Department of English and Modern European Languages
What is Dalit Literature ?
Pages have already been devoted to the definition and discussion of dalit literature . Such literature is nothing put an expression of a “new cultural life” (Dangle 241) of the dalit populace. It records the “shrewd rusticity” and “jolting experiences” (Dangle 248) of dalit life. Arjun Dangle has defined dalit literature as :
Dalit literature is one which acquaints people with the caste system and untouchability in India… It matures with a sociological point of view and is related to the principles of negativity , rebellion and loyalty to science , thus finally ending as revolutionary .(Dangle 265)
According to Sharatchandra Muktibodh ,“An outstanding work of dalit literature would be born only when Dalit life would present itself from the dalit Point of view.” (Muktibodh 267). Calling Dr. Ambedkar, “the mythic giant of dalit literature” Bagul feels that “Democratic socialism, the new science and technology and the revolutionary present , form the essence of Dalit literature.”(Bagul 288). He yet again says that “literature that makes the common man its hero and advocates socialism is the model of dalit literature .”(Muktibodh 288).
Sharankumar Limbale has stated,
Dalit literature is precisely that literature which artistically portrays the sorrows, tribulations , slavery , degradation , ridicule and poverty endured by Dalits. This literature is but a lofty image of grief …. (Limbale 30)
It has always been felt that the Brahmins or the caste Hindus have been largely responsible for what has been called the “dominant , carteist , constructions of Indian identity .” (Limbale 1) .The systematic silencing of the Dalit “orature and literature” (Ngugi 16) has clearly sought to exclude the voice of a budding human discourse through a dissembling of the potential talents that inhere in is the alterity of the Other . However , as observed , the efforts of the Dalit figure and literary giants like Mahatma Phule , Dr. Ambedkar , Prof. S.M. Mate , Baburao Bagul , created the seperate genre of Dalit literature. Besides accepting the vision of victimization….(See – Pg-3) by giving voice to the “textuality of the self as a system of representation .” (Hall 5). This representation through Dalit literature became the core of “New textual and structual parameters .” (Bande 146) where as Bande feels:
The dominant motifs of victimization , revolt, nemesis and subsequent loss perpetuate their oun myths. While the Socio – cultural forces throw into flux the ambivalences created by the dominant powers’ repeated oppress tactics. (147)
The contemporary dalit literature then gives a voice to that moment of resistance in the Dalit life which signals the dalits private entry into an alternative reality – an alternative consciousness new of sorts. The writing of Dalit authors is committed and purposive. As Limbale points out ,
Their writing expresses the emotion and commitment of an activist .That society may change and understand its problems — their writing articulates this impatience with intensity. Dalit writers are activist – artists who write while engaged in movements . They regard their literature to be a movement. Their commitment is to the Dalit and the exploited classes.” (Limbale 33)
In the process of manifesting this activism , the Dalit writer seeks to give rise to a sort of ‘Dalitisised dialogism’; wherein (s)he subverts the logic of superiority to encourage the idea of mutual participation and support. On these lines , M.N. Wankhade felt that,
Writing and people are mutually interdependent , but because of this self – imposed isolation there developed a great gulf between people and writing . The aestheticians and proponents of art for art’s sake are responsible for this. The writing that has come forward to forge friendship and harmony between people and literature is Dalit literature . (Wankhade 320).
This literature blasts the romantic notion of the pastoral beauty to reveal the stark materiality of the marginalised lives. It documents “instances of deprivation , suffering, violation experienced and also resistence posed by them and their communities.” (Mandal 1). Saptarishi Mandal calls their narratives , “Ethnographics of Justice” (1). Thus , amid differing definitions and view points , it could be said that Dalit literature is the expansion of a “revolutionary mentality connected with struggle.” (Limbale 32). Couched in linguistic indecencies it manifests aggression , and rebellion ; with values of a new creation that marches towards the victory of humanism.
Is Nachyo Bahut Gopal a dalit text?
The above question could have many answers. In so far as writers/critics (Sharankumar Limable , Mohandas Naimishrai , Dharmveer) believe that Dalit literature is the exclusive monopoly of the Dalit writer , Nachyo Bahut Gopal can never be called a Dalit text for the simple season than Nagar ; its author is a caste – Hindu.
However , this cannot be and should not be a compartmentalized opinion. If at all literature is the site of conflicting tendencies in human nature , One has to concede the loopholes in the casteist controversy to prove that a water – light compartmentalization of creativity can be harmful to literature itself. Such discussions are of course not without an open admission that the society has very much been responsible for the insecurity , mistrust and fear in the collective mind of the Dalit society. Apart from Muktibodh , Sharankumar Limable has commented on why the caste – Hindus cannot produce Dalit literature He feels that, “…the central concern of Dalit literature is how best to represent the ‘authentic experience” of the Dalits.” (Limable 10)
Joya John also states the view ecohed by Bajrang Bihari Tiwari who feels that the “Primacy to self experience (Swaanubhav) is a hallmark of Dalit discourse” (John 5) . It is this emphasis on self – experience which makes it different from the concept of Parkaya- Parvesh (comparable to the term verstehen/empathy). In an interviewi with Dr. Nilanshu Agarwal , Jai Prakash Kardam – another renowned Dalit writer from Uttar Pradesh opined ,
I would like to quote here the words of Dr. Manager Pandey, a renowned Hindi critic , who wrote in the preface to a collection of Dalit short stories edited by Ramnika Gupta ; that “Only Ash Knows the Experience of Burning.” This indicates that Dalits know the experience of burning …burning in the five of sorrows , hatred , disrespect , injustice , inequality and untouchability. Non- Dalits do not have this experience writers can express their experiences in an authentic manner but not others. non-dalit writers may be sympathetic to the dalits , they may be their well-wishers but their experiences about dalits are not self-experiences. They are the observers of torture and exploitation non-dalits makes the difference between the writings of dalit and non- dalit writers. Hence, dalit literature is the literature of Dalits based on their lives and experiences. (Kardam 3)
Similarly, Mohandas Naimishrai has bitterly criticized writers like Premchand and Nirala to say “…sympathy alone does not work because characters portrayed sympathetically do not revolt …” (In Chaudhary 303). Uma Shankar Chaudhary,states the example of the Aristotelian concept of mimesis, where he says, that an artistic imitation of horror or pain can produce artistic pleasure in the connoisseur. He also cites the examples of the film media where the directors of movies like Titanic and Godzilla had never experienced the imagined …and yet they achieved unprecedented success in garnering audience appreciation. Chaudhary feels that self-experience though a welcome feature , is never a mandatory pre-requisite for the creation of art/literature. R.G. Jadhav said,
It shall be the mission of Dalit writing to transcend established norms and standards and to create new ideals and names emerging out of the characteristic social awareness present in Dalit literature. (Jadhav 299)
However real this transcendence may be , one thing has definitely become real. Dalit literature , in a bid to retain its ‘originality’, has somehow crossed the margins of humanism which ideally should be the goal of a literary writer. Dalit writers favour the projection of resistance instead of sympathetic victimisation to create a myth of Dalit heroism. But, I feel that such heroism is still at the mercy of victimization in literature . In other words , it is somehow imperative for the dalit writers to enliven and keep intact, the sordid individual experiences of the dalit selfhood into order to critique humanism by bringing the dalit hero within the purview of Dalit victimhood. This view has another aspect to it. It leads to the ‘Otherisation’ of the caste-Hindu author trying to map out the psychological terrain of his dalit characters on the basis of humanism.
Now to return to the basic question – ‘Can Nachyo Bahut Gopal be read as a Dalit text ?’ Amrit lal Nagar was a scion of Hindi literature and has written on a number of issues. In all his writings he has talked about the constructions of society and its lamentable aspects. If in Nachyo Bahut Gopal (1978) he has talked about the lamentable situation of the Dalit society with a keen eye , in Woh Kothewaliyan he goes deep into the lives of the prostitutes to find out about their truth. In Mahakaal ,(that has been translated into English by Sarla-Jagmohan as Hunger) he chronicled the Bengal famine and the pathetic situation of the then Indian populace. My question then is: ‘does a writer , with an eye for detail and an all embracing consciousness lose the right to talk about an aspect of society of which he is not an intrinsic part ? If that be the case, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Zola and all others, who have chronicled the human situation , should openly be declared failures.
In discussing Nagar’s work as a dalit text I would like to bring in the issue of subjectivity; since, dalit literature uses the touchstone of the truthful projection of dalit consciousness for its success. As a critical concept, the issue of a subject’s subjectivity involves the questions of establishment of identity ,the responsibility and agency in the creation/retention of that identity. This , according to Hall takes place in “personal action , in aesthetic creation , in interpersonal norms and social valuations.” (Hall 5) Dr. Viveki Rai has called Nachyo Bahut Gopal, a “novel of social revolution.”ii and feels that Nagar has presented Dalit life not as a subject but as a “powerful thought”, wherein he has explored the tendency of man’s exercising of crushing power on the other .” (Hall 5)
In India, the casteist question can be linked with the issues of ethnicity else where. Donald E Hall feels that “Postmodern perspectives on subjectivity can usefully erase the boundaries of high and low culture.” (Hall 112) In her work on the black women’s subjectivity
, Mae Gwendolyn Henderson offer the strategy of a dialogue with “aspects of Otherness within the self.” (Henderson 1994 : 258-59) bell hooks in her work on the black people’s subjectivity and white writers offers a dialogic model that constitutes a “critical break with the notion of ‘authority’ as mastery over.” (423) According to Audre Lorde, “Responsible agency is never derived simply from acting out of one aspect of social identity ,rather it comes from an
awareness of the unique combinations of identities lived and experienced by the individual , whose power to respond to oppression thus originates in a critical consciousness of being athwart several even numerous , social categories .” By the same token , Aijaz Ahmad in an essay on Salman Rushdie’s Shame ; replaces the “myth of ontological unbelongingness …by another , larger myth of the excess of belongings.” (Ahmad 127)
Given the decentred position of a subject (as creator/character) I feel that through Nachyo Bahut Gopal, Nagar has fully lived to manifest the dalit vision , which Muktibodh feels, is necessary to transform an experience into an art. He goes on to differentiate between a dalit vision and a dalit point of view in the following words,
Life is not lived within the rigid confines of a point of view and one does not have only such experiences as are essential to prove a controversial viewpoint. Life is lived totally , at all levels and in the totality of experience. When a view of life is experienced by a writer in its multi form distinct totality, he could be said to have had a ‘vision’ of his own point of view.”(Muktibodh 268) .
It would, thus not be an exaggeration to say that the “totality of (his) experience” (Waghmare 308) , has been well reflected in his literature ; Nachyo Bahut Gopal , not exempted. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar clearly rued on the absence of revolution among the Brahmin masses and questioned, “With such a long tradition of knowledge, how is it that the Brahmins failed to produce a single Voltaire ?” Bagul felt ,
To become a Voltaire, one has to stand up against oppressive religious and political authority. The Indian Brahmins and the intelligentsia could ill afford to do that , for they had created the entire system promoting religion , political power and exploitation for their own benefit. As writers belonged to the same varna , their writing obviously remained within the boundaries charted on by the Manusmrti. (Bagul 271).
According to Sharankumar Limbale,
Babasaheb believed that everyday context , idea and feelings embedded in social interaction should be predominant in literature … Babasaheb valued literature that was realistic and life affirming … This is proved by…his expectation of humanistic idea in literature. (Limble 50-1)
In a critique of Nagar’s novel , Rajendra Yadaviii had this to say:
I feel that in (his) earlier novels Nagar’s gave Primacy to several other things; social scenario , regionalism , Hindu myths etc. However , it is in this novel that , I have for the first time ever encountered a human –truth on a creative plane.
Nagar (in this novel) breaks the barriers of all belief, orthodoxies, values, obstacles, practices to contests that the consciousness of Being ; of existing is the ultimate Human truth. He hails Nagar’s novels by using the words that had been used for Alex Hailey’s Roots : “Its not a novel , but an act of faith.” (Yadav 106)
Yadav goes on to congratulate Nagar for his capacity to envision and experience two Indian malsystems (women & untouchability) through just one character and ends his review with the words, “How immutably mature have you rendered the Hindi Novel – and rendered us useless at the same time …(Trans mine 9)
Given the concepts of “responsible agency”(Lorde), “literature of totality” (Muktibodh) and “humanistic ideas” (Ambedkar in Limbale), Nagar clearly reflects postmodernism in his writings through his philosophical standpoint on the duality inherent in the human consciousness . In his writings he has reflected humanism – not casteism. Infact, he questions casteism on the basis of his humans philosophy . If indeed, Ambedkar did attach the highest value to humanism as a literary value , Nagar can well be termed a Brahminical Voltaire.The narrator reflects,
…Actually , this entire routine of making one human carry another’s dirt is
nothing but representation of the atrocity perpetuated by the higher class on the lower…. (NBG 322)
Through the prism of his objective observance and “aesthetic detachment” (Jadhav feels these qualities are essential in Dalit authors) , he writes,
History bears testimony to the suppression of voice and emotions. When an emotionally disturbed man feels unable to vent his grievances , art and literature come to the rescue of his true agonies …The subaltern can win – if not in life at least in imagination. (NBG 316 ; trans mine)
Thus, it is via his imagination that he makes an attempt at pointing out the fissures in human lives in society. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o has also pointed out in Decolonizing The Mind,
A writer’s handling of reality is affected by his basic philosophic outlook on nature and society and his method of investigating that nature and society : whether for instance he perceives and therefore looks at a phenomenon in its interconnection or in its dislocation , in its rest or in its motion , in its mutability or immutability ; in its being or in its becoming ; and whether he sees any qualitative change in its motion from one state of being into another . A writer’s handling of the material can also be affected by his material base in society , that is his class position and stand point. This , I hasten to add, does not necessarily produce good or bad writing for this ultimately depends on that indefinable quality of imagination , a writer’s artistry, which is able to perceive what is universal that is – applicable to the widest possible scale in time and space – in its minutest particularity as a felt experience. (Ngugi 78)
In an article written by Dr. Ramvachan Rai (published in Dharmyug, 1978 issue) the novel has been hailed as a “unique equation of literature and sociology,” which organically blends the researcher’s facts and the writer’s imagination to create the “novelistic history” (Rai) of dalit life. Dr. Kusum Varshney’s article entitled ‘Dalit Sahitya Mein Nachyo Bahut Gopal:EK Padtal’, (published in the Sep/Oct 2002 to Dalit Sahitya special issue) regretted that this novel, “which protects the dalit integrity, enlivens Dalit consciousness, encourages dalit freedom and advocates a casteless society has never been considered as a part of Dalit literature.” (Tran. mine)
Nagar’s imagination thus had the power to unleash the revolutionary as well as the counter – revolutionary processes in a detached manner to “understand the flux of life” (Kasbe
296) inherent in every human being . In a conversation between the narrator and the female protagonist , the latter asks the former,
Can the difference between the real and the copy ever be brought to an end ? I replied , “…Word –power has the key to this end .”
Smt. Nirguniya… “Your pen has fused the two and has actually experiences even those inexperienced pangs of my life , which would have otherwise remained hidden forever… (NBG 244)
It is thus through his imagination that Nagar plays out his responsible self in creating the aestheticism of humanity. Nagar assimilated the grains of the Ambedkarite thought as well as other cultural insights to claim that ‘bhangi’ is not a class. If at all there was a ‘class’, there was a class of the defeated which gave rise to their ‘untouchable’ and ‘subaltern’ status. Through his preface and characters like Majeed , Majju, Nabbu, Gullan , Masitaram and Nirgun, Nagar delves deep into the society where people spend their lives cleaning other’s dirt ; are forced to accept their dues like beggars; whose women have no dignity – and remain exploited at the hands of the sanitary inspector and money lenders; whose children do not receive any education and start their lives with cleaning filth; whose shadows are dangerously polluting for the high- castes. Nagar has forcefully presented the unfortunate lot of an entire people. Gopal Rai feels that Nirguniya’s character deserves a place with the immortals of Hindi literature –
Premchand’s Hori and Surdas , Hazariprasad Dwivedi’s Nirguniya , Yashpal’s Tara and Mannu Bhandari’s Bunty.
R.G. Jadhav praises Prof. Meshram for the latter’s “introspective and self – critical” (Jadhav 300) literary personality. M.N. Wankhade has also said that “there is a lack of philosophical writing in Dalit literature.”(Wankhade 321) Nagar’s narrator does not hesitate in questioning himself as when he asks, “Infact…how much do I know my own self…my own reality?” (NBG 251) when he comes to know about Smt. Nirguniya’s dual life/caste. Nagar’s act of writing involves a weapon of an introspective as well as detached dialogue which is quick to “awaken the consciousness of self – respect” (Limbale 119) in his readers. Such dialogism is not an act of abstract other – worldliness.His writing organically blends the material with the spiritual; thereby illuminating the awful nature of human reality with a “revolutionary and poetic insight.” (Jadhav 302) The narrator comments :
I felt emotional, merciful and dumb for the first time. I felt like wanting to stop thinking. Today’s democracy is hardly different from the barbaric and feudalistic times when man was defeated and compelled. The thought brought a bad taste in the mouth. ( NBG 31).
The narrator hopefully envisages a casteless society. In doing so, he does not deny the oppression of the dalits or decry that Brahmins been life savers/downright killers. His writing is the affirmation of the politics of human identity, the quagmire of casteist existence and at the same time, the futility of identity politics in society. He philosophically reminds us that “real human consciousness and self – identities do not fall into the neat, polarised categories used commonly in the analysis of oppression.” (Hall 114). According to Shyam Kashyap, Nagar’s novel is successful in the “individual transformation” of his reader’s minds. Against human slavery. He asks, “Can there be any better example of literary creation’s revolutionary fiat ?”
Nachyo Bahut Gopal revolves around the life of a Brahmin woman named Smt. Nirguniya . In the character of this woman Nagar has brought together an amalgam of typical feminine sensibility — a craving for physical/emotional fulfillment. He shows the highs and lows that this craving takes her through. Love makes the world go round for her , and her Brahmin self embraces a Dalit way of life. The rest of the story is a mix of the Smt. Nirguniya’s autobiography and the Brahmin narrator’s interview session with this Brahmin turned Dalit woman ; who (as the narrator feels) turns an ascetic as a result of her emotional/psychological struggles. How her character copes with her trials in the aftermath of her “voluntary conversion”; how love (even with a Dalit) can be an enriching experience; how does the human conscience come to terms with a sense of a bifurcated consciousness ; how does one integrate the bifurcations ; What can an individual achieve for the collectivity ? These and several other social/psychological/philosophical questions have been answered by Nagar by making Smt. Nirguniya – Not a victim , but a stoic agent of social change who realises that casteism is nothing but a farce – and refuses to come back into the ‘elite’ mould of the Brahmin narrator (who ofcourse , is the author’s mouthpiece) , accepting her own Dalit identity with pride and integrity. She asks the narrator, “…Why did you seperate me from the sweeper community in your speech babuji? I am one of the sweepers now, and consider myself superior to your caste .” (NBG 115).
If as Dr. Dharmveer points out, Dalit literature should ideally aim at ending inferiority complexes inherent in its readers, Nagar’s narrative indeed takes up, problematises and elides the ‘aspects of Otherness’ within the self. It is through the character of Smt. Nirguniya and a commingling of the reportage and the autobiography through which Nagar has tried to “create testimonies of caste – based oppression , anti –caste struggles and resistance.” (In Mandal 1). The reality of the human situation is clearly reflected in the questions posed:
What and how would a high class and caste man feel on being forced to acknowledge himself a low born and feel the weight of the cogent’s firth on his shoulder ? How would he feel if his actuality ; his very being is challenged ? and changed by force ?……..This questions and the feelings involved are not only inexplicable but excruciatingly painful as well. (NBG 72)
In making Smt. Nirguniya answer these questions, Nagar has taken utmost care to preserve the marks of dalit aesthetics , as well the authenticity of experience in a human life. In the episode where Smt. Nirguniya cleans her mother –in-law’s shit , or where she forcibly made to cut and cook up pig’s flesh ; the rebellion of her Brahmin instincts and sanskars has been faithfully recorded. On being asked to cook pork she had told her husband that nobody in her generations part had ever touched such a “prohibited thing”, Mohna had countered her by asking, “Nobody in your ancestry must have eloped with a bhangi – why did you do it?”
The process of her mental conversion into a Bhangi was more tortuous than a Bhangi’s real oppression or perhaps at least an equally painful experience .She had told the narrator…. “I took him under compulsions, but I cannot deny love. Falling in love is not easy Babuji! It is asceticism , only …that you don’t tend to feel the difficulties in the heat of love .” (NBG 116).
Smt. Nirguniya’s stance on being beaten and accepting a Dalit’s life made the narrator think of her as a coward . He reflected,
My feudal character is intact , despite my so called progressivism . Gandhiji himself became a Bhangi and taught the art to several of his disciples. But , I can never do this due to the deeply engrained modern democratic values
…couldn’t she have stayed hungry and given up her life ? but may be I am exaggerating …its not easy . Ninety eight percent of the population is still doing what Smt. Nirguniya was forced to do years ago ……..” (NBG 134)
Nagar becomes a champion of “democratic socialism” (Bagul 285) in Nachyo Bahut Gopal. I say so, because despite accepting the short comings of the high caste Hindu oppressive systems ,he does not dilute the marks of those human failings without which no personality/subjectivity would be complete. In fact ,it is these failings that constitute the stuff of all real literature. Dr. Dharmveer opines,
Dalit literature should believe that the emotional aspect of literature will always help the aestheticism aspect. Infact, aesthetics should not try to annihilate emotions in literature. It is meant to strengthen its manifestation and representation.” (Chaudhary 182) [Trans mine]
Shyam Kashyap in a review essay entitled , ‘Yatharth aur Kalpana ka Dwand,’ has credited Nagar for being able to create an antagonistic consciousness in the readers’ hearts towards the degraded feudalistic practices in India. He lauds the writer for his ability to portray the bhangi society in a pathetic light. In a way the narrator becomes the writer’s mouthpiece when he tells his wife.
…I think that these so called lowborn have purposely and quite unfairly been associated with wrong attitudes and tendencies, by none other than us – the high bred. We suppose that they are utterly characterless. We reduce them to the status of beggars – for our mercy and sympathy. I strongly feel that such feelings are wrong. All they want from us is justice. (NBG 26 ).
The conversation between the Brahmin narrator and the Brahmin turned dalit woman Smt. Nirguniya serves to create a polyvocal therapeutic aestheticism where the restrained voices clash with the audible ones on the planes of sex , and caste to probe the ultimate humanistic psychological truth. It would not be hyperbolic to state that in creating such a text , Nagar had already laid the foundation of that aestheticism , which was demanded by Limbale years later.
In critiquing the democratic pretence of high-brow political parties in the post- independence era to chronicling comments on the sham of religious conversion and institutions encouraging ritual purity – to recording the experience of collecting leftovers , (in the pre- independence India) Nagar has tried his best to map the totality of the dalit experiences. Far from showing the Dalit characters as victims Smt. Nirguniya’s character becomes the emblem of resistance and active agency to create a textual independence for the dalit masses. In celebrating the dalit mythological legends – in fighting for temple entry for the Dalits – In pioneering an educational movement for the Dalit children – in trying to inculcate and hone the Dalit entrepreneurial skills – infact , in calling Dalits by the name of ‘Gandharvs’— in fighting against the sexual lechers who were keen to exploit her ‘doubly oppressed’ status – Nagar makes Smt. Nirguniya’s will an agent of constructing a “revisionary sociology of self-aware agency” (Hall 126) that is not perfect and complete, but has the power to “take risks bravely , and accept failure or criticism without paralysis or other self-destructive response. “(126)
Nagar’s heroine is trapped in a woman’s body and she accepts its limitations but does not allow their limitations to become her fetters. As an agent of Dalit life and womanhood she transcends her destiny. Nagar’s narrator witnesses her son’s castiest irritation and insecurity and sings a couplet :
“Bahut ghabra ke ve yeh Kahte hain ki mar jayenge , Mar ke Bhi chain Na paya Toh kidhar jayenge?”
(scared of life… they feel like embracing death
What if the troubles of life follow them in death too.…?)
Smt. Nirguniya – as a character who has transcended victimization reconstructs her ownself (and in the process her dalit identity) as “precisely the potentiality that remains unexhausted by any particular interpellation.”(Butler in Hall 127). Her tragic love story acts as the dark background against which the sordidness of dalit life shines with double the intensity. Her proud acceptance of her dalit social identity at the cost of her latent and reinforced Brahmin values is highly generative of social subversion. It has the power of telling one and all ‘Dalits have a Brahmin within and Brahmins have a Dalit inside them.’
The conversation between the narrator and Smt. Nirguniya, brings before the readers the degrade reality of the otherwise highly hailed social superstructure . She says :
…Babuji ! , I don’t intend to sound biased, but the ultimate truth throughout the world is …there isn’t any worse slave than a woman…I have known a Brahmin as well as a bhangi. There is no difference between men , …The woman is the ultimate exploited at all places . I have been doubly oppressed ….(NBG 296)
She puts an end to her life after asking the narrator whether the bhangis could envision freedom in the future socio-political scenario from the degrading slavery(!?). In her death, she proves the fact of her staunch faith in her late husband as her God—-it is in this manner that she creates the ‘myth of faith’.The novel as such becomes a therapy for curing the disease of oppression. The novel may be read as feminist – it may as well be read as a Dalit text. In as much as we concede the power of imagination and freedom of literature to map human experiences – in as much as we credit dalit literature as the voice and agency of the oppressed —in as much we want dalit literature to reflect “the distinct language of revolutionary ideology , the aggressive character, the refusal of inequality and the declaration of the triumph of human values.” (Limbale 38-9) –- in as much as it is expected to be life –affirming and realistic ; with an ability to reflect dalit mores and myths – Nachyo Bahut Gopal, I feel, is a dalit text par excellence …as Nagar remains the social Voltaire reflecting Kabir in his philosophy.
Ekai cham , Ek malmuta , Ek Rakt aur Ek Gooda
Ek Bhaanti le sab upjaane
Ka Baman ka suda….(Kabir’s Sakhi) (Same skin, similar excreta
Similar blood and same flesh,
All the humans are similarly born…
How does one , then differentiate between a Brahmin and a Shudra?)
Translating Nachyo Bahut Gopal
One of the ways to get around the confines of one’s “identity” as one produces expository pose is to work at someone else’s title as one works with a language that belongs to many others. This after all , is one of the seductions of translating. It is a simple miming of the responsibility to the trace of the other in the self . (Spivak 397)
Translation is never an easy task. Moreso,when such translation is about a work which talks about an alien culture. Spivak in her essay , the ‘Politics of Translation’ favoured the strategy of solidarity rather than vague imagination. This meant that any “intimacy of cultural translation” (407) required that the translator be ready to learn another tongue. For me then , the key to translation lay , in being able to learn and understand the dalit language and culture. It is said that a translation goes though an ideological/poetic manipulation to ease its absorption into the target culture. This, however was not the case here. Translating from Hindi into English – for a Indian target readership – I had little to worry about how ‘ideologically manipulative’ I could be. And yet, at the same time, I was aware that I was entering murky waters. The difficulty precisely lay in the possibility of complicity; the complicity in the “seizure of power.” (Lefevere and Basnett 8) through the creation/preservation of a piece of literature over which my caste –Hindu status gave me little authority. However, once my casteist fears were allayed by the sincerity of re-presentation that I was ready to put in. I was ready for my task.
Dalit literature has always been considered as a “parallel revolutionary movement ” (In Chaudhary 298) with regard to Hindi literature. This is probably why even though Marathi Dalit literature has earned ample popularity; dalit issues in Hindi literature have never even been looked at with blinkers. At the most Premchand (and Nirala)have been credited with some writings but, their writings have blatantly been sacrificed at the altar of casteism. Marathi dalit literature proper started in the late 1950s, whereas poet like Hira Dom (Achoot ki Shikayat) , Harioudh , Chandi Prasad Hrydesh and Sanehi (Dukhiya Kisan) , had started recording the Dalit plight way back in 1914 through their poems in Hindi.
Why Premchand did not emerge as a major writer on Dalit issues ?iv This question has been answered by Akhil Anoop , in his article ‘Sewaal Harijans Ka’ (S Kalyan) . According to Anoop, for Premchand it was the economic distress that was responsible for the entire ‘subaltern problem’. Hence, while faithfully recording the freedom struggle in his writings, issues of untouchability, temple entry for the dalits, intercaste marriages, did appear in his writings they remained on the periphery. However , writers like Paripurnnand Verma (Teen Din) , Rameshwar Prasad Srivastava (Achoot) Janardan Rai (Roze) , Indra Narayan Jha’s (Achoot) , Om Prakash Sharama (Chandidas) and later Shiv Pujan Sahay (Dehati Duniya) , Madhukar Singh (Lahu Pukare Aadmi), Nirala (Chaturi Chamar) , Rangey Raghav (Gadal) , Shailesh Matiyani (Hatyare) are some of the caste hindu writers who have enriched Hindi literature with their ‘dalitcentric’ emotions. These along with Amrit Lal Nagar have been as active as perhaps a Sheoraj Singh Bechain or a Jai Prakash Kardam . It is an irony that these writers have never been acknowledged as being major contributors to dalit literature . This
translation was thus a small attempt to broaden as well as damage the horizon of human essentialism , which ends up making a slave of literature. According to Basnett and Lefevere :
Cultures make various demands on translations , and those demands also have to do with the states of the text to be translated . If the text comes even close to the status of ‘meta narrative’ (Lyotard , 1985 : xxxiv) , or ‘central text’ embodying the fundamental beliefs of a culture , chances are the culture will demand the most literal translation possible. (7)
Similarly Vladimir Macura , in his essay ‘Culture as Translation’ refers to John Bowring’s translation which to the latter “meant above all an act of cultural information.” (Macura 65).Since translation empirically remains a linguistically centered activity, the mediations of language to transfer culture could not obviously be ignored. Sharankumar Limbale has also felt:
The view of life conveyed in Dalit literature is different from the world of experience expressed hitherto…The reality of dalit literature is distinct and so is the language of this reality. It is the uncouth impolite language of the Dalits. It is the spoken language of Dalits. This language does not recognize cultivated gestures and grammar. (Limbale 33)
Language as a tool to sustain reality becomes important is a translational act. The “communicative competence”v of Nagar’s characters betray the use of a starkly ethnographic approach in his representation of Dalit life and mores. The flux in the major protagonist’s life – Smt. Nirguniya ,would have definitely remained incomplete without linguistic changes in her personality.The adaptation to a Dalit way of life has well been reflected in her rejection of the sophisticated Sanskrit shlokas (which nonetheless remain latent in her self) for a more colloquial form of speech which records the particular nuances of Dalit life. Accordingly, Nirguniya becomes a character in two speech communities; with biculturalism becoming endemic for her. Labov has defined a speech community thus :
The speech community is not defined by any marked agreement in the use of language elements , do much as by participation in a set of shared norms ; these norms may be observed in event types of evaluative behaviors , and by the uniformity of abstract patterns of variations which are invariant in respect to particular levels of usage” (In Wardhaugh 110)
In terms of a multilevel usage of linguistic skills Shyam Kashyap has appreciated Nagar’s skill – Indeed , in this novel the skilled use of language has gone into making it one of the best regional/cultural novels till date. If these is a strong usage of Awadhi as in :
“Bada Jaadu Hai”;
“Bada Andhera Kar Rakhyo hai Aaj” ;
“Yahika baap saar khule aam Hindu logan ka kutta kahis” There is an equally rich smattering of Urdu ;
“Huzoor , beadbi Muaaf kariyega , apka tohfa mein kubool na karoongi.” Similarly , the novelist employees English Hindi , to delineate his colonial characters :
“Usko dost banana maangta.”
“Tum apna shohar ke pass jaana Maangta?”
“…Doosra kisi respectable aadmi se shaadi bana lo”.etc as well as makes a good use of pidgin English :
“Kochch nahi , kal master mohan apni dear madam ko bicycle par sitaan karake san se yeh go aur woh go, one-tow-three pharraphan…….”
The language of the incharge of the bhangis speaks typically ‘dehati’ language :
“nispictor aa jayenge to pehle to khaal hi udhedenge hamai-tumai aur naukri lenge so ghaate mein.”
…while Mr. Nirgunmohan , shows Nagar’s acquaintence with modern English as well , which betrays the bureaucratic powerplay of democratic India :
“…You believe the Delhi influentials are lobbying with him ? Let them , I care a fig for them.”
Satire and institutional rhetoric, poetic rhythm, and broken words, Amrit Lal Nagar has employed them all to create an authentic experience of colonial/post-colonial dalit life for his readers. According to Shyam Kashyap ,
The novel reflects a unique vividness of characters as well as language. If Nagar’s imagination is replete with real life characters ; his mental ‘taperecorder’ vibrates equally fully well with multilevel polyvocal songs-conundrums and speeches; taunts and idioms; speech styles and registers . Nagar’s novels are full of different scenes from the Hindi Pradesh.(trans mine)
Indeed, Nachyo Bhahut Gopal presents Surdas, Tulsi, Khusro, Kabirdas, Ghalib and the Vedic Sanskrit Shlokas with equal ablomb. Folksongs as ‘Saiyan teri god mein gainda ban jaaongi’ as well as film songs–all find a presence in his literary creation. The novel is a unique amalgam of folk tales and religious myths – sometimes original ; at others recreated and re-envisioned to assimilate religious sentiments and express differences in society . Islam , Hinduism , Christianity and Dalitism – he is the literary parent of them all !
Arunesh Neeraj has lauded Nagar’s linguistic efforts towards the presentation of a “raw detached and straight” world. He appreciates that the author does not get entrapped in the maze of a stereotypical regionalism in Nachyo Bahut Gopal. Neeraj feels that the author has tried his best and successfully at that to awaken a consciousness of literary experimentation as well as human sensibility along with an attempt at harmonising the rythms of human life in this novel. For Neeraj , the language seems to be, “Pleading , threatening , shying away and erupting like lava.” This multifacetedness of language has indeed served to present the sophisticated privacy as well as the common vulgarity of human characters .
A unique combinations of autobiography , reportage and a first/third person narrative lends this novel the immediate piquancy of an oral narrative in addition to those features which intensify its oral character . The sordidness of dalit life and the heavy usage of expletives adorns the novel with a tantalizing effect. Nagar’s use of narrative voices–showing a Dalit populace in agony – runs parallel to other biographies and stories. The content and the form have achieved the perfect fusion in Nagar and this translation has tried the best to preserve this uniqueness which grants Nachyo Bahut Gopal a high place in the pantheon of Hindi literature.
Every translation, no matter how perfect, involves a loss. As Steiner says, “Decipherment is dissective , leaving the shell smashed and the vital layers stripped.” (Steiner
- This loss takes place at the linguistic level. Kwame Anthony Appiah puts its aptly when he says , that in the translational act :
A precise set of parallels is likely to be impossible , just because the chances that metrical and other formal features of a work can be reproduced while preserving the identity of literal and non literal , direct and indirect meaning are vanishingly small. (Appiah 425).
Indeed So. And that is why, this translation has preserved the ‘purity’ of the sanskrit shlokas, Urdu couplets and Awadhi conundrums to the best possible order. However , expletives like ‘Haraami’ , ‘Randi’ , ‘Kutiya’ etc. could easily be incorporated into English – parallels being easily available. Appiah has stated , “A translation aims to produce a new text that matters to one community the way another text matters to another.” (425)
In as much as the translation intends to acquaint the Indian readers with the reflection of Dalit life , the ‘target – assimilation’ did not pose a problem ; however to make it easier for an international readership to understand the context and encourage what Appiah calls a “Productive reading” (426) , I have used the strategy of supplying footnotes along with this introduction that has stated the theme. A recognition of the linguistic variation makes the
translation effective because it helps us understand language as a communal possession ; subject to social/psychological changes in human beings.
The character of Smt. Nirguniya has been regarded as one of Nagar’s greatest triumphs. Her mental dilemmas and psychological traumas present a communal catalogue; whether of sex or caste. Similarly, the other characters in the novel present a colorful “repertoire of social identities” (Wardaugh 125), that necessitate a preservation in the process linguistic change. Although ,at times, as noted, expressions have not been exactly replicated yet the translation has tried to preserve the form and well as the tonal quality of speeches involved.
This translation has remained faithful to the original intention of the author. As “The verbalized part of a socio-culture.”(Mary-Snell Hornby) Nachyo Bahut Gopal presents the character of Smt. Nirguniya in the round. This translation has tried to preserve the evolution of her character. The “dimorphism” of her character indeed makes us feel that it she who is the theme of the novel. However Gopal ,in his review of the novel categorically rejects this notion. Her duality serves as background against which the inherent contradictions of the Dalit society have been measured.
In delineating Nirguniya’s character and presenting the dalit life through her , the translation has taken full care to reveal the socio-cultural specificity of dalit norms and their basic instability. The issue of religious conversions or ritualistic ‘impurities’ among the dalits , the low level of education of the bhangi characters; revealed through their manner of speaking – the translation has tried to preserve them all. Besides, the fact that Nagar has taken care to encompass the totality of human life by recording those moments of happiness which do form an inextricable part of dalit life through jokes and repartees; have also been faithfully recorded in the translation.
Busch stated, “Every work of art establishes its meaning aesthetically […] . The aesthetic can of course serve many different functions , but it may also be in itself the function of the work of art.”( in TSR 225) This translation has made conscious effort to preserve the indelible mark of dalit aesthetics reflected in the original. The rage in the dalits’ commitment towards the construction of an independent identity and world; the mental conversion of the caste – Hindu into a bhangi (both of the narrator and the protagonist) – and the possibility of the preservation of such phenomena offered the translator a wide potential. Although, the capturing of the oral flavour of the text i.e. the riddles, linguistic peculiarities and the various linguistic registers was not easy – since an inability to recodify clearly signalled the limitations of classification and creation of identities through language; the translation has tried to extend the human imagination to a transcend the barriers of caste and adopt a humane perspective.
Talking about the Whorfian hypothesis, (since it is a cliché to talk about it in Translation Studies or in talking about the relationship between language and culture) it is believed:
Language provides a screen or fitter to reality; it determines how speakers perceive and organize the world around them, both the natural world and the social world …It defines (your) experience for you; you do not use it simply to report that experience. (Wardhaugh 219)
This hypothesis, applied on Nachyo Bahut Gopal would mean that Nirguniya saw dalit life as she saw it because of the language she spoke. According to Kwame Anthony Appiah:
…if that were true , it would affect what thoughts you could intend to express also. If what language you speak determines what thought or intentions you can have,translation, thus conceived will always be impossible.” (Appiah 420)
Applying this on to this translation, it would seem that imitating or transcoding dalit life in English would be impossible. Yet circumlocution has been resorted to; thus, although literal translations have not been possible (and linguistic originality retained where essential) the
i http:// www.countercurrents.org
ii I am grateful to Dr. Sharad Nagar for this insight.
iii All quotes from the reviews and the novel have been translated into English by this translator.
iv I am highly indebted to Dr. Sharad Nagar, for helping me in the research work and giving me an insight into the
critical reviews without which this paper would never have materialized. Wherever possible I have tried to record the sources. However, the sources have also remained unavailable at some places.The various reviews are:
- “Sawaal Harijano ka”(Kshitj Sharma)/ “Kitne jagruk Hai Hindi Lekhak?”(Akhil Anoop)in Samaj Kalyan(No.12),July 1986.
- Nachyo Bahut Gopal:Manush Satya Ka Sakshtkaar”:review by Rajendra Yadav.
- “Ek Bhangi Gaatha.” Gopal Rai.
- “Nachyo Bahut Gopal: upanyas mein ankit harijan traasadi”(Dr. Ramvachan Rai) in ‘Dharmyug’, pg 21, July 1978.
- “Dalit Sahitya Mein Nachyo Bahut Gopal Ki Upasthiti”: Ek Padtal.(Dr. Kusum Varshneya) in U.P. Dalit Sahitya Visheshank. Pg 208. Sep/Oct 2002.
- “Yatharth Aur kalpana Ka Srjnatmak Dvand” :A critique. (Shyam Kashyap)
- “Peer Ka Puraan.”(Arunesh Neeraj). In ‘Dastavez’, October, 1978.(pp25‐32)
v The concept of communicative competence refers to the ability of a member of a social community to express
the social norms of a community via ‘socially correct’ language. See Wardaugh’s An Introduction to Sociolinguistics.
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