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A Poignant World

G.J.V. Prasad

By Bama. Translated by N. Ravi Shanker
Women Unlimited, Delhi, 2006, pp. 105, Rs. 150.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 12 December 2006

This collection of ten stories is a testimony to Bama’s skills and intent as a writer. Anecdotal in nature, the stories take you almost effortlessly into the lived lives of dalit parayars in Tamilnadu. This is a world that is in the process of change, where the dalits are learning to challenge the hegemonic hold of the landowning castes on them. As Masanam Thatha remarks, in the story “those days”, “That’s how it was in those days, can’t be the same today, can it? No.” However, things haven’t changed so much that acts of defiance are not the stuff of heroism (or foolhardiness till proved otherwise!). Life carries on as it has for centuries otherwise. There are landlords, and there are workers who toil day and night in order to eke out a subsistence living that they are trained to think is the result of the grace of their masters. The changed times, education and the awareness of social injustice, brings in a different atmosphere into these rural areas, challenging and disconcerting the landlords. The democracy that frames the feudal order now exerts intense pressure on it and its hegemonic caste equations.   However, it is humour and perhaps also the pleasure in hard work that has always kept the dalit community going. It is the women in particular who run the families and keep the community alive and kicking. This is an important motif in Bama’s writing, the hard work of dalit women, and the gen(d)eral oppressiveness of their lives. They all, women and men, survive because of the zest for life and this is translated into the earthy humour of their language, their exchanges with each other.   While Bama chronicles the awakening consciousness of the Parayar community, she also unhesitatingly points to their own divisions and oppressions – be it that of gender or of other sub-castes. A story like ‘annachi’, which came out in a special issue of India Today, or one like ‘ponuthayi’ may thus seem to weaken the dalit plank pointing to the same hierarchical power structures replicated within the community. However, the humour of these indictments, the strength of individual characters and their impact on others, strengthens the position against all hegemonies, specifically against the caste system.   Interestingly in these stories, it is the old or the educated young who challenge the caste system. The ones who no longer ...

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