Dalit Poems of Maharashtra

January 26, 2013

Translated by Swapna Banerjee-Guha

Poets Narayan Surve (left) and Baburao Bagul

Translator’s Note:
Dalit poems have got a special place in the literature of Maharashtra. At the same time, they are different from many other literary works of protest. These poems are not just voices of rebellion against injustice on Dalits, simultaneously they are the expression of Dalit power of creativity. The subalterns themselves, through these poems, articulate their anger and frustration about the plight of the marginalised and the Dalits, challenge the power structure of all sorts and also nourish hopes for the downtrodden. The systematic critique that the poems reconstruct about the absurdity of the caste division in Hindu society and its political and economic patronages literally uplifts the entire arena of Dalit literature to a level of universal protest against all forms of oppression, exploitation and socio-economic injustice. Dalit poems, in this way, have really gone to add a special dimension to subaltern writings.

The following five poems, written during the period from early 1920s to the present, have been selected from an anthology of fifty five Marathi Dalit poems that I translated into Bengali, entitled ‘chhonder olindey bidroha’, published by Thema publishers, Kolkata in 2012.

1. Four Words
Narayan Surve

The issue of daily bread is everyday’s
at times outside the mill gate, at times inside,
I am a labourer, a sharp open sword
hey the group of learned! I’m going to commit a sin.

A long endurance when I observed and realised –
all the beauty, the fragrance, the aroma of my world are lying there
I did make mistakes and lost but I learnt too,
as I live, so do the words.

Bread is certainly dear, but something more is in demand
for which my world is printing coins
right from here I place the bouquet on the palm of words
right from here I offer weapons to the hand of words.

I’ve not come alone, brought a whole era with me
this is the beginning of a cautious storm
I’m a labourer, a sharp open sword
hey the group of learned! At last a sin is being committed.

2. Before the Vedas
Baburao Bagul

You lived before the birth of the Vedas
even before the birth of the Almighty
looking at the frightening material world
pained and anxious
you raised your hands and prayed
those prayers went to make the Vedic verse,
it is you who celebrated the birth of all gods, and
named them happily
oh the mighty humans, you named the sun
and the sun got its identity,
you named the moon
and the moon got its fame
only you gave a name to this world
and it was accepted with honour
oh the creative, the genius humans,
you are the cause
because of you so beautiful, so lively is the world.

3. Stage
Waharu Sonawane

We didn’t go up to the stage
no one asked us, actually
only by pointing fingers
they showed us our place
and we sat there;
‘great’, they exclaimed.
And they went up on the stage
started narrating us our own sorrows
but, ‘our sorrows remained ours
never became theirs…’
in confusion we whispered.
They tried to listen and sighed
And then plucking our ears hard
‘say sorry, otherwise….’.

4. New Lesson from Old Book
Arun Kale

Kamal, start the Maha-arati
Rijia, start the Maha-namaj
Gautam, go to the Mukhia’s house
and feed the cows
David, fly pigeons,
Karim, mark the temples
Chhagan, mark the mosques
mark each other’s religion
mark each other’s caste
and hate each other
hurl stones on each other
bring stones, hurl them on.

5. At last Our Eyes are Advancing
Pratibha Rajanand

Never in our country,
the gate of the sun was kept open for us
through generations the black paste of the darkness was smeared on our eyes
on each eyelash the dream for life was shattered on the tiptoe of expectation
never in our country
the birds were unchained and free
now a dense black stream gushes from our eyes
brimful of black the receptacle signals danger
the door posts wait to be washed away
the palace walls are collapsing
yes, we are late……
but, at last our eyes are advancing

About the poets:
Narayan Surve (1926-2010): A non-Dalit by birth and one of the pioneers of bringing in Marxist thought in Dalit poems, Narayan Surve is hailed as one of the most significant voices in Dalit literature. An orphan, Surve was adopted by a cotton mill worker and raised in the famous Dadar chawls of Mumbai. His formal education was up to seventh standard, but he learnt a number of languages including Urdu and seriously took up literary translation works. A mill labourer, a peon, a waiter in hotels and finally a primary school teacher, Surve’s life was a continuous challenge to poverty. A soft spoken individual, Surve always remained in the forefront of workers’ movement. Besides poems, he also wrote short stories and novels. A famous mainstream Marathi poet Kusumagraj defined Surve’s poems as weapons of struggle.

Baburao Bagul (1930-2008): A famous name in Marathi literature as well as in the field of Indian short stories, Baburao Bagul, after completing school education, worked as a porter for some years and later joined the Indian Railways. His first short story collection in 1963 ‘When I hid my caste’ was acclaimed as a Dalit epic. Bagul spent childhood in abject poverty, initially in a village in Nasik and later in a Mumbai slum. A strong critic of patriarchy, Bagul was hugely influenced by Jyotiba Phule, Ambedkar and particularly by Marx. His writings depict the oppression of Muslim Christian community along with the injustice on Dalits. During the formation of ‘Dalit Panther’ in the 1970s, he penned a number of theoretical articles. Bagul had always been a writer with deep commitment to left philosophy.

Waharu Sonawane (b.1950): A vanguard of Dalit and tribal movements, Waharu Sonawane is a tribal poet and a lyricist too. A follower of Marxist thought, Sonawane has remained a thorough critic of militarisation of politics, invincibility of establishment of power and patriarchy, particularly in the Dalit and tribal societies. His poems, often satirical, are enriched with frequent use of tribal words and expressions.

Arun Kale (1953-2008): An active participant in social and political movements, Arun Kale was an early associate of the ‘Dalit Panther’ group. A well known poet of the last quarter of twentieth century, Kale was a real humanist who constantly challenged all forms of oppressions. His historical analysis of the changing status of Dalits in the society has been acclaimed by many. His later poems are formidable critiques of the contemporary globalisation process and its fall-outs.

Pratibha Rajanand (b. 1968): A forerunner of revolutionary literature movement, Pratibha Rajanand looks at women as human beings first and hence reconstructs her poems as unyielding voice of women’s rights. Analytical and unambiguously expressed, her poems always carry positive message for a better future. Rajanand runs two women’s organisations, namely ‘Mahila Stree Adhar Kendra’ and ‘Maitra’ in Aurangabad.

1 Comment »

One Response to “Dalit Poems of Maharashtra”

  1. omkar Says:
    September 13th, 2016 at 20:21

    u should give summary of the poems

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