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Bygone Memories

Rob Harle

By Manohar Mouli Biswas . Translated from the Bangla and edited by Angana Dutta and Jaydeep Sarangi Bhatkal & Sen 
Samya, 2015, pp. 125, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 12 December 2015

This is an engaging, poignant and important autobiography. It will be a serious ‘reality check’ for all readers! Biswas is a wonderful story teller, his almost ‘matter-of-fact’ style engages the reader and virtually transports him or her to the rice paddies, river banks and muddy creeks which are indelibly part of Biswas’s formative years. At times the story envelopes the reader in powerful and poignant emotional recollections which would be quite difficult to handle if they were overly dramatized. Manohar ‘tells it like it is’ in simple language, his honesty and forthrightness coming through on every page. We experience the dignity and genuineness of this man in an almost palpable way. It is amazing, considering the deprivation suffered, social rejection and poor living conditions of the dalits (namashudra or untouchables) that Biswas’s story does not focus on bitterness or hatred. There is at times an underlying sadness expressed in the chapters—how could there not be?—when one group of humans have been treated in such a detestable way by other groups within the caste system. The caste system incidentally was not originally a state instigated abomination but one of religious beginnings in the Vedas. ‘The Vedas itself stated the stratification of four categories of castes, such as the brahmins, the kshatriyas, the vaishyas and the shudras [Rig: 10.90.12]’ (p. 96). The ‘partition’ of the nation (Bengal) was used by a minority for their own purposes, ‘They were successful in using religion blindly for their own selfish interests’ (p. 80). Similarly the treatment of black Africans, slavery and Apartheid by so called Christians was a result of deliberate and inaccurate interpretation of certain Christian scriptures. Surviving In My World is an important book because it exposes the caste system for what it really was (and in some respects still is), it presents the living conditions of dalits in a day-to-day quest for mere survival, which feeling persons could never condone nor tolerate if they were fully aware of the dalit’s plight. By publishing his story Biswas will reach a large number of people in both India and globally who previously may have had no real idea of the extent of suppression and oppression of the untouchables, myself included. As R. Azhagarasan says in the beginning of the book; ‘Manohar Mouli Biswas’s autobiography is significant not merely in expanding the dalit canon but in locating the biased vision of the ...

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