Post Colonial Poetry in India came in varied extent from the metropolis. Yes, there is definitely an invisible bond in ones creativity to the town or village of residence. The rustic surroundings of Budayun have influenced Shaleen’s poetry to a certain level.
The Indo-English Poetry Movement that dominated with a few names from the sixties to eighties has lost the anarchy that it professed. Instead poets like Shaleen Singh have brought their own vivid and iconoclastic imagery that defies any norm of poetry, grammar and even English. It is a poetry that is truly Indian. His poems are ultimate, radical and spoken in two or three words. They are like the hot wind that blows so often in summer at Budayun. Its searing effect is reflected on words that are immediate, poetry that seems to grow unhindered in unusual circumstances like the old Banyan tree in his house at Budayun.
Cover Watercolor by Amitabh Mitra, Poets Printery Publishing, South Africa
Dr Sunil Sharma's Comment
Happy New Year! And Congrats! Our Badaun Chhora (guy) goes global! Proprietray Pains' smooth journey to the firang S. Africa is real remarkable. Small town India--- a vital part of India Inc success story so far---debutes on international literary stage, and, with a bang. Visuals are also impressive. My best wishes for the young poet who clebrates pains and joys of living off centre, yet making it the centre of his vibrant intellectuo-emotional universe.
Aju Mukhopadhyay's Comment:
Dear Dr. Shaleen Kumar, Hearty congratulations on the occasion of the publication of your first collection of poems- Proprietary Pains- the title is unusual and interesting- I look forward to seeing the book in due course.Truely,
Aju Mukhopadhyay
Professor Bhaskaran Gavarappan's Comment:
Dear Professor,Wishes from my Heart to you and your wonderful book Proprietary Pains.It is really an achievement and reward for ur hardwork.Good Luck,
Comment of Dr J S Rathore (Former Vice Chancellor)
Our dear Shaleen K. Singh, Loving Jai Baba. Delighted to have a glimpse of your book's cover and comments by Amitabh Mitra. He says: "His poems are ultimate, radical and spoken in two three words." Great. Congratulations. Thanks for sending. This reminds me of famous Australian poet Francis Brabazon, who came in very close association of Meher Baba and is respected all over the world as one of His mandali. He became Meher Baba's poet. His poetry collections: Stay With God and The East-West Gathering are loved by all. He said that contact with Baba created a creartive surge in him and changed the course of his poetry. One of his poems addressed to Meher Baba - `O Glorious Eternal Ancient One' - is sung daily here as morning prayer.Beloved Meher Baba must now be very happy that now another poet joins His lovers. We do not use the words `disciples' or `followers' but say we are lovers of God, lovers of Meher Baba.- Prof.Rathore
Dr Stephen Gill comments
Stephen Gill
Graham Lancaster- A renowned Poet From S Africa Comments
Congratulations, Shaleen, This looks wonderful. A striking cover and I would like to read it.Do you still want me to review? Regards, Graham
Dr ram sharma comments:
dear shaleen,I became very happy to know more feather in your cap,i pray you will progress leaps and bounds
Dr Sunita Sinha comments:
That is wonderful
Dr Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal Comments:
Congratulations!!!Dr. Shaleen!!
Dr.Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal
Dr K V Dominic comments