Spanning A Century

Alladi Uma

K. Purushotham, Gita Ramaswamy and Gogu Shyamala
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, Year 2017, pp.348, Rs.995


Dalit literary movement stormed the Telugu country in the 1990s after Women’s Writing shook the literary establishment in the 1980s. While Chikkanavutunna Pata (Thickening Song) edited by Tripuraneni Srinivas and G. Lakshminarasaiah in 1995 remains one of the most powerful anthologies to have brought out poetry from a large constituency of writers that included the SCs, BCs, and Muslim Minority writers, it fell short of its expectations with not a single woman writer being represented. The second anthology, Padunekkina Pata (Sharpened Song) in 1996 by G. Lakshminarasaiah tried to correct this imbalance with the addition of a few Dalit women writers. Since then, Dalit writing in Telugu moved away from its earlier extended definition to a more exclusive writing coming from the several sub-castes of the SCs and Dalit women writers. It may be pertinent to remember here that while Srinivas comes from an upper caste background, Lakshminarasaiah belongs to one of the BC communities. Dalit Manifesto (published in the same year as Chikkanavutunna Pata) edited by K. Satyanarayana and Keshav Kumar (both Dalits) assumes significance in this context. The volumes were also distinctly different in that while the first two moved away from the Left, the last one tried to bring the Left and Dalit consciousness together. The lack of adequate representation of Dalit women soon gave rise to the birth of two influential anthologies of Dalit women’s writing, Nalla Poddu (2002) edited by Gogu Shyamala and Nalla Regadi Sallu (2006) edited by Joopaka Subhadra and Gogu Shyamala. These anthologies are products of extensive research and a deeply felt desire to trace the roots of these movements going as far back as the beginnings of the early decades of the twentieth century. Thus what began as a coalition of Dalit, Bahujan, Muslim-Minority writing against the prevailing dominant trends of writing in Telugu under the larger rubric of ‘Dalit’ writing branched off in the later decades into distinct identitarian movements, with each group coming up with its own representative anthologies influencing Telugu writing, enriching its thought content, imagery, diction and style as never before. English translations of poems by individual Dalit writers began to appear in collections of Telugu poetry in English and in journals like Indian Literature, Chandrabhaga and others. Courses exclusively on Dalit writing in the English Departments of Indian universities that had largely depended on isolated collections like the Poisoned Bread series (Orient Longman) now began to include English ...

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