Prose | Chandramohan S

IWE Dalit-Bahujan writers' consortium

Source: imdb.com

From the colonial times, English has been a language of privilege; it has taken more than 60 years or so after Indian independence for literature produced by Dalits or Dalit-Bahujans, that articulate resistance against the oppression of any kind, to have a miniscule presence in the literary pantheon. Certain novels in vernacular languages have even documented how Dalits are empowered via the skilful use of English; for e.g. in Saraswathi Vijayam, by Potheri Kunhambu ( and translated from Malayalam by Dilip Menon). The author himself was a Dalit-Bahujan.

Saraswativijayam is one of the earliest novels written in the Malayalam language and propounds English education for untouchables as a tool for subverting the social hierarchy. Similar to the ideals propagated by Sree Narayana Guru and others, Potheri Kunhambu was optimistic about the sites of resistance opened up for lower castes by colonial modernity.

Observations by Kannadiga writer U.R. Ananthamurthy on the lack of original English writing by Dalits and disparaging comments like, "probably there will never be 'Indian English' literature by us " point to a certain glass ceiling which should be shattered in the post-Rohith Vemula era.

In her essay, included in Poisoned Bread- An anthology of Dalit writing published from Maharashtra, Gail Omvedt had pointed out that a sense of cultural capital, required in order to produce poetry, short stories or novels in English is lacking among the Dalit community and that many Other Backward Castes lag behind the Dalits when it comes to producing scholarship or literature in English. Fiction produced by non- Dalit writers, that have portrayed Dalit life, leave much to be desired.

Though an act of translating fiction or scholarship of Dalit-Bahujan writers can be perceived as a step to de-caste themselves by those involved in the process, issues remain.  

Firstly, a lot is lost in translation. This loss is even more pronounced in the case of literature produced by the Subaltern since they are much rooted in their respective cultural milieu best expressed in the vernacular. The politics of the translator affects the output subtly. This can result in serious misunderstanding or misappropriation of the rhetoric of the source text.

If languages are sites of struggle, and if our perception of this world we live in is very much shaped by the language we use, then every small pin prick of subversion is inextricably intertwined with the specificities of the myriad dialects that are in use, all of which could go for a toss during the process of translation.

Moreover, there is a huge time-lag involved in translation into English. Many literary works which respond to the socio-political reality of the present situation may not serve the expected outcome when the English translation arrives many years later. Thus the role played by Dalit literature in complementing the civil rights struggle of Dalits could get blunted. For example, it took more than a couple of decades before the acclaimed novel Devanoora Mahadeva’s Kusumabale could see the light of the day in the English language.

Dalit literature is a cultural text, a nuanced engagement with which could play a vital role in extending the political struggles to the cultural arena which may not be served by journalistic endeavours of reporting facts without articulating a stand not to the mention the absence of Dalits in the newsrooms.

Secondly, Dalits have very little say in what is getting translated and who is translating it. This could be very detrimental to the civil rights movement based on identity politics since it is rooted in the dictum of who decides what for whom. Identity politics aims for engaging with the discourse without mediation from anyone else.

There is a big disparity between the deliberations and literary criticisms produced on literary works directly written in English compared to translated fiction. The reasons could vary from ubiquitous literary festivals which are designed for the spotlight to fall on the Indian English writer rather than on the vernacular writer with a recently published translation. Secondly, there is definitely a dearth of good translators from the vernacular to the English and to add insult to injury, academic interest in South Asian literature prefers an articulate English speaker to his vernacular counterpart.

A conspicuous example in this regard could be a comparison between a collection of short stories of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar  (The Adivasi Will not Dance; Speaking Tiger)  and translated fiction of Ajay Navaria(Unclaimed Terrain: Navayana); though both have been amply praised by critics, the latter has not received enough notice.

Another example is of Tamil writer P Sivakami had to wait for more than a decade to get platforms to air her views when compared to a writer like Meena Kandasamy.

The pertinent questions raised by U.R. Ananthamurthy on why there are no Subaltern literary movements in Indian English writing could be settled in this era along with literary theorizations by Dalit-Bahujan critics themselves.


1.Changing landscape of Indian literature- K Satchidanandan , Muse India International.
2. Poisoned Bread- Introduction by Gail Omvedt ;OUP.
3.”We too made history” – Urmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon ; Zubaan Books

Poems | Priyam Goswami

Artwork: W. Jack Savage

Giving You Away

By the university space, the lovers wait;
They have made their love, have spoken.
At night when they would be gone,
The traffic lights would still be working
in this vastness of a dead silent stupor.

Over and over the sights are run –
The lovers come and go, the places stay.
Layers and layers of lives on them;
Not you; for you the universe is missed.
In you – a missed universe.
And by and by, when winter will come
We too will go away in dreamy trains

Rushing through fogs in a foetal pose,
Trying to sleep and gather some moss.
Far away in Benares, by ghats we sit,
Selling memories of your love to strangers –
giving you away in the meandering Ganges

A Death at the Ghats

There is a man who goes to the ghats at night
calling seagulls and boatmen at Narad Ghat;
he walks past the corpses at Manikarnika Ghat
never counting the boats that are waiting.

There is a man who goes to the ghats at night
calling out the seagulls who will never love him;
in the fog ahead when the world is disappearing fast,
the man will kneel and quietly drown.

A Monologue at Scindia Ghat

the fog is a stained glass painting; you want to see the world and fog makes you see at itself; it is reflective of voids. You never find people who want to see the fog. Only photographers who love burnt dead bodies. I have only love people at Scindia Ghat at 8 pm, smelling of charas and the Ganges.

suddenly when the fog comes in and I won’t see you anymore – I will not know if you have left me alone in the fog at the ghat; I will only remember how you smelled of the fog at night.

(for Gerd Baum)

The World, According to Arturo Belano

What Hebrew Sounds Like

Hebrew sounds like secret codes
where people dance on the streets in Mexico;
their shirts undone, the sweat glistening in the dark


the fact is contorted, disfigured
the sound comes out in fragments –
punctuated by silences in between.

the face remains disfigured for a few
more moments of disfigured expressions.  


Prose | Neharika Gupta


Artwork by Fabrice Poussin

Pangs in the heart and nostalgia in the soul. A tingling of the skin and anticipation in the shoulders. An awareness of the face and consciousness of another's stare. That’s love for you. This is something entirely different. It begins with a tightness of the heart like squeezing a large pillow. And that's how it all ends. Or begins. With a whimper.  A great fear. Rising up looking the back of your head bent down and unable to control yourself. Like you're underwater but going up up up into space till you float though the floor above your head and you stretch out and try to grasp something, anything but you can't make a grip you just go through everything. You're rising but you can't turn and look up. You've been looking up your whole life but now you're just looking down till you're above where you live and you can see the roof of the place now – the place you've lived in for years looks so different from above, you fail to recognise it. You fail to recognise what's happening to you. And around you. It's eerie. No sound nothing to hear, nothing to do, suspended in space. How it this possible you wonder. You go high enough and the air will run out. Sure enough. That's why they need those big suits, the astronauts. No oxygen. The molecules are all distributed too widely enough. The houses before you are all merging into each other now and you can see the colours - brown blue green a sight you have never seen no human had ever seen before not even google earth can transmit these but the air is not running out in fact the realization hits you that you are made up of the same exactly the same elements around you. Inside outside so it probably makes more sense that you can breathe at this height – where you can faintly make out the veins of your city and the geography lessons of school come to mind – that the core of our existence seeps through the universe and is not really restricted to one humongous planet which stretches before you like the biggest canvas you've ever seen then it sort of hits you that this is the show of a lifetime of a living breathing work of art suspended in space just for your viewing pleasure. In its enormousity it is fantastical. You just gaze. It's the ride of a lifetime and you have the best seat. You are gripped by sheer amazement and and ecstasy. You don't move you can't. Till you see a line forming above, the definite end of a landscape you suddenly looking down and it hits you again, harder this time. You are floating you're a moon to your earth you crane your head to the left and right and sure enough you can see a semicircle taking shape but your feet still seem to be on earth. Before your eyes, the merging browns and blues, it is beckoning you to fall into the water, a glimpse, a reminder to swim back home and into your house and bed, but what if you’re in the water, just in the water and no one ever found you? No it’s better to be here, something seems to be happening, this is not normal, this is – You can feel it – something, a distancing merely, or could it be – possibly – a reduction of yourself from that entity, is it possible to be destroyed forever? Something was being lost in an awesome drop from that awesome drop in the sky. Was this your own personal doom or were you finally free free finally from the life cycle that had happened to happen upon planet no. 3 from star no. 258 – That fungal growth on this end of the spiral.  Maybe now free from the toxic paradise of things called people, you can flourish as your own entity. Maybe the world had exploded. Maybe they permanently did destroy it. To give them credit for creating things that could permanently damage that tiny little planet – which was huge but is not anymore: it is now the size of the body you had – isn’t that the ultimate fantasy of power to be able to destroy and to do so to vanquish everything around – a conceited masturbatory ideology? Was there nuclear warfare, then you wonder? Do you believe you can give the people that much importance to say that they were powerful enough to destroy the worlds of many many things? Or is that approach limited, a blinding point on the line of the horizon which you think you will fall off of? But are they really – toxic? You were them, once. You were selfish. You thought it was absolutely fine. They are trying very very hard to just be happy. Be. – It seems to be taking its time, where it is taking me. A reaction, a reduction was happening from the planet, but was it reduction or distance? Was that all you were to this world in the end, a subtraction? Were you going to be displaced, and if so, by who? Someone compassionate and energetic or a villain of the worst order? Did it matter? Nobody warned you, or informed you about this? Is the eyesight and foresight and hindsight of humans limited? Nobody ever saw or imagined this? Is this hell or heaven, was this your sentence? Were there other people, why weren’t there other people around? There’s nobody there, everybody’s there. There are stars you can feel them around but you ache to see them, you cannot. You know you can sustain by looking at them forever if you need to. The glowing mass before you is fading into a white hurting your eyes. You want to close them but you don’t. Squinting into your sun, you think of the sun, where is it, its impossible to see, its lost. You’re lost. The thought strikes you, are you a star now, like you were when you were young – that when you die this is what happens. Is it your job now to travel around giving people light? What light? What died to make you a star? Can a star see other stars or is it inundated by its own light? It is now a halo, the white is replaced by the dark but the light of the halo is so bright you can hardly see – its blinding, you are blinded by the place you’ve lived in your whole life you can’t see beyond its fiery-white border. Within it is now a black circle of sparks – why is it going dark – are you going blind now? What’s going to happen next? You can’t see your body below you anymore, all there is is the vision in front of you, you feel like your eyeballs are suspended in space and you can feel all your limbs and body parts you feel very alive very creative but is that all you can do – ponder the meaning of things, it’s a wondrous freedom to just be able to do that but you don’t feel hungry or sleepy or tired you are just there. You are. The ball of electricity in the middle is becoming smaller and smaller, it is the size of your head now, you imagine you can’t feel your own head and if this is what it feels like to be dead then its good and bad at the same time. Suddenly the massy sea of black is lit up with points of white all around. You must travelling quite fast you think, if you can see so many stars all at once now. Maybe this is what a lucid dream really feels like. It has to end at some point you can’t just keep travelling like this through time and space and back and forth like a strand of consciousness but what are those things all around? Colours – brilliant pink blue green flashes fly past you you reach out to touch them but of course you can’t, just as well, they may have been hot but they can also be other people lost in space you wonder what colour you would be, maybe orange or yellow or red you know you’re a colour you don’t wish you are but you would have liked to be purple, oh yes most definitely purple. What could happen next, your world is over and out and you can see hazes and astro clouds before you, you feel like you’re sitting in a simulator show or a documentary about the universe and just watching things as they pass by, you could sit here forever you decide. And gaze upon the universe and travel and explore the galaxies, go where no mind has ever gone before but do you need company? You could always make company for yourself like the green haze you make yourself believe is right next to your head (whatever that is), you can see it out of the corner of your eye but because you don’t have a head anymore you can’t turn and see it but you decide its going to be your new best friend. In its life it was a very inspired young man or woman – you don’t decide yet and this person accidentally overdosed on a lot of drugs, a side effect many great people of the planet of earth face regularly. It starts telling you about where it grew up, in this life it was in Japan, and before it recollects it was in Russia. Why can’t you think of your own past lives yet – we’ll they’ll come to you sooner or later, you figure. You start telling it about your life, all that you’ve said and done. You have been trying to be a good person really like everybody else but have failed like everybody else. You stop and ponder upon the faces of everybody you’ve ever passed on the bus on the street or the train in different countries, family doesn’t come that easily, family actually seems the worst to remember. And your friends. It hurts to remember how you hurt them and how they hurt you. Sometimes because of the all the hurt you carry, you wish you hadn’t been born. Just as no one should. To hurt is the worst thing and if one is born it makes sense to do happy things and be happy. Not be doomed to an existence on that planet. What was China like, you ask Green. Japan – Green replies. Though I was Chinese too once upon a time. How many nationalities have you been? I can’t remember, it said, so many and too many. You want to ask, will we go back, why are we here? What’s going on? But something stops you, you can’t. You force yourself to think back to your earliest childhood memory. You want to flash your whole life back quickly before your eyes as you are supposed to in order to pass on. Though you feel like you already have.  Playing on the swings, falling suddenly, seeing yourself on the floor and waiting for something to happen somebody to come when you feel the flash of pain through your bum, and start bawling as loud as you think possible and having a rush of people pick you up, dust you down, and put you back up on that swing. The first time you rode a bike, the time you fell off a horse, a chair, a table, a cliff into water. Why the many fallings, have you truly become a fallen star. What about relationships with people, asks Green. People haven’t been all too great for you and you reply that after reading about ‘phoney’ people you become all too conscious in their presence. You always want things to happen to you and you make a comfortable shell around yourself, not because you’re uncomfortable but because you are lazy. You like to see the sights and sounds of the world but not interact with people, you never learnt that people are people despite what all the music you listened to told you, and that everyone has a hard shell like yourself which you can crack. You can crack everybody, maybe be like you’re 15 again and rejoice in, revel in all that people are meant to be – those are the creators of art and music and structures and everything wonderful or useful you have ever come across, realize the potency of the human condition and be sensitive, needless of what is said to you. Your biggest fear and disbalancing act was people vs. future. You can’t chose with either, said Green butting in. You can’t win no matter what choices you have. So, Don’t. Even. Try. Listening to the Elders and doing what you can is your best option. How old are you, you ask Green, finally grappling clumsily with what was going on. Why, as old as the universe of course replied Green. And there it is, the centre of your universe in front of you, said Green, stopping my spacedrift. You can’t see it. That doesn’t matter. You’ll be born again in a different time, in a different world, on a different planet and you will live again. Remember this. Try to remember what you’ve learnt and take it with you. How you ask, how will you remember, it seems like this conversation has happened before. You improve slowly, said Green. Why not in a flash you want to know. Because to suffer you need time. Time to learn. All the learning that has ever been done is stored here in little spaces, you can’t see them because you don’t know how. When the learning is complete, then you will know. And you will stop taking birth again and again. This is a repository of the consciousness of every being ever lived. Once you learn to tap into it, you will know what the world is all about. You feel pathetic, you say how, that would take a long time looking at the state of the world but Green says that’s not your concern. And adds gently, how sometimes the most learning happens from the worst things. What a preachy consciousness you think. I hope I never get that job. What decides where we’re born. Are you God? When will this end. How long till you’re stuck here you ask. It’s gone. Its just you against the world now. You wonder what’s going to happen next. You know. But you don’t know when. Do you have to torture yourself, think of all the terrible things you’ve done and the few great ones? Will this limbo end then? Or is it a dream? Did somebody give you some drugs? You try hard to remember how is it that you died. But nothing comes to mind. You remember your whole life up till then, but come to think of it, it’s becoming hazy, your latest years and you’re going back back to your young enlightened days before you became cynical and a momentary spasm of terror seizes you as you wonder if you have to live the same life again and again till you get it right? Maybe Green was trying to ease your passing into the heaven or hell whichever is going to follow next. Well, you won’t remember that this happened, so its fine, you convince yourself, but if a part of you is expected to remember that ‘lecture’ then there sure as hell will be a part of you that remembers all the lives you’ve lived, especially the same one. Maybe this is why civilizations and cultures suddenly disappear. Somehow somebody gets it right, and they vanish. Maybe it happens together to a bunch of people if they’re lucky. How long, how many years, you wonder, would it take for you to get it right. You should have asked Green for an average. It’s very possible you’re in the hospital because of an accident and this is an elaborate opium-induced dream you’re having. This is not how you imagined things to end. You do not want to be stuck in a loop. Some part of you will go mad, is going mad, has already gone mad. It doesn’t make sense. Why people why earth why birth why what was the purpose why did you have to go back again, you really needed a rest from all this regeneration and living. It seems like an infinite possibility asking of humanity to become better at being human. You feel like, for some selfish unreasonable reason, the responsibility is on you. Why did you have to get it right? Fuck what Green said, there are so many other people on that stupid planet or wherever I am whisked off to in this science fictionverse. But there aren’t, a voice said. You are the source the power of everything, your each action is the mechanic of your world you have to be mindful of things that you go and do and that’s what will turn the world around. There are no other people, it’s your world, you are the centre and you have to create or miscreate it till you get it right. That is your prerogative. By this time you are completely blind but you can feel things were swirling around you and you wonder if that colour you were talking to was back but you can’t remember its name, how to address it, this feels so unreal why was this happening, you just want to close your eyes and go back to your bed at home. Even dying was better than this madness. Maybe this is what happened, you went mad, but instead of becoming an intensely creative intellectual who lived a little off-track, you were thrown into a padded room and strait-jacketed forever and this is what being stuck in your own head felt like. In that case, you wish you at least had the power to change things around and create your own hallucinations – there must be a drug for that – but you can’t control anything, you are falling into the swirling mass around you, a vortex, sure a black hole, what else would there be out here, and you can hear–see nothing anymore, just adrenalin and that you’re falling into your madness, rabbit hole, recreation.


Poems | Pushpanjana Karmakar

Photo : Leela

The House

You are the unformed house
within me
I lay the bricks, dab cement
Sprinkle water, sun-dry
Strap each pillar with tarpaulin sheet
Heaving with your breath.

The lines, creases
of dried cement
Descend from my veins.

There are no doors or windows
They will grow rust or break and crumble
In earthquakes of untouched despair.

There are no walls
They will chip and grate
Into dust of weariness.

There are no bentwood chairs and gilded mirrors
They will sit heavy on me with your impression
They will glare at me like a fasting stomach

There are no cupboards
They will break open
Into a gust of our love-making.

There are no beds or pillows
They will question the unlawful passing
of night into day.

There is a marsh-filled backyard
Brown-hazed winter bed of dry leaves
A dry red periwinkle (bearing no fragrance of you)
A monsoon cloud in a dog’s eye
An open book with pages fluttering
Like my quivering fingers
Waiting to touch you
And an open leaking water tap
Pounding on corrugated roof of memories
Folded one by one by me
Reeling under your disappearance.

The Tea Leaves from Yesterday’s Cup

How many times I see the tarmac
It slips into my sleeping eye
Like a dead body into an electric pyre
Storing ashes of a disputed memory.

The bread-loaf friendliness
of strange things surrounding me-
The two-storeyed white houses plunged in darkness in Ghazipur selling papers
The frail Sikh vendor of a weighing machine at Dwarka Mor
The lover decking up on Lohri
The child dreaming like a fish.

How many times I see the eucalyptus tree at Kaifi Azmi Marg
and imagine it as the coconut tree of my hometown.
I surmise incumbent death
From its skinned white
Husk at throat
made from hairfall
of my ancestors
Fronds swaying
-a lover's distant nod in a crowded place

The dead writes obituaries for trees
Shows us hair-roots
where guilt is sewage-heavy

My fingers embrace tree rings
My crooked body hides your beauty
My leaves listen to your swingdoor confessions
You squirrel- climb branches of guilt

My branches spread apart
Loosening grip, an eternal threat
Of abandoning you

You grip my sleeplessness
Like a hungry cheetah

I look at you from vulture's vantage point
Filled with doom of a life I am tenderly shedding

How many times the onlooker streetlight in Delhi
filigrees shadows of
(Floating in the dark waters of Dakshineswar Ganga)
Of my escapism
Of my guilt-incarnate voice
of loving the lost twice.